How to Adjust Runs for Hot Weather

Heat Acclimatization for Summer Running

Hot weather running certainly may not feel pleasant and your confidence may dip as your paces slow down – but summer running does not have to be miserable. Heat acclimatization for summer running can actually be beneficial for your training, both by making you more comfortable in warmer temperatures and by actually making you a strong runner. 

Training in the heat and humidity can actually evoke similar physiological adaptations as training at high altitude. Your body is smart and adapts to applied stressors; that is, after all, why those long runs and VO2max intervals are so effective in training. The same principle applies to heat: your body changes your sweat mechanisms, blood volume, and ability to regulate core temperature.

As a result of heat acclimatization, you sweat more, your blood flow and plasma volume improve, and you can better regulate your core temperature. All these changes make summer running feel more tolerable; you likely will even notice that your paces begin to match your effort, rather than appearing slower than you feel like you are running.

Evidence even indicates that hot weather training will aid in your body’s ability to tolerate cold temperatures. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that an increase in maximum cardiac output as a result of heat training led to an average of a 5% VO2max when running in cooler temperatures. This means that summer running can assist in improving your running for fall races, even if you don’t notice faster paces at first due to the heat.

Heat Acclimatization for Summer Running

Tips for Heat Acclimatization for Summer Running

Get off the treadmill and get outdoors.

Heat acclimatization will not occur on the treadmill, especially if you retreat indoors at the first sign of summer. If you want to acclimate to running in the heat, you want to get outdoors and expose yourself to the warmer weather – especially in May or June, when the summer heat isn’t at its worst. 

While some approaches such as using a sauna will quicken heat acclimatization, these approaches should be undertaken with prudence and guidance from a professional such as a coach. Incremental adaptations made from consistently running outdoors may take longer, but the approach is safer, more comfortable, and allows you to maintain your normal training schedule.

Heat acclimatization takes approximately two weeks, although some studies suggest the process is faster in highly trained individuals. The process will be uncomfortable and unpleasant in those two weeks, but if you stick with it, summer running will gradually feel more tolerable.

It’s important to note that, much like any other stimulus presented in training, heat acclimatization can be overdone. Don’t go outdoors and run at noon every single day. Embrace cooler days if Mother Nature presents them and, if you have harder workouts on your schedule, try to do them on cooler days of the week. If the heat suddenly spikes, scale back your intensity or mileage for a week.

There is a point where the treadmill is safer. This will vary based on where you live and how well adapted you are to the heat (Floridians will be able to tolerate much warmer temperatures than Seattleites) so use common sense.

Focus on your perceived effort and breathing.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of heat acclimatization is seeing your paces sharply slow down for the first few weeks of summer. After all, your body is working harder to pump blood to your skin to cool your working muscles, which increases your heart rate. As a result, you have to work harder to maintain any given speed – which is why most runners notice that their pace slows down 30 seconds or more per mile in the heat.

If you try to maintain your normal pace, every run becomes a hard run – and that simply is not an effective nor healthy approach to training. Instead, focus on your perceived effort on summer runs and accept that your paces won’t be the same as you acclimatize – or even until the temperature drops.

For easy runs, this means your breathing should be light enough that you can carry on a conversation and your effort feels comfortable and controlled. Heat acclimatization is most effective on longer duration (~60 minutes) runs at an easy effort (60% of VO2max) or shorter duration (30-40 minutes) runs at a moderate effort.

If you are doing any speed work during the acclimatization process, shift your focus from pace to effort. I like short fartlek runs and hill repeats for summer training, rather than intervals focused on hitting an exact pace.

In extreme heat, you may choose to complete only easy runs, depending on your level of fitness. Extreme heat is a stressor and can turn even an easy 60 minute run into a hard day of training.

Seek shade.

Even though heat acclimatization is beneficial, you do not want to be reckless when it comes to training in the heat. Follow some common sense to minimize the risk of heat illness. Run earlier or later in the day, not during the heat of the day (and check out these tips to help you run in the mornings). Opt for shaded routes or even head out to the trails, since pavement can reflect heat.

Your four-legged running buddy requires a more cautious approach.

All these principles apply to human runners, not necessarily your dog, so be mindful that your four-legged running buddy will not adapt to the heat at the same rate. If you run with your dog, start with shorter bouts of running in the cooler hours of the day and, if possible, in the shade. Don’t expect them to adapt to the full heat as easily as you do.

