Headaches on the run are, well a headache and generally a first warning sign of an even bigger possible issues that relate to your hydration status and / or electrolyte levels.
When you are running a hard effort or perceived hard effort such as speed, hill or training under hot summer conditions your body will be far more sensitive to dehydration and electrolyte issues such as loss of water and minerals through sweat.
Even if you are drinking plenty of liquids throughout the day you can become dehydrated in a matter of minutes on 20-30 minute or longer run under hot conditions.
When this occurs a few things are happening in your body that can lead to your headache and eventually dizziness, nausea, cramping, “hitting the wall” and other symptoms that will stop you in your tracks of your run as a result.
What happens as you are active and dehydrate?
As you sweat without replacing that liquid your blood will start to thicken making your heart work harder to pump blood, while at the same time reducing your ability to sweat and cool yourself cutting in to your performance with dangerous consequences.
How you are losing electrolytes and what do they do?
You will notice when you sweat that its salty and sometimes you may even see a white film left on your clothing or face after a run, this is basically mineral / electrolyte loss.
When you lose electrolytes a number of issues can occur as they are responsible for helping your bodily neurological and physiological processes.
Without electrolytes you can feel ill, disoriented and most importantly have muscles fail to contract / respond as they should hindering your performance and ultimately putting your life in jeopardy in extreme cases. You have to remember your heart is a muscle and can suffer irregular heartbeats or failure without adequate electrolytes.
But what about training on next to nothing to get your body conditioned to do without water / fuel?
Despite what some trainer or coach has told you in high school or some other bush league sports setting (you know the one) as a runner, especially a regular person runner starting out there is no real benefit to running your body in to a hydration / fuel deficit even on short runs, so don’t suffer when you can hydrate and excel.
Your goal in training should be to perform at your peak every time. You do this by fueling your runs appropriately / regularly and still feeling like you have a little in the tank at the end of your run, rather then being dead on your feet and avoid illness, overtraining and injury.
How you can keep your hydration & electrolytes in check!
- Make sure you are drinking little sips of water throughout your run regularly, the key to not drink too much that you are sloshing in your stomach but enough that your not feeling desperately thirsty for many this is around 250ml to 500ml of water per hour.
- Replace your electrolytes on your run through the use of any number of handy to take with you training products such as electrolyte tablets, drinks, running gels even salty pretzels and other basic foods. (see great examples of electrolyte products here)
- Make sure you are hydrating properly after your run (recovery) by weighing yourself before your run, then again after. For every pound lighter you are after your run (this is lost water weight) you should drink about 500ml of liquid to replace this lost water.
It should also be noted that you can overhydrate causing your body to have too much water in your system that can also have adverse health effects on your run that are similar to dehydtation.
This is why it is important to balance your water intake with electrolyte consumption and to use the scale method to really know what you are losing in water weight on your runs to figure out a hydration plan that works best for you.
Hopefully this helps you power through your runs from now on without the pesky headaches and other problems that can come with running in the heat of summer. If not you should probably consult a sports medicine expert for a personal evaluation / consultation.