WASHINGTON — Strings of 80-degree days are a familiar sight to those in the D.C. area. And while the summer’s sun and clear skies may tempt runners to take their exercise outdoors, the heat can be dangerous.
MedStar Washington Hospital Center Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Evan Argintar has some tips for runners who are planning to run outdoors as summer’s heat takes over.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
The most important thing to do is be fully hydrated, said Argintar, who is also assistant director of Sports Medicine with MedStar Orthopaedic Institute.
“You want to go into it hydrated because if you don’t, you are more likely to cramp up and get some of the other more systemic problems like heat stroke and things of that nature, and that can be really dangerous.”
Drinking water or a sports drink will work, he added.
So how much should you drink?
Hydration levels are dependent upon a runner’s size and body composition. One way to monitor is with the color of urine — as you become more hydrated, urine is lighter, he said.
Know the warning signs
Heat stroke can be deadly, so it’s important to know the body’s warning signs for when you’re overheated.
Fatigue and dizziness are signs to back off, said Dr. Argintar. In some really advanced situations, runners may even stop sweating.
“Sometimes the symptoms are subtle, but they should never be neglected,” Argintar said.
Hydrating is key, but if symptoms persist, it’s reasonable and safe to head to an emergency room, he recommends.
How hot is too hot to run outside? There’s no hard-and-fast rule, he said, adding that everyone’s body is different. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the heat indexes and be hyper aware of symptoms.
“I ask my patients … to be very honest with themselves as symptoms may evolve — to walk it or avoid or truncate a run if they’re not feeling good during that event,” Argintar said.
Dress for the weather
When temperatures rise, certain clothes can help keep runners cooler.
Dr. Argintar recommends wearing wicking fabrics, which can help decrease excess heat. The wicking materials help the body not be covered in sweaty garments – an uncomfortable situation that can impact the body’s internal cooling system, he said.
It may help to avoid darker clothing, which can retain heat, he adds.
Run at coolest times of day
Running earlier and later in the day can help spare runners’ body from the worst heat of the day.
“High noon — maybe that’s not the best time. The reality is that sometime people have schedules that are a little bit limiting,” Dr. Argintar said.
He recommends that if you have to run in the middle of the day, limit distance or run in shaded areas. And save those longer runs until a time when you can get out the door during the cooler morning or evening hours.
If all else fails, take the run indoors to a treadmill.
Be aware of surroundings
A lot of runners have logged winter miles on the treadmill and are starting to transition to outdoor miles, which require much more attention.
Argintar tells his patients be aware of their environment when moving to more outdoor workouts. There are lots of distractions that can be covered up by head phones, such as a car honking its horn.
Also, the change from treadmill to outdoor running can bring the potential for injuries.
“A lot of people … aren’t used to hills or paying attention to curbs, and so some of those distractions can cause injury to someone who is not paying attention.”
(Getty Images/Hemera/M.g. Mooij)
Getty Images/Hemera/M.g. Mooij
Runners may try for certain times for speed or duration workouts, but hotter weather can dash all hopes. It’s OK – and runners should reign in expectations during warmer months, Dr. Argintar said.
“The hotter environment makes it absolutely more challenging to hit some of these milestones, so oftentimes I tell people to just adjust expectations,” he said.