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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.


Why Senior Triathletes Should Use Interval Training

Why Senior Triathletes Should Use Interval Training

Interval training for senior triathletes provides important health and fitness benefits through short, intense periods of exercise. It is not surprising that, in recent years, high intensity interval training, or HIIT, has been among the most researched type of fitness program.

The interest in HIIT comes in part because of its value for the growing population of seniors. For the older athlete, HIIT can be an important part of a training plan. Why? Because it reduces the wear and tear of continuous, low to medium intensity exercise used to help us stay competitive as we age.

What is HIIT?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), high-intensity intervals are defined as those exercises performed at 80 to 95 per cent of one’s maximum heart rate. Intervals are between five seconds and eight minutes long.

The periods of high intensity are followed by periods of complete rest or active recovery performed at 40 to 50 per cent of one’s maximum heart rate. These periods depend on a person’s fitness but are generally longer than the high intensity period. As you will read further on, recovery is a critical part of an effective HIIT protocol.

Since there are so many ways to apply the principles of HIIT, this technique is used by elite and amateur athletes. It is even used as part of cardiac rehabilitation.

HIIT exercises can be performed in the gym using stationary bikes and treadmills, in the pool or lake, and at home using only bodyweight.

You May Already Be Using HIIT

If you have taken a cycling class at your local fitness center, you have probably made use of HIIT. Tabata, one of the most well known methods of applying HIIT, consists of eight repetitions of 20 seconds pedaling at 170% of maximum sustainable oxygen uptake followed by 10 seconds of rest. Done properly, the cyclist will maintain the same level of power for each repetition, rather than have the power taper off with each successive interval or even vary between intervals.

Other examples of high intensity interval training for the swim and run legs of a sprint triathlon are:

Interval training helps senior triathletes be more competitive racers.
High intensity interval training can help athletes of any age become more fit and competitive racers.

Benefits of High Intensity Intervals

High intensity interval training has three main benefits:

  • Reduces the tendency for overuse injuries,
  • Minimizes boredom – and the tendency to skip workouts – from repeating the same routine day after day,
  • Increases performance, that is, helps us become faster.

While longer, moderate intensity workouts build our body’s aerobic system, high intensity intervals tap into and strengthen both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

In a May 22, 2019 article in Science Focus magazine titled “HIIT is changing the way we work out, here’s the science why it works“, author Jamie Millar explains the changes occurring during and as a result of high intensity intervals:

“Ramping up the intensity forces your body to tap into its anaerobic system for energy, because it can’t supply the oxygen required to work aerobically quickly enough; in the recovery intervals, your body reverts to its aerobic system. As the session goes on, your body relies less on the anaerobic system, because quick-release energy sources of phosphocreatine and glycogen (glucose stored in your muscles) become depleted. Your body will therefore start to rely more on the aerobic system, which releases energy more sustainably but slowly from fat.”

In Millar’s comments, we see benefits in developing our anaerobic system and in burning more fat. The latter is one reason why HIIT (along with proper nutrition) is great for weight loss.

What Senior Triathletes Should Know About Interval Training

Getting the most from HIIT and avoiding injury from it requires a well-thought out and properly executed plan. Here are three fundamentals of this type of routine.

First, Warmup

Before engaging in intense intervals, it is essential to warm up our muscles and get our heart rate up. My typical warmup is a 10 to 15 minute swim, bike, or run before the interval portion of the session.

Second, Recover Properly

Recovery in the context of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has three meanings:

  • Recovery between each interval of a session,
  • Proper recovery at the end of HIIT session, and
  • Fully recovering between sessions.

Recovery during a HIIT session – Experts remind us to honor the recovery time specified in each interval. During the so-called ‘recovery interval’, our body clears out lactic acid from our muscles. One study showed that a recovery of 3 minutes between 4 minute running intervals led to faster, more productive intervals than when shorter or self-selected recovery intervals were used.

Recovery after a HIIT sessionA study by the German Federal Institute of Sport Science showed that active recovery, such as 15 minutes of moderate jogging after a HIIT session, led to a beneficial increase in anaerobic lactate threshold compared to passive recovery.

Recovery between sessions – Between HIIT sessions, it is important for our body to eliminate the lactic acid, hydrogen ions, and hormones (e.g. adrenaline) produced during the anaerobic exercise. For some types of HIIT, recovery also involves repair of micro tears of the muscles.

It is because of the time and need for complete recovery between intense sessions that most training programs include no more than one HIIT session per week.

Third, Be Patient

As with any form of physical activity that I can think of, doing too much too soon is a formula for injury. The key is to progress slowly.

