The Absolute Best Tips for Running in the Summer Heat, According to the Pros
Running rarely feels easy, but when you add in summer’s intense heat and high humidity it becomes something of a Herculean feat just to get yourself out to door. But there are some ways to make running in hot weather feel a bit easier. Don’t just take it from me—take it from the professional runners, gear designers, fueling experts and heat researchers who gave us their top tips for running in the heat.
1. Opt for either morning or evening runs“During the summer months, the best time to run is a little earlier in the morning than you maybe would other times of year,” says Cory McGee, a professional track athlete with New Balance. And, no, we don’t mean getting up at the crack of down (or worse, before it) to get those miles in. “I love to try and begin my morning run around 8:30 a.m. so the sun isn’t too high in the sky yet. It’s always a little harder to get out the door when it’s already 90 degrees, so I try and motivate to get going while it’s still a little cooler out.” As for those who find their mornings busy enough already, dusk or after nightfall is another option. Just remember, if you’re going out after dark you need to wear reflective gear and keep your headphone volume low (or turned off entirely) to make up for the loss of sight.
2. Stick to shady paths or trail runs over track workouts, if you can
There’s no real chance of shade on a typically running track, so why not switch things up? “It tends to be much cooler in the woods and off the asphalt,” says Rebekah Broe, senior product manager for performance running at New Balance, “Try swapping your road shoes for a pair of Fresh Foam Hierros and hit the trails once or twice a week for a nice change of pace.”
3. Short loops are better than long winding roads
“When it’s really hot, find a short loop near home,” advises Broe. “Stash some ice water outside and make a quick stop after each loop to drink up. It may be tedious, but it’s always ideal to stay hydrated in hot conditions, plus this gives you an easy way to bail if the conditions are too dangerous.
4. Add a sprinkler stop
“You can make [your hot weather run] even more fun and setup a sprinkler outside for a refreshing mid-run spritz,” suggests Broe. If you’re feeling bold, you can ever run through the neighbor’s sprinklers too.
5. Try running in the rain
“Running in summer rain can be one of the most cooling times to exercise,” suggests Annick Lamar, manager of runner training and education at New York Road Runners. The only caveat? “Stay in if it calls for storms, thunder or lightning.”
6. Drink water all day long, not just during/after your run“Before your run, during your run, after your run—you should always be sipping on water and electrolytes,” says Hoke One One Aggies athlete Claire Green. And McGee agrees. “I know the morning of a workout I need to drink water as I’m getting ready to head to the track and I pack iced water to have between reps,” she says. “I love to add some lemon or lime to my water at meals and make sure to always drink water throughout the day even if I am not thirsty.”
7. Keep snacks handy to keep you energy up
Heat drains you even if you’re not exercising, which is why Green likes to keep a few healthy bites nearby at all times. “You don’t want to be hit by the post-run hunger in between meals, so keep your car or bag stocked with quick high protein bites you can grab when needed.”
8. Explore different water-carrying options
“Running in the summer without water is like running without shoes—it’s not safe,” says Lamar. So test drive carrying a water bottle in each hand or sporting a CamelBak pack. Drop your water at the start of a loop and stop there after each lap or pick up a bottle designed to fit into the waistband of your shorts. Or you can simply utilize water fountains along your route, although we really do suggest still bringing some additional water along, too. Find what works best for you.
9. Use your sweat to determine water and electrolyte lossYou don’t need to use any complicated formulas or stick to precise hydration schedules in order to figure out how to best fuel your body. According to Brooks Beast Performance Nutrition consultant, Kyle Pfaffenbach, one of the easiest ways is to pay attention to the saltiness of your sweat. “Do you get white salt rings on your clothes and hat? This will give you a good idea of whether you need more hydration and electrolytes to be prepared for a run.” If you typically find lots of salt rings on your clothes or salt on your skin post run, you should up your water intake, while simply being drenched means you might want to ingest some extra salt post run.
10. Continue to hydrate long after you’ve stopped running
Pfaffenbach also stresses the importance of continuing your recovery effort long after you’ve made it back home to the air-conditioning and a nice cold shower. His favorite summer refueling method? With a delicious, nutritious popsicle. Mix together 1 generous cup mixed frozen fruits, 1 banana, ¼ cup of whey protein (he prefers Bob’s Red Mill Unflavored) and ½ cup of plain greek yogurt. Then just pour in your choice of regular, almond, oat or soy milk to the point that everything is covered and blend away. Pour into a popsicle mold, wait eight hours and voilà! A way cool down and refuel that’s both fun and easy.
