Running is a fantastic way to keep fit and healthy. But running in the heat and humidity of summer can be uncomfortable. Exertion from a summer run can potentially be dangerous too if you aren’t careful.
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Here are 20 tips to make running in the heat a little more bearable and safer.
1. Run Early in the Day
Get out there before the day heats up. Coolest temperatures of the day are usually before the sun rises. Once the sun is up, the outside air temperature quickly rises.
So set your alarm for before sunrise. Get up with the roosters and go for that run. It will wake you up and is a great way to start your day.
2. Run Late in the Evening
If you just are not a morning person, then consider running when the heat of the day is subsiding. Running at sunset can make for a very enjoyable run, when the temperatures are cooler.
Regardless of morning or evening, just don’t run in the mid-day sun. These are when the summer heat and sun are the most intense.
3. Run Indoors
Consider running inside on a track or treadmill in an air conditioned space during extreme heat.
Yes, the dreadmill can be boring. But that conveyor belt to nowhere does have a purpose. It is a great tool for when the weather outside just makes a run miserable.
You can also consider running on an indoor track. However, check to see if the track is in an air conditioned gym. Indoor tracks are in large buildings that can be expensive to air condition, so not all buildings have this luxury.
4. Run Slowly
Running in heat is a harder workout. Don’t expect to keep the same pace. If you attempt to run the same pace you do in cooler temperatures, you will be overtraining and stressing your body. Don’t do it!
5. Run a Shorter Distance
Keep it short. Again, your body will be working harder, so you just don’t need to run as far. Leave your longer runs for cooler days.
6. Take Breaks
Feel free to take as many breaks as you need. You are running for health and exercise, there is no reason that you can’t take breaks during the hot and humid days of summer. Give yourself permission to walk when you need to.
During warmer days, consider planning a run/walk activity. You can plan to run followed by a walk in a regular pattern. This will help prevent you from overheating or overworking. Some runners will train with intervals of a 10-minute run followed by a 1- minute walk. But you can even do shorter run intervals when it is hot out.
7. Run a Trail
Concrete and asphalt heat up in the summer sunshine. Temperatures of pavement can reach 60 degrees hotter than air temperature. Asphalt has been measured at 125 – 135 F in the sun when air temperature is only 77 F. At these temperatures, you can fry an egg in 5 minutes. This heat will radiate upward as your feet hit the roads and sidewalks making it feel very hot.
Running on a trail can be much cooler. The ground of wooded areas contains water that moderates the heat of summer. And trees provide shade to protect you from the intense sunlight.
It can be much cooler to run on a trail than on a city street.
8. Wear a Heart Rate Monitor
Because heat can seriously affect your heart, it is important to keep an eye on what your heart rate is doing. Wearing a heart rate monitor with alarms set to alert you to an overworking heart is a good idea.
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, you can take your pulse periodically.
You should also be able to talk when you run. If you cannot get a sentence out without pausing to take a breath, you need to slow down.
Pay attention to how you feel when running in the heat. If your heart rate is too high, you may be able to hear your own pulse in your ears. You may feel nauseated or lightheaded, have discomfort in your chest or have trouble breathing. This means it is definitely time to slow down or, better yet, stop.
9. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
You need to stay hydrated. Your body just doesn’t work properly when it is dehydrated. And being dehydrated on a hot day can lead to serious health issues, even collapse needing emergency treatment.
Drink plenty of water starting days before your run. Your pee should be a pale yellow, indicating that you are nicely hydrated.
Drink some cold water before you head out. And carry enough water with you on your run to account for sweating.
You may want to take extra water to dump on yourself as you heat up. Or plan your route to include a cooling dunk in a lake or stream.
If you are doing a longer run and just don’t want to carry that much water, consider stashing water bottles at strategic points along your route. You can also plan your route to include water stops, where you know you can fill up at a drinking fountain or purchase bottles of water.
Okay… One more time…
It is so important.
When you sweat, you also lose salt. This salt is important to keep your body functioning properly. Loss of electrolytes can lead to painful muscle cramping and irregular heart beats.
11. Ice, Ice, Baby
Drink a glass of ice water before you run. This will cool your down a bit before you even start.
Use ice in your hydration backpacks & bottles. You can either put in ice cubes or you can freeze the bottles and packs overnight. This will provide you with cool water to drink as you run. It will also cool you down as you carry it because it rests on your back or body.
When freezing water in bottles, only fill them part way and leave the cap loose. Remember that water expands as it freezes.
When freezing water in your hydration pack bladder, be sure to position the bladder so that the tube opening doesn’t get blocked with ice. You want this to stay open so that you can drink the water. It can take a while for it to thaw enough to suck the water out, leaving you dehydrated for most of your run.
After your run, cool down by putting ice on your pulse points, such as your wrists or neck. You can take an ice bath or cold shower. Just plunking your feet into a bucket of cold water can feel absolutely wonderful.
12. Light Clothes
You may want to wear as little as decently possible. Some men will run without a shirt. Women may run in just a sports bra and short shorts. But reconsider this!
The sun heats up your bare skin a lot quicker than your clothed body. The right clothes can protect you from the heat and sun.
Wear light-weight fabrics with UV protection, if possible.
Pale colored clothing deflects heat. Dark colors, especially black, absorb the suns rays and can become quite hot.
DO NOT WEAR COTTON. Wear fabrics that will wick the moisture away from your skin.
