Tips for summer running in Ottawa

You’ve got to admire the sheer dedication of runners with the willpower and the stamina to hit the pavement in the intense humid heat waves that descend on Ottawa in July and August. While some people opt to stay inside – running on a treadmill with the AC on full, or simply trying to rest and recover from the sweltering weather with fans, popsicles, heck, even an open freezer door – many runners are outdoors, sticking to their routes and routines. You may even be one of them!
Mario Deadly Sun
While it’s one thing to joke about how hot it is outside, and that the sun is trying to kill you like the popular Mario meme, the truth is that no matter what kind of runner you happen to be – novice or elite – the heat can be deadly. You don’t have to be running a marathon or long distances to be at risk, either. When you don’t take the proper precautions, even a short run in the heat can have devastating consequences.

Here are our best tips for running safely outdoors when the scorching sun is out to get you.

Run earlier in the day, and choose a shaded route.

When choosing a time to run in the summer, most runners gravitate to either morning or evening. What many runners may not realize is that it’s best to run very early in the morning rather than later in the evening, even if the sun has gone down. That’s because heat absorbed by concrete in the day continues to reflect heat well into the night. Take time to choose a shady path away from punishing (and heat reflecting) concrete to reduce your risk of heat related illness.

Wear the right apparel.

Are you a fan of the all-black athletic clothing trend? Great – but save it for autumn and winter! Black absorbs heat. Wear white or light clothing on hot days to reflect heat away from your body. While you’re at it, cotton is also a big no-no. Cotton retains moisture and won’t be breathable once you get sweaty, (not to mention the increased risk of chafing). Lightweight synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester are best to wick away all the sweat from running in the heat, staying breathable and keeping you cool. If you prefer a more natural fabric, both lightweight Merino wool and bamboo fabric products are good options.

Monitor your heart rate.

As your core body temperature rises, your heart rate increases much more compared to runs on cooler days, even for the same amount of physical activity. This is called cardiovascular drift, and it’s important to pay attention when you’re running on a hot day, as it can put you at a greater risk for dehydration and hyperthermia. Using a heart monitor can help you know when it’s time to slow down. A hot day is not the time to push your pace targets.

Drink fluids. A lot of fluids.

It goes without saying that you need to stay hydrated when you’re doing vigorous activity, especially in the heat. It’s not simply about getting enough fluid during your run, but being properly hydrated before you even begin. And once you’re on route, don’t wait until you’re thirsty – thirst is a symptom that occurs when you are already dehydrated!

Water alone may not be enough, either. Many human bodily functions depend on electrolytes, and if you don’t replenish them as you sweat, you put yourself at risk for heat cramps. The combination of lactic acid accumulating in your muscles and loss of water and electrolytes can mean a recipe for pain in your legs, back, or abdominal muscles. Trying a hydration product, like Nuun hydration, to keep your electrolyte levels up can go a long way to a more comfortable workout.

Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion comes with a host of symptoms that may not seem serious right away. Fatigue, headache, heat cramps, nausea, disorientation or dizziness are all the early warning signs. Stop running, get into the shade or a cool building, drink fluids and allow yourself to recover.

Heat stroke, on the other hand, requires immediate medical attention. You can recognize heat stroke in others when there is serious loss of balance, profound confusion, shallow breathing, vomiting, unconsciousness or seizures – call 911 immediately.

Because there is an increased risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke on very hot days, you should always tell someone where you’ll be running, and how long you expect to be out. Always keeping a card with your emergency contact and personal medical information on your person is a good idea in case you ever require assistance or medical intervention.

Pay attention to official City of Ottawa heat warnings.

Ottawa Public Health issues heat warnings when they forecast daytime temperatures exceeding 31°C, evening temperatures exceeding 20°C, or a humidex of 40°C or higher for two or more days. When a heat warning is issued for extreme heat and humidity, it’s best to avoid outdoor physical activity. Take advantage of public access recreation facilities with air conditioning in the city, instead. Call 311 for more information.

By following these tips, you can get out and enjoy your run safely even in the hottest months in Ottawa. Tell us on social media what YOUR personal tips are to beat the heat!