Staying fit in Saudi Arabia can be quite challenging, especially as a woman. I used to have a membership for a ladies-only gym (very expensive!) and go there three to four times a week, but since we moved to a compound I have my ‘private’ fitness room in the backyard. Here, I run on the treadmill about three times a week and do some strength training.
Of course I am aware that running on a treadmill is nothing compared to the real thing and so I try to go to a bigger compound once a week for a ‘real’ run outside. And once in a while, we venture to the desert or the mountains for some sandy, cross-country fun.
The biggest challenge these days, however, is the heat. I always thought I tolerate hot temperatures pretty well, but during the last few weeks the heat started to affect my runs. What is worse than high temperatures though – in Jeddah the maximum varies between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius in summer – is the humidity. Usually, August and September are the months when humidity peaks, so this might explain my affected performance.
The reason running in high humidity is so heavy is that the moisture in the air prevents your sweat from evaporating from your skin, meaning your body loses an important cool-down mechanism. This is especially true when there is no breeze either. Luckily, after four years of living in Saudi Arabia I have gotten used to running in high temperatures. Read on for my personal tips!
(For more tips on how to stay cool while working out in the heat read my article, which appeared last year in the Saudi Gazette.
1. Slow down
Although the degree varies from one person to another (depending on your fitness, age, bodyweight, etc.), the heat is likely to affect your workout. Therefore, don’t expect to be able to do the same distance and/or intensity you would do on cooler weather days. It is ok (and probably necessary!) to slow down, do your intervals at a lower pace, and forget about that two-hour run. Once fall arrives, you will see you still improved your fitness.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Evidently, you are going to lose a lot of liquid during your run when the weather is hot, and your body will be probably screaming for water anyways, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it here: DRINK! While I usually rely on water even during longer runs, when it is extremely hot I feel my body needs some carbs and electrolytes as well to replenish those lost in sweating and prevent hyponatremia (low blood sodium). Nonetheless, you may still feel slightly dehydrated following a run in the heat, so keep drinking water or isotonic sports drinks throughout the day. I also like to eat fruits with high water content after a sweaty run. Think of orange, apple, (water)melon, or grapefruit.
3. Run early in the morning or late in the evening
You would not want to end up with a sunstroke besides the dehydration, right? So no matter what, do not run when the sun is high in the sky. I like to do my run early in the morning before the sun comes up, although humidity is often highest at this time of day so it may be smarter to start around sunrise. Working out around sunset or slightly after is also a good (and perhaps less humid) option.
4. Cool yourself prior to a run
When you start running already feeling hot, chances are you won’t last very long. Out of experience, I can say it is easier to run in the heat when you felt cool prior to your start. This could help you especially when you are going for a short run or race. There are even athletes who wear an ice pack before the start of an important run!
5. Wear proper clothing
Most runners know not to wear cotton, especially not if it is hot and you are going to sweat a lot. While breathable, cotton gets very heavy when it is wet. Wear light colored clothes that allow your skin to breathe. A cap may be useful as well, though I always feel much hotter when I wear something on my head.
6. Stop when feeling unwell
Knowing the early warning signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion will help you stop on time. Extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, feeling cold, and dizziness are all signs you need to slow down or call it a day. Don’t try to be strong and proof to yourself you can endure, because you may be putting your life at risk!
7. Cool down!
Many people skip the cool down, but I personally need this time to slow down my breathing and body temperature, prevent low blood pressure later, and mentally award myself for the run I just did. On hot weather days, it is even more important to cool down before going inside the air-conditioned house or car, which can give your body a shock. If jogging still feels too intense, just walk for 1 or 2 kilometers until your heart rate lowers.
These are just a few tips I apply when running in the hot and humid Saudi weather. Yesterday, I got up at 4:15 a.m. to do a run in the desert just outside Jeddah at around 5:30 a.m. While the plan was to do 18 kilometers, I ended up running 15 in a pace much slower I would usually do, but it was nevertheless a nice (albeit challenging) run.
What are your tips for running or working out in the heat?