Heat Acclimatization for Summer Running

When running with your dog(s) during summer, monitor them for signs of heat exhaustion, including excessive drooling, heavy panting, slowing down, vomiting, and confusion. Humidity can make their primary mode of cooling – panting – less effective, meaning that high humidity at even relatively “cool” summer temperatures can still be dangerous for them. Dogs are more sensitive to heat than we are; wouldn’t you be if you were running in 80-degree temperatures while covered in dark fur?

How hot is too hot for running with your dog? This article from Active suggests two tests. If the pavement is too hot that you cannot press your hand against it for 10 seconds or more, it’s too hot for your dog. If the temperature in Fahrenheit plus the humidity equals 150 or higher (such as 80 degrees with 70% humidity), it’s too hot.

For more essential tips on summer running, including hydration and sun protection, check out these posts:

Summer Skincare for Runners
Summer Hydration Tips for Runners
Runners Share their Summer Running Tips

Do you enjoy running in the heat or struggle in it?
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10 Responses

  1. We are on the same page today! The first few weeks of running in the heat this year were really tough, especially when I was in Florida. I’m glad I toughed it out because its finally started to feel a little better. (Although its cooled off recently so hopefully I am ready when the heat returns again!).

  2. Over the weekend, I really struggled with the heat. I think it was because I went out at least 3-4 hours later than I usually run so I the sun was higher and more direct. There was zero shade and I didn’t bring water. Not good!

  3. You know I love when you reference Stacy Sims! Unfortunately, it’s not good news for the women in the heat but, my mantra all summer long is “slow summer runs make for fast fall racing!” Of course it helps that I spend a disproportionate amount of time on my bike and in the water 🙂

  4. I hear you! On this morning’s run (5am), it was 80 with 90% humidity and the dew point was 76. In other words, miserable. It been like this for weeks where I live and will likely continue through October. It’s so discouraging to be so slow for so much of the year. I never acclimatize to it…I am just straight-up slow all summer. I just keep telling myself it will make me stronger in the “winter”. We get maybe 10 days with lows in the 40s.

  5. Summer heat acclimation is the worst… I didn’t know about the menstrual cycle changes, I will have to remember that for sure! I always use my perceived effort for training runs and I have noticed an improvement since the summer heat set in 🙂

  6. It’s hot as all get out in Texas so I feel you on this! I’ve actually used perceived effort and just got out of my head to get through these runs. It’s more important to keep myself safe than worry about hitting imaginary goals. My pup stays indoors during the summer because it’s way too hot for her to run. I worry that people don’t understand that they can get heat exhaustion too!

  7. I really struggled this morning on my run–it wasn’t the heat, it was the humidity. That really gets me. I’ve been using my run/walk intervals all the time now. I’ll be glad when I can reduce them or eliminate them in the cooler weather!

  8. I don’t mind the heat, and will gladly choose a hot run over a cold (winter) freeze fest. That said, I have always been mindful of the risks of overdoing it in the heat, and always go by perceived effort and leave the Garmin at home (unless it’s a race and I want to know my splits).

  9. Typical 50 year outdated heat advice. If you want to get faster, you have to hit split times. You can’t hit them at 80F and 90% humidity in Houston. I took my interval training indoors last summer, and when the fall hit, I made significant time drops at every distance from one mile to my half marathon once the weather got cooler. Plus, try to tell me that a treadmill in a 72 degree gym isn’t accomplishing heat acclimatization. After 10 miles atarathon pace, including hill intervals, I’ve achieved a ton of acclimatization AND managed to get the muscles trained at the target pace. I used to sacrifice pace in the heat, but it accomplished nothing except more junk miles and mental fatigue. All that said, if you actually plan on racing over 90 degrees, be my guest. I want to see my grandkids.

    1. Hi Lawson,

      Thank you for your comment!
      If you read closely, the article does mention that the treadmill is safer alternative for certain areas; Houston is exceptional in summer compared to New York, the Midwest, Colorado, Seattle, etc. That’s great that you found what worked for you for getting faster! If you are set on hitting a certain pace, the treadmill does prevent overreaching compared to the heat.
      That said, the body doesn’t know pace; it responds to exercise intensity within certain thresholds that can be measured via oxygen consumption rates and blood lactate measurements. You can be working within critical speed intensity domain even if you do not hit the pace associated with critical velocity in optimal temperatures.
      Nowhere in the article do I advocate for racing in 90+ degree temperatures. I agree with your sentiment that it is not safe. Summer racing is very different in various parts of the country, many of my New England, PNW, and Mountain state athletes do have races in summer since mornings can be cooler.

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