I've lived in Savannah, full-time now, for thirteen years. I can safely say that, in at least ten of those years, I've been training for some length of footrace during the summer. So, just like all of you, I've bellyached and bemoaned the heat and humidity-the earlier-than-usual wake-ups and the later-than-usual "let's try this one more times". I've looked like a drowned rat three miles in to a ten mile run...and smelled like a drowned rat nine miles into it. I've taken the long route, just to stay in the shade; I've taken the sunlit route, just to get it over with faster. And the end result is pretty much always the same; I'm absolutely miserable during the run, but stoked about the fact that I got the mileage in and will be better prepared than most come race day. And then this year happened. I thought I was prepared; I knew I was prepared. I was vastly unprepared. And I bet you are, too, because who could prepare for temperatures like these?! So here are my "expert solutions"to beat the heat:
1.) Get your mind right. Your training plan says 15 miles. You did 15 miles two months ago and it was easy. Now you run 12 and have to stop. You ran smart-you slowed your pace down, you started earlier in the morning, and you hydrated-and you still can't make the distance. You're starting to feel overwhelmed, and worry that all of your preparations have been for nothing. Well, you're wrong. And it's not just you. With temperatures having skyrocketed, so too are our core body temperatures; we're essentially redlining, as we would when we push ourselves in a race, and our body starts to shut down on us. Slowing your pace will help delay this occurrence, but it's inevitable, eventually, all the same. Recognizing that the effort you're putting out during your 12 mile run is pretty darn equivalent to what it was during your 15 mile two months ago will help you stay in good spirits, and will also save you from undue injury by pushing yourself past your breaking point just to "hit a number". Run a little less, be careful, and try and keep your body temperature lowered by hydrating with cold liquids (internally) and icing down your neck and head (externally) during your workouts.
2.) Hydrate. This one's easy: you sweat more, meaning you need to replenish more. And you're not just sweating water, but also key nutrients, so make sure you're pumping vitamins (including salt!) along with your water and recovery drinks (the Gatorades and Powerades of the world). This doesn't mean to chug a whole glass of water right before you head out for a run, then do the same upon completing it. Rather, this means toting water with you (if you can't stand to carry it, then take an extra 5-10 minutes to stash one along your route) to insure you have access to it if/when you need it. Staying hydrated will make your body run more efficiently, which will, in turn, make your run a more efficient one. Meaning you'll get home and into your a.c. faster.
3.) Be smart (this one comes from the "do as I say, not as I do" file). Listen to your body. If it says to stop, stop; live to run another day. Try to avoid running during the hottest parts of the day, when you're in direct sunlight, even if it more convenient for you to do so. Make yourself get up earlier (once you get into a routine, it happens a lot easier and you won't have it hanging over your head all day, to boot), and although it will still be nice and sticky outside, "83 feels like 90" is much preferred to "93 feels like 105". Check the weather early and often, make a plan rather than just "winging it", and be willing to step outside your comfort zone to insure you're giving yourself the best chance to succeed.
It's going to be a long, hot summer. Treadmills are boring, gyms may not have the hours you're looking for, and "you kind of like getting out there and playing in nature". It may not always be fun, but by swallowing your pride and making smart, well thought-out decisions, you can still hit your goals come race day. Best of luck and keep tackling those miles; I'll catch you on the flip-side of my 9.6 mile, mid-day run (I hope).... ;)