So we have the summer months ahead and that means some hot training and racing. I want you to be ready and prepared in order to kind of mitigate the damage that the heat is going to do.
Today, I’m going to share with you some tips for running in the heat and humidity while out trying to enjoying your run.
Don’t let heat and humidity throw your running schedule off track. With a few precautions, you can safely stay on your feet in high temperatures.
I’m going to talk about what running in the heat does to your body and some of the best strategies to kind of cool yourself down and keep yourself from overheating.
So in order to set yourself up for success, you need to hydrate, you need to be smart about your training, and you need to make sure that you are managing the day.
There are two things to consider when we’re talking about training and racing in the heat, there’s the outside temperature, which we really can only do little about and then there’s our internal temperature.
You will need:
- The heat index
- A sports drink with electrolytes
- Waterproof sunscreen with SPF 15
- A hat
- Light-colored clothes made of moisture-wicking fabrics
- A post-run snack
So keep reading…
What Happens to Our Bodies When the Temperature Rises?
✔ Your body loses its ability to cool itself
✔ You get dehydrated faster
✔ Your heart rate rises
✔ Our blood kind of thickens and it’s not able to carry that oxygenated blood to your muscles so they function at a lower rate
Running in the Heat Tips
The first real big tip for you with running in the heat is if it’s so hot that you’re worried about your safety, just don’t do it and tell yourself it isn’t worth it.
When you’re training in the heat, you sometimes can use heat adaptation. If you know you’re going to be racing somewhere hot, taking that time in the months beforehand in order to get your body used to the heat will make a big difference.
Alex Hutchinson has done a lot of work on heat adaptation. So read some of his tips and find out just the best protocol to use for you personally. However, you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a safe way.
Check the heat index, which is how hot it feels when the temperature and the humidity are combined.
According to the National Weather Service, exercising in high temperatures puts you at risk for heat-related issues.
Hydrating before, during, and after is really going to be crucial on those hot humid really kind of unbearable days. So make sure that you are keeping that in mind and that you’re staying hydrated properly.
If you know you have a long run coming up, think about how you’re going to stay hydrated not just on the run itself but more importantly two hours before you set out.
Of course, drinking during your run and after is part of your recovery. But during a run, if you’re already feeling thirsty, chances are you should have been drinking ahead of time.
I know a lot of people don’t like carrying things with them when they run like big water bottles or hydration packs and that’s fine.
✔ You can plan a route where you leave a bottle in your front garden and run in loops around your house or your office.
✔ You could slip a coin in your pocket and just dive into a shop when you need it.
✔ You could plan your route to take you to a local park or somewhere where there’s drinking water or a fountain available for you to use.
Just bear in mind, though, if you’re going out for a run of 45 minutes or less, you probably don’t need to take much water with you.
A good way to check that you’re hydrated enough is to check the color of your pee. If it’s too dark, you’re probably not hydrated enough.
You should be aiming for a light straw color. You can check out this color chart and you might be surprised at the color that you’re starting to get dehydrated.
Water vs. Electrolytes
Water alone isn’t going to solve that dehydration problem like electrolytes do. If it is really hot outside, get yourself one of these electrolyte drinks. There are loads available. Or, it might just be as simple as popping a tablet into a bottle of water.
That can actually affect how you process any water that you do take on board to help you rehydrate and that’s why it’s important to:
✔ Find a product that works for you that has 300 or more milligrams of sodium per serving.
✔ Test it out in your training,
✔ Try it at different temperatures at different times of day and different durations of your runs.
✔ Then make sure when you’re in that key training that you’re consuming that hydrating electrolyte beverage regularly and especially in your races when performance is paramount that you’re taking those sips of your hydration beverage every 15 to 20 minutes starting early and continuing throughout your race.
Again, your body needs these minerals from electrolytes to help send signals from your brain to your muscles and you lose them when you sweat,
…which brings us to the sweat test …
Sweat or Sodium Loss
There are two things that matter with sweating, and that’s how much you sweat and then what’s in your sweat.
Try to get your sodium concentration levels in your sweat measured because that will tell you a lot more about what you might need to drink to perform at your best.
Once you get your sweat rate information put all together, you can find if you’re:
- High sweat volume with low sweat salt
- High sweat salt with low sweat volume
- High sweat volume with high sweat salt
- Low sweat volume with low sweat salt
This is where things get really interesting because although two athletes have similar sweat rates, the amount of salt or sodium that they’re losing within that sweat can be very different.
