Want to begin or keep up a running routine even as the weather heats up? No matter what your fitness level, read on for these essential tips to surviving—and thriving—even when the weather turns from mild to sweltering.
This summer marks my fourth in a row spent training for a long-distance race. While some wouldn’t be caught dead voluntarily running when the temperature is upwards of 80 degrees, this is my favorite time of the year to train. The days are long, the sunlight ample, and it’s the perfect time to condition your body for success during a fall half or full marathon.
That being said, it’s important to understand that running in the heat can be extra taxing on your body. But as long as you properly prepare and stay in tune with your body, you can enjoy a safe, happy running experience—and maybe even fall in love with running, like I did.
1. Get acclimated slowly
If you haven’t been consistently exercising outdoors as the temperature heats up, don’t expect an outdoor run in the sun to feel comfortable at first. Heat acclimatization, a series of physical adaptations that help the body deal with heat stress, can take 1-2 weeks. These changes include an earlier onset of sweating, increase in sweat rate, improved blood volume, increased oxygen consumption, and more.
The fitter you are, the easier it will be for you to adapt to the heat, but almost everyone will eventually adapt so that a run in the heat is more tolerable. Just be sure to take it easy while your body is going through this process. Run slowly, and take a break if you feel you are overheating or working too hard. The first few summer runs are always the hardest!
2. Stay hydrated
Adequately hydrating is important not just before and during a run, but throughout the entire day. Because running in the heat increases your sweat rate, you will lose a significant amount of water and salt each time you run in the heat that will need to be replaced.
Firstly, be sure that you are properly hydrated before you even start your run. When you’re ready to head out the door in hot weather, plan to bring water with you—or choose a route that passes water fountains—for any run of an hour or longer. You may also consider taking a sports drink, or water supplemented with sodium and other minerals, to help you maintain a proper balance of electrolytes.
If it is especially hot or humid, or you sweat heavily, it’s a good idea to bring water along for shorter runs as well, as you can only learn what works best for you through trial and error.
As for post-run hydration, even if you guzzle a half gallon of water immediately after your run, you may still be dehydrated if you don’t continue to drink water throughout the rest of the day. This means you might start out your next run dehydrated, which can impact energy and performance, and increase your risk for heat-related issues like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
One of the best ways to ensure you stay hydrated is to always have a reusable water bottle with you. If water is easily accessible and in your line of sight, you’re much more likely to reach for it!
3. Become a morning runner
If you’re trying to stay consistent in your fitness routine, there are many reasons to switch to morning workouts, and hot summer temperatures are one of the most compelling. Early in the morning is often the coolest time of day, and thus the best time of day to run to minimize discomfort and maximize performance.
During my first few training cycles, a flexible schedule meant that I often didn’t run until 10am or noon, and I can firmly say that my now 6:30am running time is significantly more pleasant, and easier to stay consistent with.
If morning runs don’t work for you, try running at night rather than mid-day, as temperatures will once again be lower. And no matter what time of day you hit the pavement, try to seek out routes with shaded areas to avoid the heat of the sun.
4. Wear sunblock
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Running outside in the summer sun can leave your skin red and burnt if you don’t lather up with sunscreen first. Be sure to cover all exposed areas of skin, and consider using an oil-free sunscreen on your face to help avoid breakouts.
I would also advise applying lip balm with sunscreen in it to protect your lips—and bring it with you during runs to reapply if possible. I can tell you from personal experience that getting sunburned on your lips is very unpleasant.
5. Invest in summer gear
Proper gear is essential to summer running. Pick up some light-colored, sweat-wicking tank tops and shorts to help you stay cool and comfortable even as you sweat. Clothing that is slightly looser rather than skin-tight will allow your skin to ventilate better. A hat and sunglasses can also help protect your scalp and eyes when the sun is very strong, though I admit that when it’s hot I can’t imagine layering on any extra gear. It’s important to find what works best for you.
A supportive, well-fitting pair of sneakers is also important, as always. However, if you’re planning to take some of your runs to the beach, you may want to consider running barefoot. You should know that with or without shoes, beach running is significantly more taxing than running on dirt or pavement, but it can provide a good opportunity to strengthen your feet while avoiding being weighed down by shoes sinking in the sand. If you do choose the barefoot route, just be sure that the beach is fairly free of hazards such as glass or sharp shells, and be prepared for the run to feel a lot more difficult than you’re used to!
6. Be cautious
Even if you follow all of these guidelines, it’s particularly important to listen to your body and adjust your expectations when running in heat and humidity. Your heart will have to work harder simply to keep your body cool, and will need to divert blood flow from your muscles to the surface of your skin to help release heat. This means you may need to slow down your running pace or even take breaks to achieve any given target heart rate or effort level—and you shouldn’t feel bad about this.
Staying in tune with your body’s cues can also help you avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you do start to experience any symptoms—such as dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, headaches, or fatigue—stop exercising, move to a cool, shady area, and drink water or a sports drink until you feel recovered. As long as you stay alert, you should be able to safely enjoy summer running.
While summer running does carry its own set of challenges, it can be very rewarding to hit the trails and take advantage of the long sunshine-filled days. And who knows—it might just inspire you to sign up for a fall race.
Disclaimer: Please consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. Additionally, pregnant women and children should be particularly prudent, as they may be at a higher risk for heat illnesses when exercising in hot temperatures.