Ask most runners their favorite weather for running, and usually the answer will be overcast and cool. According to research from the University of Tulsa that analyzed temperatures during Olympic race times, for long-distance male runners, the optimum temperature is 49.4 degrees, and for long-distance female runners, the optimum temperature is 51.8 degrees.
However, what happens when the temperature isn't optimal? For devoted athletes, rain or shine, snow or sleet, record temps or high altitude, they're still hitting the pavement. And it's important for runners to know how best to fuel and clothe their bodies for different climates before lacing up their sneakers.
For those running in colder climates, your body is working harder, which requires more calories. That doesn't mean a free-for-all in the kitchen. Instead, add an extra cup of berries to your morning smoothie, or reach for salmon instead of chicken to add needed fats. If you're planning on running for more than an hour, snack smart by adding 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates (chews, gels, sports drinks) every 30 minutes. This will keep the glucose stored in your muscles from depleting.
An unexpected effect of cold air is increased urination. When it's cold, your body tries to keep warm by constricting blood vessels. This causes your blood pressure to rise because there's less room for the blood to flow. Your kidneys respond to this by pulling excess liquid from your blood, which then fills your bladder. So, plan for some pit stops along your run, and focus on hydration. Keep a water bottle on hand at all times.
Reaching for that water bottle should be a gloved hand. As your body constricts blood flow to your extremities, gloves, ear-covering headbands, hats and warm, sweat-wicking socks are important additions. Resist the urge to bundle up too much, as your body will heat up once it's moving. One trick is to dress for weather about 10 to 15 degrees higher than the weather report projects.
*Hot and Humid
On the opposite end, running in the dreaded H's -- heat and humidity -- presents its own challenges. There can be great rewards, too. Running in the heat lowers your core body temperature; encourages increased sweating, which can keep your body cool; and increases your blood plasma levels, which can lower your heart rate in the long run.
Add another H to your vocabulary: hydration. Researchers found that cold water is absorb faster by the body than warm water. So add ice to your water or other fluids before heading out the door. Using an insulated water bottle can keep fluids cooler longer for lengthier runs. High-tech, sweat-wicking fabric that's not constrictive is also a must. Cotton will retain sweat and humidity and weigh down your run. And never leave home without sunscreen applied, sunglasses affixed and a hat on top. Sport-specific sunglasses are typically much lighter than normal shades and are more likely to follow American Optometric Association recommendations by blocking 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays.
When running in temperatures hotter than 80 degrees, your heart rate can increase by up to 10 beats per minute. Most health professionals do not recommend running in such heat, as increased heart rates can take a toll -- dizziness, chest pain, palpitations, vision blurriness and worse. Instead, consider starting your run early in the morning or after the sun has set to avoid the heat of the day.
Training at a higher elevation can have great health benefits. Many Olympic athletes will train at high altitude for increased stamina, strength and red-blood-cell production, and a reduction in body fat percentage. According to most high-performance athletes, high altitude is considered anything 5,000 feet or higher. Though some people feel no difference, others can suffer moderate to severe effects. These can include slower run times due to exhaustion, increased heart rate, decreased amount of oxygen the body can use while burning energy (known as VO2 max) and a heightened chance of dehydration from dry winds and a lack of humidity.
Rather than being surprised at your body's response while running, plan ahead. Think hydration and protection. The sun can be much stronger, which means sunglasses and sunscreen are a must. Invest in a comfortable cap to protect your face without causing a headache from a too-tight fit. Hydration packs are highly encouraged, and according to Visit Denver, the official marketing agency for the Mile High City, runners should aim to double their usual hydration intake at such high altitudes.
No matter the weather, remember that the most important part of exercise is to listen to your body. Take the time to acclimate to new weather conditions or terrain. And give yourself a day off to recover after a long week. Remember, one step at a time.