Wow, summer came fast this year! At least it did where I am. That means it’s time for our annual reminders about summer running.
We all think of winter as the challenging and dangerous season for runners but there are challenges and safety considerations we need to keep in mind during the summer also. As well as the adjustments that we need to make not for our safety but to ensure we’re getting the most out of our summer time training.
Note: Some of what I say below may sound like medical advice. It is NOT meant as such. I am not a medical professional. I am just stating general suggestions for dealing with issues you might face while running in the summer. If you have any health related questions or concerns about your health, please seek the advice of a medical professional.
Give yourself some time to acclimate
As things get warmer, your body makes changes to adapt to the heat. That’s a good thing because it’s preparing to handle the heat and, once those changes are made, you will be better prepared to handle the heat.
However, these changes aren’t like flipping a switch. It takes time. Generally speaking, it takes most people about two weeks of running in the heat to get fully acclimated to the heat. During this two week transition, be willing to be extra generous to yourself. You’re not prepared for the heat and you might need to back off your training somewhat significantly, especially if the heat hits hard and fast.
Pace: slow down
Even after you’ve acclimated, your body still needs to handle the additional stress caused by the heat.
For most runners, ideal running weather is somewhere around 50-60 degrees (about 10-15 Celsius) with low humidity. When it gets cooler, you don’t slow down drastically but you do have to dress for it. When it gets warmer and/or more humid, there’s only so much you can do to dress for it. After that, the heat and humidity stress your body and you must slow down or pay the consequences.
Especially as the temperatures climb through the 70s and 80s (about the 20s Celsius), the stress on your body increases rapidly and you need to slow down or you will push your body too far.
What can we do about this? Slow down. Unfortunately, there’s not much else there is to do. I always remind myself that my paces will slow in the summer but they will come back strong in September and October as the temperatures get closer to ideal again.
If you’re racing in the summer, that’s fine but understand that it might be better to compete against other runners than against the clock. Even then, understand that some people are less affected by the heat than others. There are things you can do to mitigate the effects (hydrate, train in the heat to adapt to it, etc.) but there is only so much you can do. Don’t get upset about things out of your control. Believe in yourself and the process and know that things will get better as the weather cools.
Hydration should always be a focus for runners. Most people walk around in at least a mild state of dehydration all the time. Runners are more susceptible because we are out there sweating. Add in higher sweat rates due to the heat and we’re even more susceptible.
The best form of hydration most of the time is water. You don’t generally need sports drinks or other “hydration” drinks. Water will work just fine.
The one exception might be on long runs. Unless you’re doing an extreme long run, you don’t necessarily need calories as you should have enough fuel in your body before the start of a long run to fuel the run. However, you’ll be sweating out a lot of electrolytes, primarily sodium – salt, and it can be a little risky to replace just water without also replacing those electrolytes.
Note on hydration
Don’t go overboard! Current recommendations are to drink to thirst. As you may have noticed over the past several years, there have been some cases of hyponatremia going around the running community.
Some people think of hyponatremia as an over hydration issue and it largely is. Most people who have suffered it simply took in far more fluids than they needed. However, the actual health concern is an imbalance of nutrients.
There is some evidence that taking sports drink or electrolyte tablets will reduce the risk of hyponatremia by keeping nutrient balance better in check. However, the most proven effective way to reduce the risk is to drink to thirst.
Overheating is a real concern, especially on our hard days, whether races, long runs, or workouts.
The best ways to minimize the risk of overheating are to slow down and run in the early morning or late evening.
Pay attention to how you respond to the weather and what conditions hit you the hardest. Early morning is cooler than late evening but it’s also more humid. If you suffer in the humidity but do fine in dry heat, evening running may work better for you. If you can handle the humidity but not the heat, morning runs might help you out.
If you do start feeling overheated, find a shady spot, get some cool fluids if you can, and rest. If you stop sweating on a hot day, this is a sign of a serious problem and you should do all you can to cool down as quickly as possible.
Finally, be aware of the amount of sun exposure you’re getting. Vitamin D is great but we don’t need much sun to cover our bases there. Skin cancer is not great. Again, running in early mornings and late evenings is the best way to reduce your sun exposure. If you do need to run in the middle of the day, get a good sweat resistant sunscreen and look for shade if possible.
Running in the summer is great! I wouldn’t give it up for anything, other than maybe a crisp October day. I hope you enjoy your runs this summer. As you do, also make sure you get the most out of your runs while staying safe. Keep cool and have a great summer!