How to Survive Running in the Heat
Beginner's Guide to Beat the Heat.
I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't like Summer. The sun is shining, the temperature is just about bearable (for me), we're all generally happier people soaking up that glorious Vitamin D (especially after our Canadian Winters), and we're all wishing we were outside as we gaze out of the office window. With the amazing weather, we also makes want to work out more, but who’s actually motivated to do a HIIT session or go running in the heat?
Below, I will briefly tap into so tips that will help you stay cool during your workouts even when it’s sweltering outside!
How Does Our Body React to Heat?
Physical activity at temperatures above 30°C (86°F) will noticeably place a strain on your body and cardiovascular system. It's bad enough that runners typically will feel an increase in temperature by as much as 10°C, so when it is 30°C outside, we runners see 40°C (104°F).
The heat also makes your body temperature rise. Your body reacts with higher sweat production (if like me, you'll start to resemble Niagara Falls), your heart rate will increase, and your blood vessels dilate. Here’s what you can do to best support your body when running in the heat.
Give your body time to adjust to the higher temperatures. Our bodies will need a good 10-14 days to acclimatize to the temperatures outside. Avoid intense training sessions during the first few really hot days and start off slowly, and gradually increase the length and intensity of your training. In that time, your body will learn to decrease your heart rate, decrease your core body temperature, and increase your sweat rate.
Listen to your body and be flexible with your running schedule. Allow yourself the chance to adapt your speed and distance to the conditions, and give yourself a realistic time frame that you can manage and run according to how you feel.
How Heat Affects Your Heart
In summer, your heart rate is elevated, regardless of whether you are running or not. When running with a heart rate monitor, remember that higher temperatures also boost your heart rate even if you run at your usual pace. Therefore, it won't take as long to hit those higher heart rates and is a good idea to take it a bit slower.
The fitter you are, the better your body will cope with the heat, preventing your heart rate from skyrocketing.
When and Where to Run During the Day
Choosing the right time of day for your training runs or races is vital during the summer months. Avoid running in the midday heat and head out in the morning or evening instead. If however, you must run at midday, pick routes that are shaded. It’s not only cooler in the morning/evening time, but there’s also less ozone in the atmosphere, which at high levels can irritate your eyes and airways.
With the sun burning in the sky, adjusting your route definitely makes sense. Asphalt and cement absorb heat and transfer it to you. The hottest time of the day can be a good opportunity for you to leave your usual road routes and hit the trails.
If possible, start your run going with the wind and then run back with a headwind. Running into the wind has a cooling effect, and you’ll need that in the second half of a run. This happens quite a bit along coastlines and lake shores. Here in Toronto, running along the shores of Lake Ontario is one of the main areas for runners during the summer as it's breezes help keep the body cool. It also happens to be quite scenic down there.
Choosing the Right Apparel
The appropriate workout clothes can protect your skin from UV rays, even better than some sunscreens. Go for a loose fit and moisture-wicking materials for both your shirt and shorts to prevent heat from building up under your clothes. Running in cotton clothing is counterproductive, because it absorbs your sweat without wicking it away, plus, it doesn’t dry and can become quite uncomfortable to wear (see picture below).
The right material can help you avoid trapping the heat next to your body. Wear apparel that’s light in color, lightweight, and has vents or mesh. Microfiber polyesters and cotton blends are good fabric choices. Also, especially on those long runs, be sure to wear a hat, shades, and if you're one who burns easily (I've been told I burn under a strong lamp), some sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Don't Be a Rookie Like David
This was my first 5k back in 2017 and I have to say, I do cringe at what I wore that day as I've learnt from experience.
- Non-breathable hat that caused overheating.
- Generic sunglasses that would steam up and not vent. Ran most of the race with them above, on my hat.
- Cotton t-shirt (with sports' vest underneath); I was drenched after finishing that 5k.
- Basketball shorts—too big, thick, and warm.
When jogging in the heat, your body tries to lower your core body temperature by sweating more. This causes you to lose fluids and minerals like magnesium and/or iron. Even a small change in your fluid balance can lead to major performance losses.
The most important thing is to start off well-hydrated. Drink regularly throughout the day and stick to diluted fruit juices, teas, and water. If you’re going to be working out for more than an hour, make sure to have a water bottle with you and take a sip from time to time. I carry around a water belt for hot and long runs to keep hydrated and topped up on electrolytes. It's not the most glamorous of looks, but I'd rather have that than running dangerously dehydrated. Worst case for me? I stop at a coffee shop or public washroom to take a pee break. A lot of races I have completed have portable washrooms on the course.
An example of staying hydrated for my long runs would start off with a large glass of water at home and then take a water bottle with me, which has some Hydrate sports formula mixed with water. Sports drinks beat water because they contain electrolytes, which increase your water-absorption rate, replace the electrolytes you lose in sweat, and taste good, making it easy to drink more.
My long runs consist of what we call 10 & 1s, which is 10 minutes of running, followed by one minute walking. During this walking period, I make sure to keep myself topped up by sipping on my water bottle.
Eating the Right Foods
An extension to making sure we have enough vitamins and minerals for our run is to eat wholesome foods rich in vitamins and minerals. This should be a regular part of your meal plan, especially in the summer. When it’s hot outside, your body loses more minerals than usual due to sweating. Since your body can’t produce these on its own, they have to be obtained through the food you eat. Foods such as bananas, dried apricots, and whole grain products are ideal for replacing lost minerals, make great post-workout snacks, and are commonplace for post-race snacks.
That said, I'll never forget completing the Toronto Waterfront 10k and receiving a doughnut as a post-race treat. That I could go for every time.
Great Training Alternatives
Drenched in sweat, bright red face from running for hours during the week? While it is great to be outside and running, it doesn’t have to be like that. Switching out running for other forms of activities and cross training is very beneficial to ones' training. Running will only train so many muscles, which can lead to imbalances and injuries, so adopting a multi-training plan is the best thing to do. Plus, it can help you escape the heat of outside. Activities such as yoga, swimming, cycling, or even HIIT workouts inside at a gym or at home (which I typically opt for), work as great substitutes during the day.
Thank you for reading this article.
While I am new to Vocal, it is my goal to post more frequently about my journey running, as well as how it ties to mental health.
I am also raising money for three great organisations who work within mental health. The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, and both the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Team Unbreakable here in Canada.
If you would like to donate to any of these three incredible organisations, a donation link can be found here (through LinkTree).
Similarly, all tips received on my articles will also be donated to the charities throughout the balance of 2019.