Running in and of itself is physically and mentally challenging. Add blazing sun, humidity and soaring temperatures, and the treadmill might seem more humane. The good news for die-hard outdoor runners is you can give yourself the best chance at summer success with a few heat-busting tactics.
“Runners can’t buy instant results on Amazon Prime and have them delivered yesterday; in other words, patience is the key here,” explains Clinton “Flash” Santoro, president and head coach of Flash Santoro Training Systems. “It takes about two weeks of consistent training in hotter conditions for the body to acclimate and adjust to be able to perform well.”
Study up on these coach-approved tips that will prepare you for running in hot weather — and help you set your training expectations and racing plans accordingly.
IDENTIFY YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Once temperatures hit triple digits, every runner is going to be uncomfortable. Santoro notes that everyone has a personal comfort zone when it comes to temperature, so whether or not you need to employ a heat plan varies. However, he specifically notes that when the temperature reaches 85–90ºF, you should have everything you need to run in high temperatures on hand (especially if your run is going to be longer than an hour.)
Karen Meadows, a USAT and USATF certified coach and personal trainer, adds it isn’t just temperature you should be paying attention to when reading the weather forecast. The dew point is also critical — she speaks from experience as a Florida resident — as it dictates the level of humidity in the air. Research shows that as humidity increases, so does our sweat rate, meaning that if you are running in hot and humid temperatures, you will not only lose more fluids but will also lose more sodium (which can only be replenished so quickly).
HYDRATE BEFORE EVERY RUN
To help your body regulate itself on your run, beginning your workout hydrated is important. If you don’t start drinking water until you begin sweating, your body has already begun losing fluids and will have a harder time absorbing what you’re trying to replace. “Make it a habit to start with a full glass of water or electrolyte drink before you even leave the house” instructs Santoro. “[Then you’re] topping off your internal hydration system and not starting at a deficit.” Of course, regular water intake throughout the entire day is ideal — even if you aren’t running — but preparation before what will be a run in high temperatures is the most vital.
WEAR APPROPRIATE APPAREL
While you know shorts and a HeatGear T-shirt or tank top (or sports bra) are going to be the best choice, there are some specific considerations that will also help make your run more comfortable. “Wear light-colored clothing and run in materials that wick sweat away from your body,” advises Meadows. “Also, a visor or lightweight hat will keep sweat from getting in your eyes and give you a little shade from the direct sun (depending on the time of day you are running).” Taking things a step further, seek out gear designed to keep you cool and help pull sweat away from the body.
ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS
A huge part of running in high temperatures is slowing down (whether you intend to or not). Because of this, you can’t expect yourself to perform at the same level you did in that winter marathon, for example. In fact, Santoro says extreme heat can be such a performance reducer you may run more than 30 seconds slower per mile than your baseline, depending on the temperature. Even if you are trying to run at your ‘normal’ pace, it will probably seem much harder than usual as your body takes time to adjust to the heat. Meadows suggests using perceived effort as your training guide once high temperatures set in versus relying on pace or setting specific time goals, as you would if you were running on hilly terrain or in windy conditions.
KNOW THE SIGNS OF HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS
A vital way you can protect yourself — and your fellow runners — is to recognize the early signs of heat exhaustion, (which can lead to heat stroke, which requires immediate medical attention). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says warning signs include increased sweating, clammy skin, nausea, confusion and dizziness, to name a few; if a runner exhibits these symptoms they should be moved to a cool, dry place and given water. If they have reached a level of heat stroke (including loss of consciousness) they shouldn’t be given anything to drink and you should call 911 right away. “If it’s hot and an athlete is cold, not sweating, is super red and looking ragged, has dry, chapped lips or isn’t responding normally and has slowed the pace way down,” lists Santoro, “those could be signs of heatstroke.”