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Pros and Cons of Running in the Heat

Pros and Cons of Running in the Heat
After a run in the Minnesota heat and humidity.

When first thinking about this post, I expected to find plenty of support for not running in the heat.

In the past, I had done almost anything to avoid running in hot, humid weather. This included getting up before the crack of dawn to complete my run while it was still reasonably cool. Or, I would go inside for a run on a treadmill or an indoor track.

This made sure I got in the miles. However, I now realize I missed out on the benefits of waiting until later in the day to complete my run.

In this post, I share what I have gleaned about the pros and cons of running in the heat. After reading it, you will understand why I am now more inclined to ignore the temperature when deciding when and where to get outside for a summer run – with my water bottle, of course.

Benefits of Running in the Heat

Science shows that running in the heat can help us prepare for races that take place in hot weather. This is not surprising.

However, what is surprising is that the benefits carryover to those races that take place in cooler weather. Beyond this, running in high temperatures can lead to improved overall fitness even if you are not racing this year.

The key, however, is to be careful when running in the heat. More about that under the ‘Cons’ section.

So, what are the benefits?

Adapt to racing in high temperature

Running in the heat helps the body adapt to the heat, or ‘acclimatize’. This is especially important if you have races that will take place in warmer climates.

In an article titled “Coping with Heat for Summer Training“, the Barbell Logic Team writes “One of the best ways to insulate yourself against heat-related problems is acclimatization, allowing your body’s built-in controls to adapt to higher temperatures.”

“Aerobically fit persons who are heat acclimatized and fully hydrated have less body heat storage and perform optimally during exercise-heat stress.”

Michael N. Sawka, C. Bruce Wenger, Andrew J. Young, and Kent B. Pandolf, (1993), ‘Physiological Responses to Exercise in the Heat’ in Marriott BM, editor, Nutritional Needs in Hot Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations. Washington (DC): Available from National Academies Press (US).

Accelerate overall fitness gains

A second benefit of running in high temperatures is that this training can speed up fitness gains, even more so than training at a higher altitude.

An article in the Journal of Applied Physiology titled Heat acclimation improves exercise performance (Lorenzo et al., 2010) reports the major benefits of endurance training in high temperatures as:

  • Increased maximum cardiac output (measured in liters/minute of blood flow) and increased blood plasma volume, both contributing to an increase in VO2max. (VO2max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption, often referred to as the size of one’s ‘engine’.)
  • Increased lactate threshold in cooler temperatures. (In practical terms, the lactate threshold relates to the pace one can sustain for an extended period. A higher threshold implies a higher speed for swimming, biking, and running.)

These benefits also lead to improved performance in cooler conditions. However, the benefits are finite, lasting for 1 to 2 weeks.

Click here if you want to read the technical details of the study that led to these conclusions.

Cons of Running in the Heat

Running in high temperature must be done carefully. Failing to do so can lead to physical and psychological effects that offset potential fitness gains.

Greater discomfort

Running in high heat can be just plain uncomfortable. With more blood being directed toward cooling our body, less is available for our muscles. Trying to maintain a running pace typical of cooler temperatures can lead to a spike in our heart rate and labored breathing.

Nevertheless, having learned of the important benefits of running in the heat and humidity, I slow down and push through the discomfort more easily.

Risk of heat exhaustion

Without properly hydrating or adjusting your training plan, high temperature can lead to heat exhaustion or muscle cramping.

In “Physiological Responses to Exercise in the Heat“, authors Michael N. Sawka et al. (1993) included among their conclusions:

“Dehydration from sweat loss increases plasma tonicity and decreases blood volume, both of which reduce heat loss and result in elevated core temperature levels during exercise-heat stress.”

More sweat

Sweat is our body’s way of controlling its core temperature. And, my sweat mechanism works very well.

During a run in humid heat, I quickly become a sweaty mess. On some days, this includes sloshing wet shoes. (There is hardly anything more unsettling than to see my wet shoe prints on the otherwise dry running trail.)

