Running through the heat: tips for runners in the summer

People in the Midwest and along the East Coast are finally getting a reprieve from the heat wave that has blanketed the eastern half of the country for the last few days. Record-setting temperatures caused at least 46 deaths across the country and banished many people to air-conditioned homes and away from the outdoors.

For runners and athletes, a bout of heat like this can either easily derail any training plan or cause runners to think the heat won’t have any affect on them, which can be very dangerous. Whether you forced yourself to exercise in an air-conditioned gym over the last week or pushed your limits and foolishly ran during peak daytime hours of the historic heat wave, I have some tips for training in the heat.

First off, it’s important to know what exactly is happening to your body when you run in the heat. According to an article on the Greatist, “Exercising in high heat and humidity intensifies how hard the body needs to work to maintain normal function.” The article explains that during workouts the body’s temperature rises naturally, but on a hot day, this happens much more quickly. In an effort to cool the body down, the body sweats and pumps blood to the surface of the skin.

Despite this, there are many ways to avoid over-extending yourself and staying on track with training. Here are some tips and tricks!

  • Hydrate– When it’s hot out, the number one most important thing everyone should do, not just runners, is hydrate. I can’t emphasize this enough! Hydration is so important during runs on hot days, no matter how long the run is. Plus, if you hydrate before your workout you’ll be able to go longer and harder, so do it! I went on a 10 mile run on Saturday and made sure at the half-way point I could get water.
  • Run early or late (but really just run early)– I prefer running early in the morning, before the sun has had a chance to turn the road into it’s own personal stove top. I feel that the temperature is coolest early in the morning. Also, early morning runs are great because they allow you to get out, get your run done early and then enjoy the rest of the day at the beach or outdoors. Plus, running in the morning teaches your body how to effectively burn fat and jump start your metabolism for the day and there’s nothing wrong with that!
  • Stretch– It’s always important to stretch but especially important when it’s hot out. To avoid injury in the heat, stretch before and after your runs. If you stop for water mid-run, I’d also suggest stretching quickly before heading out again.
  • Provide your body with plenty of electrolytes– When your body sweats you lose a lot of the electrolytes (salts and minerals) in your bloodstream. If your body runs out of electrolytes you may start to feel dizzy and disoriented because your body cannot bind liquids well anymore and your blood thickens. If you’re going to run early it’s important to get some electrolytes into your body before your run. Electrolytes can be found in many sports drinks, fruit juices, mile (I like chocolate milk because there’s some sugar there too) and other fruits and veggies. All of these are also low enough in calories to avoid any cramping.
  • Fuel your body, don’t starve yourself– After a run on a hot day, sometimes my stomach feels weird. Instead of not feeding yourself, replenish your body with nutrients you used during your run. You may have to wait a little after your run to do this but it is so important to re-fuel so you’ll be ready for your next run.
  • If you can, adjust your location– Near my house, our streets are lined with trees, providing some shade from the blazing sun. If you can, map out your running route in an area that provides some shade. Also, be sure to wear sunscreen because no one likes sunburns.
  • Take it easy– As I always say, listen to your body. If you start out on a run and feel fatigued, take a breather. Don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion because if the heat doesn’t derail your training plan, an injury sure will.