Setting Running Goals in the Blistering Summer Heat

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Andrew DesLauriers on Unsplash

The official start of summer is still a month away, but temperatures are already hitting the mid-nineties in North Carolina this week.

Southerners have two options for running in the summer: run at midday when the humidity is high and the temperatures are brutal; or run at dawn/dusk when the temperatures are high and the humidity is brutal.

No matter which option we choose, one thing is certain — we’re going to be running a lot slower than we do the rest of the year.

Of course, this problem isn’t just limited to the south. Even in cooler regions, the summer heat can still reach intense levels. Runners everywhere are forced to adapt.

Yesterday was my first run since the temperatures jumped up. It started off well, as I ran through a shaded greenway. Then, two miles in, I reached an unshaded section of trail and the heat hit me like a brick wall.

My pace plummetted as my heart rate shot up. I ended up struggling to complete what was meant to be an easy run.

Even though I’m strictly a casual runner, I still take a very goal-oriented approach to the hobby. For most of the year, my goals are centered on improving my times for various distances, typically 5 and 10k.

In the summer, these speed-based goals don’t make sense. Realistically, I’m not going to come anywhere near my personal bests over the next few months.

I could just forget about goals entirely for the summer, but when I do that, I end up feeling too aimless. Without a clear goal in mind, it’s hard for me to stay motivated enough to lace up my shoes and face the heat each day.

So, I’ve spent today trying to think up new running goals that will keep me motivated through the summer.

My summer goals are less focused on speed than my normal goals. Instead, I’ve tried to center them around ways that I can improve my running even while the heat is slowing me down.

The goals I’ve come up with are below, and I hope they can help inspire anyone else searching for summer running motivation. If you have any other ideas that I missed, please let me know.

Base-building

I didn’t start running until well after high school and college, but I’ve learned from online forums that most track teams devote their summer months to “base-building.”

Base-building is the process of steadily increasing your total weekly miles. This phase of training generally consists of almost all easy running, with very minimal speed work, which makes it perfect for the summer months.

Even though I’m not “training” for anything specific, I’ve decided to emulate these track teams and make my main goal for the summer to increase my weekly miles.

I’m currently running about 25 miles per week, and I’m setting a goal of raising that to 40 by the end of the summer.

The nearly universal recommendation is to increase by no more than 10% of your mileage each week, so I’ll be following that guideline.

40 miles of running a week may not sound like much to track athletes, but to a casual runner like myself, it’s an ambitious goal. I’m excited to see how the higher mileage will affect my running, and whether I’ll actually be able to sustain the increase.

Longer runs

My secondary goal this summer is to increase the length of my long runs. This goes hand-in-hand with increasing my weekly mileage, so it’s the perfect supplementary goal.

I already follow the standard practice of going on one long run a week, but right now my long runs are under 10 miles.

In fact, the longest run of my life was only just over the half-marathon distance.

This summer, I’m aiming to increase my long runs to at least the half-marathon distance.

Just like with base-building, everyone recommends gradual increases to long runs. My plan is to go with about one additional mile each week.

New trails

It’s easy for running to fall into a routine — going along the same trail or path every time we leave the house. For the past few months, I’ve found myself sticking to one nearby greenway almost every time I run.

I used to explore the city and nearby parks much more during my runs, and my final goal of the summer is to get back to doing that.

This goal is the most nebulous of the three because I don’t have an exact standard to measure myself by. I hope to at least explore a few totally new trails this summer though.

To me, exploring my surroundings is one of the best things about running, and I’m looking forward to doing more of it.

Like all running goals, I may end up having to modify or drop these, depending on how my body reacts. As much as I love to be driven by clear goals, I also think it’s important to remember that running is just a hobby, and it’s not worth unnecessarily injuring myself.

With that said, I think these three goals will start my summer in the right direction, and give me something tangible to focus on even as my pace stagnates in the heat. To everyone else running this summer: good luck!

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store