The problem with sweaty running gear is that it can rub against the skin, laying the groundwork for painful abrasions.

Tips for Safely Running in Heat and Humidity

The conclusion of an article in Podium Runner is “training in heated conditions, two to three times per week for 20 to 90 minutes, can produce a multitude of beneficial training effects.” The benefits include those listed above.

However, consider the following to gain the most and avoid injury from this training.

Avoid becoming dehydrated

For seniors, it is even more important to be conscious of our hydration. In Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors, I noted that our thirst sensation becomes less sensitive with age. Waiting until we become thirsty can give a false sense of hydration.

First, it is important to begin the run properly hydrated. The most reliable way to ensure you are hydrated is to observe the color of your urine. If adequately hydrated, your urine will be clear to light yellow.

Then, during the run, Motion Works Physical Therapy recommends drinking 6-8 ounces of water or sports drink every 15-20 minutes. 

Finally, be sure to rehydrate after the run. An approach to rehydrating recommended by Motion Works is to weigh yourself before (dry clothing) and after a run (sweaty clothing) without clothing to determine the water lost during the run. Knowing the amount of fluid lost during a run will help determine how much water to drink after the run.

Consider electrolyte supplements . . . carefully

Electrolyte supplements may be beneficial during acclimatization. Hyponatremia, a condition resulting from electrolyte depletion caused by consuming too much water during exercise, can be avoided by consuming low doses of electrolytes (e.g. sodium, potassium, and chloride are the main ones) along with water during exercise.

However, remember that our bodies have built mechanisms to control the proper amounts of electrolytes. It is foolish, even unsafe, to consume too much of these necessary elements.

Supplementing to avoid becoming seriously depleted is a more appropriate strategy. An article by Dr. William Misner, former Director of Research & Development at Hammer Nutrition, titled “The Endurolytes Rationale” concluded that “low dose repletion rate generates electrolyte balance [homeostasis] without interfering with the electrolyte levels delicately monitored by natural endogenous processes”.

Fueling before, during, and after a run in the heat may include sports drinks and low dose electrolyte supplements.

Use the right gear

Using lightweight, light colored (to reflect the sun) wicking fabrics can promote evaporative cooling and reduce irritation from sweat-soaked running gear.

I have found that snug fitting shirts that cling to my body prevent the irritation when wet. Conversely, even loose fitting, wicking fabrics rub against sensitive parts of the body making for a painful post-run experience. Tape also works but can fall off when it becomes wet.

Pay attention to your form

On a recent run, I realized that my running form had worsened as I became tired. I now pay more attention to my posture to maximize the benefit of the run.

Did I Miss Anything?

What is your experience with running in the heat? At what point do you call it too hot to run outside and move indoors?

I know that many of you are more accomplished runners than me, so will appreciate your comments.

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How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?

How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?
Heading out of transition for the run at the Eagle River Triathlon near Anchorage, Alaska.

After beginning to train for my first triathlon, I purchased a pair of running shoes from a specialty running store. I was happy with the shoes and the experience. I was also pleased to have learned through this fitting that a wider shoe (2E) is a better fit for me than is a standard width.

However, after that first purchase, I started shopping for shoes online, partly for convenience. I was working full-time and did not relish shopping during the precious hours outside of work.

Online shopping allowed me to take advantage of sale prices which I was sure could not be matched by brick & mortar businesses that sold shoes. (I am now convinced that this was wrong.)

For these purchases, I used internet resources, such as the shoe finder apps and calculators on the websites of some manufacturers, to select specific brands and models of shoes.

Questioning My Process for Selecting Running Shoes

Recently, I came upon a Silver Sneakers post titled 5 Steps to Find the Right Workout Shoes. The article included some new – at least for me – suggestions for lacing and tying running shoes based on foot shape, selecting socks, and breaking in new shoes.

