What’s Your Running Type: Lizard or Icicle?

Preventing Heat Problems

It’s not news, but Texas is hot. It’s really hot in the summer. And, since the Austin summer can extend into the early days of November, that’s as many as six months when 90-degree temperatures are possible on a workout.

While my friends and I were getting ready for our Grand Canyon crossing this summer, heat problems cropped up fairly regularly. And though our trip’s timing was optimal, midday in the canyon bottom was a sunny, exposed high-80s experience. As a result, I got to thinking about overheating again.

Lizard People vs Icicle Tribe

Three part image of ice, sun, and lizard.
Are you a lizard runner or a member of the icicle tribe? There seems to be no middle ground between the two.

The way I see it, there are two types of people when it comes to preferred temperature. Some of us are lizards — able to exercise in the middle of the hot day and feel great doing so. They prefer a warm, bright sky and will have a different cold threshold. I’ve had many good friends who are lizard people. My husband, who loves to mow the lawn at about 3 p.m. in August, is a lizard person.

I, however, belong to a different tribe.

Other people are what I call icicles; they wear shorts all year round and look for events that fall on the cooler side of the calendar. As a member of the icicle tribe, a warm day combined with bright sun — no matter how much I hydrate or whatever my pace may be — is garlic to my Bella, kryptonite to my Superman, and a head shot to my “Walking Dead” zombified self.

I discovered this after passing out during a marching band practice in college. Since then, I’ve had several additional incidents; once someone has had a heat incident, he or she is much more susceptible to developing future heat problems. It’s as though the body says, “Hey, I’m going to slow you down and disorient you well in advance of a truly terrible physical problem.” In other words, you are now free to assume the ass-kicked position.

For us Texans, there’s no way to avoid working out in the heat. Sun happens. What I’ve learned from years of training is that I must do everything I can preemptively to avoid overheating. Once my core temperature heads toward the danger zone, there’s very little that will turn the rolling tide. It’s just a matter of keeping the situation from getting worse.

I’m not alone in the icicle tribe. Though October is technically fall, I’m sharing some of the magic I weave for workout success when it’s hot.  Because Lord knows I’ve banked on a cold winter trail race or marathon only to instead encounter an 80-degree sunny day many a time!

10 Tips for Working Out in Heat

Image of icicle with sun.
Icicle tribe runners PR on cold days, seldom (if ever) wear tights, and fade dramatically in hot summer months.
  • Wearing a full cap provides a covering to the scalp and, when wet, is a great resource for keeping my head cool. Though it’s a myth about the top of your head releasing more heat than other parts of the body, it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep it shaded. I’ve also found that cooling my feet in some water helps, too. I don’t even have to take my shoes off to get the benefit.
  • I always assume I will have problems in the heat. If it’s a hot day, any thought of time goes out the window. Effort will naturally be less. I have to go easy in advance to stay ahead of a problem. One trick I like to employ: I tell myself that I can walk in the sun, but in the shade, I run (no matter how slow I may be). The reason I still push? The longer I’m out there, the more likely I am to encounter the complete meltdown.
  • Half of the water I carry in the summer goes on me rather than into my body. I use water from my bottle or backpack to splash my face and neck. I wear my bandana and hat sopping wet.
  • If it’s available, I pack ice: inside bra and cap, and rolled up in a bandana to wear around my neck. I’ll refresh this as often as possible. I also keep a cooler full of ice in the car on long runs so that I’m able to bring my body temperature down quickly after a long run.
  • Once I get overheated, I’m toast. And that’s not just when I exercise but with everyday stuff, like working in the yard or hanging outside. My core temperature naturally runs hot and easily gets out of whack. So I do everything I can to stay consistently cool. For example: no matter what I did today, I remained hot. So I skipped boxing this morning and avoided the sun in the afternoon. Prior to my evening trail run, I took a cold dip in Austin’s Barton Springs.
  • Because my mind is one of the first things to go with a heat issue, it’s easy to forget to consume food or electrolytes on schedule. Also, nausea goes hand-in-hand with heat illness. So when suffering in the heat, if I remotely think about food, I make myself eat something. If I’m not sure when I last took electrolyte tablets, I’ll err on too many rather than not enough.
  • I make sure to go into runs hydrated and always take electrolytes when I go over an hour. Because I sweat so much and am focused on keeping hydrated, I also have to avoid electrolyte imbalances due to too many fluids.
  • I am more likely to have heat issues when I’m overtrained. Not sure why that is (maybe it has something to do with being tired and in a constant workout recovery state), so I make rest an important part of a training schedule.
  • My secret weapon: Coke. The mixture of liquid, caffeine, salt, and sugar is a pick-me-up treat on the trail. If I’m feeling run down, caffeine will give me some extra juice. BUT I am careful; caffeine will also elevate my heart rate, which can add to raising the core temperature.
  • Believe it or not, sunscreen can add to feeling overheated. During Ironman training, I found a light-weight oil-based sunscreen, KINeSYS, that stays on without feeling like I’ve coated myself in a thick layer.

1 Thing Every Endurance Runner Should Have

Lizard runners complain when the temperature drops. They love the sun and getting out at midday.
Lizard runners complain when the temperature drops, bundling up dramatically. They love the sun and working out at midday.

I firmly believe that anyone doing regular endurance training should have CPR/First Aid certification. Stuff goes wrong, people get hurt, and a little bit of education can be crucial in an emergency. It’s important to be able to differentiate between a condition requiring a bit of TLC and one that necessitates getting to an ER, stat. Not to sound too melodramatic, but out on a trail in the middle of nowhere, with no one else in sight, what you know can make the difference between life and death — for yourself or a friend.

Please take a look at these American Red Cross classes to find certification in your area.

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