Even if you’re an avid runner, the dog days of summer might seem like a time to ditch the road and head to the comfort of an air-conditioned gym to get your mileage in. Climate control is tempting, but don’t throw in the towel on running outdoors just yet! While it’s important to take precautions when running outdoors in the heat, summertime training can yield unique benefits.
When the weather first turns towards summertime heat, with temperatures climbing into the 80s and beyond, the change can hit hard, whether you’re a newbie or a long-time runner. Suddenly you’re out of breath faster, turning red, and sweating up a storm.
Worst of all, you feel like you’re working harder against the heat and humidity, but your average pace is going down. And it’s not your imagination: your body works harder when it’s hot out. In fact, you can expect your pace to decline by up to 3 percent for every 10 degrees the temperature rises above 55 degrees. By the time it hits 80, you could be 10 percent slower or more.
But keep up your outdoor workouts and your body will adapt, making it easier to exercise under hot conditions. Prepare yourself, and you’ll be able to train effectively even in extreme weather. Heat acclimation isn’t just for its own sake, either: studies suggest that heat acclimation can improve exercise performance.
How does it work? Training under a hot sun increases the body’s blood plasma volume, which translates to better cardiovascular performance. Heat acclimation also leads to reduced core temperatures and blood lactate levels.
Take The Right Precautions
This all might sound like exciting news, but be careful: it’s not a license to push yourself to your limits at the stroke of noon on a blazing hot day. Running when it’s too hot or humid out can be dangerous, and heat stroke won’t help your training.
Humidity is especially a concern. Humid air prevents sweat from evaporating off of your skin, meaning that your body won’t be able to cool you off efficiently.
Heat stroke, cramps, and dehydration can all occur if you push too hard or don’t prepare for a summertime run. Carry water and electrolyte drinks on all your summer runs to stave off dehydration from excess sweating. Aim to run by effort, not by pace. Instead of pushing yourself towards a certain time goal, adjust to a pace that feels comfortable under the sweltering conditions.
Wear moisture-wicking clothes to help with cooling and evaporation of sweat. Cotton workout gear will quickly become damp and stay damp. It’s easier to get blisters if your feet are sweating heavily, so wear moisture-wicking socks and an anti-chafing cream, or put on two pairs of socks to reduce blister-causing friction.
Put on a baseball cap or visor to give yourself some shade, and you can pour some of your water over your head to help cool off mid-run. Look for shady routes and wear sweat-proof sunscreen with an SPF high enough to last you your entire run to protect your skin from UV damage.
Be smart about weather conditions, too. There are times when it might be too hot to run, even for the heat-acclimated runner. If the dew point rises above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, hang up your shoes for the day or hit the treadmill instead. Humidity that high can hurt your training more than it helps.
Practice smart training to become the best year-round runner you can be. As long as you adjust your expectations to the weather and stay motivated, you’ll reap the speed benefits and improved performance of a heat-acclimated runner when fall race season rolls around.