Brandon Smith of Mahomet doesn't mind running in the heat and the sun. He usually runs the Freedom 5K on the Fourth of July and is one of the top finishers. He's run the Mahomet Half Marathon on country roads through cornfields in mid-August. And he ran the Lake Mingo Trail Run in Kennekuk County Park earlier this month in 90-degree heat. Smith said that once he acclimates to the heat, it doesn't faze him.

But he remembers a particularly tough marathon several years ago. It was in June in Rockford, and he entered it as he was recovering from an injury. And it was hot.

"That's probably the worst heat I've experienced," Smith said. "I was so overheated, I was walking the last few miles. I overestimated what I thought I was capable of doing."

Blog PhotoAthletes can enjoy their sports even when the conditions are sweltering if they take certain basic precautions, whether you're a runner about to begin training for a fall marathon, a tennis player taking advantage of the long summer days, a softball player in a weekend tournament or a football player doing preseason conditioning.

"Common sense goes a long way," Smith said.

The American College of Sports Medicine advises athletes who will be training or competing in the heat should become acclimated to hot conditions over 10 to 14 days by slowly building up the length of their training sessions — from 15 to 40 minutes initially to two to four hours after two weeks.

This month, the Illinois High School Association approved heat-safety guidelines for all IHSA postseason competitions for the coming school year. The organization is encouraging schools to use the policy during their athletic competitions.

The guidelines take into account air temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover in order to judge dangerous conditions. The new policy provides for safety measures as the heat increases, such as cooling stations, mandatory water breaks and postponing competitions to a cooler part of the day or another day.

Studies in the past few years have suggested that athletes who cool themselves down before they start exercising can delay the effects heat will have on them during their workouts. Some strategies are wearing a cooling vest, sitting in an ice bath or drinking an ice-cold smoothie. A study from last year looked at the effects of cooling the skin before exercise by draping a cold, wet towel around the neck and putting on underwear with frozen ice packs at the thighs.

Whether or not you're ready to try putting your undies in the freezer, here are some guidelines for exercising in the heat.


Have water with you at the tennis court or in the dugout. Carry it with you on longer runs, or plan a route that will take you past water fountains.

Runners can lose between 6 and 12 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes, according to the Road Runners Club of America. It suggests drinking 10 to 15 ounces of fluid before a run and drinking every 20 to 30 minutes during a run. To find out if you are drinking enough, weigh yourself before and after a run. You should drink a pint of liquid for every pound you lose during the run, the RRCA said.

A loss of more than 2 percent of body weight is unsafe, according to the ACSM.

A persistently high pulse rate following exercise is one indicator of dehydration.

Smith suggested drinking consistently throughout the day rather than chugging a lot of water in the hour before a workout.

Athletes should also be aware of hyponatremia, a condition when sodium levels in the blood are abnormally low, caused by drinking too much water. Symptoms are headache, confusion, nausea, fatigue and muscle weakness or cramps. Hyponatremia can be life-threatening. Drinking sports drinks with electrolytes rather than just water during an endurance sports event can help prevent it, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Adjust your expectations for hot-weather workouts. Smith said runners should pay attention to their bodies for signs of fatigue, start with a conservative pace in a race and don't be afraid to run slowly during your training runs. He does easy runs more than three minutes slower than his 5K pace.


Smith opts for fewer clothes for staying cooler. But if you don't want to run shirtless or in a sports bra, wear clothing made from moisture-wicking material. The ACSM suggests wearing light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, and minimizing equipment such as helmets and shoulder pads. Wear a hat to keep the sun off your face and head.


Run in the morning or evening, when temperatures are a little lower. The RRCA guidelines state, "If the humidity in the air is so high that it prevents the process of evaporation of sweat from the skin, you can quickly overheat." During a race, Smith said, "I'll throw water on myself instead of drinking it, because the evaporation will dissipate the heat."


Run in the shade when possible. For this reason, Smith likes running on trails.

Avoid running on blacktop, and wear sunscreen if you will be in the sun.


An athlete suffering from heat exhaustion may find his or her performance rapidly declines and may be unable to continue exercising. Symptoms include extreme thirst, dizziness, headache, profuse sweating, a weak and rapid pulse, and cool, clammy skin.

If you get dizzy or nauseated, get chills or stop sweating, stop exercising immediately, get into the shade and get something to drink. Heatstroke happens when the body can't regulate its own temperature and it continues to rise. An elevated core temperature can lead to organ failure.

Symptoms of heatstroke include confusion, disorientation, profuse sweating or skin that is hot, dry and red, and a rapid pulse. Anyone with the symptoms of heatstroke should get medical attention.

Finally, if you've taken common-sense precautions to stay safe in the heat, Smith suggested rewarding yourself with a post-workout Popsicle or chocolate milk.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at

Photo: Brandon Smith of Mahomet ran in 90-degree heat while competing in the Lake Mingo Trail Run on June 11 at Kennekuk County Park near Danville. Photo by Janet Stroud.


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