Runners wait all year for the mercury to rise so they can shed their layers and really let it rip on the pavement. Spring arguably offers the most favorable temps, but it’s fleeting. And it’s not just running in hot weather that’s challenging. Suffocating humidity is quick to creep in. It makes every effort seem harder and more labor intensive.
But if you want to make the most of those longer daylight hours, the great outdoors can still be a runner’s domain if you keep in mind some tricks to stay cool. Here are the best ways to make running in hot weather more bearable. You might even start to enjoy the heat.
1. Precool Your Body
Lowering your body temperature before you exercise can be a great way to handle the heat once you take off. This can be done either internally, by drinking icy beverages, or externally with the help of ice packs, cooling vests, or frozen towels around the head and neck. Internal cooling is better for lowering core temperature, where external cooling reduces skin temperature, causing a slower increase in body temperature once you start your workout. It’s a helpful aid for your body’s natural thermoregulation, meaning you’ll dissipate heat more efficiently.
2. Acclimate (Gradually) to the Heat
Our bodies know us better than we know ourselves and they can be eerily good at adapting to their environment. The natural adjustment we go through in warmer temperatures is called heat acclimation, and it’s one of the biggest leg-ups we can get when it comes to summer running. In addition to helping you sweat more and sooner, acclimation causes you to retain more sodium typically lost through sweat, which is good for keeping the mid-run cramps at bay. Dr. Carl James, who recently co-authored a study on the effects of precooling and heat acclimation, found both strategies improve running performance, though acclimating to heat gave a stronger boost.
“One of the most apparent benefits [of heat acclimation] is the increased plasma volume in your blood, which means you can have a lower heart rate for the same amount of exercise,” said James. Experts estimate it can take up to two weeks to fully acclimate to the warmer temperatures around you, so James recommends taking a hot bath at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 or 40 minutes after a half hour run.
Roberto Mandje, former Olympic runner and coach for the New York Road Runners, was living in the temperate, dry heat of Boulder, Colorado while training for the All African Games in the vastly different tropics of Mozambique. To mimic the conditions he expected on race day, he would wear an extra layer and end his workouts by hopping into a sauna to get his body acclimated.
3. Take It Easy
The best runners will know when pushing too hard is no longer worth it and might even be downright dangerous. In the summer heat, our bodies are working harder to regulate temperature, meaning heart rates go up and more sodium is lost through sweat. This can hit us even harder when running in areas with high humidity where sweat takes longer to evaporate, the natural cooling process our body expects when we perspire. But with ubiquitous GPS tracking devices attached to our bodies, we’re sometimes painfully aware of how much slower we’re going and tempted to pick up the pace to match the speeds we’re used to.
“A lot of people think they must be getting out of shape so they’re running harder and then they get dehydrated and overheat,” said Mandje. “Before you go out the door think, ‘I’m going to focus on effort.’ You should run the amount of time you normally would but remember to slow down and check that ego at the door.”
Summer is no time to set those PRs, so don’t be discouraged when you notice a dip in your pace. Fall will roll around soon enough and you’ll be happy to see your speeds pick up with it.
4. Swap the Water for a Sports Drink
Runners are sometimes turned off by the sugary overload of the average sports drink. But for those who normally choose water, summer may the time time to switch to a drink with a higher sodium content. More sweating means more cramping, unless you’re replenishing the electrolytes that allow your muscles to contract and move more easily.
Running on the hottest days of the year is no easy feat, but for the brave of heart who charge boldly into the fiery hellscape of summer, we salute you. Just stay safe and cool out there. As James says, “It’s going to be different for every single person so the key is to really just listen to your body and do what you can.”
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