Getting hot & sweaty in the sand (Part 2)

Posted on August 28, 2012

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To recap Sunday’s post … when running recently with Lee aka the Sheikh of Showka from Dubai Trail Running, I recall telling him that I attribute any success I’ve had running with two key elements … running in the sand and running in the heat.  I try to do most of my running ‘off-road’ albeit within the confines of the city to reduce the impact on my body and as for the heat?  My insistence in waking up ‘au naturel’ i.e. sans alarm clock means I rarely get my trainers on before 0730, often later.

And as it so happens, two independent articles in last weeks New York Times tackled both these elements and their benefits to runners. So on Sunday past, the salient points re sand running and today, those re running in the heat.

As for the title of this post? Sorry if it promised content of a more exciting nature!  We’ve all in our time had moments of getting hot and sweaty in the sand and certainly not through running … but that sort of behaviour is best avoided in the UAE so the less said about that the better!

So. Why you can’t beat training in the heat boils down to this … (sorry!!)

When you exercise on a hot day, the challenge for your body is to get blood to the skin … to keep your body temperature from getting dangerously high, while at the same time delivering blood to the muscles. At first, the body struggles. But after four or five days of exercise under these conditions, it starts to acclimate to the heat. Blood volume increases, less oxygen is needed to generate the same amount of power, the heart becomes more efficient, and muscles become more forceful and use less glycogen, their preferred fuel.

Sound familiar? Probably, because training in the heat bears some similarities to training at altitude. At altitude, the body adapts by making more red blood cells that increase the amount of oxygen delivered to muscles, improving performance during training and races at lower altitudes.

Heat training also plays a vital role in the mental component of our sport and when it comes to long distance events, you know what they say about races being 90% mental and 10% in the head. Training in the heat and humidity requires you to overcome mental barriers to push yourself and that sort of toughness can translate into improved performance.

But before you trade in your flip-flops for trainers at noon on a hot day, bear in mind the big drawback in this argument …

In order to get faster you have to run faster in your training. And when it’s hot … and especially, hot and humid … our bodies slow down to prevent dangerously high core temperatures. The result is that we simply can’t run as fast.

Where there’s a will …

The answer then might be to train in cooler temps but to use hot temps to acclimate to exercise in the heat. This option I like, in particular when in search of justification for the odd mid-week ‘brain storming’ session on a lounger by the pool. Of course, if you’ve yet to adopt an unconventional schedule like mine, just hit the sauna by night or drive home with the heater on full blast.

All in all, whilst research into this whole area isn’t extensive, the results of those studies that have been carried out, show striking evidence that heat stress leads to that ever-sought after performance edge. Enough certainly to suggest that elite athletes should use heat in addition to altitude for their training.  And it it’s good enough for the elites, I reckon it’s good enough for you and me!

Of course, that opens up a whole set of new problems with the likes of chaffing and SES so time to lube up baby

PS.  Needless to say, training in the heat requires a degree of sensible caution.  Click here  for more info on the Heat Index and the warning signs to look out for …

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