Running in the heat is difficult for even the most experienced athletes. Some love it; others hate it. But depending on where you live, it’s something many people have to deal with.
Running in the heat might be miserable, but it provides some important training benefits that are hard to replicate otherwise:
Runners need to plan appropriately to maximize their experience and train safely in hot weather. Failure to do so can require medical attention and result in heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, disorientation, heat cramps, or heat stroke.
But if you prepare responsibly and listen to your body, you can continue your runs on a regular basis this summer. In this article, we’ll show you how.
Most training programs are built upon consistency. Yet, some runners use high temperatures as an excuse for avoiding a specific run. In certain cases of extreme heat, it may be justified. But too many days off can lead to an incomplete training regimen that won’t prepare you for your next race day.
If you’ve just started training in the winter, running in high temperatures is going to be much different than what you’ve become used to on the treadmill back when it was cold. Your body will need to adjust to the hot days, and you’ll have to be careful not to push yourself too far.
Running in the heat requires a special kind of preparation and commitment. By taking the proper steps, you’ll soon embrace the heat rather than use it as an excuse to skip a run. By doing these five tasks, you will stay on track and get the most out of your training this summer.
If you didn’t log it, did you even run it? The only way to cut seconds off your PR is to keep a log of your current mileage, splits, and pace per mile. While plenty of apps and watches do this for you automatically, I’d recommend exporting your data into a spreadsheet after each run or manually doing it by hand—especially in the summer.
In the summer months, you’ll constantly have to adjust your training schedule due to high temperatures. You might have to shorten your long run one day to avoid running in the afternoon heat. Your tempo workout on Thursday might have to be reassigned to the early morning on Friday if the heat index for that day is too high.
With your training schedule likely impacted due to heat, it’s important to have a hassle-free way to make note of days you’ve cut mileage short so you can make up for it later.
If you’ve been an afternoon runner all your life, it might be time to try running in the early mornings. Change it up.
Don’t be shackled to what you’ve always done. Sometimes you have to get creative in the summer to avoid the blistering summer heat. It can be hard to break away from your normal routine, but there’s a trick to adopting a new running habit.
When you switch the time of day that you run, add some type of reward after your run. While a new routine may feel foreign at first, a reward—like a Gatorade, new playlist, or ice water waiting for you—can entice you enough to make the change. Make your routine change an event in itself, and you’ll be excited to run at any time of day.
Don’t wake up and think you’ll be able to spring into action and hit the trails when your alarm goes off. One step outside with the 90+ degree temperature and before you know it, the “it’s too hot” thought will zip into your mind and you’ll head back home.
When even the smallest things go wrong—whether you leave your watch at home or your earbuds aren’t charged—your mind will try to rationalize skipping the run when you first experience the day’s hot summer weather. That’s why it’s important to plan your run on the day before. Always proactively be preparing for the next run to ensure you are ready for it.
Some basic preparation steps include:
With all the logistical components of your run already planned, the friction has been removed and all you need to do is get going!
It seems simple, right? The key here is understanding your limitations and listening to your body when it comes to how you’re performing in the heat. There might be some days when you simply can’t go another mile. That’s completely okay. It’s better—and safer—to stop and take breaks as needed to adjust to hot weather and new humidity levels.
You’re likely exerting at a quicker rate when running in the heat. It’s best to slow your pace down especially in the beginning. Although your time might be a tad slower than where you were three months ago, this type of adjustment is often necessary.
Look for signs to understand how you’re faring in the heat. Check your heart rate. Monitor your breathing. Assess your sweat rate. If you get to the point when your body stops sweating, you’re in a dangerous place. Be diligent and take every signal seriously. You don’t want any heat-related illnesses to result from your run.
While you can’t control the outside temperature, you can control the inside one. Your body has an internal temperature that you’ll need to monitor; ensure you’re not getting overheated. To keep your internal body temperature low, consider your hydration and other cooling mechanisms.
Hydrate before, during, and after your workout. Drink ice water before your run to stay cool. Replenish with Gatorade or an equivalent sports drink to refill your electrolytes. Before your run, stay in an air-conditioned space or take an ice bath. On the course, try to grab cold water or ice to put everywhere, especially your neck, forehead, armpits, and groin.
By taking these steps, you can begin to cool down (or maintain) a body temperature that hopefully isn’t wholly overwhelmed by the external heat from the sun.
If you can cruise along at an eight-minute clip when it’s cool out, that’s great. But, it’s not going to feel the same in hot weather–especially not at first.
The heat affects your heart rate, and you don’t want to push it too hard, too fast. When the weather starts to heat up, reduce the intensity of your runs by about 30 percent and work your way back up to a harder effort.
If your schedule allows for it, run during a part of the day when it’s not scorching hot, especially with the heat index. If you can, run early in the morning before the heat sets in, or go for a night run once the sun is down.
Just be careful not to run too close to your bedtime–it can interfere with your sleep. Give yourself two hours before you hit the sack if you’re going to run at night.
