14 Ways to Beat the Heat While Running
Warm weather is the ultimate mixed bag for runners. One the one hand it means no more slipping on ice, no more slogging through slush with cold soggy running shoes and no more venturing out when it’s so cold the mucus dripping out of your nose freezes on your upper lip. On the other hand, warm weather brings its own challenges including, of course, heat. Those ideal running days in March and April are over before you know it and for the following four or five months, you need to be constantly on guard against the effects of heat on body and mind as you run.
Running in the heat can be of great benefit, especially for those looking to sweat off some excess weight. But the heat is nothing to be underestimated or trifled with. Below are 14 tips that will help you have a safe, effective running experience when the mercury rises.
- Build slowly – While starting slow is good practice in any weather it’s particularly important when it’s hot outside. If you lace up your running shoes and take off like you were shot from a cannon you heat up too fast and that will affect overall endurance. You also open yourself up to pulled muscles, cramps and a host of injuries. Take it easy at the beginning. Let your body warm gradually and build momentum as you go.
- Beware the humidity – Heat isn’t the only danger during the summer months. Humidity is a subtle danger that can cause serious problems if you push yourself too hard. During periods of extreme humidity, sweat is slower to evaporate, which means your body is not cooling itself effectively. On hot days when the humidity exceeds 50% ratchet back the pace by 20 or 30 seconds per mile.
- Bring enough water – If you plan on running for more than 30 minutes on a hot day you’re going to have to take water with you. A good tip is to fill your bottle halfway with water the night before and put it in the freezer. This way when you fill it the rest of the way and take it with you the next day you’ll have cold water available during the entire run. If you’re wondering how you’re going to carry that water there are plenty of running backpacks available that are compact and lightweight and hold fast to your torso as you run.
- Wear a hat – The sun beating down on your face on hot days can quickly increase your body temperature. If you’re heading out during the warm weather months when the sun is shining make sure you bring a baseball cap or visor to block your face from the sun. A small addition like this to your summer running gear can make the difference between your hot weather runs being a dangerous slog and being comfortable and productive.
- Wear white clothes – Dark colors absorb solar heat and light colors repel it. It’s that simple. No one should wear black or any other dark color clothing while running in the hot weather. It’s just asking for trouble. Save the dark running clothes for winter and wear white or some other appropriately light tone during the hot summer months. Oh and no running jackets. Unless of course, you’re a glutton for punishment.
- In fact, wear as few clothes as possible – In addition to wearing light-colored clothing, you should wear as little of it as you feel comfortable sporting in public. From your running shoes to your running socks the clothes you wear should be made of lightweight, breathable fabrics, incorporate vents and mesh areas and fit loosely. On sunny days polarizing sunglasses will help relieve stress in your facial muscles and make your run more comfortable and enjoyable.
- Wear sunblock – Sunblock during the summer months helps runners in a number of ways. First, it prevents you from getting sunburned as you run but more than that it also helps your skin stay cool. Even if it’s a cloudy day or a day where the sun is peeking in and out of the clouds make sure you apply sunblock before going out. It will make a big difference.
- Get acclimated before running – If you jump out of your air-conditioned car and hit the pavement straight away you’re going to feel like you jumped into a blast furnace. This will have an enervating effect that will undermine your ability to enjoy any benefits from your run. Instead of starting to run as soon as you exit the car or the house take a few minutes to acclimate yourself to the temperature. Then go through your pre-run warmups and then start on your run. Slowly at first then gradually building toward your normal pace.
- Don’t drink and run – Alcohol is a diuretic so going on a pub crawl or having several brewskis at a party the night before a big run is not a good idea. You’ll be more susceptible to dehydration and cramps and, depending on your ability to “handle” alcohol, you might still be mildly intoxicated as you’re lacing up your running shoes. Not good.
