Running in the Summer Heat

How to adapt to high temperatures and stifling humidity.

Running in the Summer Heat

Summer is often the most challenging season for runners. The high temperatures and humidity are absolutely stifling. Many runners spend the summer inside on a treadmill, or even take the summer months off entirely.

For many of us though, it’s worth braving the heat to satisfy our love for running outdoors. But how can we adjust our running and to make sure that we’re still doing it safely?

Hydrate Constantly

The number one rule of running during the summer is to drink water all day long. In the summer heat, it’s dangerously easy to get dehydrated. Even the easiest runs can leave you covered in sweat.

This year it’s been particularly difficult to stay hydrated because all of the water fountains have been turned off due to the pandemic. That means that for every long run, hydration needs to be planned ahead of time. One option is bringing a water bottle with you on your run. Another is to plan your run so that you loop back to your house periodically.

It’s also important to recognize that simply drinking extra water right during your run is not enough. You need to be adequately hydrated before the run even starts. The only way to ensure that you stay hydrated is to increase your water intake all day long. I like to keep a bottle of water near me at all times so that I don’t forget to continue hydrating.

Adjust Your Pace

Running in the summer also requires adjusting your running pace expectations. The hard truth is that you simply won’t be able to run as fast in the summer as you can during the rest of the year.

The two main factors affecting your pace are the temperature and the dew point. When temperature and dew point are both high, running becomes increasingly difficult. At peak levels, running may feel nearly impossible.

There are several breakdowns of temperature and dew point online, but in my opinion the clearest is Mark Hadley’s blog. By using his charts, you can find out approximately how much you can expect to adjust your pace on any given day.

An alternative way to adjust your pace is to focus on how the run actually feels. Many runners avoid looking at their watches at all during the summer, because they feel too much pressure to stick with their spring paces. Instead, they just try to run at a pace that feels “easy.”

Choose the Right Time of Day

One way that you can make summer running much easier on yourself is by choosing the coolest times of day to run.

The worst time of day to run during the summer is typically the afternoon. The sun is high, the temperatures have risen, and the UV index is off the charts. These mid day runs can be absolutely miserable.

The most common alternative is to run early in the morning, just after sun rise. The temperatures are typically at least ten degrees cooler at this time of day, making your run much more bearable. The only downside to early morning runs is that the humidity is often much higher.

My own personal favorite time of day to run during the summer is during sunset. It isn’t quite as cool as in the morning, but the humidity is much lower.

Dress Appropriately

How you dress for a summer run can make a big difference. When I first started running, I wore bulky basketball shorts. These did the job during the spring, but felt incredibly uncomfortable once the summer humidity kicked in. Switching to proper running shorts made me far more comfortable.

In less humid climates, a thin shirt can help cool you down by blocking out the sun and wicking away sweat. On the other hand, going shirtless can be more helpful if you live somewhere with extremely high humidity. Even the best moisture-wicking shirts can’t stand up to the humidity in the southern US.

Sun protection like a hat and sunscreen are also essential during the summer. A good cap will not only keep you cool but will also protect your face from sun damage.

Keep Running, But Know Your Limits

If you’re willing to brave the summer heat, you’ll find your body adapting more quickly than you might expect. It’s unlikely that you’ll be setting any personal records in the middle of July, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop running outside entirely.

Instead, focus on maintaining or building your aerobic base and make sure not to push past your limits. There will be plenty of time for fast running once fall comes around.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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