The Heat is On: Tips for Training in Summer Heat

Folks, life is finally going back to a sense of normalcy: Chris’ treatment and cancer scan was a success and our lives are slowly coming back to a normal routine. It’s thrilling to be able to open a new chapter together now that he is once again cancer-free, and I am able to focus my efforts more on blogging and training again, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more entries again.

Summer months in the Northeast  mean lots of heat and humidity. It can be brutal and I absolutely hate summer training because I am usually just spinning my wheels and maintaining a mileage base rather than training for a race that’s right around the corner. My race calendar usually has a race in June and not another one until September. For a runner who loves multiple marathons, that is a LONG summer of waiting, training, and dreaming of toeing the next starting line.

Here are some basic tips that I have learned with years of summer training, and I want to  pass them on to you!

The Sun is the Enemy

In the longer days, I avoid running anytime between 10 am and 4 PM. The sun is the strongest during these hours and the heat also can be smothering. The earlier hours I find tend to be far more humid (sometimes even 90-100% humidity, might as well be running through a rainforest) and as the sun rises the humidity burns off and the sun beats down. If that means losing a little sleep on a weekend day, so be it, your health depends on it. Running in the heat can bring a plethora of problems, from heat exhaustion to sunburn, so stick to early morning runs or late evening runs. The sun sets at 8:30 in the longest days, so a 7 PM run isn’t so bad.

Believe it or not, I almost ALWAYS wear long sleeves even during the hottest days. I have sleeve tattoos, and that is a lot of very expensive (and award-winning) real estate to ruin by letting them get a lot of sun exposure (not to mention skin cancer risks, tattoos or not). It’s best to stick to white and lighter colors as they reflect the sun’s rays and help to keep you cooler; dark colors will absorb heat much faster.  I have a lot of long sleeved, thin white tech shirts, and this summer I may try wearing thin arm protectors so I have a little extra air flow. Hats are a must to protect your head (thank goodness I have a ton of baseball caps from race swag!), and I slather my entire body in SPF 50-85. I do my best to stick to trails with a lot of shade, so the wooded trails are great and often several degrees cooler. If you can find shade, definitely take advantage. It’s amazing how the temps drop when you’re out of the sun.

Water is Your Best Friend

You don’t realize how much water you lose when you run in the heat, so I always recommend an experiment: weigh yourself before and after a summer run, and watch those pounds drop. It’s a frightening thought isn’t it? So it’s very important to hydrate.

I always carry a hand-held water bottle (Nathan is the brand I swear by) on any run longer than 5 miles. While it’s very important not to OVER-hydrate, it’s also dangerous to wait to drink when you’re thirsty. By then dehydration is setting in and it can be dangerous. It’s important to find a healthy hydration balance, so I usually just take a couple sips of water every mile or two. I also make sure I am within 5 miles of a water fountain or my car so I can refill the bottle when it gets low.

People swear by hydration brands beyond water, such as NUUN, Gatorade, Powerade, etc. Whatever works for you, with trial and error, use it. Some people may have GI issues with artificial sweeteners, some may have reactions to other additives. I don’t use these products most of the time, and prefer coconut water for hydration. If I am finding myself to be depleted of salt, I will take half of a salt packet and take it with water. It’s disgusting, but it works. If you are running long miles and notice your face and limbs are covered in salt, you are getting into the danger zone. I have run many marathons where I finish and notice that I am QUITE salty, and it’s very important to replenish the lost salt in any way possible.

Pace Doesn’t Matter

Never judge your performance during a long run during a hot day. Even anything over 70 degrees will drain your energy, especially on a sunny day. You WILL be slower. There are scientific calculations that give you a rough estimate as to how much you will slow down per mile based on temperature. You will never perform the same as you would on a 45-degree day, I think even the elites can agree on that!

I’ve done long runs in humid, 90+ degree weather, and have learned that no matter what, I have to set my pride aside and slow down substantially. Walk breaks may or may not happen. You just need to slow your pace, see how you feel, and cut it short if you have any dangerous signs of heat illness.

These things will apply to a race. If I know it’s going to be a warm race, I don’t push myself. I have had some pretty scary things happen to me during warm races, such as heart palpitations, and I listen to my body and do whatever I can to keep myself safe. If I need to walk for a while, I walk, and tack on some added minutes to my finish time. My life and health is never worth risking for a few precious minutes. I have seen way too many people carried off in ambulances and crowding med tents at the finish line due to heat exhaustion. During one race I ran over 300 people were taken to the local hospital for heat-related illness. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I really feel that we can help prevent it by slowing down and taking it easy. Pride is not worth your life.

Don’t be a Tough Guy

Sorry guys, I know some runners are purists that refuse to use treadmills, but if the day is going to get into the high 90’s or low 100’s before lunchtime, I have run some of my long runs on the treadmill. I have a treadmill for a reason, and use it when the conditions outside are less than favorable. I have had heat exhaustion in the past, and it’s absolutely horrible (try losing 5 or 6 pounds over the course of a run, it’s pretty scary stuff). Even if the treadmill may seem like torture, I assure you it’s better than heat-related illness. That’s when I bust out a marathon of one of my favorite shows like Rome, The Wire or Six Feet Under, or even a Harry Potter marathon. Those hours will pass with ease and you’ll be grateful for it!

The only other option I recommend would be checking the forecast and seeing if you can reschedule your long run for a different day. I’ve done that, even if it seems odd doing my long run on a Friday afternoon, it’s worth the switch if the temps are to go down 15 degrees. As for weekdays, it’s impossible for me to do a run before work since I have an early schedule, so in a case like this week where we have a heatwave and temps climbing into the 100’s, I don’t mind running on the treadmill and rewatching season 2 of Twin Peaks.

I wholeheartedly admit that summer is my least favorite season to train, and thrive much better in cold temperatures. But running in heat and humidity does prepare your body in case your race is going to be warmer, so it’s best to acclimate if you can if the conditions allow it. I also have found that running in humid conditions helps to prepare you for running at altitude. As one of my fellow Twitter runner friends @rob_raux mentioned: heat training is the poor man’s altitude training. And he’s right. Let’s hope that my summer training will help prepare me for my Montana marathon in September!

Hope these tips have helped and you have a safe and productive summer! Do you have any other suggestions for training in the heat?

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