Where else in the world could there be a billion potential runners, facing some of the most oppressive heat and humidity conditions, except in India? But you don’t find much written in books or websites on how how non-athletes can combat these conditions.
Here are some general tips—some of which are written about and some just from my first-hand experience of running in Delhi’s 40°C heat and its summer dust, when I was training for my 18th marathon.
Dress in light-coloured apparel and ensure they are lightweight, cool, sweat-wicking fabrics (which will cool you as the sweat evaporates). We’ve talked about this in greater detail in an earlier column (Cotton was King, 24 April) so check it out if you missed it.
I find a long-sleeved suitable T-shirt works in summer as it also keeps my arms cool, especially as the sweat evaporates.
See that your shoes have a mesh/ vents to keep your socks dry and your feet cool. A month ago, we talked about the importance of good shoes and socks that would wick away your sweat (The Perfect Fit, 10 April) .
A bottle of water is a must, both to sip from every 10 minutes or so, and also to pour water over your head to cool you down through evaporation. Your head absorbs heat and keeping it cool is the first principle when running in summer.
Definitely wear a cap, sunglasses and a headband—to keep cool and the sweat off your eyes and the heat off your head.
Run early when the sun is at it’s weakest and choose your path so that much of your run is in the shade. Else, check out the gardens—Delhi has plenty—Lodhi, Nehru Park, Qudsia Garden, the Ridge, Buddha Jayanti Park and Sanjay Van to name a few. Mumbai has its beaches as well as the Cross, Azad and Oval maidans.
Run against the traffic if you’re on the road—and if you start early enough you can actually feel some of the cool wind in your hair. I find the Delhi summer dust at it’s mildest early in the morning, and the low traffic at that time also helps.
Check your pace. Try running a bit slower than in winter, take more frequent walking breaks, and run shorter distances if required. The general thumb rule is to do an easier pace if the going is tough, while on an incline, on a hot day or if you are not feeling absolutely great. Listen to your body—that is your best doctor.
Try and see if you can get multiple buddies for your early morning run. If one keeps away, then you have another to fall back on for company. It also helps keep the ‘pressure’ on each one of you not to miss the scheduled run.
Use a treadmill if it’s really hot, and if you have access to one. I seldom use ours at home as I prefer running outdoors. Treadmill running, even in air-conditioned rooms, is at times more gruelling since you do not have a continuous draft of air as you do when you run outdoors.
For those of you leaving town on a vacation in summer, carry light and compact running gear with you. It’s a great way to unwind, sightsee, get fitter and feel more energized.
It’s always great to be able to swim in summer as you cool down on days when you are not running. Try aqua running too, where you stand in a pool in chest-high water and do a running movement across the breadth of the pool with your legs and arms swinging, but fairly straight. Even 15 minutes of this can give you a great workout.
Prevention is always better than cure
Have a salt/sugar drink before your run—lime or fruit juice with salt—to avoid dehydration, which can lead to an electrolyte imbalance.
While keeping well-hydrated is important, don’t overdo it. If you experience a headache, disorientation or muscle twitching while running, it could be due to excessive water intake (where salt levels get reduced significantly) so don’t drink any more water, stop running and seek medical attention. To prevent this, take frequent sips of water but no large gulps; see if you can carry a sports drink instead of water.
Reduce caffeine, alcohol, antihistamines and anti-inflammatories close to a long run as all these tend to dehydrate the body to an extent.
Increase fruit and vegetable intake to get essential nutrients—try vegetable juices too, and add a bit of salt to make up for what you lose as you run.
As humidity levels rise closer to the onset of the monsoons, carry an extra bottle of water and take small sips as you sweat.
The most important thing is to listen to your body. Sometimes, even when it is quite hot, you feel just fine, and sometimes, even when it is cooler, your body complains that it is too hot. Listen to it, and you will most likely never have a problem and will stay fit in summer.
In fact, summer is a time when our appetites wane and is ideal for losing weight and shedding those extra inches. So, if we combine this natural ‘diet’ control with some running exercise, we may find ourselves considerably trimmer and fitter before the festive season starts.
Next time we will visit the basics of a warm up, cool down and stretching, to help you in your running. Enjoy the summer.
Rahul S. Verghese is director, Global Consumer Insights, Motorola.
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