Aug 2, 2011

Heat, Swass and Swoob

I haven't posted as often as I'd like and admittedly I've been very irresponsible in managing my time. However, I’m flippin’ a boulder and replacing my nightly "space out to Curb Your Enthusiasm” (I’m starting at season 1) with reflective and insightful blogging. At least until I get my hands on season 2.

On to the blog part. There’s heaps below but know that it I’m trying to save your life here. So really, how much you read depends on how much you love yourself.

The weather has been hotter than two rats doing the horizontal boogie in a wool sock. DC is literally built on a swamp and as a runner the “swamp effect” (including the devious "swamp ass" (also known as "swass"), "swoob" and chaffing) is impossible to ignore. Running without understanding the effects of heat is bold (in the Britney-Spears-no-panties kind of way) and unsafe (see previous comment). Heat and humidity are enemies of the runner, as are bloody nipples, which we visited gruesomely in the last posting, uni-boob sports bras and dog poop.

Overheating is when the body cannot properly cool itself. Sweat is a cooling agent and is produced when body temperature, and thus blood temperature, rises. When that happens, blood is sent to the surface where the sweaty, cooler skin lowers its temperature. But when running in the heat, the body’s internal temperature is higher than it normally handles and blood is sent to the skin at an increased rate as the body frantically tries to cool. However, oxygen and blood are also being fed to the working muscles so there isn’t enough blood traveling to the skin’s surface to cool the body properly. The result, in a sense, your blood boils you from the inside. Or what can happen is blood is diverted away from the muscles to the skin’s surface which means your muscles can't function, causing you to dramatically slow down or stop all together. In the humidity, the sweat does not wick away and heats up from both your body temperature and the sun, further hindering the blood's ability to cool. Este no es bueno.

Dehydration is the sidekick of overheating, the Robin if I may. A high sweat rate depletes the fluids and electrolytes necessary for muscle function. If you get thirsty on a run, you are already in the first stages of dehydration and need to intake a balance of fluids and electrolytes. If your pee is dark, you need more water. If you’re skin is especially salty, you need electrolytes. (More info scattered below.)
Immediately after a humid evening run. Clouds of bugs, like the ones on my neck
(there's about 10 although you can't tell) and the ones I choked on, are a hazard.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED ON HOW TO HANDLE THE HEAT, pulled from the power of my mind

1) Stalk the weather. Compare hour to hour the best times to run for the week. Look at heat and humidity levels, heat index and if it will be overcast, raining or direct, glaring, cancer causing sunny. Be conscious of heat advisories and when people are dropping dead in their homes because they lack air conditioning. Keep in mind that, at least in DC, humidity is significantly higher in the morning with lower temperatures, and temperature significantly higher at night with lower humidity. Pick your poison.

2) Get acclimatized to the heat. This is very important so your body becomes more tolerant and efficient in managing temperature and so you can learn your specific food, water and electrolyte needs. Getting acclimatized takes about two weeks of regularly scheduled, low mileage, slow paced runs. The body is an adaptable and finely tuned machine, unlike my three prong electronics in a two prong house, and eventually you’ll feel a difference in your ability to handle heat and be able to safely increase distance and speed. (FYI: acclimation happens in the laboratory, acclimatization in the natural environment; in case you were questioning my use of the word, as I was.)

3) Be flexible with your schedule and break up your runs. When training, long runs are necessary for improving endurance, and reaching weekly mile goals is important so you don’t poop out on race day. But no matter how hell bent you are on getting in those 15 miles on Saturday, foaming at the mouth and passing out unnoticed in the bushes can do significant damage to your body and means you won’t even complete the 15 miles you were so convinced you could handle. Most importantly though, you’ll look like shit for at least the next 24 hours. So after checking the weather, move the long run a day earlier or put it on hold temporarily. The other option is to pick weather that’s the best of the worst and break the run up (morning and night). Obviously you will have to do a long run at some point to practice putting your body through that kind of stress but when it’s totally unbearable, breaking up your run is better than heat stroke and better than nothing; this way you aren’t significantly cutting back on your weekly mileage. With some planning, it may be possible to cram that long run in there somewhere too, even if it means getting up an hour earlier Monday morning. Hey, at least you won’t feel like an excuse maker.

4) Hydrate, especially with cold fluids. (Margaritas don’t count but someday, I hope, they will.) Drink morning, noon and night (especially before a hard morning run), in a house with a mouse or in a box with a fox, here, there or anywhere. But don’t over hydrate or you’ll throw off your fluid-electrolyte balance and risk hyponatremia. (

News flash: Ice melts in heat. Pre-mix electrolyte powder in water bottles and freeze. You’ll have cold drinking water in a mile, unless you dig hot water that tastes like plastic. If you wear a hydration hip belt, the frozen bottles feel nice on your lower back. Take in cold fluids pre run, like a slushie, and post run, like iced chocolate milk (which is also an all-star recovery food.) To continue that thought…

5) Consume salty foods and drink electrolyte replacements. Increased sweat equals increased fluid and electrolyte loss. You can’t simply replace them willy-nilly. There is a balance between fluid and electrolyte intake that you must discover for yourself through trial and error, depending on environmental conditions and the intensity of your run. It takes time to figure out what you need before, during and after a run, which is one reason why acclimatization is important. Too much of one and not enough of the other will have negative affects. (I think I’ve found that raging headaches mean I don’t get enough electrolytes in my system during a run, but I’m still fine tuning this theory.) You have to learn to predict and recognize your needs as well as admit your limits. (See above “Classification of Heat Illness.”)

6) Learn your sweat rate. This is how much fluid you need during a run. Before a run, get naked (butt naked!) and weigh yourself with an empty bladder. After an hour of paced running, peel your sweaty clothes off and weigh yourself again. Convert your weight loss to ounces and add the number of ounces you drank during the run. Divide your total by 4 or 6 to determine how many ounces you need to drink every 15 or 10 minutes. Do this for different environmental conditions and as you become more fit because your sweat rate will change. If you’re drinking your calculated ounces and feel crappier, you need more electrolytes, which increase the rate of fluid absorption into your blood stream, keep your muscles functioning properly and stave off hyponatremia.

7) If you’re doing the above and feel like utter shit – STOP! Find shade, walk till your heart rate comes down and drink cold water. Don’t stop dead in your tracks though or you may get heat syncope. (There will be a pop quiz on “Classification of Heat Illness.”) I highly suggest getting yourself a double scoop waffle cone afterward too. I hear it's a marvelous recovery food. It'll make you happy too :-)

May the force be with you.

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