As someone who lives in the South, I know just how sweltering the summer can be. To be honest, my running has definitely taken a hit on account of the heat. Who wants to go outside when by 6am, it’s already 80-some degrees? Add humidity and it’s already pushing 90? No thank you!
In this article, though, I’ll discuss the benefits of running in the heat. Yes, there are benefits. I’ve tacked on some summer running tips to acclimate to heat safely.
Whether you live in the South where it’s hotter year-round, or you just have to deal with the warmer weather that summer brings everywhere, we’ve got you covered.
Benefits to Running in the Heat
The short, if unfortunate, answer is yes, there are plenty of benefits to running in the heat. One of my friends who served in the Navy for 20 years talked about how she actually chose to run in the heat when she was preparing for an upcoming duty station.
According to her, if she could run several miles around noon in the hot and humid Florida weather, she’d be able to take on anything. She encouraged me to train in hot and humid weather to prepare for my May half marathon in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (And she was right—it was a hot day even at 7am).
Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
We’ve all heard how great altitude training is. If you have an upcoming race in the mountains, you might think about altitude a lot. However, according to professor of physiology Santiago Lorenzo, heat training is better at increasing VO2 max than altitude training.
Decreased Heart Rate
Because the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to keep a steady blood flow, your heart rate will decrease within 5 days of heat exposure. This means that you’ll be able to lower your resting heart rate, which will help you maintain a healthy heart.
Improved Fitness Efficiency
Your body adjusts a number of ways to running in the heat. It will get better at sending blood to the skin, your muscles will get less blood, and your body will produce more oxygenated blood.
This means that you’ll start sweating sooner at a lower body temperature, which improves the cooling process of your body.
Better Overall Performance
You’re going to become a better runner if you run in the heat because you’re training your body to do something hard. It’s not unlike running hills even if your race is on flat terrain. And it won’t take too much time to see benefits. Just 10 days according to some studies.
Too, you’ll likely get your daily dose of Vitamin D since it’s lighter longer in the summer. Log that time outside not just for the fitness, but for the endorphins as well.
How to Acclimate to the Heat
If you’ve just moved to a hot and humid climate, or have been avoiding the heat and running inside, you need to make sure that you adjust your body to the conditions. Start with slower, shorter runs.
I have personally decided not to pay too much attention to my pace when I’m running mid-day in the summer. I don’t want to hurt myself, and the whole point is to get a run in. It’s okay if it’s a little bit slower or a little bit shorter.
Make sure that you are already hydrated! Hydration is essential any time of the year, but crucial in the summer and the heat. You need to make sure that your body has enough fluid to make your pee a straw color. You can lose as much as a liter of fluid in an hour, and that needs to be replaced.
But Be Careful Of Overhydrating
Spend enough time discussing hydration and running, and the fact will come up that there has never been a known death from dehydration in a major race. Every year, though, a handful of people are hospitalized from over-hydrating. This leads to a condition called hyponatremia, or low blood sodium. Diluting your blood and electrolytes with too much fluid intake is difficult to do, but some people manage to do it, especially in the heat. Hydrate, but be reasonable. There is a point where more stops being better.
When you come back from your run, make sure that you keep replacing the lost fluids. If you want to be exact, you can weigh yourself before and after your run. The difference in weight is, roughly, how many ounces of water to drink. “A pint’s a pound, the world-round” is not exactly precise, but it’s close enough. For every pound of weight lost during a run, drink 16 fl oz. of water or sports drink. Weigh yourself in the metric system is you want more exact mass-to-volume conversions.
Finally, I speak from experience when I say that a lot of it is mental. From the time everyone was a young child, we’ve typically hated to be hot and sticky. That has stayed with many of us through adulthood. Remember that you’re going to be uncomfortable, but that’s okay.
Precautions & Tips
While you always want to be aware of your body’s signs, this is especially important if you’re running in the heat and humidity. You should keep the dangers in the forefront of your mind.
Heat Exhaustion and Stroke
First and foremost, you need to be aware of heat exhaustion and stroke.
If you’re starting to get light-headedness, muscle cramps, or nausea, there’s a possibility that you might be experiencing some sort of heat illness. Stop your run, walk back to your car/home, and get yourself hydrated. Don’t skimp on electrolytes. Summer is a perfect time to opt for a sports drink over plain water. Fruit like bananas also replace electrolytes.
Be ready to shorten workouts if needed. You don’t want to plan to do a 12-mile run and head 6 miles one way before you realize at mile 5 that you really have to stop soon. Instead, plan a route that can be shortened easily if necessary.
This means that it’s probably a good idea to do one- or two-mile loops around your home. It doesn’t sound super fun, but it’s definitely the safer option. Alternatively, if you carry your phone while running and have someone who is available to pick you up at a moment’s notice, you might be able to be more adventurous.
Remember that your pace will decrease in the heat. You will not be able to run as fast in the heat and humidity, so cut yourself some slack. At the same time, you will be working harder, so be prepared for an increased effort.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Finally, the most important part of staying safe in the summer for runners is to listen to your body. When it’s really hot outside, that’s not the time to really push yourself. Make sure that you don’t go at it too hard. Save something something for when you finish your workout.
Change Up Your Running Environment
You might consider using the summer heat as an excuse to get off the roads and try some trail running. Unlike the asphalt, which is wicked hot in the summer, you’ll get to experience some much desired shade.
Change Up When You Run
Similarly, if you’ve never been a morning runner, you might want to pick it up in the summer. You’ll experience the lowest temperatures right before the sun rises, and you’ll get an excuse to get some great pictures of the sun rising!
Wear Different Running Clothes
Even if you tend to prefer darker colors for your running clothes, you might want to change it up. I have a slate gray tank and a white tech shirt, and although it seems a bit surprising because it’s short-sleeved, the white shirt is definitely cooler!
In the end, while summer might not be the most fun season to run, it’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself.
And by the time the fall hits, you’ll be so thankful for the cool and crisp weather and grateful that your summer running prepared you to run well when the temperature is nicer!