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Running in the Summer Heat

I live in Tucson Arizona and keeping to a running schedule in the summer months of June through August is both a mental and physical exercise. Each night, I listen to the weather report hoping, no praying that tomorrow will offer a break from the persistent heat forecast – 102o, 103o, 104o, … all the way up to a no way am I running degrees. The only thing that boosts my resolve is the fact that in Southern Arizona – it’s a DRY HEAT. I know that has become an eye-rolling cliché, but it’s true. Having lived in the Washington DC suburbs, if the temperature ever got even close to 104o, you’d need gills to move around outside, much less run.

Needless to say, I typically run early in the morning. Just after dawn is my preferred time. Overnight, the temperature drops into the nineties, or the upper eighties if I’m lucky, so it’s still relatively cool in the morning. I also found that beginning my run after the sun rises is best. Running in darkness is not always safe. Desert predators prefer the darkness. Running up on a rattlesnake or a Gila Monster or a family of bobcats is simply not conducive to a relaxed vibe. I tried carrying a walking stick, but I found that it interfered with a relaxed stride. Moving my runs entirely into the daylight became my rule.

Other than avoiding nocturnal predators, I have a few other rules I follow before my morning runs. Even though it’s warm in the Arizona mornings, my muscles still need warming up. A few minutes of stretches and deep bends increase the circulation to my muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It also warms me up after a night in the air conditioning. My wife likes it really cold in the house overnight. She’s not comfortable unless she’s sleeping underneath several blankets. Tucson Electric Power should send me birthday cards!

Another rule I have is to listen to my body and know when to call it quits. I know this is basic running advice, but you’ll gain nothing and possibly do harm if you’re not feeling well. Pushing through when you’re feeling a little spent is different than continuing to run when you’re feeling dizzy or overheated. This is especially important here in Southern Arizona. It goes without saying that hydration is critical no matter where you’re running. According to data from roughly 60 percent of the human body is water. A good rule of thumb to keep well hydrated is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For instance, a 160 lb. man should consume 80 ounces of water each day. The American College of Sports Medicine suggest drinking and additional 12 ounces of water for every 30 minutes of strenuous exercise. Some danger signs of dehydration include headache, feeling dizzy and/or nauseated, and muscle cramps. Ignore these symptoms at your peril. If severe enough, you could die.

Finally, to keep my runs from becoming boring, I try varying my routine week to week. This has been especially helpful during these past several months of running alone. I typically try moving to different courses, depending upon how ambitious I’ m feeling any particular morning. On occasion I drive to the high school track. Tracks are great for speed work, but I’m also careful not to overdo it. Keeping a race pace for a mile or more may be a great goal, but I find that speed bursts are less injurious and make the run more interesting. Other mornings I’ll head for the Chuck Huckelberry Loop. This is a 130-mile long paved pathway around Tucson that connects parks, and trailheads, as well as hotels, restaurants, and retail outlets. This is a wonderful resource, but it can also be crowded with bikes, pedestrians, and other runners. For those mornings when I don’t feel like driving to different course, I simply run my regular neighborhood route in reverse. This gives a surprisingly different perspective and the flipped elevation changes make for a whole new workout.

The bottom line is that you know your body better than anyone. You know where and when it’s safe to run. You’ll run stronger and stay healthier if you don’t take unnecessary risks.

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