How to Run in Extreme Heat? Ask a ‘Son of the Desert’

Last weekend, I made a classic summer running mistake. I hit the snooze button. I really wanted just one more hour of sleep, and the heat surely couldn’t be that much worse a bit later, right?

When I did roll out of that comfortable bed and that sweet, sweet air conditioning, I was hit with a wave of regret, heat and eyeglass-steaming humidity. I knew that was coming. My long run more closely resembled a long slog.

When you have to get out the door for a run, and the temperatures are hot no matter how early you wake up, how can you successfully train? Sure, I know the basic tips. But how do extreme athletes excel in those conditions?

I talked to Max Calderan, whose Instagram account is titled “Son of the Desert,” for advice. Calderan, a 55-year-old desert explorer — who described himself as a 25-year-old “who spent too much time in the sun” — has spent much of his life training for extended treks through the world’s most extreme climates. In February 2020, he crossed the Rub’ al Khali desert in the Arabian Peninsula, some 700 miles in temperatures over 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Surely he’d be able to tell me how to better train in the heat.

“The key word here is deprivation,” he started. Oh, boy. I asked him to walk back the suggestions. We’re talking about running in the heat, I clarified, not necessarily trekking hundreds of miles across untouched desert.

Here are some of his top tips for the more average athlete:

This interview has been condensed and edited.

On timing: The best thing you can do is to start your physical activity early in the morning or late in the evening. If you spend all day in the office with air conditioning, and then run in hot temperatures, of course you are going to feel tired! Start adapting. Turn off the A.C. in the car or switch the A.C. to only be on your feet, not directly in your face.

On hydration: Match what your body needs. The best energy drink ever is water with some lemon juice and a small quantity of salt. Drink that during the day. Drink small quantities of water often, every 15 minutes or 30 minutes.

On clothing: It seems strange, but start to run and train while wearing clothes that totally cover your body. Start to try to feel the difference between running in shorts and a T-shirt and long pants and a long-sleeve T-shirt. Synthetic material, of course. The more air between your body and the outside environment, the less you feel the hot air.

On shoes: If you run a lot in the heat, you may need to buy a pair of shoes that’s one size bigger than what you normally wear. In the hot temperatures, your feet may start to expand.

On having an athlete’s mentality: You need to think of yourself as an athlete. You are not a runner and then an ordinary person because you work in an office or something. You are a runner 24 hours a day, so you need to eat, drink and think like an athlete.

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