To describe it bluntly, summer running can be miserable. You sweat buckets while wondering why your easy run pace suddenly slowed by a couple minutes per mile. You may curse yourself for signing up for another fall marathon or wonder why you don’t speed skate or cross-country ski instead. But you don’t have to give up on running in summer – surviving summer running is possible!
In this month’s Run It Round Up, 4 other running bloggers and I are sharing our best tips for surviving summer running – and even enjoying training during the hottest months of the year.
Don’t Wait to Acclimate
Heat acclimation is an unpleasant process. You feel slow, hot, and frustrated and probably wish you had just skipped your run or opted for the treadmill instead. However, as with so many aspects of running, if you stick it out through those first few weeks, you will adapt and find that running in the heat is a more manageable. Heat acclimation won’t mean that you’re running the same paces in 80-degree temperatures as you do in 40-degree temperatures, but it will translate to an improvement in your running paces compared to if you did not acclimate.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the 5K time trials of nine runners in four different conditions: no acclimation or pre-cooling, pre-cooling, heat acclimation over a 5 day period, and heat acclimation plus pre-cooling. The runners averaged 22:53 in the 5K with heat acclimation and pre-cooling, 22:58 with heat acclimation alone, 23:41 with just pre-cooling, and 24:35 with no pre-cooling and no acclimation. We all know just how much seconds matter in the 5K – much less the difference that 90 seconds can make.
Heat acclimation doesn’t mean you should run in the heat of the day to force yourself to acclimate as quickly as possible. Instead, stick to your normal running schedule and run based on perceived exertion rather than pace for a couple weeks. If it helps, ditch your GPS or Strava during the acclimation period. You may even find it beneficial to run by time, rather than distance, or to stick to only easy runs for the first couple weeks. Be patient with yourself if your times are slow at first – as the study indicates, you will adapt and see your pace improve as you acclimate.
During the acclimation period, try pre-cooling to manage the heat. Even if it is less effective than acclimation, acclimation doesn’t happen immediately and pre-cooling can offer some temporary relief. Chill a Buff or your hat in the freezer before your run or trying drinking ice water before you head out the door.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
The position of the Earth in reference to the sun means more sun exposure during the summer months (yes, even in the Pacific Northwest!). Increased sun exposure poses many risks for runners, including overheating, skin damage, and sunburns. Even when you know that you should wear sunscreen on a run, it’s easy to forget. I have done the same – you’re rushing out the door and already are trying to remember all of your gear. But when you forget even one area…this happens.
The sports bra burn isn’t a flattering look, nor is the risk of skin cancer worth those few extra seconds you save before your run. There are dozens of sunscreens on the market designed to withstand running and other sports, such as Zealios and Aloe Up. Choose one with SPF 30 or higher and place it with your running gear so you can’t forget it before your run.
If you are running for longer than 90 minutes and will be in direct sunlight for most of the run, you may want to carry a travel size version of your favorite sunscreen with you on your run to reapply. Even formulas designed for athletic performance will attenuate as you sweat more and time passes.
Once you’ve applied sunscreen to your face, ears, neck, shoulder, and any other exposed skin, don a hat to further protect your face and hairline from the sun. I personally never run in summer without my Trailheads Race Day Cap. The mesh fabric reduces sweating, the brim keeps sweat from running into my eyes, and the visor shields my face and eyes from the sun. Polarized sunglasses will reduce eyestrain and protect your eyes from the sun.
Know the Warning Signs
Last year, Shalane Flanagan crossed the finish line to claim third place in the Olympic Marathon Trials and secure her spot on the team at Rio – and then collapsed. She received IV treatment after the race and later described how she experience dizziness, chills, and dehydration during the final few miles – because of running hard in the heat.
Running in the heat can cause serious health or life-threatening conditions if you don’t take the proper precautions. Heat exhaustion, hyponatremia, and heat stroke can occur if you overheat too much or become dehydrated on a run.
Hydration is vital on hot summer runs. But, if you skip the electrolytes, you can drink too much water and dilute your blood. Low sodium levels and too much water can lead to hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition marked by a headache, disorientation, and twitching muscles. Hyponatremia occurs most commonly after running for several hours, so summer marathoners are most at risk, and must be treated immediately, so seek medical help. To prevent hyponatremia, take electrolytes in some form on your long runs and stop a run if you begin to feel disoriented.
When you become dehydrated or overheated on a run, you are at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when the core temperature is the range of 102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The symptoms include a headache, nausea, fatigue, and excessive sweating. Heat stroke occurs when you don’t stop running after the point of heat exhaustion: the core temperature rises above 104 degrees, you begin to vomit, and the pulse becomes dangerously rapid.
If you experience any of those symptoms, stop running and seek treatment. Heat exhaustion can be treated with ice packs and rest, but heat stroke must receive medical attention and will likely require an IV.
Most of all, remember that no race or finish time is worth the dangers that diluted blood volume, dehydration, and/or overheating pose to your health. Be smart when it comes to hydrating on your summer runs, heed your body’s signals, and be willing to skip a workout or run a slower race on a hot day.
Want more tips on surviving summer running? Check out the other posts in this month’s Run It Round Up:
Disclaimer: This post contains some Amazon affiliate links.
How do you survive summer running? What tips would you add?
Do you wear sunscreen on your runs?