Marathon Training in the Heat and Humidity
Hi, Coach Jenny. I'm training for a marathon and I'm having a heck of a time getting acclimated to the weather. (I live in Georgia, and it's very hot and humid.) I've tried changing the time of day I run, but with the temperature being in the 80s with high humidity in the morning and at night, it's still quite a challenge. Is there a way I can get used to the weather so it doesn't slow me down so much? It's hard to enjoy a run with squelching heat and humidity! - Amee
Hi, Amee! The heat can suck the life out of you. But the good news is there are a lot of tricks you can implement to get in your marathon training. The first one is to avoid trying to "beat" the heat. You can't beat it, but you can learn to work with it. Understand that when the heat and humidity are both high, you'll need to tweak your training strategy. Think of heat and humidity the way mountain climbers think of altitude as they climb Everest. The higher they go, the harder it gets because of the altitude and oxygen. But they do acclimate to a degree...
With heat and humidity, the higher they rise, the harder it is for your body to cool itself. It becomes a battle for blood—the muscles want it so they can move, and the skin wants it so it can cool your body. Like the Everest climbers, your body will acclimate, learning to sweat more, allowing your body to cool more efficiently. But the real key to running in the heat is to learn to modify your effort level and strategy and work with it. And here are a few ways you can do that and make friends with the heat:
- Slow your running pace on your long runs and add a 1- to 2-minute walk break every 4-6 minutes. Although you may think walking will slow you down, it will do the exact opposite. Those breaks will allow your heart rate and body core temp to drop or maintain, allowing you to continue to run at the same effort level. They'll also allow you to run stronger over the long run on average in the heat and humidity. The power walk breaks prevent your body core temps from rising too high.
Incorporate 30-second to one-minute walk breaks in your shorter runs as well. Again, it will allow you to get in your run with better quality and better allow you to acclimate to the heat.
- If your training calls for a quality speed workout, consider running it indoors on a track or treadmill. You will get in a better run and reap the benefits of the speed in cooler temperatures.
- Join a team (if you haven't already) to train with. Most of the training teams I am aware of in the south start their long runs at 4 a.m. to get it in before the temperatures rise. This may sound like a tough order, but training with a group makes it a little easier to get up and out earlier and getting in the long runs before the sun rises makes a significant difference.
- As the summer draws to a close and the temperatures begin to drop, begin to shorten and/or eventually remove the walk breaks in order to prepare for the marathon.
- Again, think of heat and humidity as something you need to work with rather than beat. It will never be "easy" to run in the heat, but it can be "easier." The minute you make friends and modify your training, your body will better acclimate and take you step for step through every mile needed to get to the marathon start line.
So, I'm actually doing EVERYTHING right. Good to know!
On the shoe front, the lovely Asics Gel Nimbus 9's hurt my feet. And they are too wide in the toe box. And they don't provide the stability I need. They make me feel like I'm running in clown shoes. Badly. They went back to the store last night (I had the foresight to only run indoors on the track and treadmill in them just in case). The quest for the right shoe continues....