This summer has been one of the hottest on record in many parts of the world. Trying to maintain a consistent running program in these conditions is not only difficult, but also potentially dangerous. When you run, your body’s core temperature rises significantly from its normal level of 98.6 degrees. If it gets to 104 degrees, you’re at risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke with potentially life-threatening consequences.
Running in hot weather can lead to:
- Inability to run at the same pace as in cool weather.
- Heat stroke/heat exhaustion.
- Increased fatigue.
Running outdoors when temperatures are high is a pretty miserable experience if you’re not properly prepared for it. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make running in hot weather a little easier. Here are some hot weather running tips that have helped me handle the summer heat.
How to Make your Hot Weather Running Easier
- Slow Down. The faster you run the more heat your body will generate and the more quickly you’ll be forced to slow down as a result. It’s best just to make peace with this fact and consciously reduce the pace of your runs from the start. Running with a heart rate monitor can really help put it in perspective. Don’t stress about maintaining a particular pace, instead, aim to maintain your usual heart rate for a given workout. If you normally do your easy runs at a heart rate of 140 beats per minute, keep to that heart rate during your easy runs hot weather, rather than trying to maintain your usual pace, which would require you to run at a higher heart rate and effort level.
- Build your Base. Rather than allowing yourself to be stressed out about having to slow down in the hot temperatures, reframe it into something positive. Use the summer time to focus on base training with lots of steady, comfortable mileage and a few low-key workouts for variety and to keep in touch with a little bit of faster running. Save the harder workouts for the fall when the weather cools and your body is better able to handle the higher intensity. Whether you’re a high school or university runner who runs cross-country in the fall or a road racer who aims to peak for important fall races, viewing the summer as a relaxed base training period is much more productive than trying to slog through your usual routine and getting frustrated and discouraged.
- Stay Hydrated. You should have some plan for staying hydrated during your runs, especially the longer ones. Whether that means wearing a Hydration Belt, planning your route to pass by water fountains along the way or stashing water bottles along your route, you should arrange to drink water or a sports drink (sorry, beer does not qualify as a sports drink!) every thirty minutes or so.
- Give yourself time to acclimatize to the hot weather. It takes about three weeks for your body to get used to running in the heat. During this time, take it easier than usual on your runs and reduce your overall mileage by 20-50%. Once you find yourself feeling a little more comfortable with the temperature, you can gradually begin to build up to your normal training levels again.
- Avoid running in the hottest times of the day. The best way to beat the heat is to avoid it altogether. Try running early in the morning or later in the evening and avoid the hottest time of day if at all possible.
- Stay out of the sun. If you can, choose a route with as much shade as possible. I have a wooded trail route that I like to run on the hottest days, about 2/3 of the 2 mile loop is covered in shade which makes the heat much easier to take and helps avoid sunburn.
- Learn to recognize the signs of dehydration. Signs of dehydration include excessive thirst, feeling light headed or sluggish, dark urine. If you stop sweating, that’s a significant danger sign – get out of the heat and find something to drink.
- Be aware of the signs of heat stroke. Heat stroke symptoms include an inability to sweat, hot, flushed skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, confusion, agitation and hallucinations. If you or any of your training partners exhibit these symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The most important part of learning to handle the heat is to keep the mindset of working with your body rather than trying to force it to do something it’s not prepared to do. If it’s hot, slow down, take precautions, avoid running in the hottest part of the day and don’t schedule tough workouts when temperatures are high.