The author’s information was useful. However, comments from the post’s readers were even more enlightening. The author stressed the point that shoes should be comfortable. Meanwhile, the readers highlighted how often shoes did not fit properly or were uncomfortable.

I had to stop and think about how I would go about selecting my next pair of running shoes. What was the most effective way to find them? And, did my needs in a shoe change with age?

Does Age Matter? Yes & No!

I asked Kurt Decker, an avid runner and General Manager of TC Running Company, if he has observed an effect of age on shoe selection.

While, in his experience, the age of the runner is not a specific factor in choosing a running shoe, he has seen some tweaks that runners tend to make with age. The two major changes are:

  1. Increasing the amount of cushioning in the shoe and
  2. Increasing the width of the shoe; feet tend to become wider, or splay, with age and more miles of running.

“Aging is like so much in life – it’s different for each of us.”

Terry VanderWert

The Running Store Approach to Choosing Shoes

Even before reading the SilverSneakers article, I had started to question the online tools I had used for selecting shoes.

Every time I used a particular calculator, a different model of shoe would be recommended even though I had given the same answers to the questions. Besides, how could static tests of balance and bending account for dynamic movements during running?

I decided to visit the local TC Running store to experience their fitting process. When we first met, I told the salesperson, Travis, that I was doing research for a Senior Triathletes post. As a result, he was kind enough to explain the process and shoes in detail.

Step 1: Evaluating a Current Pair of Slightly Worn Running Shoes

I have read that the wear pattern on a current pair of running shoes paints a picture of the owner’s running form. Therefore, I brought along a pair of shoes that were the most worn yet still being used for running.

Travis asked if the shoes had been used exclusively or nearly always for running (which they had been) or for other non-running activities such as walking around my home or office. Running creates a unique set of movements and stresses and, therefore, wear pattern.

He pointed out that while conventional wisdom involves inspecting the heel for its wear pattern, the more important area to inspect is across the width of the shoe under the ball of the foot. The uniform wear on my shoes pointed out that I have a fairly neutral gait and foot strike. He was also able to see a small but minimal effect of asymmetry in my ankles.

A moderately worn pair of running shoes. We used these as part of the process for choosing new running shoes.

Step 2: Checking My Gait Without Shoes

Before choosing a single pair of shoes, Travis had me walk with socks but no shoes across a hard surface. He observed my movement as I walked about 10 yards away from and then back to him.

From this, he selected three pairs of shoes based on the level of support he judged that I needed.

Step 3: Observing My Running Gait

Next, I tried on shoes from two manufacturers. The shoes represented two different technologies for support of the foot during running.

I did not try the third pair; I was not planning to purchase shoes that day and did not want to keep Travis from ‘paying customers’.

The first pair I tried were light gray Brooks Adrenaline 19 with GuideRail technology. GuideRails, new with this year’s models, provide support through, as the name implies, rails (rods) molded into the shoe on each side of its heel.

The second shoes, an olive green pair from New Balance, provide support through stiff foam along the edges of the shoe from the heel to middle of the arch.

I jogged about 10 yards away from and then back toward Travis in each of the pairs while he observed me. His conclusion was that both pairs appeared to provide the required support.

Both shoes were extremely comfortable and nice looking. They surely made me want to buy a pair, though I resisted the temptation since I didn’t need them yet.

Brick & Mortar or Online?

I am much more likely to purchase from a brick & mortar store like TC Running Company, that specializes in running shoes, rather than from an online store.

As near as I could tell from the discussions, the prices from TC Running are comparable to those from online sources. For the price-conscious shopper, TC Running also offers ‘last year’s’ models at discounted prices, just like the online stores.

Even if the prices were slightly higher, I would be much more confident in the selection of shoe based on a dynamic evaluation of my running form than from a static-only (at best) assessment with the online stores.

I understand why businesses choose to sell online. After all, an online store allows you to cater to shoppers who cannot browse and buy when retail locations are not traditionally open. As well as that, an ecommerce platform (visit this link to see one) can provide data and analytics about products and customers much quicker and easier than if that were to be analysed in a brick & mortar store. But for me, the actual store always wins.