Let’s take these two runners for example. Sarah has a sweat rate of 1.69 liter per hour whereas Sam has 2.16 liter per hour.
The average sodium concentration loss level comes in at around 950 to 1000 milligrams per liter.
Sarah is losing around 778 milligrams per liter. Sam is losing somewhere in the region of 1474 milligrams per liter, which shows he’s losing almost double the amount Sarah is losing per liter of sweat.
So, Sam would be someone who has a moderate to possibly slightly high sweat rate but with a very high sodium concentration.
For him, water will not do much in terms of hydration. Andy needs a PH 1500 drink that contains 3x more sodium than a normal sports drink.
On the other side, Sarah who has got a lower sweat rate with a lower sweat sodium concentration is going to be better off with something which is a little bit lighter, which is much more like a sort of standard drink basically.
This highlights that everyone is different. What’s going to benefit you is not necessarily going to work perfectly for someone else and vice versa.
Let me put this differently…
Sweat rates and sodium concentrations can differ so much between individuals. So, an off-the-shelf one-size-fits-all doesn’t always work.
For instance, a standard electrolyte drink or energy drink theoretically doesn’t have anywhere near enough sodium in it for Sam.
Symptoms of Sodium Loss
If you’re not getting enough electrolytes during running, then it can result in you getting more cramps or actually not having enough strength.
If it’s even worse, you could get hyponatremia when you don’t have enough sodium in your cells. That can lead to headaches and even loss of concentration.
For most, it’s just a sign of cramps during training or racing and that was my sign for sure.
Last but not least, if you find yourself sweating a lot, you might not need to double your electrolyte intake unless you have higher sodium loss levels.
This leads us to the fact that if you’re planning to race in a hot environment or you think you lose a lot of salt in your sweat, then I would certainly recommend getting this test if you want to take your run performance to a whole new level.
Far more seriously and at the other end of the spectrum is drinking too much water when you’re going out for a run.
Hyponatremia is the medical term for it. And what happens is your blood salt levels get abnormally low, which can cause your water levels to rise and your cells to swell.
This is really unlikely to happen and can be very rare, but it can cause all kinds of problems for when it does happen.
The group most at risk is women because on average, they’re smaller and have less muscle than men therefore need to drink less and can end up drinking far too much.
Obviously, you’re expending energy and you need to take some of that energy back in, but in the heat, your body really loses its ability to digest properly.
So, you want to make sure that if you’re consuming those gels especially, that you were taking them with water and that you’re also only consuming food that your body has that ability to digest.
As the temperature rises, you can almost need to lessen the amount of carbohydrates and sugars that you’re taking in or at least space them out a little bit more so that your body has time to properly digest them and give you that energy that you need.
What to Wear
Dress light. The clothing that you wear matters. While you’re out on a run, consider wearing technical fabrics that will wick moisture away from the skin.
Look for light-colored clothing that will reflect the sun and consider a fit that’s a little looser in order to take advantage of any breeze.
Dark colors absorb more heat and cotton retains moisture.
Make sure your feet are dry when you head out and that you’re wearing socks and shoes that you’ve properly worn in.
Otherwise, with the increased sweating from the heat, you might find that the friction causes all sorts of blisters you don’t want to have.
I understand a lot of people advise against wearing hats, but I don’t. You just need to get a very breathable hat and you’re all set.
You can get all sorts of running hats, all different varieties or visors. They’ll help draw the sweat away and let the air in.
So, make sure you get a super breathable hat with a broad bill. And if it’s really hot, you can actually pour water on your hat and it’ll really help to cool your head down.
Hats are also super useful for keeping your ponytail in check and the visor will help keep the glare of the sun away from your face so it might even feel a little bit cooler even if the temperature is the same. They can also make you look super cool once you find one that you love.
Caps with a “sun skirt” around the back offer additional protection for your ears, back of head, and neck.
If you don’t like to wear a hat, maybe try some running sunglasses to keep the glare out of your eyes.
Wear some cream even if you’re going out for a quick jog. You’ll want to protect your skin from the rays of the sun to not get sunburned. Sunscreen can actually help to keep your body cool as well.
So, slather on sunscreen that’s labeled waterproof or sport and find one that’s at least an SPF 15.
Timing is Everything
Plan your runs really well. Don’t try and go out for your 20-mile long run in the middle of the day when the temperatures are at the warmest.
