A dozen tips for running safely in hot weather
By Henry Howard
A great deal of the United States (and parts of Europe, too) is now dealing with extremely hot weather, even for summer. For runners, especially those who are in the crucial part of training for goal races this fall, the heat and humidity create extra challenges.
The accelerated temperatures don’t simply make runs tougher. They could potentially lead to health issues if you do not adequately prepare or adapt on the run. Runners are at risk for dehydration, heat stroke and other related ailments. Here are 12 tips on running in hot weather:
• Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. Be sure to hydrate before your run and bring water with you on any runs lasting longer than 30 minutes. For weekend long runs, I’d recommend hydrating a day or two ahead of time, much like you would do for race day. During the run, keep sipping and taking water to cool your body and ward off any dehydration issues. That said, be sure not to overdo it. Hyponatremia is a thing and it can be just as damaging as being dehydrated. Hyponatremia is when drinking too much water causes the sodium in your body to become diluted, causing your cells to swell and leading to potentially life-threatening health problems.
• Start with cold water. The colder, the better. I’ve heard from some runners who freeze their bottles the night before their runs. After a few miles, the water is cold and ready for them to use.
• Use electrolytes. While water will certainly help, your body will need to replace the electrolytes lost while sweating. During hot runs, I use Gnarly Nutrition’s Fuel20 or its Hydrate mix. Fuel20 has 250 mg of sodium per 12 ounce serving. It comes in several flavors with caffeinated and non-caffeinated options. It also provides 100 mg of potassium, 90 mg magnesium and 125 mg calcium. Hydrate, which is packed with vitamin B, also has 250 mg of sodium per 12 ounce serving. It comes in several flavors in non-caffeinated options. It also provides 100 mg of potassium, 80 mg magnesium and 100 mg calcium.
• Avoid daytime runs. Start your workouts as early in the day, or late in the day, as possible. In extreme heat and humidity conditions, it is wise to stay out of the mid-day run when temperatures are typically at their highest. If you are training for a race in the heat, apply common sense and moderation as you try to emulate or prepare for race day conditions.
• Choose gear carefully. Running in cotton is rarely, if ever, a good idea especially in soaring temperatures. Choose gear that has moisture-wicking properties so it quickly dispatches sweat. And, as much as I like black short and tops, it’s best to choose lighter colors.
• Find shade. Hot weather presents a great opportunity to explore trails that are naturally covered and have ample areas of shady spots. Some areas of road running also have shaded areas that can provide some relief from the sun.
• Protect yourself from the sun. No shade, no problem. Just be careful. And be sure to apply sunscreen, ideally with at least 50 PF.
• Move the run inside. I haven’t used my treadmill very often in the past couple of years since I enjoy running outside so much more. However, one’s health comes first. Using a treadmill is a good option if the conditions outside put you at risk.
• Don’t worry about pace. Just like in bitter winter temperatures, focus on form and effort, not pace. As a running coach, I tell my athletes not to worry about pace during extreme running conditions. They do not reflect your fitness level. They do build mental toughness and that does translate well to overcoming obstacles on race day.
• Take a break or cut the run short if needed. A hot and humid day can drain us, especially if we are not adequately prepared. Sometimes we need to cut a run short due to injury or other factors. On hot days, if your body is telling you to stop or pause, listen to it. One shortened run during a long training cycle won’t affect your outcome on race day. In fact, it may actually help it by letting your body recover rather than pushing through brutal conditions.
• Know where you can shelter. Even for the best prepared runners, sometimes plans go awry. If you sense that you need to get out of the blaring sun to protect your health, it will be much easier if you plan ahead and know where to locate shelter quickly. Ideally, the shelter is an indoor facility with air conditioning like a coffee shop, fast food place, public building or other facility. But any structure that will protect you from the sun and heat will do in a pinch.
• Recognize the signs of heat stroke. There are many types of heat-related illnesses, with heat stroke among the most common. This is a good overview from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that addresses warnings signs and symptoms.
What other tips do you have for running in hot weather?