7 Tips to Stay Cool & Safe During Summer Training
Let’s face it – running during the dog days of summer is always going to be tough. But there are plenty of ways to make summer training more bearable. I put together this list of tips to help keep you cool and safe for your runs this summer.
1) Ease into summer training
It can take a few weeks for your body to physically acclimate to the hotter weather and start cooling yourself more efficiently while running. As the summer begins to really heat up, it’s a good idea to reduce your mileage by 10% or so and take a break from high intensity workouts for a couple weeks. For the many runners eyeing fall races, this is good time to start building up a solid aerobic base with slower running.
2) Slow down (& embrace it)
It’s totally unrealistic to expect to maintain your usual paces from winter and spring during the hot summer months. But that’s fine! It’s not the pace of your runs that’s important in your training, it’s the intensity of your runs that counts. And the same pace that feels comfortable in cooler weather feels significantly more intense when it’s hot. Just another reason why you should be training by effort (heart rate or perceived exertion) rather than pace.
Here’s a quick example from my training this year. I ran for a similar amount of time and on a similar route on April 4th when it was 50 degrees out and June 6th when it was 70 degrees out. That 20 degree difference slowed down my pace by 30 seconds per mile and felt more intense (higher heart rate).
I know that “run slower” is easier said than done; no one wants to feel slow. I use a couple simple tricks with my Garmin watch to help embrace the slower running in the summer. First, for most of my runs, I use a watch display that does not show my pace. In fact, for long runs, I use a display that simply shows my heart rate and total time/distance. That’s it. Sometimes I go even further and turn off my auto-lap notifications for each mile. This way, I can zone out and just keep my mind on staying in the right heart rate zone without paying attention to pace and getting regular reminders of how much I’m slowing down. Again – it’s the intensity of the run that matters, not the pace, especially for long runs.
3) Stay hydrated
Probably a no brainer – but hydration is key to beating the heat! What’s less obvious is how to fine tune your personal hydration strategy since sweat rates vary a ton from person to person. A rough rule of thumb is 4-6oz of fluids every 10-15 minutes of exercise. You can also do the sweat test to get a more personalized estimate. For long runs in the heat, make sure you’re drinking regularly throughout the run by either carrying drinks with you, breaking your runs into shorter loops, or stashing drinks beforehand along your route. Finally, use plenty of ice and/or insulated water bottles to make sure your drinks stay cool and refreshing!
4) … but don’t forget your electrolytes!
Did you know it’s dangerous to drink too much water without replenishing your electrolytes? Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when sodium levels in the blood are low, caused by over-drinking and/or neglecting electrolyte intake. Even in less dangerous scenarios, a lack of electrolytes can lead to painful muscle cramps during exercise and generally lower performance.
Like hydration, an individual athlete’s electrolyte needs can vary quite a bit. A rough rule of thumb here is 400-800mg worth of sodium per hour for longer workouts in the heat. A good starting point is to opt for getting all of your hydration from a sports drink instead of water for workouts lasting longer than an hour. I also like salt capsules as a quick and convenient way to boost my electrolytes.
If you are a “salty sweater” (if you ever notice a salty residue on your clothes after workouts), you should pay special attention to replenishing electrolytes during/after your runs. Same goes for everyone at the start of summer when your body is still acclimating to the heat and regulating your sweat rates.
5) Avoid the Heat
Do your best to avoid running at the hottest times of the day – opt for early morning and evening runs. I know here on the East coast it can still feel toasty & humid even before sunrise, but avoiding direct sunlight makes a huge difference. On that note, choose shaded routes and trails when possible. When it’s super hot (90s+ with humidity), it might be time for a treadmill or another indoor cross training workout instead 😅.
One caveat to avoiding the heat is when you’re signed up for a race that is traditionally done in hot weather. In this case, you may want to introduce short (~2-3 mile) runs during the hottest portion of the day to start specifically preparing your body for the race day stress.
6) Choose your clothes and accessories wisely
The clothes and gear you choose can make a big difference in your ability to beat the heat as well. Choose light-colored, loose-fitting, moisture-wicking clothes over dark, heavy, cotton shorts and shirts. Keeping your face out of the sun with lightweight hats and visors can make you feel significantly cooler on a hot run too. And oh yeah, don’t forget to wear sunscreen!
7) Keep your eyes on the prize!
Training through the dog days of summer is tough. It’s easy to feel rundown and start losing confidence in your speed and endurance in July and August. But hang in there! All these tough miles you put in during the summer heat are making you a tougher runner. In fact, it’s been shown that training in the heat has similar advantages to altitude training. So keep your eyes on the prize, your steamy summer workouts will all pay off when the weather cools down for your fall races!