Is it safe to run outside on a sunny, hot day?

I’ve never considered myself a fair-weather runner. In fact, I generally enjoy the days that are a bit of a challenge: snow storm, hail, pouring rain. However, it’s usually sunny, hot days that I find the best excuses NOT to go running. And since we’ve run into a mini-heatwave here in Calgary, I thought I’d do a little bit more digging on the subject.

So naturally I googled it (duh). There were a myriad of forums and polls from runners all over the world chiming in on what’s too hot to run. Runners from Kuwait, Dubai, US and Canada; some claiming that anything above normal body temperature could get you in trouble, while others believe that there’s no such thing as too hot to run. Curious as to whether this was personal preference or fact, I consulted the be all in running: Runners World. The consensus is that anything above 90 F (32 C) is too hot. And just for the record, the UK government has legislation dictating that a workplace temperature above 30 C is too dangerous for employees (just to put it into perspective).

After reading the tragic story of Kelly Watts, an 18 year old man who died in July 2007 due to complications from heatstroke after a training session in Virginia, I quickly jumped to the notion that running in the heat is serious. Watt’s was a terrifically fit young man, who trained exceptionally hard running upwards of 50 miles per week. He ate an apple a day; drank only water and 100% fruit juice and maintained a healthy lifestyle – so what happened?

Watts went for a run at the hottest time of the day; the temperature somewhere in the mid 90’s (35 Celsius). Heatstroke is a form of hyperthermia where the body reaches a temperature of 104 F (40 C). Very high temperatures can damage the body’s organs – which, sadly is what happened to Watt’s.

There’s a point at which running does become uncomfortable (not unbearable) and still safe; but there’s also a point where it becomes completely unbearable and dangerous. So how can you beat the heat?

(1) Run in the morning or evening, when it’s cooler

(2) Hydrate! Make sure you drink plenty of fluids. If you must run at a hotter point in the day, bring water with you or slip some money into your bra (or sock) to buy water.

(4) Apply sunscreen! There’s been research indicating that marathoners have a higher case of skin-cancer. Whether or not his is totally conclusive, slap that stuff on – it can’t hurt!

(5) If you must run during a hot day, buddy-up. Research has shown that from onset of heatstroke, if treated within 30 minutes the situation can be reversed. If you are running with a friend and run into problems you have a better chance at recovery.

(6) Choose appropriate clothing. I’ve seen people running in sweatshirts and toques during hot, summer days. This is really dumb and speeds up your odds of dehydration. Wear cool, light clothing.

(7)¬†Workout indoors. If it is ridiculously hot out, take it inside. It’s safer.

So if you decide to run in the extreme heat (anything above 30 C) run with a friend and make sure you run in a urban area. Keep an eye on one-another. There are warning signs of heatstroke:

  • most obvious is an elevated body temperature (know when you’re hot and when you’re really hot)
  • red, hot, dry skin (no sweat)
  • rapid, strong pulse
  • throbbing headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • unconsciousness

If you suspect you or someone you’re running with has heatstroke, do the following:

  • call 9-1-1
  • get them to a shady area
  • do whatever you can to cool their body down (e.g.: remove clothing, use hose or water bottle to spray them down)
  • do not force them to drink fluids (they may throw it back up)

I not only find it uncomfortable to run on hot days, I just downright hate it. So I won’t be running in any extreme heat, but if you decide to please be safe!