June 1, 2013 — I’m not sure if you noticed, but the last few days in Connecticut, New England and probably most of the country it’s been pretty hot and humid. I don’t have exact numbers but I know it was over 90 a few times this week and quite humid. With that comes all the articles in the world about how to run in the heat, what to do to keep yourself cool, how to hydrate, etc. and it’s all great advice, but what about when you’re done running?
I’m going to explore what are, in my opinion, some of the most important aspects of keeping you cool – and it’s not so much what you do during your run, but after. Bear in mind this isn’t just for running, it’s for any exercise in the heat and humidity. What I’ve noticed over my 17+ years of running is that as soon as you stop running, then you really start to sweat just after you finish. Your body is really starting to try to cool itself at this point – you’ve told your body the workout is over and it’s time to cool down so out comes the sweat. Here’s a few pieces of advice, some are gross but all help.
Before we go any further though, please note, if you’re not sweating at the end of a hot and humid run, you need to get some fluids in you ASAP – you should be sweating and if you’re not then you’re probably dehydrated and you don’t want to mess around with that. Onward to recovery!
Get in to a cooler spot. Now this does not mean jumping in a cold shower or a walk in freezer – the first couple minutes after your run just need to be cooler than out in the sun. Just find some shade, maybe your basement or garage is a few degrees cooler. If you have a pool that’s great you can ease your way in, but you don’t want to go from extreme heat to extreme cold. The reason behind this is as soon as you get out of that cold, you’ll be right back to sweating and pretty much defeating the whole cool-down process. So for a couple minutes just grab your water/Gatorade and head to a cooler spot, get your heart rate down, and just relax.
Don’t towel off right away. Yeah I know the sweat is gross, slimy and dripping down your entire body, but evaporation is a cooling process (that’s actual science). When you sweat your body is cooling you down and when you just let it sit it will evaporate and continue to cool you down. Just taking a towel and wiping down really doesn’t add anything to the cooling process, it just makes you slightly drier for a minute or so. Now, when you think you’re to the point where the sweat has come to a halt, then you can wipe down and dry off if that’s more comfortable. If there is any sort of breeze going, you may just want to let the air help the evaporation process. The main point is you want to stay cool and not let the heat come back.
Take off your shoes and hat. In the cold you want to protect your head and your feet because that’s where the most heat is, well the heat is still there in the summer. If you were wearing a hat or sunglasses or anything on your head you want to take that off as soon as your done with your workout, the more stuff you have on your face the more heat is hanging around. The same goes for your feet, take those shoes and socks off as soon as you can, as long as your in the shade and not walking across hot tar, you’ll be surprised at how much quicker you can cool down be freeing your head and feet.
Continue to hydrate but don’t over do it. You know that you need to hydrate to replace fluids, but you don’t want to drink until you feel full. If you’re feeling full you have most likely had enough. Your body will tell you how much to drink and when is too much or not enough, listen to your body.
Find a body of water. This is not always possible but if you can, find a nice cool lake, pool, stream to soak at least from the knees down. This will help you with both muscle recovery for your next run and for getting the whole body cooled down.
Wait until you are cool to shower. This could take upwards of 30 minutes or more sometimes but it’s important! You don’t want to jump in a cold shower right away, you’ll just start sweating immediately upon exiting the shower, and that’s gross. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t shower in your normal showering temperature, don’t get in yet. If every temperature of water feels warm, your body is still too warm. You’re not going to do any harm by getting in the shower too early, it’s just a matter of comfort after you get out.
The best way to keep cool after your run is to make sure you are relatively cool during the run. So make sure you stay in the shade, drink enough fluids, take it easy, and dress appropriately. The best way to stay cool is to follow our advice above!