Thoughts on beating the heat from a Texas runner.
For my long run last Saturday—a 16-miler in the depth of an Austin, Texas, summer—it was, at 5:30 am, 79 degrees and 89 percent humidity. This was actually good news. Usually it’s hotter, more humid, more oppressive. Plus, there was a breeze. Rare.
I met my running group at Barton Springs—a natural spring in the center of town that’s a bracing 68 degrees—and we double-checked the prescribed route, making sure we knew where all four water stations were located. Someone dared to comment on that breeze. We nodded, cautiously acknowledging it, not wanting to show too much excitement.
Part of running long in the Texas heat is knowing what to expect. Here’s a good start: The first hour will be a swamp; then, when the sun starts to rise, the humidity will burn off and it’ll feel relatively decent for 30 minutes; then the sun will settle in and you’ll be pissed, dying to finish and on the verge of dehydration, if not totally dehydrated. The air will feel like the inside of an oven. You will not be having fun.
It helps to not pretend the situation can be otherwise, because then you’ll just get more pissed and disoriented when your naïve expectations of somehow accommodating the heat—or telling yourself you’ve finally gotten used to it—are exposed by a Texas sun beating you and your false optimism into submission.
So: tips. Running in these conditions isn’t about avoiding misery so much as mitigating it. For me, that process begins two days before the long run (which I consider at least 12 miles), when I start taking a lot of water with Nuun electrolyte tablets—maybe 64 ounces a day. I drink slowly and throughout the day, keeping alcohol and caffeine to a minimum.
The morning of the training run I drink one 8-ounce glass of water and another 8-ounce glass with another Nuun tablet. During the run I consume several cups of very thickly mixed Gatorade at every water stop. If the run is longer than 12 miles, I supplement the Gatorade with plain water from a water bottle that I’ve learned to carry in my right hand. Otherwise, I cannot make it 3-4 miles without feeling like I’m chewing a mouthful of cotton. Even with all this preparation, that sometimes happens anyway. A lot of people do Gu. My stomach can’t take it, so if I eat, it’s usually a Clif Bar.
A couple of years ago a friend brought a scale to the start of a 20-miler in August. We weighed ourselves before and after and most of us had 4-6 pounds to account for. A lot of this water manifests itself in the form of sweat pouring into your eyes. I’ve been trying for years to manage this situation, and have come pretty close to a workable solution: I wear a bandana on my forehead and, over that bandana, a running cap.On especially hot days I soak the bandana in ice water and place it on my head. It looks sort of foolish, but who cares.
The ultimate reward and salvation for long Saturday runs is the post-run soak we take in at the Springs. For all the heat we suffer by living and running in central Texas, Barton Springs makes it all worth it. These healing waters cool down the core, reduce inflammation, and save the rest of the day. I realize others may not have access to such a gem, but you’ll also have hints of cool mornings in late August while we’ll have tortuous heat that drags into mid-October.
So I don’t feel too cruel recommending that, for your few weeks of heat, you do a post-run ice bath. It’s painful and demoralizing, but it gets the job done, which is the best you can expect under the circumstances.
James McWilliams is the Ingram Professor of History at Texas State University—San Marcos and the author, most recently, of Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, published by Thomas Dunne Books. He is currently training for a September 50-miler in Vermont, the Vermont 50, and is averaging around 80 miles a week in the Texas heat. For our earlier interview with James about running and his new book, jump on this link here.