If the Shoe Fits, You Will Wear It

Most runner’s shoes are selected after trying on several pairs of shoes to find a pair that provides the balance of support, fit, and comfort. The same process for determining the right shoes is used for all ages, even if the outcome in terms of the specific shoes that are selected changes with time.

Remember: Shoes that fit properly and feel comfortable when running are much more likely to get used.

Leave Your Comments and Questions Below

Where do you buy your running shoes?

How, if at all, have you found your shoes to change with age?

Please share your thoughts below.

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What Does Science Say About Running for Seniors?

What Does Science Say About Running for Seniors?

Is running safe for seniors, defined here as those age 50 and over? What if our joints are showing early or advanced signs of arthritis?

This post summarizes what I learned while investigating what science has to say about running for seniors.

What Does the Research About Seniors and Running Tell Us?

A majority of senior triathletes come to the sport from a background of running. However, those who have not spent their ‘before triathlon’ lives as runners face at least some level of confusion about whether they should begin running later in life. The ‘conventional wisdom’ is that running is hard on our joints, especially those that may already show signs of age.

An internet search of the phrase ‘running vs. walking’ produced interesting and even pleasantly surprising results from academic research. It turns out that academic research results do not support the conventional wisdom.

I must preface the following comments with the disclaimer that the physicians of some, including my wife, who have artificial knees, hips, or other joints may advise their patients against running. I am not qualified to debate this advice.

However, if your doctor has given you the ‘ok’ to run, then consider the following.

Running and Injuries for Seniors

A review of 400 articles which covered 15 studies based on data gathered for the same subjects over time produced the following conclusions:

A drawback of running is the relatively high risk of injury, with an incidence varying between 19% and 79% according to a review of several studies. . . . Acute running injuries are rare, consisting mainly of muscle injuries, sprain, or skin lesions (blisters and abrasions).[1]

The major conclusions from this review were that the tendency for injury is higher for those, especially men, with a history of leg injuries and that shoe inserts/orthotics should be avoided. The authors admitted that there could be a connection between previous injury and the use of inserts. “It is possible that runners who are more prone to injury are given orthotic/inserts earlier”.

Only one of eight studies included in the review showed that age had a significant effect on injuries. In the one study which did show an effect, age was shown to make subjects more susceptible to overuse injuries, especially to the hamstrings and Achilles tendon.

Another report showed that the link to leg injuries is primarily related to two anatomical factors – feet with high arches (cavus feet) and unequal leg length.[2]

There is also evidence that for older runners, the loss of shock-absorbing capability can increase overuse injuries. However, this can be countered through the use of running shoes with optimal cushioning properties and by limiting running under high impact conditions.[3]

The Benefits of Running Outweigh the Risks

Even if we interpret these studies to mean that older runners are more susceptible to overuse injuries, the conclusions suggest that these factors can be managed.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence from research to show that there are important benefits of running.

Muscular efficiency – improved ability for ‘moving young

One study[4] showed that “older runners had a 7-10% better walking economy than older walkers over the range of speeds tested . . . and had walking economy similar to young sedentary adults over a similar range of speeds”. The researchers concluded that “Running mitigates the age-related deterioration of walking economy whereas walking for exercise appears to have minimal effect on the age-related deterioration in walking economy.”

Another study[5] concluded that older runners had modified their biomechanics to adjust for reduced strength of some muscles of the calf. The result was more effective movement of older runners during walking as compared to their non-runner counterparts. Researchers concluded that “runners may be able to transfer motor adaptation from running to walking even in old age.”

One other study[6] concluded similarly that “vigorous exercise, such as running, prevents the age related deterioration of muscular efficiency and, therefore, may make everyday activities easier.” The study showed that “running economy”, which is determined primarily by the storage and release of elastic energy from the leg, is only minimally different between young runners and those over 65 years.

