Running a race in the hot summer heat can sound grueling, but really it just takes a little extra preparation.
So, before you lace up your sneakers to run a 5K, 10K, half marathon or the full-on 26.2 miles this summer, take a look at the 20 tips below. They’re meant to keep you cool, hydrated and safe in even the hottest running conditions.
Wear the Right Gear
When you’re running in the extreme heat, wear light-colored clothing to better reflect the sun’s rays, writes Jeff Galloway. Make sure your clothes are loose fitting, too. It’ll let you take advantage of any breeze out there. You can also stay drier with sports-specific synthetics that can wick away moisture more effectively than cotton can.
Get Acclimated to the Heat — Slowly
When practicing for a race, it will take some time to get used to running in the heat. The pace you run most of the year may not be as attainable in unbearable humidity. The American Running and Fitness Association suggests cutting back your intensity by 65 to 75 percent when you first start out in the heat. You can build up your usual pace during the next 10 days or so.
Scale Back Your Running Some as it Gets Closer to Race Day
If you have spent weeks or months getting used to running in extremely warm weather, be sure to back off on your training two days before the race so you don’t overstress your body, says Richard A. Lovett of Runner’s World.
Give Yourself Time to Get Some Sleep
It can be difficult to get adequate rest when training for a race during the summer. Ideally, you would get up early to start running before it gets too hot outside, but that means going to bed earlier, which isn’t always easy to do when the weather is so nice.
If adjusting your bedtime isn’t an option, RunnersConnect recommends either scheduling an occasional down week or adding an extra recovery day to your weekly training to catch some extra Zs.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
The warmer it is out there, the easier it will be for you to get dehydrated. Combat this by drinking plenty of water or sports drinks before, during and after your run. The Runners Rescue blog suggests hydrating 30 to 45 minutes before your run and drinking 6–8 oz. for every 20 minutes you run. Post-run, drink even more water to help speed up your recovery.
Make Sure There’s Water on Your Route
Speaking of water, plan ahead and map out a route where you know you can refill your water bottles without too much trouble. The Road Runners Club of America points out that city parks, local stores and restaurants are all prime spots to include on your running route when it’s hot outside.
Choose the Routes That Are Naturally Cooler Than Others
If there are trails near where you live, considering running on them instead of the street. Concrete tends to not only absorb the heat, but it will also radiate it back into your face. Plus, when you run on a trail you’ll have shade from the trees and you’ll be forced to slow your pace a bit, according to ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialist Angela Bekkala.
Apply Sunblock Before You Hit the Road
You stretch before and after running to protect your muscles. Make sure to give your skin the same attention. Apply a water-resistant sunscreen before you start running. Any part of your body that’s exposed should get sunscreen — including your ears, scalp and back of your neck. You should also wear a hat, sunglasses and a shirt.
Listen To Your Body
Your training is important, but not more important that your health. If you start to feel lightheaded, feel dizzy, get a headache or stop sweating, stop running and find yourself a cool, shaded area to recover and rehydrate.
Build Up Your Endurance Before Training for Your Race
You’ll want to generate a good endurance base before you begin a race-training program, Houston Marathon Ambassador Sara Hudgens suggests. Try to build up to 20 to 25 miles per week the month before you begin your training program. Many programs consider a first long run to be anywhere from 4 to 10 miles depending on your running experience, so you’ll want to make sure you can cover this range once you’re in training mode.
Try To Run Early in the Day or Later in the Evening
If your schedule allows, try to get your run in prior to sunrise or in the early evening as the sun is going down. You want to avoid the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. window. This is prime time to suffer from dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, according to the health and wellness site Independence Insights.
Cool Down Properly After You’re Finished
Once you complete your run, your cooldown should be your No. 1 priority, the team at InterHealth Nutraceuticals writes. You will need to find a routine that brings your body temperature back down to normal. If you have a swimming pool, a post-run dip is a great way to cool down. Or you can always take a cool shower to get the same effect.
Lower Your Body Temperature Before the Race
You can use pre-cooling techniques to lower your core body temperature before you start running, The Active Times notes. Pre-cooling will extend how long you can run hard before you come across your critical temperature threshold. The best way to bring your temperature down is to purchase a cooling vest. If you don’t want to make that type of investment, there are a couple of other pre-cooling alternatives:
- Eat a freeze pop or drink some frozen Gatorade 10 to 20 minutes prior to your next run in the heat.
- Freeze hand towels or small bath towels overnight and place them on your head, neck and back about 10 to 15 minutes before your run.
Train With the Beverage That Will Be Served at Your Race
Do some research and find out what drink will be handed out during your race, suggests Jill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS, as every race doesn’t necessarily hand out Gatorade. Once your find out the race’s beverage of choice, work out with that so your taste buds and digestive system have time to get used to it.
Run With a Friend or Let Somebody Know Where You’re Headed
It’s always safer to run with a buddy, but especially in hot weather when the chance of injury is greater. If you are going to run on your own in the heat, tell someone where you’re going to be running and how long you think that you’ll be gone. Also, always carry your ID with you.
Practice Proper Running Technique
Make running in the heat a little easier by using good posture. Proper posture while running means relaxing your shoulders and neck and engaging your core. If you do these things as well as breathe with deep, controlled breaths, running can be much more enjoyable, runner Ka Man Parkinson says.
Don’t Hesitate to Run Indoors
Yes, if you’re running a summer race you want to get yourself acclimated to the elements, but some days it’s just too hot outside to brave them. If one of those too-hot days falls on a day when you’re scheduled to run, just take it inside, suggests the From Dancing to Running blog. Enjoy a break from the heat and humidity and find a place with a treadmill. There’s no shame in enjoying some air conditioning while you run. Your body will thank you for it.
Supplement Your Hydration With Electrolytes
It’s important to mindful of your electrolyte consumption alongside hydrating, according to Active Life DC. You lose sodium when you sweat, but you also need to replace potassium, calcium, chloride and magnesium after a long workout, too.
When it’s going to be hot out, consider taking an electrolyte capsule before a long training run or race. Doing so the night before, the morning of and an hour into your run can prevent an electrolyte imbalance that happens when you sweat a lot.
Keep Your Performance Expectations Reasonable
When temperatures are in the 90s and above, you shouldn’t expect to set personal records, Recipe Runner’s Danae Halliday says. Your body will be working extra hard during the warmer months, so it’s natural that your pace will slow down a bit. Rather than overdo it, except it and know that you can chase those PRs once the temperatures drop.
Map Out a Running Schedule Based on the Weather
Always keep an eye out for heat advisories and warnings. If you see these ahead of time, you can always switch up your training schedule if it’s going to be abnormally hot or humid. Check the weather forecast at the beginning of the week so you can set up your schedule accordingly, Kait Fortunato suggests.