13. Prevent Blisters and Chafing
Okay, I will say it again… DO NOT WEAR COTTON Clothing. This, especially, includes your socks and underwear. Cotton holds moisture against your skin and will cause chafing and blisters.
You are more likely to chafe and blister in hot weather because you will be sweating a lot.
You can use body lubricants such as BodyGlide and Vaseline in strategic areas to help prevent chafing. Common key areas to consider protecting are nipples, underarms, panty lines, and between toes. Consider protecting any part of your body that may rub together or rub on clothing as you run.
14. Run with Wet Hair
A great way to keep cool during your run is to run with wet hair. Rinse your head and soak your hair with cool water. Then squeeze out the excess. You can wet a bandana or Buff and wrap that around your head. When the cool breeze hits the wetness, it will help cool you down.
Remember that extra water I told you to take on your run? Dump that over your head and re-wet that bandana to keep you cooled down.
15. Keep Hair Off Your Neck
If you have long hair, tie it up into a bun or ponytail to keep it off the back of your neck. Not only does this drive me bonkers as it sticks to my neck, but it also insulates and prevents any breeze from cooling me off.
You can also tuck your hair under a wetted hat or bandana.
16. Sun Safety: Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen
Speaking of hats and bandanas, wear one! Have you ever experienced sunburn of your scalp? Not fun.
And remember, direct sunlight on your skin and body, especially your head, will heat you up fast. So, protect yourself from the suns rays and wear a hat.
Brimmed hats are better, as they also keep the direct sunlight off your face.
Buy a good pair of UV protective sunglasses to protect your eyes. In fact, squinting will quickly tire you out. The glare of sunlight in your eyes can really zap your energy.
And don’t forget to use sunscreen on any remaining bare skin. Sunburns are no fun. And, of course, neither is skin cancer.
17. Spritz, Not Sprints
We have already talked about not going fast. Sprinting in hot weather is not advised. But spritzing is!
You can take a small spritzer bottle filled with water. If you are feeling overly hot, spritzing water on your face can feel so refreshing.
You can also use one of your water bottles or a splash of water from your hydration pack. Pour it over your head and down your back to help cool you off.
If you are lucky enough to find a sprinkler on your route, be sure to channel your inner child and jump through the spray.
18. Listen to Your Body
Be smart and be aware. Listen to your body. If your heart is pounding, slow down or stop. If you are feeling nauseated, don’t keep going. It is also time to call it a day if you stop sweating.
19. Watch for Signs of Heat Stress
Learn the signs of heat stress and don’t push yourself into the realm of heat-related illnesses. I talk about heat stress below, so keep reading.
Some days are just too hot to run. And that is okay. There are plenty of other activities you can do.
All these activities add to your fitness and flexibility. It is good for a runner to mix up workouts and cross-train.
Dangers of Running in hot weather
The following is not medical advice. It is general information only.
You need to be aware of the trouble you could get into when running in the heat of summer. Running in hot and humid conditions can lead to some serious consequences.
Be smart about running in the summertime. Be aware of what your body is telling you. Stop and cool yourself down when symptoms are mild.
And seek medical attention when symptoms escalate or persist.
Avoid Heat Stress
Heat Stress is a term used for a variety of conditions caused by over-exposure to hot and humid conditions. It happens when your body absorbs more heat than it can dissipate.
Under normal circumstances your body can usually cools itself adequately. It does this through different ways, including dilating blood vessels in the skin, increased breathing and, the biggest one, sweating. This is called thermoregulation.
But summer heat can quickly overwhelm your internal cooling mechanisms and leave you open to heat-related illness. These include the following:
Your skin can become irritated and potentially infected due to excess sweating. Rinsing the sweat off your body after your run can help minimize this side effect, but not always.
You lose fluids through sweating. If you aren’t drinking enough water to replace fluids lost through sweating, you can become dehydrated.
Dehydration may cause you to lose your ability to sweat. This is very dangerous since sweating is your main cooling mechanism when running.
You also lose electrolytes through sweating. This can lead to painful muscle cramping.
Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting can also occur during hot weather. It can sneak up on you. Recognize the signs early on. Don’t be stubborn. Slow down, walk or stop and cool yourself down if you are feeling light-headed.
Rhabdo is an emergency medical condition that can occur when exercising in hot conditions. Muscle tissue breaks down and muscle cells die releasing large amounts of a protein called myoglobin into the blood. It can lead to kidney failure if left untreated. Signs include red-tinged urine, along with other signs of heat stress.
Heat exhaustion is a set of symptoms caused by your body overheating. It can include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, excessive sweating, and intense thirst. It can lead to heat stroke if not addressed promptly.
Heat stroke is another medical emergency condition that can lead to coma and death if not treated. Signs include confusion, slurred speech, very high body temperature, a lack of sweating or profuse sweating. Seizures or a loss of consciousness can result.
When it is Too Hot to Run
Don’t run when the conditions are too hot and humid.
Cut off temperatures vary from person to person. Some tolerate the heat better than others. It depends on your age, fitness levels, body weight, and health status. Prior gradual exposure to hot conditions and acclimation to the heat may also make you more heat resistant.
You may have an increased risk for heat-related illness if you are over 65 years of age, overweight, have a health condition such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
Some medications may make you more prone to heat stress. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist.
Please Run Safely this Summer!
I hope these tips help you stay active and healthy this summer. Remember to use common sense, stay hydrated and watch for early signs of problems.
If you have other tips for running in the summer heat, please share them in the comments below.