Instead, why don’t you get up early and get it done before the sun has had time to heat things up. That way, you’ll feel super smug for the rest of the day as well.
Think of those feel-good endorphins that will kick start your day. You could wait and leave it to later in the evening when it’s a bit cooler, too, but in areas that are built up like in towns and cities, the sun’s heat can really be held onto in the pavements and in the buildings so it could still feel a little bit warm out there.
So, best tip, get it done early.
Also, be mindful of where you’re running or what you’re running on. Tarmac absorbs the heat and radiates it right back at you.
Before you Start
Consider dousing yourself with cold water right before your run so you don’t heat up as fast. Take a shower, jump in the pool, or just dump a pitcher of cold water over your head.
Look for Shade
If you head to a park, you can get respite from the sun underneath the shade of the trees. Coastal areas also tend to get better breezes and sometimes are about two or three degrees cooler than inland.
Hot days are perfect for heading to the trails. You might get more shade and you’re going to have to slow down a little bit anyway to cope with different terrain.
Begin your run with the wind at your back so you’ll have a nice breeze in your face on the way back.
On a hotter day, you’re just going to need to slow down a bit because your body is going to be working a lot harder in the heat.
So, don’t go for any records. You need to be able to push that aside and know that you’ll have to slow down a bit for the race.
Use your heart monitor and try to control your heart rate so that it isn’t going too high. And don’t forget your heart rate will be a little bit faster than normal.
It’s absolutely fine to decrease your easy run pace by one or even two minutes a mile. In fact, it is believed that slowing down 30 to 90 seconds per mile is common in hot/humid weather.
That’s not going to be the case for everyone, though. Some people love running in the heat and only slow down when it is really hot outside.
So just don’t compare yourself to other people and do what feels right for you. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Running in the heat is the perfect opportunity to run how you feel and not follow strict time targets. It’s perfectly fine to take some time out and cool down in the shade a little bit.
First, make sure you do some cooldown stretches. You might want to head inside and do those in the shade, though, but they’ll be great at bringing your body temperature and your heart rate down.
After your run, if you want to jump in that ice bath, that will definitely cool your body down. Even just getting out of that heat, finding some shade, finding some ice-cold water will help your body to start that recovery process faster.
Replace any fluids you’ve lost, drink some water as soon as you get back from your run, and get in a cool shower that will really help to bring your body temperature in and stay in it until you feel that you’ve really cooled down.
Make sure you eat something, too like you would with any workout. Get some tart cherry juice and you’re good.
Just remember, when you get dehydrated during your hot summer training, you lose that ability to return to training faster.
And if you’re not properly rehydrating, that can take 24 to 48 hours before your body’s ready to hit those hard workout sessions again.
So, you can either use it as a mouth rinse or actually ingesting peppermint. It relaxes your breathing and it helps cool and calm your brain.
It also adds to kind of that muscle recovery perception that you feel more alert and you feel like your body is almost fresh and new.
So, in those later marathon or ultra-marathon miles, having some either peppermint oil or a peppermint mouth rinse or peppermint candy or gum, if you can run with that in your mouth, can actually help any effort over 60 minutes.
My final tip is to know the warning signs of dehydration heatstroke and heat exhaustion not only for yourself, but for the safety of other runners.
If you’re feeling some discomfort when you’re running in warmer weather, don’t be hesitant to stop. Stop, take a walk, and if you’re really no feeling well, then go back home. It’s just not worth it.
Heat cramps, which usually strike runners in the legs, are the first sign that you’re overheating. So, if you experience one, stay on the safe side and terminate your run.
However, if you stop sweating and begin to feel dizzy, nauseous, or lightheaded, stop running, get in the shade, drink some water, and if required, get medical attention.
Don’t overthink it and make sure you get out and enjoy your run. It’s not too often that it’s too hot to get out and run.
Soon, the nights will be throwing in, there will be frost on the ground, and you’ll be wishing that you were back out there pounding the pavements.
To wrap things up, if you are going to be training in the heat or you have a hot race coming up, hydration is key.
Make sure that you’re staying cool before, during, and after your event and consider your gear.
If you perceive that added heat, adding something like peppermint or menthol can help kind of cool your body down.
Make sure that you’re kind of adjusting your calorie consumption so that you’re not overloading your digestive system.
So, hopefully, you’ve found some useful tips in this post that will help you to get out there and enjoy the sunshine.
Did you know the optimum temperature to run a marathon in is 46° F to 59° F?