Running in the Heat: How to Stay on Track This Summer

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 Benefits

Running in the heat might be miserable, but it provides some important training benefits that are hard to replicate otherwise:

  • Build temperature adaptations: The weather isn’t always friendly on race day, but you have to run anyways. By training in adverse weather, you condition your body to adapt and perform (even if the weather isn’t ideal).
  • Boost your VO2 max: Running in the heat can have a more positive influence on your VO2 max than training at altitude.
  • Improve your exercise economy: It takes a lot of work to run in the heat. When you do, your running economy improves, allowing you to go farther and longer with less energy. You can run at a reduced heart rate at any given pace, and this also lowers your perceived exertion.

Tips for Running in the Heat

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.

Why Consistency Is Key For Training

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.

#1: Log Your Miles Religiously

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. 

Printed running log

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. 

#2: Reward Routine Adjustments

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. 

#3: Plan Your Run The Day Before

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. 

Clothing laid out for run

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:

  • Laying out your light clothing for the run
  • Deciding if you want to wear a hat or visor to block the sun
  • Ensuring you have enough sunscreen at the correct SPF you want
  • Mapping out the path and total mileage you plan to run

With all the logistical components of your run already planned, the friction has been removed and all you need to do is get going!

#4: Let Your Body Dictate Your Next Move

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.

Man running in heat

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.

#5: Manage Your Internal Body Temperature

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Running in Extreme Heat

Does running in the heat burn more calories?

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.

Does running in the heat improve fitness?

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.

Tracking Summer Running Success

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.