Running in Heat & Humidity – Surviving Summer Running

If you are living anywhere in the vicinity of the southern half of the US, you know Summer is on the way.  Down here in South Texas, it has definitely arrived.  With some mornings in the low 70’s, and high relative humidity, mother nature is telling us to start preparing for hot, summer running.  As a long-term resident of the South, I am a veteran when it comes to running in the heat and humidity.  And I’m here to tell you, that while Summer running has its challenges, you don’t have to toss in the towel (but keep a few spares in your car, though).

Here’s all the tips and techniques I’ve learned over the years for surviving summertime running.

Running in the Heat & Humidity

Before we get started with the actionable tips, it’s important to level set.  So here’s a few things you need to keep in mind as you venture into infernal territory, especially if this is your first or second summer of running.  Your paces will naturally slow.  It’s almost inevitable.  Increased temperatures mean that your body now has to worry about giving you enough energy to keep you moving, while also trying to do all the things it can to keep you cool.  Like pumping more blood throughout your body, resulting in a higher heart rate.

This double-duty means that you will have fewer energy reserves to draw from as you hit the trails or pavement.  It’s not just that running in the heat FEELS harder, it is harder on your body.  So don’t go crazy trying to run the same paces at 80 that you could at 55.  Additionally, you’ll need to adjust your fueling strategy, pay attention to electrolyte intake, and be more mindful about the timing of your runs and your recovery strategy afterwards.

So now that you have an idea of what you might be in for, here’s a few things that can help.

Tips for Staying Cool

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Carry Water
If you’re someone who runs 3-5 miles, during the Winter months, you might be able to get away with not carrying water. During the Summer, this is not the case. Even for just short runs, it’s good advice to carry water with you. Most runners don’t love having to carry water, but there are so many options to make this more comfortable. If you regularly run a route that has water fountains, by the grace of God, offer thanks and try not to rub it in while the rest of us deal with the sloshing.

Drinking water more frequently during hotter runs can help you manage body temperature, and can go a long way to preventing runners trots.  A hydrated stomach is a happy one, so make sure you adjust your hydration once the temperatures start to rise.  If you want a little guidance on just how much water (because both too much and too little can cause problems), check out this great article from Runners World.

Invest in an insulated bottle
And since you’re going to likely be carrying water anyways, why not make sure it’s as cold as possible? An insulated water bottle can go a long way to making sure you don’t end up chugging warm water at the end of your run. Which isn’t the worst thing, but also isn’t as efficient in helping you cool down. I personally like to fill my insulated water bottle the night before, and let it get cold in the fridge overnight. With my Nathan Speeddraw handheld, I’ve found that I can enjoy cold water for up to an hour.

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Water on as much as in
Not surprisingly, we are still talking about water.  But this is a tip that ultra-marathoners around the world have come to consider second nature.  The recommendation is to put water on your body almost as often as you put water in your body.  It helps to bring your surface temperate down, which means your body doesn’t have to work quite as hard to cool you down.  It’s also refreshing.  And really, do you need an excuse to cross the road to run through the sprinklers in August?

Consider a running bandana or buff
This is another handy trick passed down from ultra-runners.  Growing up in the South, my grandpa was rarely outside without a bandana, but honestly I just wrote it off as an interesting fashion statement.  Why put extra fabric on you if you’re trying to stay cool?  Well, a nice cold banana may not stay cold forever, but it can certainly bring down your core body temperature.  Especially when you consider that a banana often sits around places where blood circulates.

Add to this the fact that genius ultrarunners have started to sew bandanas to create pockets that hold ice.  And let me tell you, a pocket of ice on the back of your neck definitely does not suck.

Ice, Everywhere
And since we are on the subject of ice, if you have the opportunity, put it everywhere you can.  Shove in your sports bra, in a bandana, in your hat, and in a hydration pack.  It melts, so it’s not a permanent solution, but it feels fantastic.  I don’t think I need to go into much explanation on how ice can help keep you cool.  But if you’ve never spent any time thinking about how you might carry some ice on your person during a particularly brutal run, I’m here to tell you it’s worth figuring out.

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Wear a hat
In everyday life, you may not be a fan of hats. And while I have a hard time understanding why, that’s not really the point. The point is that running hats are not about fashion (though you certainly can find some good looking hats these days). The point is they can go a long way to keeping your head cool if you spend some time securing a good option. Here’s what you need to look for: something wicking, light weight, light colored, and that is breathable.

My favorite option is the Oiselle trucker.  It meets all the above mentioned criteria, it fits small and regular heads fairly well.  It holds ice in place nicely, and it’s easy to dump some water onto for extra cooling.  It helps keep sun off my face, which keeps me from squinting all day long.  It’s also easily adjustable and looks cute.