Don’t pick a running route that showcases the clear summer skies. Your body will get heated very quickly. This time of year, find a course with trees that are throwing the good kind of shade. You’ll stay cooler, and be able to run longer and faster because of it.
When you’re running in extreme heat, it’s easy for things to go downhill quickly–especially if you’re alone. Run with a friend to establish a buddy system for staying hydrated and keep tabs on one another. If one of you starts to have heat-related symptoms, you’ll notice and likely be able to help one another out before things get out of hand.
Running outside in the heat for several days can be tiresome in the thick of summer. Some weeks, there just isn’t a good break in the hot, humid weather where you can enjoy a cooler run. Don’t be afraid to weave in some cross-training instead of bearing the heat once or twice a week.
Try the treadmill, elliptical machine, swimming (what feels better than a pool when it’s so hot out?), or a stair-stepper. Many gyms even have an air-conditioned indoor track if you want to run but prefer to avoid the treadmill.
Follow along with Coach Elizabeth to learn some of her best advice for learning how to run and perform your best during the summer months.
We are lying to ourselves if we think we can maintain the same pace on a humid 90°F than we can on a crisp 60°F fall day. On a super hot day, you’re just going to need to slow down a bit–every runner has to face this reality.
If you’re running a race on a blazing day, adjust your expectations. You can’t expect to hit your PR if it’s going to be much hotter than you expected. You’ll just end up going out too fast the first mile and hitting the wall early on.
It’s easy to forget that our bodies are made up of about 70 percent water. When it’s hot and humid, we lose water much faster. It seems to just pour out like a faucet out of our pores—you have to replace it!
Remember, it’s not all about hydrating during your run. Drink about ten to twenty ounces of water or so before you run. Depending on how long you are running, stop and get some water every four miles or so.
If you aren’t running more than four miles or so and you’re properly hydrated before your run, you probably don’t need to carry a water bottle. If you’re going for a longer run, carry water or make sure to plan in stops where you know there’s a working water fountain.
Pro-tip: Don’t overdo it, especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Everyone has experienced that sloshing sensation in their stomach when they drink too much water too quickly. It’s better to sip moderate amounts of a few times water (water that’s not too cold) than load up and have a heavy stomach at the start or midway through your run.
If you get to a point where you notice you’ve stopped sweating or start feeling dizzy, DO NOT ignore it. This is a sign your body is in danger–you could even pass out. There are times to muscle through being uncomfortable, and this is not one of them.
Stop, grab some water, a Gatorade, or something similar. Rest for a couple of minutes and take it slow to see how your body is responding to the hydration. You might need to slow your pace down a bit or take a walking break here and there. Just learn from it and plan to hydrate better in the future.
It’s important to keep your body cool before you run and cool it down after you get back inside. Stay inside in a cool place before you run and make sure you’re properly hydrated.
On super hot days, you can use arm ice packs to keep your body temperature down a bit, and many racecourses offer ice and water you can drink or just dump right over your head. Go ahead–it will feel great, cool you down–and no one is looking at your hair anyway.
You can also wear a hat and light-colored, lightweight clothing. Hot summer days are not a day to wear heavy, dark-colored running clothes. Plus, a hat will limit your exposure to UV rays, which is always a good idea.
When you get back from a run in hot weather, cool off and hydrate right away. This is the time to sit down with a big glass of water and drink as much as you want. Keep drinking water and other hydration beverages throughout the day to fully rehydrate your body and replenish your electrolytes.
Finally, don’t forget your sunscreen. It won’t do much to keep you cool, but it protects your skin and helps keep you healthy for every run down the line!
Yes. Your body has to work harder for every step, and it’s working overtime to sweat and cool your body. This results in an increase in burned calories.
However, the increase might not be sustainable. For example (these numbers are completely arbitrary), if you can run 60 minutes on a mild weather day and burn 600 calories, you might only be able to run 30 minutes on a hot day—and you may only burn 450 calories.
Yes, but use it wisely. Running in the heat can be dangerous (and life-threatening) at times, so you need to be careful with this training stimulus. Ease into it.
Maybe incorporate 1 hot running day or sauna session into your week. See how your body responds. Remember, the extra stimuli from running in the heat will tax your body, similar to a hard workout, long run, or tempo workout—plan for adequate rest and recovery following a run in extreme temperatures.
Summer is a relaxing time for many. There are vacations, cookouts, fireworks, and warm temperatures—what’s not to love? Well, for most runners, the summer heat is more of a nuisance than a joy. Rising temperatures and hot weather can have detrimental effects on runners’ training schedules and runners’ health.
To counteract blistering heat in the summer months, you need to proactively take steps to avoid disorientation, heatstroke, and other heat-related illnesses. That’s why it’s so important to log miles religiously, reward routine adjustments, plan runs on the day before, let your body dictate your next move, and manage your internal body temperature.
By implementing all of these actions, you will be one step closer to keeping your training on track this summer and better running in the heat.