Running in a heatwave. Ideas anyone?

longroadRegular readers will know that running in the heat really isn’t my speciality. I can acquire sunburn simply by watching Ice Cold In Alex on the TV and develop heatstroke from standing too close to the toaster.

Little surprise then that I find running in anything over 18 degrees uncomfortable, and anything over 23 degrees to be borderline suicidal.

But as it is always at least 23 degrees when I make it to the start line of any race, anywhere in the world, I’ve been making efforts over the last couple of years to improve my performance in the heat.

Medical opinion is that by regularly exercising when it’s hot, you can train your body to send more blood to cool at the surface. But having tried this theory out through most of last Summer, I have to say that this doesn’t work for everybody.

In fact, the only thing I’ve found that helps to ease the pain of hot runs is to slow right down in order to minimise the strain on your heart.

The effects of heat on heartrate

Having recently reviewed the Garmin 405CX, I’m beginning to pay more attention to my heart rate than my running pace these days. So I recently noticed that while pacing myself at exact 8 minute miles with the Garmin, my heart rate was fully 15% higher in 22 degrees of heat than it had been a couple of days earlier in a more pleasant 16 degrees.

Yet when I repeated the exercise and compared otherwise identical hot and cool runs at a very leisurely 8.45 pace, my heartrate was just 3% higher in the heat.

So while these are far from being the results of a major medical study, they certainly convinced me that the only way to avoid putting too much strain on my heart in the heat is to treat every hot weather run as a slow run.

Unless of course, you know better?

Dealing with heat is one area in which I’m happy to admit my shortcomings. So if anyone out there has got a great tip for how to deal with it, feel free to leave a comment.

I’m going to be writing a ‘how to deal with the heat’ piece for my Mate Down the Pub column on the runningbug.co.uk shortly, so any really good tips will be shared with roughly 50,000 fellow runners.

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Gear Review: Garmin Forerunner 405CX (Part Two)

fig 1.

fig 1.

Having given the new Garmin 405CX rave reviews a couple of weeks ago when it arrived, I thought it would be a good idea to write a follow-up review now that I’ve got a bunch of training runs under my belt with it.

I’m pleased to say that my opinion hasn’t changed: this is an incredibly clever piece of kit. But more important than the clever design and ease of use,  it really has made my training more effective.

Training smarter with the 405CX

Now, as the Garmin website itself give comprehensive details of all the many, many clever things that this thing can do, I won’t waste your time trying to regurgitate them here. Instead, I’m going to focus on just three screens that I’ve been using on the Garmin 405CX, by way of illustrating how even I, of all people, can finally make the claim that I’m ‘training smarter.’

Figure 1, shown at top left is the screen that I now use most on training runs. As previously noted, the little chap at the top is your ‘virtual training partner’, the little chap at the bottom is you, and the ‘you are ahead by’ numbers relate to exactly how you’re doing in relation to the pace you’ve set for yourself, which is shown in figure 2.

fig 2.

fig 2.

Here, I’ve set it for 8 minute mile pace, but you can easily adjust that by simply stroking the bezel either up or down. Then, once you press the start button, the screen changes to show your virtual partner.

Should you wish to change to a simple stopwatch mode, you simply tap the bezel once. And if you want to see what your heart rate is doing, just tap it again, to go to the screen shown in figure 3.

(Could I also point out at this juncture that as a finely honed athlete in my mid 40s, my resting heart rate is a healthy 60 beats per minute. The somewhat higher reading on this shot seems to be due to the cafetiére of Columbian Roast I had imbibed just before taking these pictures.)

(And while we’re talking in brackets for a moment, I might also add that if, like me, you always struggle to run in the heat, the heart rate function on this thing has proven to me how big an effect the heat has on you, as my heart rate is a staggering 15% higher when running in 24 degrees than it is in 18 degrees of heat when moving at exactly the same pace.)

Training smarter by running slower

As you may know, training at full pelt all the time isn’t the cleverest way to go about it. So for some years now, I have attempted to mix ‘slow’ runs with tempo runs, and fartlek sessions. Yet running slowly all the way through a run (as opposed to just in the last mile or so when I’m knackered) is a skill that has always eluded me.

But with the Garmin, you can tell it just how fast or slow you want to go, and even a total incompetent can run at exactly the right pace to get the most from their training runs.

fig 3.

fig 3.

Listen to your heart…

Another fancy training technique that has always seemed like far too much trouble is ‘running at 75% of maximum heart rate’ which is, by all accounts, the optimum fat burning zone. Yes, I know. Seems like an incredibly nerdy thing to aim for, doesn’t it? But not if you’ve got a Garmin 405CX.

I used it to establish my maximum heart rate by the simple expedient of running up and down sand dunes until I felt sick, before dividing the resulting heart rate by 75%. So now when I go for a slow run, I simply use the heart rate screen shown in figure 3 to make sure that I’m burning fat rather than rubber.

The upshot of all this is that in just three weeks of using the Garmin in this way, I’ve dropped two pounds in weight, I feel fitter than I have in a long time, and I’m performing dramatically better on my tempo runs.

So while I’d love to return to the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ simplicity of my youth, I have to say that if you’re at all serious about improving your fitness through running, you really do need to have a Garmin 405CX.