It was the first weekend in August. Saturday, Aug. 4, 2007. Those of you that live in the South know what our weather is like in July and August. Hot. Blazing hot. Humidity and dew points soar, making it steam-bath hot and almost impossible to cool off. This Saturday was no different. It was 9:55 a.m. and the temperature was already 92 degrees with almost matching humidity. The sky was brilliant and cloudless, the sun beating down and burning the top of my head and all exposed skin. I was motionless yet covered in perspiration, almost constantly wiping my face as the sweat trickled down my hairline and onto my face.
You’re probably asking yourself why I remember this particular Saturday so vividly, since this is typical weather in the South during our dog days of summer. I’ll tell you why.
I was in the starting lineup for a 5k run.
I had run 5k’s before, but never this particular one. It was at a local annual festival where the race always leads off the parade, beginning the events for the day. I had also not done my homework and mapped out the route before signing up for the race. I was familiar with the town’s streets, having spent many days of my childhood running around the neighborhoods with my cousins. I was in shape, easily ran the 3.1 miles, this would be a piece of cake. Famous last words. I did not take into consideration:
- I was unused to running this time of day. My normal time for summer was early morning or early evening.
- My usual daily running route was, for the most part, flat terrain.
- I trained on trails, not pavement. There is a difference.
As the race began, I settled into my normal, easy pace. I wasn’t there to compete and win a ribbon, but to simply enjoy the workout in a different setting than usual with others that found the same pleasure in running. After the first half mile, unused to exercising in the heat of that time of day, I really began to feel the effects and slowed my pace. Three-quarters of a mile into the race, the course took a turn from the main street onto the back ones. Hilly streets. Very, very, hilly streets. Not just one, but one after another. And another. And another.
I won’t divulge all the embarrassing details, except that at one point I really, truly thought I going to get to meet God sooner than I ever imagined I would. The extreme heat, combined with the exertion of running (by this point, staggering and gasping) up and down hills and using a different set of muscles than usual, had me thinking about calmly stepping to the side and lying down in the shade in someone’s cool grass and wait for my Maker to come for me. A good Samaritan at one of the water stations kindly threw a large glass of water on my head when I begged her to. I did finish, but the run that I could normally complete in 25 minutes took 42. I have to confess, I believe the only reason I did persevere and finish is because I refused to let the 72-year-old man from the Outer Banks cross the finish line before me.
Despite the fact that I was in good shape and used to running that distance, my mistake that I was not properly prepared and knew better than to not do my homework first. I didn’t acclimate myself to the weather for that time of day and the hilly terrain. This includes not just the usual precautions we normally take for summer heat, such as hydration, but also proper clothing and other considerations. As we go into the warmer months, it is especially important to be well prepared for exercise, whether indoor or outdoor, whether easy or intense. Below are some tips that will help you to safely exercise in the summer, keep it enjoyable and get the most benefit possible out of your workout.
- Drink plenty of water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to reach for your water. Your body needs to be well-hydrated before exercise. Sports drinks will replace the sodium and nutrients lost through sweating, but you only need those if you plan on or have been exercising intensely.
- Acclimate yourself. Don’t jump right in and exercise at your normal intensity. Give your body two weeks to adapt to the heat and increase the intensity of your workouts gradually.
- Watch the weather forecast. Keep a close eye on the forecast and know what the temperature is going to be for the duration of your exercise. Avoid outdoor exercise during the hottest part of the day.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Remember the three “L’s”, lightweight, loose-fitting, light colors. Lightweight and loose helps the sweat to evaporate, which cools your body. Light colors have reflective properties, where dark colors absorb heat. Avoid any clothing that is tight and close-fitting.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Wear water-proof sunscreen and lightweight sunglasses. If you wear a hat, make sure it’s well ventilated.
While you are exercising in hot weather, pay attention to your body – it will give you warning signals that you are in danger of becoming overheated. If you have muscle cramps, headache, increased heart rate, nausea, vision problems, lightheadedness or begin sweating profusely, stop exercising immediately and use wet towels, ice packs or even water from a water hose on your neck, forehead or under your arms. If you don’t feel better within 15 minutes, seek medical attention.
And last, but not least, God gave us brains and common sense, use them! If you feel yourself becoming overheated, stop what you’re doing and take steps to get your core temperature down. Live to exercise another day!