A senior triathlete running across the finish line of the Maple Grove Minnesota triathlon

Crossing the finish line at the Maple Grove, Minnesota triathlon

Weight control through running for seniors

Running has also been shown to be more effective for weight control than walking alone. In one study[7], researchers attempted to determine if running and other exercises, including walking, would produce the same benefits in terms of weight control (BMI and waist circumference). The conclusion was that non-running exercises could not be substituted for running to achieve the same weight loss results.

Similarly, another study[8] showed that even though the change in BMI is strongly related to the change in energy expended for both running and walking, the change in BMI was greater for running than walking This means that running would be good to get involved in, and getting some appropriate clothing (such as that from https://www.ryderwear.com/collections/womens-shorts
) can help the process be easier and less dragging on the body.

Reduced mortality from certain chronic diseases and cancers

Studies have also shown that exercise, whether running or walking, significantly reduces cardiovascular disease, Chronic Kidney Disease, pneumonia, influenza and other illnesses in people with diabetes. [9] Likewise, the risk for fatal brain cancer has been shown to be reduced by both running and walking. [10]

Running has also been shown to significantly reduce mortality of breast cancer after diagnosis, whereas walking was shown to have a non-significant effect. [11]

More Running is Not Always Better?

People who are physically active have at least a 30% lower risk of death compared to those who are inactive. However, according to conclusions of the Copenhagen City Heart Study [12], the ideal amount of exercise for improving longevity is uncertain.

Findings of the study found that light and moderate runners have lower mortality than sedentary non-runners. On the other hand, “people who run most days of the week at a pace faster than 7 miles per hour have the same risk of death as sedentary individuals.” [13] That’s good news for slow runners like me!

Running Can Be Good For Seniors

Science shows that running has a number of health benefits. The benefits of running are generally greater than those from walking alone, especially when done in moderation.

While running is more likely to lead to injury than walking, paying attention to and minimizing conditions that lead to overuse injuries – along with strength training and stretching – will minimize the occurrence of injuries.

Remember, if you have not been running recently, start slowly (see How To Start – Or Re-Start – Running). If you have been running, don’t increase distance or intensity too quickly.

Leave Your Comments and Questions Below

What are your thoughts about the conclusions presented here?

Has your running changed with age? If so, how?

References

[1] van der Worp, Maarten P., et al., “Injuries in Runners; A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences”, PLoS One, 2015; 10(2): e0114937.

[2] Fields, Karl B., et al., “Prevention of Running Injuries“, Current Sports Medicine Reports: May/June 2010 – Volume 9 – Issue 3 – pp 176-182.

[3] Bus S. A., “Ground reaction forces and kinematics in distance running in older-aged men“, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Jul;35(7):1167-75.

[4] Ortega J. D., et al., “Running for exercise mitigates age-related deterioration of walking economy“, PLoS One. 2014 Nov 20;9(11):e113471.

[5] Karamanidis, K., et al., “Aging and running experience affects the gearing in the musculoskeletal system of the lower extremities while walking“, Gait & Posture, April 2007; 25(4):590-6.

[6] Beck O. N., et al., “Older Runners Retain Youthful Running Economy despite Biomechanical Differences.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Apr;48(4):697-704.

[7] Williams P. T., “Non-exchangeability of running vs. other exercise in their association with adiposity, and its implications for public health recommendations“, PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e36360.

[8] Williams, Paul T., “Greater Weight Loss from Running than Walking during 6.2-yr Prospective Follow-up“, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Apr; 45(4): 706–713.

[9] Williams P. T., “Reduced total and cause-specific mortality from walking and running in diabetes“, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(5):933-9.

[10] Williams P. T., “Significantly greater reduction in breast cancer mortality from post-diagnosis running than walking“, Int J Cancer. 2014 Sep 1;135(5):1195-202.

[11] Williams P. T., “Reduced risk of brain cancer mortality from walking and running“, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(5):927-32.