General Tips for Summer Running

All of the above mentioned tips will help make sure you keep your internal body temperature as low as possible.  Which is great, but only part of what can help you survive summer running.  Here’s some other tips and tricks to make running a little less soul sucking over the next couple of months.

Wear Sunscreen
The Sun is up almost all of the time, which is great for visibility, but not so great for your skin.  Even if you’re not particularly worried about wrinkles, venturing out for hours of unprotected sun is just a bad idea.  You’re much more likely to get home with a sunburn (not exactly fun or comfortable), and prolonged exposure increases the risk of skin cancer.  So find a sport sunscreen with a decent SPF, and make sure you apply before every run (I like this one).  And don’t forgive to it a little time to dry and soak in (at least 20 min before heading out).

Adjust time frame
It probably doesn’t take much explanation, but if you’re newer to running and began running in the Winter or Spring, you may have to adjust your running schedule in the next couple pf months. While a lot of area’s just require a general avoidance of the hottest portion of the day (1-4pm), some portions of the Midwest and South are virtual ovens anytime after 10am. My first summer of marathon training was a rude awakening for me. I had to schedule most runs to start at 5am, knowing that if I hit the snooze button more than once I was signing my own death certificate.

running in the heat & humidity - running in the heat and humidity - running in the heat - heat training - tips for running in heat

Adjust location
This was a little bit of a shock to me when I first started running.  But even within the same zip code, there could be very different temperatures happening at the same time.  If you live in the vicinity of trails, lakes, rivers, or the ocean, you might find that you get a 10 degree buffer in these areas.  If your lifestyle and schedule allows, it can definitely be worth the drive to get just a little more temperate conditions.

Adjust Clothing
Now, adjusting clothing could technically be considered one of the tips for staying cool, but there’s a lot more advantage than just temperature with some clothing options.  So here’s the basics: make sure it wicks (dry-fast material is KING), make sure it’s light and loose, and look for light colors.  This is somewhat debatable, but you also have to consider the payoff between wearing less clothing for cooling purposes and wearing more for skin protection.  Whatever your personal preference, just be mindful of the pros and cons.

Pro-tip: it’s not just shorts and tanks you need to consider when building your Summer running wardrobe. Socks can make or break your running experience in the heat and humidity. Find a good pair of light, wicking socks, and try out some with individual toes as well. Some runners find that toe socks can go a long way to reducing blisters, which can absolutely be a bigger problem when you’re sweating more in the Summer.

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And don’t forget the eyeballs. If you don’t want to end up with a tension headache 3 miles in, you’re going to want to avoid squinting. Sunglasses can also held protect your eyes and maintain healthy vision. Look for varieties that stay on your face and don’t bounce around. My personal favorite are Tifosi Sunglasses, because they are made with athletes in mind, are at a great price point, and have multiple lens options for different style preferences.

Prevent Chaffing
Chaffing is a problem that should always be avoided. One post-chafe shower will rock your world and make you rethink everything you know about friction. While it’s something to be fearful of year round, you may need to take extra precautions during the hotter months. More sweat and salt means more potential problems. So stock up on the Squirrels Nut Butter, and apply liberally, friends. Your skin will thank you.

Increase electrolytes
Since you have already come to terms with the fact that you will be sweating more over the next season, it’s time to increase those electrolytes. The more you sweat, the more sodium you lose, and when you combine that with the fact that you need to hydrate more, not replacing lost electrolytes can cause some real problems. From the sleep stealing charlie horse to all day bathroom visits, electrolyte imbalance is something to prevent. Luckily, there’s plenty of options here. You can pour some extra Himalayan sea salt on your dinner, or pick up some delicious Nuun tablets to enhance your water.

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Consider Your fuel
As the temperatures, GI issues become more common.  I mentioned earlier that a hydrated tummy is a happy tummy, but every tummy has its limit.  If you find that you’re having a harder time keeping your usual fueling products down in the Summer, consider liquid calories.  Products like Nuun Endurance or Tailwind can be easier for your stomach to digest, and help you stay both hydrated and well fueled simultaneously.

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Post-Run Popsicles
I’ve saved the best for last. My favorite part of Summer running is hands down the post-run popsicle. Certainly, you don’t have to save post-run treats for May-Aug (in fact I recommend you do not), but there is just something nostalgic and refreshing about a frozen fruit flavored treat right after a long, hot run. It can help with the whole carb and electrolyte situation, and they taste amazing. You can also opt for a handful of frozen grapes if you’re looking for something more wholefood oriented.

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