11. Consider taking some fuel with you
Half and full marathoners know the importance of continuing to fuel your body during a hard effort. Even if you’re not going much further than a 5k, adding electrolytes to your water or sticking a gel or goo or even a packet of pretzels in your pocket might not be such a bad idea. How often you refuel depends much more on effort than it does distance or time or pace, so you may find yourself craving a recharge more frequently in the summer than you do other times of the year.
12. Don’t worry about your pace“Summer running is challenging on our body,” says McGee. “It’s always important to listen to what your body is telling you. Some days I run 8:30 mile pace and other days I push myself to run sub 7. It’s OK to go off how you feel instead of always pressing the pace. Your body will thank you.” Even if slowing down for you means walking instead of running, that’s totally fine.
13. Know the difference between hot and dangerous
There’s hot and then there’s dangerously hot. “Basically, when the air temperature exceeds 80 degrees and the humidity exceeds 70 percent, you will find that performance drops markedly,” says Lawrence Armstrong, a heat researcher at the University of Connecticut. Our take? It becomes dangerous once temperatures hit 90 degrees or humidity hits 85 percent, and at that point you should workout indoors. That’s not to say that you can’t successfully run in those conditions, but it will be much harder, you’ll have to be as attentive as possible to the way your body feels and you’ll have to be super smart about your refueling and rehydrating efforts.
14. Similarly, know when to call it quits
The best thing you can do when running in any temperature is listen to your body. “If you are training for a marathon and your training plan calls for a 14 mile run but you don’t feel great at mile ten, pull the plug, head inside to cool down and pat yourself on the back,” says Lamar. “Ten strong miles are preferable to 14 miles of struggle that will require greater recovery time. Respect your limit and know quality miles, even if less than prescribed, will get you in great shape”
15. Take advantage of summer running gearInvesting in clothing specifically designed for running in hot weather is a smart move, as they’ll be much better at wicking away sweat, keeping you cool and preventing chafing than a cotton T-shirt or thick leggings. “While most running shoes are designed with breathability in mind, the hot season is always a good time to add a lightweight training shoe to the mix,” adds Broe. “Also, try to avoid cotton socks and opt for something with wicking properties to keep your feet dry and cool in the heat.”
16. Wear light colors
Remember this fun fact from elementary school: Dark colors absorb light while light colors reflect it. Basically, black or dark clothing will heat up much faster in the sun than white or light clothing. You don’t need any extra help warming up right now, so stick to lighter hues in addition to lighter fabrics.
17. Protect your eyes
Unless you’re choosing to run in the dark, we suggest wearing something that will keep you from having to squint in the sun for your entire workout. McGee prefers a cap with a nice long brim, while Lamar and world-class marathoner Meb Keflezighi both prefer to run in sunglasses. There are also visors if you don’t like adding any extra fabric to the top of your head. Find what works for you and give your eyes a much needed break.
18. Try a zinc or mineral sunscreen instead of chemical
You already know the importance of wearing sunscreen everyday, but not all sunscreens can stand up to a sweaty workout. McGee suggests using a zinc-based formula as they typically stand up to sweat and water much better chemical formulas.
19. There will be chafing, so prepare accordingly
Chafing occurs when something rubs against your skin and irritates it. This can be caused by loose fabric, ill-placed seams or simply the way you run. But one thing that makes chafing infinitely worse is adding water. Or in this case, sweat. The more you sweat, the more likely it is that you’ll begin to chafe somewhere on your body, so it’s best to be prepared. Swipe some anti-chafe gel or Vaseline along any problem areas before you start your run and reapply as necessary. Stock up on bandaids and address problems as they arise, rather than powering through to the end of your run. Try wearing some longer-length bike shorts instead of the typical loose running style to safe your poor thighs from terrorizing one another. Anything to protect your skin from later pain.
20. Remember to have fun
“Keep it fun,” stresses Green. “Run somewhere new, sign up for a virtual race, plan a big workout, grab a milkshake after. Running is joyful, but being too results-oriented can sometimes make us forget that. If going on your runs has become a chore, think about what made you fall in love with the sport in the first place and find a way back to that. With limited opportunities to get outside, each run should be a celebration, even when it doesn’t feel like one”