Scorching hot sun! Yup. It’s that time of the year again. While the sun may shine most days, the heat can really get to you and make your outdoor workout flat-out miserable.
Living in Texas, I am a seasoned veteran of running in heat. Last year, I was spoiled rotten living in Colorado where I trained in 75 degree and under temperatures all summer. But not all of us have the luxury of living in such climates, and even Colorado can heat up into the high 90’s at times.
Running in the heat doesn’t have to be as miserable as you might be making it though. Here are eight tips for running in the summer heat.
- Run early in the morning, or after dark. Seems fairly obvious, right? But if your normal workout routine is in the afternoon, you might not think to change up your routine at first. Early morning runs are likely easier for the working folk, but the main disadvantage of early morning runs is it’s often very humid (at least it is here in Texas). Late evening runs, after the sun sets, can mean slightly less humid conditions, but temps might be higher than early morning. So pick your poison carefully.
- Use salt tablets, and/or electrolyte drink mixes. This was a completely foreign concept to me until I started trail running. The first long group trail run I ever went on, runners were popping these little pills called salt tablets. Salt tablets essentially help replace sodium lost through sweating. If you have ever experienced cramping during the summer heat, it’s likely due to the loss of sodium. Salt tablets will help prevent cramping, and will help you perform at your best. This is especially important if you will be in the heat for more than 90 minutes (listen up endurance athletes). In addition to salt tabs it’s very important to add electrolytes to your water. There are many brands in powder and tablet form. My personal favorite is Tailwind Nutrition.
- Drink COLD water. Fill your water bottle to the brim with ice before adding water on shorter runs. For long runs (especially trail runs), I suggest filling up your hydration pack the night before and freezing it. The frozen pack will melt throughout your run, keeping your water cool and refreshing. If I’m running more than a couple hours I will usually have an ice chest full of ice and extra water to refill. Hydroflask makes a great, insulated water bottle that will keep your iced water cool all day.
- Drink PLENTY of water. I personally feel the advice a lot of runners give, “drink to thirst,” does not apply to running in the summer. The first and only time I followed that advice I found myself drinking very little water on a 3-hour run that ended in vomiting at the trail head. This isn’t the winter where you might be able to get away with an hour long run without any water. During summer months I find myself drinking 16-32oz of water per hour depending on the time of day I’m running. The best advice I can give is drink frequently and pee clear (or pale yellow). Hydration is perhaps the biggest key to successful summer running.
- Keep your core and neck cool. Whenever I would do nighttime trail runs during the summer months, I would carry a bandana with me and fill it with ice at the aid stations. I would hold it close to my core to help bring down my body temp, and I would also place it on my neck. Dumping a bit of cold water on your head and down your back can also be very refreshing.
- Jump in a cool stream. If you’re a trail runner like myself, cool bodies of water such as creeks and rivers are a welcome sight. Submerge your whole body and feel instant refreshment. One of my favorite things I used to do was end my trail runs at Barton Springs by jumping in the 68-degree body of water. It was an amazing way to end a long summer run, and comes as welcomed refreshment from the sweltering heat.
- Expect to be slower, and be fine with that. Summers are not the best time for setting personal records. The heat and humidity will naturally slow you down. I generally slow down by about 2 minutes per mile, but this will vary for everybody. So don’t try to run your normal pace, just listen to your body and slow down.
- Use a heart rate monitor. Since summer isn’t going to be the time for setting any speed records, it might be a good time to start running with a heart rate monitor. After you determine your max heart rate and aerobic zones, try doing a majority of your runs in the aerobic zone. This will help you keep your heart rate down, and running longer and stronger. If you want to build a stronger base for your aerobic zone, look into the Maffetone Method.
Running in the heat is certainly not the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. After a few weeks of running in the heat your will begin to acclimate and the experience won’t be as bad. You will still need to be vigilant about staying hydrated, taking in electrolytes, and slowing your pace. Summer is here, so you might as well embrace it and take on the challenge.