Running In The Heat Can Make You A Stronger Runner. Here’s How To Do It Right.

Running in the heat can be difficult, and even more strenuous for certain people. But here’s why you shouldn’t immediately dismiss hot weather runs: Studies have found that running in the heat won’t just increase your rate of perspiration (which is helpful for cooling down your body), but it can also increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume, which leads to better cardiovascular fitness.

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For runners, summer means more than weekend getaways and trips to the beach—it’s also synonymous with fall marathon training. Odds are, if you’re planning on running one of America’s iconic fall road races, like the New York City Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, or even the Philadelphia Marathon, you’re going to be running through some pretty hot weather. 

Now that I live on the West Coast, temperatures are way more ideal for summer running, but even I’m not immune from the effects of the sun. Additionally, summer travel—whether I’m going back to the east coast or just an hour or two away—exposes me to a far wider range of elements. 

Running in the heat can be difficult, and even more strenuous for certain people. But here’s why you shouldn’t immediately dismiss hot weather runs: Studies have found that running in the heat won’t just increase your rate of perspiration (which is helpful for cooling down your body), but it can also increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume, which leads to better cardiovascular fitness. Training in the heat can also reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and even increase your training capabilities in colder temperatures.

That’s right—some experts support the claim that heat acclimation can actually be more beneficial than altitude training when it comes to positive physiological adaptations. Santiago Lorenzo, a professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and former decathlete at the University of Oregon, told Outside Magazine that he believes heat acclimation provides “more substantial environmental specific improvements in aerobic performance than altitude training,” citing the fact that heat training does a better job at increasing VO2 max than altitude, and also makes athletes better at dealing with a wider range of temperatures. 

However, the benefits of training in elevated temperatures doesn’t change the fact that summer running can get us all hot and bothered. So many things can go wrong, from pesky annoyances like chafing, to more dangerous outcomes like heat stroke. To help you stay hydrated and happy during your long runs this summer, here are my top 10 tips for hot weather runs.


1. Hydrate Early, And Often

One of the best things you can do before a hot summer run is pre-hydrate. Now, I don’t mean drinking to the point of discomfort the night before a long run, but make an extra effort to sip on some H2O and make sure your pee is clear anytime you visit the bathroom.


2. Plan Your Run Around Water Stops

If you live in New York City, it’s pretty easy to plan your run around the various water fountains in Central Park, but you don’t need to live in the Big Apple to carefully plan your route around parks and public places that have working water fountains (and, bonus—working bathrooms!). Another thing I like to do is keep $10 in my running belt so I can buy a plastic water bottle en route if needed. That way, I can take my time finishing my drink, and ditch the empty bottle when I find a recycling bin. 


3. Cut Your Warmup Short, Or Do It Inside

If you’re doing an intense track workout on a really hot day, do your stretches (and maybe even some high knees and butt kicks in place) inside before heading outside to start your run. That way, your body will stay cooler a few minutes longer without sacrificing the preparation your body needs.


4. Lather Yourself In Sunscreen

One thing I’ll never forget is to put sunscreen on the back of my calves in the tiny slit of space between my knee-high compression socks, and my capri leggings. I learned this the hard way after getting a terrible sunburn in that tiny spot during a marathon, despite the fact that I thought I’d covered myself head-to-toe in sunscreen. Sometimes, you’re outside longer than you intended, so make sure to use a high SPF sunscreen and cover ANY SPACE that might get exposed to the sun. (So, if there’s even a chance you’ll ditch your shirt at some point during the run for temporary relief, take the proper precautions).


5. Fuel With Electrolytes & Salt

During very hot runs, drinking water isn’t always enough. When you run and sweat, you lose electrolytes—mainly sodium and potassium. Potassium is super important for your body’s functionality, and without enough potassium, your muscle cells can’t always generate the necessary nerve impulses that control muscle contraction. Keeping your sodium levels up is important to help your body retain water. To prevent cramping—which is your body’s way of telling you your electrolyte tank is empty—and muscle fatigue, it’s important to consume electrolytes with your water (think: Nuun hydration, which you can easily add to any water, and/or salt tablets).


6. Run Where There’s Shade

When carefully planning your route around water stations, it’s also a good idea to factor in roads or trails that offer some shade into your run. Running on trails or dirt paths, even briefly, can give your body a nice break from the excessive heat of asphalt—while hopefully offering some trees to shield you from the sun. 


7. Run By Effort Vs. Pace

Sometimes three miles in the heat can feel like 10 miles, or a particularly grueling workout. Stop yourself from overheating (and blowing up) by running by effort instead of pace. Often, the pace you can run during a cooler day doesn’t match up with your hot weather efforts, and that’s okay. It’s better to get through the entirety of the run—even if it’s slower than intended!—than to ditch your workout early.


8.“If You Love It, Lube It”

This quote is stolen from a friend, but it makes a lot of sense: If you love a part of your body and that body part is exposed or prone to chafing (think: thigh chafing), it’s best to put some vaseline or body glide on it. Running in clothes you know you’re comfortable in (instead of a new outfit) can help prevent discomfort, but it never hurts to add another layer of protection!


9. Adjust Your Expectations

Unfortunately, humans are not invincible, which means that at points we will succumb to the elements. Adjust your expectations for particularly hot weather runs when it comes to pace, mileage, and even how you’ll feel. It’s normal to run slower or feel “off” during hot weather runs, and that doesn’t mean your progress is stalled, or that you aren’t a good runner. Just like a tough track workout, running in the heat may suck in the moment, but it will make you a stronger athlete in the long run.


10. Know When To Call It Quits

You can do everything right and still experience cramping, heat exhaustion or another reason to get yourself off the road and in an air conditioned room. Knowing when to push through and when to quit is very important during hot weather runs. Remember: You aren’t a failure if you can’t finish a run in the excessive heat, and you aren’t a hero if you can. If at any point you begin to feel faint, dizzy, or overly exhausted during a run, quit while you’re ahead and know that you can try again tomorrow. (The world won’t end, and your running career won’t be doomed—I promise!).

Photo via November Project Oakland

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