I love summer.

The cookouts. The watersports. The gardening. The camping. In fact, it's really hard for me to find much about summer that I don't like.

That is, until I took up running. Now my favorite season brings me my least favorite weather conditions for running.

Traditionally, I have just avoided the heat. I ran early, very late (because it's often hot until 9 or 10 p.m.) or in the gym on the dreaded treadmill. But this year I want to run the Deseret News Marathon. And while I have never run any of the races on the 24th of July, I once sat on the parade route, completely stationary and eating as many snow cones as I could afford, and, still, I thought I might need medical help to deal with my heat stroke.

July, in case you have central air, is smoking hot in Utah.

So this summer I took a different approach. I have tried in the last month to acclimate myself to exercising in the heat. I figured if I could do hot yoga, I could run a few miles in 98-degree weather.

My first afternoon run — four miles at 2 p.m. — did not go well. I didn't take the temperature on the surface of my face, but I'm sure it could have melted metal. I was red-faced and thirsty for hours after the run. And, obviously, I ran almost a minute per mile slower.

See, heat is not a runner's friend. It forces us to deal with two of the most dangerous situations — dehydration and overheating.

I consulted some trainers and Web sites regarding the best way to improve my ability to run in the heat. No surprise, they advised the only way to get better at it was to actually torture myself on a consistent basis. One Web site said that it took about two weeks, while others said it might take longer.

So while I wanted to run in that cool morning air, I waited until I could barely stand the heat while parked in front of the television watching Oprah — and then I went for a run.

The first few outings were brutal.

Quite simply, running in the heat is a lot of work. Runners always have to be cognizant of the conditions, i.e. air quality, safety and of course, the weather. But to run even a few miles in 90-plus degree heat is something that anyone hoping to avoid problems has to plan for. So 24-hours a day I had to make sure I was drinking water. One person told me that while I worked out, I needed to be drinking something that would replace the electrolytes I was losing.

A person can only drink so much — or at least this person can only drink so much — so I chose to replace plain water with a sports drink, a protein/carbohydrate drink I mixed myself or water with electrolytes in it. I found some cool drops that you can put in your water and I also bought electrolyte tablets. I would never attempt to run in the heat without taking special precautions. That means actual support on a long run and weighing myself before and after workouts to figure out how much water I'm actually losing so I can replace it.

Oh, and as instructed, I can now consider it part of my training to eat as much salty food as I want! (Although, I would discourage runners from giving into the french fry craving. Grease is also not a runner's friend.)

And slowly, almost as slowly as I run, I felt better both during and after these runs. Lately, I have even been able to run hills in the afternoon heat. I don't think I will ever enjoy midafternoon workouts, but it's pretty exciting to feel better during the runs and recover faster. In fact, I will likely continue running some of the time in the hotter parts of the day to maintain my tolerance for the scorching temperatures.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com