For example, here is an example of a progression I have used, one that has NOT led to injury:

  • Hill repeats – start with 2 x 15-20 seconds running up a hill with at least 8% grade (8 feet [meters] rise over 100 feet [meters] distance) after a 10-15 minute warm-up run. Repeat every 7 to 14 days adding two repeats each session to a maximum of 10 per session. (Source: Stryd.)

On the other hand, I have become injured twice while trying to run intervals too fast. Too fast in this case means significantly faster than my 5k race pace. In one case, I injured a hamstring. Another time, I injured muscles around both knees.

Both injuries required a week without running. I am sure that I lost more than I gained from the sessions.

Managing Risks

The idea of becoming fit for little investment in time may sound appealing. However, that should not be the takeaway from this post.

To gain the benefits and avoid possible serious injury, HIIT must be done properly. The risk of high intensity can outweigh the benefits if done improperly.

Before starting a HIIT program, proponents of HIIT unanimously agree that you should discuss your plans with your physician.

How Do You Use High Intensity Intervals in Your Training?

Comment below to let us know how you are using intervals in your training? What have been the results?

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Book Review: “Atomic Habits” for Triathletes

Book Review: “Atomic Habits” for Triathletes

“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear is for those, including triathletes, who wish to create new, performance-enhancing habits. It is also for those who want to eliminate destructive habits.

In the Introduction to the book, Mr. Clear shares a powerful case study involving the British Cycling team. By applying the principles in this book, the team went from a perennial loser on the world stage during the 20th and early 21st centuries to the dominant competitor from 2007 to 2017.

During this ten-year period, British cyclists earned 178 world championships and sixty-six Olympic or Paralympic gold medals. They also won five Tour de France races.

This is the first example of many that highlights how so-called atomic habits have been used to improve fitness training, running, and personal and professional development efforts.

Following are my takeaways from the book, from the perspective of a triathlete.

What are ‘Atomic Habits’?

Atomic habits are regular activities or routines that, while small (hence the word ‘atomic’) and easy to do, provide significant impact (also related to ‘atomic’) on a process. Repeating these over time (as a habit) leads to a compounding effect.

According to James Clear, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.”1

Developing the habit of consistent, regular and structured training is an example of an atomic habit related to triathlon.

How to Develop Positive ‘Atomic Habits’

“Atomic Habits” summarizes the approach to developing new, performance-enhancing habits in a two-step process:

  • Determine the person you want to be and how you want to be defined.
  • Take small actions that prove that you are this person. Repeat these actions.

Related post: Book Review: The New Psycho-Cybernetics

Rather than focusing on the action you want to achieve (such as to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon), the approach described in “Atomic Habits” starts with defining yourself in terms of the person who will achieve the goal.

In the triathlon example, the person makes the subtle but important change to define him/herself as an Olympic triathlete. From here, the triathlete develops a training plan, eating habits, sleep behaviors, and so on (the process) consistent with an Olympic-distance triathlete.

The new habits develop through a four-step process detailed in the book and described in the first column of the table below.

StepMakes object of a good habitMakes object of a bad habit

James Clear also describes ways to make sure the new habit sticks. These include habit stacking (combining an existing positive habit with the desired new habit), changing the environment, and reframing a habit (from “I have to go for a run” to “I get to go out into the fresh air and improve my heart health”).

You will also learn about the Diderot Effect and the Goldilocks Rule and how these can support building new habits.

Be Patient, New Habits Require Time

It often takes time to make new habits part of our new-normal routine. Mr. Clear cautions us to be wary in how we interpret the results as we work to develop new habits.

The tendency is to expect linear results. For example, in my training, I expect to see consistent (linear) reductions in my 5k time as I restart running after a break. However, this is not the way results typically come.

The graph of Results vs. Time below shows Mr. Clear’s representation of our expectations and experience as we build new habits.

Figure 1: Plateau of Latent Potential from page 22 of “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

While we expect linear results, results are non-linear. The gap between the expected and actual results creates what Clear calls a “Valley of Disappointment”.

Seeing this graph for the first time created an ‘Aha-moment’. My experiences in run training definitely follow this, one reason that patience is so important. When impatience wins, I will try to speed up the results by training harder or longer. The result is usually injury and longer recovery time.


Our beliefs and the views of ourself can be engaged to drive processes that help us achieve our goals. Focusing on becoming the person we want to be can lead to greater performance than had we focused on the goal. Atomic habits help us become who we want to be and perform at a higher level.

For More Information About “Atomic Habits”

“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” is available in print and audio versions at Amazon.com by clicking the link or picture below.

You can also see the text for free by clicking here.

Throughout the book, James Clear refers to resources on his website for creating atomic habits. Please checkout the website at https://jamesclear.com/.

Follow the links below to purchase “Atomic Habits” on Amazon.com.

  1. Clear, James, “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”, Avery, 1st edition (October 16, 2018), p. 17.)

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