[12] Schnohr P., et al., “Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study“, J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Feb 10;65(5):411-9.

[13] Greenfield, Paige, “Why Walking Is Better Than Running”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/prevention/walking-versus-running_b_8123084.html.

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Masters Running: What Hal Higdon Teaches About ‘Moving Young‘

Masters Running: What Hal Higdon Teaches About ‘Moving Young‘

A review of “Masters Running: a guide to running and staying fit after 40”, Hal Higdon, Rodale Press ©2005.

Staying active as we age is one way to not only live longer but with higher quality.  Of the 500 respondents to a survey of runners, 93% indicated that they ran to stay fit.

In his book “Masters Running”, Hal Higdon shares advice from his life as a runner.  Lessons from his experience will help you become a better runner and decrease the inevitable effects of aging.

 

A Little Background

Running is my weakest leg of a triathlon.

I could resign myself to the fact that, according to Dr. David L. Costill, I had simply failed to “carefully select my parents”.  However, I don’t just want to participate in triathlon.  I want to compete in the sport.  For this reason, I have read several books on running and am following a run training program from “Run Less, Run Faster” by Bill Pierce et al.

However, I found the advice from Hal Higdon particularly useful when I started running around 10 years ago.  I have also followed his ideas for the times I have restarted running after an injury or extended time away from running.

 

About the Author of “Masters Running”

Hal Higdon is a competitive runner and has been since he was in college at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.  He continued to run after college and competed internationally at Masters (over age 40) events.

However, despite his own accomplishments, he was struck by 91-year-old Duncan MacClean who he described as ‘moving young’ despite his age.    As Higdon wrote, cosmetic surgery and hair color can change our appearance, but unless we stay active, the first time we move, we will give away our age.  Celebrated USA Triathlete Tony Schiller made a similar comment during our conversation.

In the book, Higdon shares the results of academic research that, in the late 1970’s, documented what we now take for granted, that those who remain active, live longer on average.  The more strenuous the activity the greater the effect.  Swimming, biking, and running are among the activities that have the most impact on longevity.

near-the-finish-line-at-the-Georgia-triathlon

Sprint to the finish line at the Lake Lanier Islands Triathlon 2018. The picture was taken by Tim Nettleton for TrueSpeedPhoto.com and provided compliments of Georgia Multisports.

Starting to Run

Starting from the proof provided from studies by researchers Ralph S. Paffenberger, Jr., M.D.; Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D.; Michael L. Pollock, Ph.D.; Jack H. Wilmore, Ph.D.; and David L. Costill, Ph.D., Higdon shares ideas on how to become a runner and continue running well into the senior years.

There is no argument that our abilities and needs relative to running and other types of physical exercise change as we age.  Nevertheless, those who commit to running can be successful by:

  • starting to train,
  • training more once started,
  • training smarter, and
  • learning when to rest.

While it is best if we never get out of shape, this news may be too late for some.  We must work with what we have and start from where we are.

If you want to start running, Higdon provides a simple plan that he calls the ’30/30 Plan’.  This approach involves a mix of walking and running for 30 minutes per day for 30 days.

 

Improving the Run

Having started running, we can adopt Higdon’s ideas for improving our running ability by:

  • gradually, but consistently, increasing the intensity (speed and distance) of running
  • strength training.

Higdon makes a major case for strength training indicating that the number one goal for the book is to convince the reader to include regular strength training in our routines.  The book includes an entire chapter on how to create a personalized strength training program.

Training smarter includes cross training.  This fits the plans of a triathlete who must train in three sports.  Higdon also identifies sports that support running, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as complementary activities such as stretching.

“Masters Running” includes information about rest and recovery.  Proper rest and recovery helps to prevent injury while maintaining the benefits of previous smart training.

 

Order “Masters Running”

Through examples and anecdotes from his nearly lifelong experience with running, Higdon not only makes points important to becoming a better runner but also illustrates why these are important, something our inquiring minds appreciate.

 

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