My body does not respond well to running in extreme heat–add in humidity, and I’m reduced to what feels like a soggy jog.
Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve acquired a repertoire of tricks to keep myself cool. Recently I looked into the science behind my best tricks and realized why they actually do work.
When running or exercising in extreme heat, your core body temperature rises. When it rises too high, and is unable to cool itself, symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke may begin. Pretty well known knowledge from WebMD.
But, I found this nice little timid-bit that I suppose I already knew, but just makes it all make sense–and it’s just nice when something can make sense every once in awhile 😉
Our bodies have a number of pulse points (completely different from ‘pressure points’) where blood vessels run closer to the surface of the skin–this also means our blood is closer to the surface. Think of your neck and inside of wrist where, if you are a low tech runner, you would physically take your pulse. This detail explains why pulse points are effective in helping to cool down a person’s core body temperature. The blood, since it is closer to the surface of the skin, can be cooled by ice or cold water and therefore cool the body’s core temperature as it circulates throughout.
I’m no doctor, but I’m a runner and triathlete who has almost overheated numerous times. I can vouch for the effectiveness of using pulse points to help cool me down.
The first race that comes to mind is Rhode Island 70.3 where I’m sure you could’ve fried an egg on the road. They were supplying sponges at the aid stations that were soaked in ice–I don’t know what would’ve happened to me without them.
Obviously while running, there are only so many convenient pulse points to take advantage of. I would sweep the sponges over my neck and wrists, then tuck them into the straps of my tri top for safe keeping–and extra cooling–until the next station.
At Ironman Louisville on a 95 degree day in August, our race had about a 15% DNF rate–one of the highest. Problem was, swimming in the 85 degree river, many people didn’t even realize they were beginning to overheat. My husband included.
Strategies for Utilizing Pulse Points to Keep Cool While Running
I’ve read about actual cooling vests to utilize before a race, but if you’re like me, the closest I will get to pre-cooling is to make sure my hair is wet. I will also ( in extreme temps) douse myself with water before the race starts. For me, it makes a huge difference.
During the Race
*I keep using the word race, because if the temperatures are so extreme, you might want to think about taking the run indoors or waiting for a cooler time of day! I’m no doctor, but just some general words of wisdom!
Cold water is usually the standard at local road races, but being aware of how to use it wisely can make a huge difference. Staying hydrated is still important, but do not over hydrate (whole different set of problems!)–pay equal attention to your core body temp and symptoms that tell you things may be going downhill.
I saw this great quote recently:
The graphic in this post from Coach Suz lays it out perfectly.
Not taking precautions can equal serious medical conditions like overheating, heat stroke, and of course, a DNF. Hopefully being mindful of your pulse points, and taking specific actions to cool your core temperature by utilizing them, can give you the best chance to stay cool while running.
Check out these other great posts on running in the heat:
Do you utilize your pulse points for cooling down?
What are your tips to stay cool while running in the heat of summer?
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