In case y’all weren’t aware, it’s a bit warm outside! Summers in the South can be extraordinarily brutal, and many people use this time to take a break or stop running all together. However, for many runners, summer means training for fall races. It can be challenging for many, especially newer runners, to train properly and safely during the summer months. But running in the heat of the summer can be done- you just need to be smart about it!
First of all, understand that you’re body is working harder in hotter temperatures than it is in cooler temperatures. The body likes homeostasis. It maintains homeostasis by regulating different systems to help keep the body’s internal temperature a steady 98.6*. When outside temperatures rise, the body has to utilize more stored energy to activate the systems needed to keep the inside temperature down. That’s just at rest- now add in the fact that you are exercising, and, by default, increasing your body temperature. Now you’re asking even more of your body to keep things stable! That’s MORE stored energy that your body needs just to keep you cool on the inside, and LESS energy available to support the demands of your exercise. It’s because of this that we find running in the heat at a certain pace to feel much harder than if temperatures were 20* or 30* cooler.
In the southeast we not only have to learn to deal with heat, but, more importantly, the humidity! Humidity is the moisture level in the air. There’s always some level of humidity, no matter where you are. Summer months mean higher humidity levels more often, and they tend to be higher in the morning hours than in the evening. When the humidity level is high, the sweat your body exudes has nowhere to evaporate to since the air is already saturated with moisture. Thus the sweat will stick around on your skin and on your clothes (that’s why your clothes look sopping wet after a short run on a humid day!) This problematic because when that moisture clings to your clothes and skin, it creates a barrier that traps heat inside the body. The body now has to work even harder to release heat and overcome that barrier trapping heat inside.
So what can a runner do to stay safe this summer? First of all, stay hydrated! Being properly hydrated allows blood to be thin enough to travel quickly throughout the body. This in turn allows all the good stuff in the blood, including oxygen, to get to organs quickly. Blood also carries that excess heat towards the skin where it’s lost as sweat. Proper hydration allows our cells to work properly. Stored energy is broken down into usable forms within the cells of our muscles, so it’s therefor important for there to be proper hydration to allow for good cellular function. Hydration also allows for proper regulation of electrolyte balance. An imbalance in electrolytes can cause dizziness, arrhythmias, and lead to more serious medical complications. Finally, hydration helps to keep the internal body temperature down, thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to feed those regulatory systems. How do you know if you’re getting enough water in? Next time you visit the bathroom, take a look at the color of your urine (gross, I know- but there’s good information there!) Ideally the color should be like a light lemonade, or pale yellow. Anything darker means you’re not taking in enough water, so go drink up!
- Try to run at times when the sun is not at it’s peak height in the sky. That would mean early morning or later in the evening/night. Keep in mind humidity tends to be greater in the morning! Temperatures tend to be less in the early pre-dawn hours and once the sun goes down in the evening, so try to run at those times if possible.
- Use electrolyte replacement supplements. Brands like Nuun and Skratch make great tasting supplements that include minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Some also have a bit of caffeine for an extra energy boost. Drop a tablet or packet in your water bottle and have access to it throughout your run or afterwards when you’re finished!
- Find shady routes, or routes close to water, if possible. Shade can provide nice relief from the glaring sun. Bodies of water often also have a breeze to them from time to time. In this area, running on the beach roads (not necessarily on the sand) can offer a nice sea breeze in the summer months. Temperatures also tend to be cooler along the coastline due to the cooling effects of the ocean.
- Wear clothes with moisture-wicking material and in light colors The fibers in these clothes are actually designed to wick moisture away from your skin and on to the outside of the garment, thus keeping your skin dry. That moisture is then evaporated into the air and you’re left with a dry (ish) shirt! Socks with this type of material are extremely important to wear as we lose a lot of sweat in the feet. Hats or visors with wicking material or vents/mesh will protect your eyes and face from the sun while still allowing for heat to escape out through the head. Lighter colors don’t retain heat as much as darker colors do, so opt for light shades!
- Take it easy, and run by feel! Try to run most of your runs by how you feel, and don’t worry too much about your pace. It can be very discouraging to see you ran slower than what you felt like, so don’t do it too often. If you’re feeling particularly sluggish or not quite right, it’s always better to slow things down than to risk over-working your body and end up in serious medical trouble.
If all else fails, running inside on the treadmill is also an alternative. Through on your headphones, find some good tunes/podcast/netflix show and lose yourself for a few miles! You’ll be in air-conditioning and easy access to water, so it’s definitely a great place to get your run in if outside is not feasible!
Stay safe out there, and happy running!