It might sound like odd advice from someone who ran 50 miles in 7 hours, 7 minutes on Saturday.

But Christy Nielsen, certified running coach and Olympic marathon qualifier, says the key to training in hot, humid weather is to take it easy.

“You've got to take a step back and realize you can't run as fast,” said Nielsen, who won the women's division of the Lean Horse 50 Mile in the Black Hills.

“It's OK. I promise you, the first nice day we have you'll feel like a million dollars.''

But if you don't ease up in this kind of intense heat, she said, “you'll pay for it.”

As of Wednesday, at least 17 people had sought medical help from Omaha-area emergency rooms for heat-related illness.

A few were due to exercising.

Nielsen, a physical therapist at Nebraska Orthopaedic Hospital, and other sports medicine experts sounded a familiar refrain when asked how to best exercise in the extreme late-summer heat: Drinking plenty of fluids is crucial, as is avoiding direct sunlight in midday workouts.

Dr. Sean Mullendore, certified in both family medicine and primary care sports medicine, said it's not realistic for people to think they can adapt quickly to this type of heat.

Early August was too cool, he said, and the past week flipped too quickly to the extreme end. Realistically, by the time people become acclimated the heat wave will be over.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures the first three weeks of the month averaged cooler than normal, but this week could be the hottest final week of August on record in Omaha.

Rusty McKune, sports medicine program coordinator at the Nebraska Medical Center, said the humidity is making the heat worse because it interferes with sweating, which is the body's way of cooling down.

McKune said the heat index offered by the weather service is a good starting point for evaluating how hot you'll feel outside. But it doesn't factor in the draining effect of direct sunlight, or the beneficial effect of winds.

Nielsen advises workouts in early morning or late evening, around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

Obligations force some people to work out during the afternoon, but don't undertake midday exercise as a way of gaining endurance.

“You're doing something that's not intelligent,” she said. “Do you want to be tough, or do you want to be an athlete? Your best athletes don't go out and run in this heat. They try to find out how to treat their body the best.”

On the flip side, she said, are those who are new to sports. In this type of heat, the body's performance is going to suffer. A novice might mistakenly think that she is doing something wrong. That's not the case, Nielsen said.

“It's not physically possible to go out and run like you normally would run,” she said. “Your heart can only work so hard, and you are going to have to run slower in these conditions.”

People who push through these conditions end up fatigued later in the day or later in the week, she said.

Mullendore, who sees patients at Alegent Creighton Clinic in Bellevue, said the always-important advice of getting plenty of sleep is especially true in weather such as this. Heat, humidity and exercise all stress the body, and sleep is when the body heals itself.

Good nutrition is important to fuel your body, Nielsen said.

Within the first 15 to 30 minutes after working out, be sure to take in some carbohydrates and protein.

The body needs nourishment to begin repairing damage from a workout. During this period, your body is most receptive to that nourishment, she said.

The irony is that exercise eliminates the hunger sensation, making it all the more important to intentionally plan a post-workout snack. The snacks can be as simple as a milk and a sandwich.

While drinking too much water, called water intoxication, can be fatal, for the most part people who are exercising tend to drink too little, experts say.

Mullendore said sports drinks have value if you work out 45 minutes or more, but aren't necessary if you work out less than that.

A good way to find out how much water you've lost during a workout is to weigh yourself before and after. Any lost weight is an indication of at least how much water you need to drink to recover.

Mullendore cautioned against considering workouts in this hot weather as a weight loss program.

“Everybody thinks that they're sweating and losing all this weight, but they're not losing fat,” he said.

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