- Seek out shady routes – Few things will make a midsummer run more enjoyable then if you can find a shady route to run. If you normally run along the Charles River in Boston head for Olmstead Park along the Jamaicaway instead. If you live in another city the idea is exactly the same. Leave the exposed path for another day and seek a shady area to run in.
- Run early or late – If your city or town is gripped by a heat way it doesn’t make sense to go for a run in the mid-afternoon. Instead, look to carve out some time in the early morning or evening for your run. The air will be cooler and you won’t have the sun beating down on you. Just don’t run so late that you arrive home stoked and unable to get to sleep.
- Run into the wind – While it’s rarely possible to always have the wind in your face when you run you may be able to design a course that puts you face to the wind in the late stages of your run. This will provide a cooling effect when you need it most and help you wrap up your run feeling invigorated rather than drained.
- Don’t be afraid to stop – No matter how much water you’re drinking or how slowly you start on days when the mercury is pushing triple digits there’s still a very real risk of heat stroke. If you find yourself getting dizzy or nauseous or your breathing becomes shallow pull over and stop. If possible get out of the sun and into an air-conditioned environment immediately. If symptoms do not show improvement call 911. But even if you feel better after some rest and water do not resume your run. Just call it a day, consider yourself lucky that you dodged a bullet and talk to your doctor before you resume running again.
- Don’t run in certain conditions – While there are a number of steps you can take to make a hot weather run both safe and enjoyable the fact is there are times when you just need to say “I don’t think so.” If the temperature is flirting with 100 Fahrenheit and humidity is 70%+ the wisest thing you can do is nothing. Put the shoes away and forget about running for a day. Not running for one or two days won’t have any long-term negative effects on your overall health whereas running on a blistering hot day may end with you in the hospital.
While all of these suggestions should help you have a safe and enjoyable run on hot days you also need to be aware of potential heat-related conditions. The following are some of the most common heat-related ailments that afflict runners:
- Blisters – During the summer months, blisters are often caused by friction, ill-fitting footwear or excessive moisture from sweating or running in the rain. They can be avoided by making sure your footwear fits properly. And you can ensure your running shoes fit properly by shopping for them in the afternoon when your feet are at their largest. Blisters can sometimes be prevented by covering blister prone areas with Vaseline or a sports lube or wearing Gore-Tex running shoes that prevent water from infiltrating and allow any moisture inside to escape.
- Cramps – People often think muscle cramps are the result of the shoes they’re wearing or because they’re tired. But while footwear or fatigue might be a contributing factor in some cases most of the time cramps in hot weather are a result of being poorly hydrated. As such the remedy here is a simple one. Drink enough water before, during and after your run. If you experience a cramp while running stop, stretch and hydrate.
- Sunburn – You should always try and avoid running during the hottest, sunniest part of the day. But if it’s just not possible, make sure you wear a hat and sunglasses, that you slather on plenty of sunscreen and that you try to run in the shade. Sunburn is insidious in that it creeps up on us without warning. One minute we feel and look fine and then just a few minutes later we look like we’ve been dipped in the lobster pot. Some running gear is available today that actually blocks UV rays but you don’t want anything to do with running jackets during a heat wave, so you’ll still need to cover any exposed areas with sunblock.
- Heat stroke – We touched on this before but it bears repeating. No matter how good your running shoes or how much water you drank the risk of falling victim to heat stroke while running on a blistering hot day all too real. To avoid it it’s necessary to hydrate yourself properly before and during the run but even then it might not be enough. You’ll need to stay alert for the warning signs of heat stroke including a headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, disorientation and accelerated heart rate. If you experience any of these symptoms while running in the heat don’t wait to see if they pass. Stop running and seek out shade and, if it’s available, air conditioning.
Running in the heat presents unique challenges that should never be ignored. Even the healthiest, most experienced runners fall victim to heat-related ailments because they did not pay sufficient attention to their hot weather running preparations. To avoid trouble follow the above tips and keep a close eye on how you feel while you’re running. And if it’s too hot just give it a break for a day.