Anyone who works out regularly knows that training does not stop during the summer. A summer of relative inactivity can destroy many of the gains of the previous nine months. Yet for a runner, hot-weather workouts can present perils beyond those faced the rest of the year. As such, anyone looking to work out should be particularly careful when running in hot weather.
Preparing to Run
Before a summer run, a runner needs to be properly hydrated. This does not mean drinking a half-gallon of water 10 minutes before you work out. Rather, throughout each day, make an effort to drink water. Caffeine is a diuretic, so any caffeinated beverages you consume could actually hurt your hydration levels. Sports drinks, on the other hand, are valuable in the hour before you work out as they actually help maintain hydration levels better than water. Be ready to drink more after the workout, too, and possibly to eat something to help your body recover.
You also should be sure to dress properly. Lightweight clothing, as opposed to heavy cotton clothing, helps. Clothing specifically designed to wick moisture from your body also provides benefits. Something that pulls the sweat from your body will make you much more comfortable.
A hat or visor is helpful in shielding your face from the sun. Experiment with this on shorter runs first; it takes time to get used to running with a hat on. Some runners actually find that wearing hats gives them headaches. Give it a chance, but if something makes you less comfortable during your workout, you can do without it.
Finally, a waterproof sunscreen is essential. Even on an overcast day, the sun can create problems. Choose something that your sweat will not wash away within the first five minutes of your run — at least a 15 SPF.
Safety While You Run
Choosing a relatively cool time of day makes a big difference. If you can run before sunrise or after sunset, do so. Wear reflective clothing if you run in the dark, and be cautious in choosing your route. Safety from the heat does not have to mean dangerous running habits.
Running when the sun is down also gives you two distinct advantages. First, it tends to be cooler when the sun is not beating down on you. Second, a problem for many people in maintaining a workout routine is that it becomes just that — too routine, too mundane. The darkness provides new perspectives to what is common and familiar in the daylight. In some ways, this also makes you more alert to your surroundings, which is never a bad thing when you run.
If you must run in daylight, choose a route that involves trees. If you haven’t thought your route through, it is easy to find yourself running on hot asphalt, the sun beating down on you, with no relief in sight. You do not want to be halfway through your run and realize you have no shade to look forward to for another two miles.
Finally, try to run with a partner. This is a good idea anytime, but when the heat picks up, it’s crucial to have someone you trust with you. Sharing the running experience with a partner gives each of you a chance to look for signs that the other could be in trouble. Watch for a suddenly erratic gait, a quick drop in pace, or other signs that might be hard for your partner to recognize in himself or herself. If either of you needs to stop, stop.
It’s OK to Cut Short
“No pain, no gain” is possibly the least helpful maxim in training. While pushing yourself can be important, a run in the heat of summer is not the time to test your limits. Lest you feel you are shorting yourself by moderating your workout, remember that when you are running in extreme heat, you are already pushing your body harder than the same workout would do on a 50-degree day. If you feel very hot or very cold, slow down or stop. If you have a sudden headache, get nauseous, or generally become weak and dizzy, stop. Find some shade, find some water. If it keeps up, get to a hospital. It is better to feel silly about going to a hospital when you didn’t need to than to feel stupid for not going when you should have. Heatstroke is nothing to take lightly.
Know that you will need to make allowances for the season. Running on a 5-degree day in sleet requires a certain level of preparation, but running in 90 degrees does, too. Adjust and prepare, stretch before and after, and keep yourself healthy. A shortened workout may be frustrating, but it is not nearly as damaging to your training or your health as pushing too hard one day and giving up the next 30.