It’s hot outside, but you have a run scheduled today. Do you call it off and stream The Office – for the third time, now? (Tempting, yes)
But with proper preparation, you don’t have to avoid running in the heat.
In fact, a lot of races are held in very hot places, such as Death Valley and the Sahara Desert. If these people can run in 122º F, then you can run in 80º.
While running in hot temps can make your run feel much harder, it can also help you to become a better, stronger runner. Studies have found that running in the heat leads to overall better cardiovascular fitness.
Running in any kind of incremental weather will also make you mentally stronger, helping you to develop that can-do attitude that all runners need, in order to push through to the end.
But just like running in the wind, the rain or the cold, you need to prepare for the extreme weather.
How to avoid running in the heat
While you can definitely run in the heat, it isn’t always safe to run at the hottest times of the day. Running in the heat raises your body temperature.
This puts you at risk of dehydration. While you don’t have to take your run indoors, you do need to be smart about when and how you run.
Run in the early morning
If it is going to be a scorcher, set your alarm and run before the temperature rises. The sun is at its highest between eleven and three in the afternoon and things really heat up between three and six.
The coolest time to run during the summer is in the early morning, before the sun comes up.
But, if you can’t get up that early, then get up as early as you can. Any morning run is going to be better than a midday run.
Run in the evening
If running in the morning isn’t going to work, you can hit the road in the evening. The evening hours are cooler than midday, but not as cool as in the morning.
As the sun goes down, the ground’s heat begins to radiate upwards, keeping the temps a bit warm yet.
The later you run, the better. (Less sun equals less heat)
Plus, an evening run can provide an awesome sunset and a great way to unwind after a long, busy day.
Run in the shade
If you have to run in the middle of the day, choose a shady route. The trees will protect you from the sun and the heat.
Hit the trails, a park or a residential section, where there are often more trees lining the streets.
Keep in mind that asphalt and concrete are hotter to run on than trails or dirt roads. (The asphalt and concrete absorb heat and radiate it back to you.)
Run on the treadmill
If the morning or evenings are not an option, and no shady route can be found, then your only option may be to hit the treadmill. (But hey, now you can still watch The Office)
Just be sure your treadmill is in an air conditioned room. You can still overheat from a hot run in a stuffy, enclosed room. Proper air flow and cooler temps is a must.
Did you know you can lose anywhere from six to twelve ounces of fluid every 20 minutes of running?
And the more you sweat, the more fluid you lose (That is why running in the heat can be so dangerous) Without proper pre-run nutrients, you could risk dehydration.
What to drink before running in the heat
Normally, downing a bunch of water before a run isn’t recommended. But, if you are running in extreme heat, it’s good to drink about 6 to 8 fluid ounces 15 to 45 minutes before your run.
After your run, drink about eight ounces of water for roughly every 20 minutes you ran, to replenish your fluid loss and prevent dehydration.
You will know you are dehydrated if your pulse is still high, even when you’ve returned to a resting state. Dark, yellow urine is also a sign of dehydration.
What to eat before running in the heat
It takes a lot of energy to run in the heat, so make sure you eat right before heading out. What and when you decide to eat will affect your run.
It’s best to eat two hours before you run. Don’t eat too much either – your ideal meal should be around 300 – 400 calories.
Consume foods high in carbohydrates before you run, because carbs break down into glucose, which is your main energy source while running.
It’s best to avoid foods high in fat and protein because they take longer to break down. Your body spends more energy digesting them, making you feel crampy and tired while you run.
Fiber gets passed through the body quickly, and caffeine helps it along. So, limit your fiber the day before you run, and try to drink as little coffee as possible the morning of.
Too much fiber and caffeine can give you the runner’s trots. The last thing you need on a hot summer day is a sprint to the nearest bathroom.
Attire for running in the heat
Before taking off, check your weather app for the heat index. The actual temperature doesn’t take into account the humidity levels. Higher humidity can make it feel hotter than it really is.
Avoid running in temperatures above 98.6 degrees if the humidity is above 70 – 80 % because the humidity in the air will make it much harder for your body to produce sweat.
Sweat is what cools you, so high temps with high humidity become extremely dangerous.
What to wear
It goes without saying that you will want to wear shorts when running in the heat, but your top can be a tank top, or short sleeves.
Cotton absorbs sweat and doesn’t dry. Instead, opt for light, breathable fabrics. Wearing moisture wicking material for both your shorts and your tops will keep heat from being trapped under your clothing.
Also, choose light colors. They reflect the sun’s rays, whereas darker colors will absorb it, trapping heat close to your body.
And finally, avoid shorts that have seams on the inner thigh, sports bras that don’t fit well, and shirts with awkward seams. The seams and fabrics will cause friction while you are running. That friction, coupled with your sweat, could cause chafing.
So, look for comfortable, stretchy fabrics that fit snuggly.
For your head
Protect your face with either a hat or a visor.
The brim will keep the sun out of your eyes and shade your face. A visor will keep you the coolest, but if you choose a hat, be sure it is light-weight and made with breathable fabric.
If you have thin hair or your hair is parted, the exposed skin can burn. In that case, a hat is best. At the very least, remember to put sunscreen on those spots.
And finally, choose sunglasses that protect your eyes from both UVA and UVB rays. Look for glasses designed specifically for runners. Normal sunglasses will slip down your face when you get sweaty.
Sunscreen, water and lotion
Not all sunscreens are created equal. As a runner, you will need waterproof or sweat resistant sunscreen. Look for labels that say “active” or “sports”. You also need to pay close attention to the SPF number, whether it’s chemical or mineral, and how greasy it is.
The SPF number stands for ‘sun protection factor’ and it will tell you how long it takes before the sun will redden your skin.
For example, an SPF of 15 means it will take 15 times longer than it normally does for you to burn. Choose a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15.
And finally, bring along a hand-held water bottle for rehydration and to dump on yourself if you overheat.
Chose a design that is light-weight and easy to hold. Nathan or CamelBak are usually good choices.
The mentality for running in the heat
Running in the heat is tough. There is no way around that. The heat wears you out faster, and even a three mile run can feel long.
So, prepare yourself with the proper nutrition and the proper mindset. Hot, humid days are not the days to try to beat your personal best, hit the hills or work on intervals.
Slow your run down and take breaks as needed. Run based on effort, rather than trying to hit a certain pace.
Sometimes, running in the heat is hard simply because we think it will be hard. But we can train our brains to be comfortable with the discomfort.
Remind yourself that you’ve ‘got this’ or that it’s ‘just a little further’. Self-talk can build you up – or destroy your run.
By pushing through and finishing the run, you will become acclimated to the heat and to the discomfort, making you a stronger runner, both mentally and physically.
Having a positive mindset will help build you up before the run and keep you running. Lower your expectations for this run. Just be proud of yourself for getting out and doing it!
You don’t have to take your run indoors just because it’s hot outside. Running in the heat can be fun – and safe – if you properly prepare for it.
Try to avoid running in the middle of the day. The mornings and evenings are cooler. Hit the trails, parks or residential sections because the turf is cooler, and it is shadier.
Wear the right clothing. Avoid cotton and instead choose light-weight, breathable fabrics. Lighter colors are better than dark, and stretchy, form fitting clothing is better than loose and baggy.
And finally, don’t ditch the nutrition. Eating right and proper hydration will give you the energy needed to make it through the run. Fill up on carbohydrates and avoid foods that can cause stomach issues, such as high fiber, protein and fatty foods.
Don’t take these hot summer runs for granted! They are a great time to challenge yourself, both physically and mentally. Be grateful for the chance to become stronger.
Now get out there and run!