Here in Memphis, the summers get hot. As an athlete, I can’t just decide not to run because it’s hot. It’s just not an option! Running in the heat comes with plenty of dangers and more than a little discomfort, but runners aren’t doomed to misery for the summer months. There are strategies we can employ to make running through the summer more bearable.
Why is Summer So Miserable for Runners?
“It’s hot” isn’t really the answer. It’s easy to blame the temperature, but not all heat is created equal. For example, a heat here in the Deep South — Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and surrounding states — is a lot harder to bear than a heat out in the southwest, in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. Why? Humidity. A runner would have a far easier time in a dry heat than in an area with high humidity.
It’s because our bodies cool themselves not when we sweat, but when sweat evaporates from the body. In humid climates, the saturation of moisture in the air makes it harder to cool down because sweat can’t evaporate.
When you run, exercising your muscles generates heat. That increases body temperature. If you’re sweating a lot, you’re going to see a decrease in blood volume and blood flow will direct to the skin’s surface. Your heart works harder, the heart rate increases, and suddenly, runs are a lot more difficult!
6 Heat Protection Summer Running Strategies
1) Pile on the SPF.
If you plan on spending any amount of time outdoors, put on sunscreen. Sun protection is no joke, and as much as we still idolize the golden-and-tan look, it’s never worth the risk of melanoma. Besides that, runners need to do everything they can to avoid sunburn—damaged skin doesn’t sweat properly, which hurts your ability to cool off. It’s already tough, don’t make it tougher!
2) Beat the sun.
Timing your runs is a great way to avoid the heat of the day. Plan to avoid running in the afternoons at all costs, and instead opt to run in the early mornings—preferably before the sun rises. This is when the day will be coolest.
3) Let your wardrobe help.
Certain fabrics and colors will be your friends in the heat of summer and some will not. It’s time to pack away tight-fitting, dark clothes. You want gear that will allow your skin to sweat and breathe. Avoid cottons and materials that will soak up sweat, and instead turn to fabrics that will wick away moisture. Dark colors, too, will raise the temperature—they absorb heat. Instead, pick lighter colors that reflect it. You’d be surprised what a difference it can make!
If you opt for headgear, skip the baseball cap and pick a visor or mesh cap instead. You want something that will let your head breathe.
4) Pick the right route.
Ever notice how hot parking lots get during the summer? Now think about running across one of those parking lots for several miles. It’s just not a great idea to run on pavement if you can help it! It gets hot! Instead, try to find routes that do one of two things (or both): go past bodies of water, or have grass and shade. Near water, temperatures drop and there’s more of a breeze. Shade and grassy areas also significantly drop the temperature.
5) Hydrate & replenish.
Obviously, since you’re going to be sweating more and working harder to run, it’s paramount that you stay hydrated. Drink before, during, and after your run. If you’re sweating, you’re losing electrolytes and hydration. While there’s still a balance to strike and you don’t want that sloshing stomach, it’s more important not to deprive yourself. Listen to your body.
6) Take it indoors.
There’s absolutely no shame in going indoors if it’s just too hot to run outside. Breaking for a few days to run on the treadmill instead or mixing in some cross-training are great ways to manage the heat of the summer. You’ll still want to run a few days a week—at least two or three—just so your body stays acclimated to the temperature.
But sometimes, it’s just too hot!
Take care out there this summer, runners. Drink plenty, find some shade, and run the good race.