Running in the Heat – Advanced Tips and Tricks
Runners know the basics when it comes to running in the heat. Stay hydrated, wear light colors, slow your pace – it’s all stuff we’ve been told a million times. Instead of rehashing a bunch of information you may already know, I am going to share with you an advanced tip for running and training in hot weather – pre-cooling.
I was lucky enough to attend the USA Track and Field coaching summit prior to the 2004 Olympic games in Athens and the 2007 World Championships in Helsinki, where some of the brightest scientist and coaching minds in our sport prepared the US athletes for competing in hot and humid conditions. While many solutions to heat training and racing were presented, the most effective strategy used by Team USA was pre-cooling. Both Olympic medalist in the marathon, Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi, attribute their medal winning performances to the pre-cooling strategy.
What is Pre-cooling?
Running causes the core body temperature to rise, which is exacerbated in hot and humid conditions. Once an athlete’s core temperature reaches a certain threshold, significant declines in performance will occur. Pre-cooling is a technique used to slightly lower a runner’s core body temperature before they start running, which in turn extends the amount of time they can run hard before hitting that critical temperature threshold.
How does Pre-cooling work?
By pre-cooling the body, an athlete is able to lower their core body temperature, thus increasing the margin before they reach their critical temperature threshold and are forced to slow down. Furthermore, pre-cooling enables runners to draw on their reserves later in a run due to reduced thermal strain. This means you can finish off your workouts harder and also begin the recovery process faster.
Numerous studies have proven that heat is a major cause of performance decline in runners – and you’ve more than likely experienced it yourself this summer. However, recent studies have now confirmed that pre-cooling can significantly improve performance in hot and humid conditions. One study reported that pre-cooling can boost performance by 16%. A second study showed a 2.6 degree average core temperature difference after a 5k race between subjects who pre-cooled with a vest and those that did not.
How to get started
Ideally, runners looking to implement a pre-cooling strategy would use a cooling vest for 10-20 minutes prior to their run or during their warm-up. Hands down, cooling vests are the most effective product on the market for pre-cooling. Understandably, not every runner reading this article will want to shell out the money for a cooling vest, so I’ll give you two quick and cheap ways to try pre-cooling at home.
1. Freeze a paper cup of Gatorade or buy some freeze pops. 10-20 minutes before your next hard workout in the heat, eat the freeze pop or Gatorade slushy and get on your way. While a popsicle won’t cool your entire body quite like a cooling vest, you will see benefits during your run.
2. Grab a few hand towels or small bath towels and get them wet. Place them in the freezer overnight and put them on your neck, head and back 10-15 minutes before you head out for your workout. Warning, it will be shockingly cold at first, but you’ll appreciate it when you get back. Plus, if you put them back in the freezer, you can put them on again when you return for a nice treat!
Words of Advice
If you’re going to use a pre-cooling technique at your next race, be sure to practice beforehand so you can iron out any kinks. Furthermore, please don’t go crazy and stick yourself in a freezer for 10-20 minutes. Hypothermia can cause just as many issues as running in the heat. While we’re always on the lookout for the cutting edge, we don’t want anyone to get hurt.
Do you have experience with pre-cooling? Have questions about if it really works? Write us a comment, we would love to hear from you.
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