Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Running While Hot

In Mass, the summer's humid heat  has broken (for now), making it much more pleasant to run and or do anything outside. It's been a brutally hot summer, with record heat and stifiling humidity, making it extremely difficult for me to stick to a training plan, because I have an infant at home, meaning that the only time I really have to run is during my lunch break when the heat is at or near it's peak. I've adjusted my running to accomidate this in a few ways:
  • Slowing down
  • Changing my typical running route to one with the most shade
  • Continually switching the side of the road i'm running on to stay in the shade
  • Running with my handheld water bottle, no matter how fast the run
  • Putting ice in the water bottle
  • Squirting water on the back of my head every mile
I'd been squirting myself with water all summer, so was interested when Joel forwarded me a recent posting on the New York Times Phys Ed blog that examined how effective this tactic was in improving performance. Short answer: while it feels good, not so much:
"...when cold water was poured over their heads did the volunteers report feeling blessedly cooler than in the other exercise session. They also said that the workout felt noticeably easier, and their skin temperatures were lower than in other sessions.
They did not, however, actually perform better during the five-kilometer time trial, no matter what cooling strategy they employed. Their times were generally equivalent, whether they drank cold water, were doused with it, or neither."
However, in another posting, Gina Kolata posits that simply training in heat can make you a better runner - not necessarily by improving your physical condition, but by making you tougher:
"After 10 days of heat acclimation, performance ... improved by 4 percent to 8 percent when they rode as hard and fast as they could. ...
The problem is that to get faster you have to run or ride faster in your training workouts. And when it is hot — and especially, hot and humid — your body slows down to prevent dangerously high core temperatures. The result is that you simply can’t run or ride as fast. That’s why the cyclists in his study did their speed workouts in cool temperatures and used the hot room only to acclimate to exercise in heat.
But there may still be an advantage, Dr. Minson added. There is a large psychological component to performance, and those who do hard workouts outside on hot, humid days have to overcome mental barriers to push themselves. That sort of toughness can translate into improved performance."
This tells me that running in the heat doesn't necessarily make you faster, just mentally tougher, and dousing yourself with water during this time only makes you feel better, not able to run faster. All things I suspected before, but it's nice to know there's actual science behind them. And as I continue to do short lunchtime runs in the heat, i'll know that i'm a mentally rugged, albeit wet, runner.

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