The sun is out and summer has arrived. After months of running in cool, comfortable temperatures, runners are now faced with oppressive humidity and scorching heat. But it takes more than that to stop us from running.
At least that’s our side of the story. Sometimes the body has other priorities.
Running is a cardiovascular activity that leads to an increase in heart rate and body temperature. Homeostasis is the body’s tendency to use every system it has to maintain a relatively consistent state of being. When we run in extreme heat, we are elevating our body temperature and messing with this homeostasis, and the body doesn’t like that. In fact, we like stability so much that our bodies have multiple built-in alarm systems that activate when this equilibrium is disrupted. For example, baroreceptors can sense changes in blood pressure, leading to a sequence of physiological responses that increase/decrease fluid in our vessels and return the pressure to a normal range. The body is kind of amazing.
That said, after a good, hard workout in the heat, that delicate equilibrium is disrupted, so our bodies activate several different cool-down mechanisms. Among the body’s tricks is sweating and getting red (or in my case, getting really, really sweaty and really, really red). We sweat because the body needs to cool itself down ASAP. Our bodies need to maintain a certain resting temperature to function properly. When we sweat, we lose electrolytes. When we exercise in extreme heat, we throw off our internal thermostat, and multiple built-in alarm systems go off.
Despite the body’s excellent built-in cool-down systems, sometimes it could use a little help. Here are 5 tips to help cool down your body after a long, hot, summer run.
- Throw some shade -- at yourself. Immediately following a run, walk it off until you find a nice cool, shaded, preferably breezy place to stretch. Avoiding sun exposure will help your body cool down faster, and the breeze will accelerate the evaporation process. Remember -- sweating is good! You want that sweat to dry off because that will help you return to that happy warm-but-not-desperately-overheated place you were before the run. But after a run, avoid the sun.
- Have a cold one (but not an ice cold one). To be clear: water, not beer (although there are some good articles out there about the benefits of post-run beer consumption...). Drink cool but not ice cold water. Avoid the temptation to combat one extreme with another -- this can be a little shocking to our bodies, and we’re trying to avoid the whole “shock” thing.
- Wet towel and chill. Before you go on your run, soak a washcloth in a bowl of water with a few ice cubes in it. Leave it in the fridge. When you come home, remove the towel, ring out the excess water, give yourself a quick wipe down and then drape it around your neck. This little trick does wonders and lets your brain know that everything is going to be ok.
- One word: watermelon. Make sure you have some nice, juicy watermelon sliced up and waiting for you in the fridge. Watermelon is a great post-hot-run snack because it is full of… err… water… which your body needs to replace lost fluids, and it is full of nutrients such as vitamins A, B6 and C, as well as amino acids, potassium and even carbs. All this good stuff replenishes lost electrolytes and keeps your heart and nerves working well. Studies have even suggested pre-workout watermelon consumption may help decrease post-workout muscle soreness. Plus -- it’s watermelon! Who doesn’t love watermelon? Eat up.
- Knock your socks off. After a hot run, our feet swell and sweat from the body’s attempt to rapidly pump blood away from our core organs and into the muscles we need to keep moving. Increased blood flow leads to increased heat in your feet. Kick off your socks when you get a chance and let those feet breathe. If you have access to a cool body of water, give ‘em a good soak. Or when you get home, run cool water from the bathtub over your feet.
- Cold shower. A nice cool -- but not shockingly cold -- shower is an amazing and effective way to quickly put out the fire that is your body after a hot run. Start with lukewarm water, then eventually make it colder. Again, you don’t want to go from one extreme to another. As you stand there, you’ll feel hot water dripping off your body in the most delicious and satisfying way.
Don’t be surprised if, even after all these tricks, your body still hasn’t fully cooled down. Give it time to cool itself (because it will), but these tricks can help guide your body in the right direction. Other tips include wearing nice, breezy clothing (less is more), making sure you are very hydrated prior to (and after) a run, and sipping cool water to cool your body from the inside out. (Tip: Try soaking sliced lemons, cucumber and mint in water for a more satisfying and thirst-quenching post-run drink.) Avoid the hottest time of the day -- from 10am to 4pm -- and consider an early morning or evening run with a buddy for a change of pace.
Above all, listen to your body. If you feel dizzy, woozy, nauseous or uncomfortable mid-run, slow yourself down, get out of the sun and check in with your system. Thank your body for all the amazing running it allows you to do, but respect that sometimes it knows best.