There are three major issues for running, which cannot be controlled, and can negatively affect a run. They raise your heart rate and rob you of important resources. Anything which raises your heart rate, will cause greater consumption of glycogen, which comes from carbs. This limited reservoir, when depleted, is the reason you “bonk,” “hit the wall,” etc. I refer to these issues as the “Three H’s from Hell for Runners.” They are: Heat, Hills and Head Winds. Not in any order. Yes, other factors, such as lack of sleep, general fatigue or sickness, can also cause your heart rate to be higher. In many cases, those factors can be controlled, and can all be caused by over training. In other words, doing too much, without sufficient recovery.
This article is on Summer Runnin’, which can often mean Heat. Let’s face it, we live in the South Bay, not known for snow storms. It’s that white stuff. Never mind.
Heat can impact several factors, all of which we can be controlled. That is, if you understand what is going on. Glycogen loss: As stated above, heat causes your heart rate to increase and glycogen is consumed at a greater rate. This occurs as your body is trying to cool itself. Think of yourself as a giant radiator. Liquid flows from the hottest internal source, the engine, out to the radiator, where it is cooled, and sent back to the internal engine. Your body reacts the same way. Blood flows from your heart, through vital internal organs out to the epidermal layer of your skin (pores). It is there, where sweat and waste product gasses are released. Along with all that, heat is expelled out of your body, and the cooler blood goes back to the heart. The amazing thing about our water pump, in this case, our heart, is it can pump harder and faster, to move more blood. This enables us to more efficiently remove heat from our body. One of the most disabling elements for a runner is heat. We already generate more from running. Add a hot day to the mix, and it can be a real issue. Heat exhaustion can slow you down greatly, while Heat Stroke is debilitating. There are other serious issues attributed to heat.
Hyponutremia: is a condition where the body is depleted of sodium. Heat causes greater sweat rates, which in turn can cause a depletion of sodium in the body. During this condition, your body will get to a point where you can no longer absorb hydration. If you ever felt water jiggling around your stomach, nausea, or a few other symptoms, you may be experiencing hyponatremia. One Runners World article referenced a study, suggesting one in five marathon finishers suffer from hyponatremia, by the finish line. Obviously, this rate would differ with warmer climates. Drinking a lot of water can deplete sodium, and all mineral reserves. Sport drinks contain sodium, but possibly not enough to stave off hyponatremia. Gatorade Endurance is among those sports drinks, according to their chief designer, years ago. They simply cannot mix enough sodium in to Gatorade and keep it drinkable. Often, drinking less has been attributed to solving this crisis. The problem with this idea, discussed next, is not enough hydration can lead to dehydration and a loss of energy output. Not to mention, greater overheating. Taking in sodium, via pill form, or sport drink, or any form, can stop hyponatremia. Pretty simple.
NOTE: Mineral depletion is not a cause for cramping.
Dehydration: As stated above, sweat is used to regulate heat in the body. A reduced volume of hydration means less blood. This in turn forces the heart to work even harder, to move blood, out to the epidermal layers of skin, to release heat. The greater the dehydration, the greater the heart works. The more the heart works, the greater the glycogen depletion and fatigue. You get the picture. So, keep drinking.
Solutions: Pro-athletes have used cryo-chambers, or wore ice vests before a race. For us non-pros, this is ridiculous. Basically, as the heat goes up, the pace needs to come down. That’s it. Otherwise, glycogen reserves will be depleted too quickly, and dehydration and mineral loss will occur faster. For those of us wanting a race PR, drinking more sports drink, mineral pills can help dramatically minimize the effects of heat. It does not need to destroy your race. In fact, planning can help greatly. Training in the heat can help acclimatize the body to heat. You become more efficient becoming accustomed to the heat. It’s that training thing.
So, train smart, and train to win. Cause if you don’t you won’t and if you do, you just might. Have a fun Summer!