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Stay Safe Running in the Heat

Last updated: May 19, 2023

While running outdoors offers lots of benefits, in hot weather, it also requires paying attention to temperature and humidity and how your body is reacting.

Dr. David Hirschi, Non-Surgical Sports Medicine Physician, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

Running is becoming more popular as a healthy activity that’s easy to engage in outside of a gym. According to Running USA, about 15% of Americans say running outdoors is “one of their top ways of staying fit.”

“Running is a great way to release stress, have fun and get in shape,” says Dr. David Hirschi, a non-surgical sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Running outdoors, especially, offers many benefits. It can have a calming effect on our nervous system. Breathing fresh air often improves our sleep, and more exposure to sunshine increases our vitamin D levels. Those are all great reasons to incorporate running outdoors into our workout routine.”

As the medical director for the Community First Fox Cities Marathon, Dr. Hirschi also understands the need for runners to continue training for competitive events, even in the heat.

“While running outdoors offers lots of benefits, in hot weather, it also requires paying attention to temperature and humidity and how your body is reacting,” he says.

Ease In

As we transition from spring into summer in the Midwest, Dr. Hirschi recommends athletes give themselves a couple of weeks to adjust to running in warmer weather.

“Runners should be aware of how their body is reacting to the warmer weather and the amount of effort they are exerting,” he says. “If needed, consider reducing running time or speed a bit to help adjust to warmer conditions.”

His other recommendations for running in hot weather include:

  • Avoid peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Run early in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Hydrate before running and drink water while running; 4 to 6 ounces every 20 minutes is a basic hydration guideline.
  • Supplement your fluids with sports drinks that contain electrolytes, which increase water absorption.
  • Wear clothing that is light-colored, loose-fitting and moisture-wicking.
  • Wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses to protect against harmful UV rays.
  • Adjust your route to run in shadier locations.
  • Rehydrate after running. If your urine is dark yellow and hazy, drink more fluids.
  • Know the warning signs of heat illnesses.

Watch for Red Flags

“Running in hot conditions can put someone at risk for heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke,” Dr. Hirschi says. “Be aware of the symptoms of those three conditions, and take action to slow down and cool down immediately.”

Runners should watch out for the symptoms of heatstroke, which include:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)

Heatstroke is a serious condition. If you believe you — or a loved one — are experiencing heatstroke, you should call 911 immediately, get into the shade or a cooler place, and cool down with damp cloths or a cool spray until help arrives.  

Take Care

“With its longer hours of daylight, summer is an inviting time to run outdoors. Just be flexible with your expectations,” Dr. Hirschi says. “Listen to your body. If the heat and humidity are causing you to overexert, reduce your speed and/or distance, or switch to a cross-training activity such as swimming or lifting weights on extremely hot days.”

Dr. Hirschi knows runners who push themselves too far and too fast also put themselves at risk for the most common running injuries. That lists includes:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Runner’s knee
  • Iliotibial band syndrome
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Shin splints
  • Stress fractures

ThedaCare is proud to return as the Fox Cities ThedaCare Half Marathon sponsor in 2023, Dr. Hirschi says. If you’re planning to run a race, watch for the 2023 training guide, which comes out soon.

“ThedaCare Orthopedic Care is prepared to help runners who might experience orthopedic issues,” he says. “If you are unable to continue your normal running or workout routine because of a continuing or reoccurring problem, our Orthopedic Walk-in Care Clinic is available to help.”

At the first visit, you can see an orthopedic provider, have any needed imaging taken and receive an initial treatment. A provider will then arrange for follow-up care as needed, which may include pain management, physical therapy, a surgery consultation or other therapies.

Have an urgent orthopedic need?

Visit Orthopedic Walk-in Care, open seven days a week.

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