I am currently training for my first half marathon. Oh my goodness, just typing that makes me beam with excitement! But what isn’t making me so excited right now is the summer training. It is seriously SO hot, humid, and brutal outside. I am usually drenched in sweat just walking to and from my car. It is awful…terrible…smothering. But I know I don’t have to explain to anyone how hot it is…we all know…we all feel it! And while I am anxiously looking forward to running on a perfect fall afternoon, I am also constantly telling myself not rush life along and to enjoy each and every day (no matter how blazing hot it is!). So regardless, my feet will continue to hit the hot pavement, the training will carry on, but I am also doing all I can to be a smart runner, have a plan, and implement as many “beat the heat” strategies as I possibly can. They say that knowledge is power, however, the knowledge alone rarely does us any good unless we put it to good use.
Here are a few of my own planning strategies when it comes to keeping cool in the summer heat:
Become a Morning (or Evening) Runner
Ideally, become a morning runner. However, I am not there yet myself (I love that little bit of extra sleep sooooo much!) so I opt for evening running most of the time. That being said, there are some major pros that come along with becoming a morning runner. In addition to the major benefit of the topic at hand – beating the heat before it has a chance to ramp up – you are giving your metabolism a kick-start for the day and giving your body a boost of energy to get you going. Plus, a morning run is one that gets checked off your list before you do anything else for the day, so scheduling conflicts and excuses of being too busy won’t cause you to skip out on your daily runs altogether.
During the week I prefer running late afternoons after I arrive home from work (but before dinner), and my long run is saved for very early Saturday mornings. It may be difficult when that alarm goes off at 5am, but I sure am happy with my decision once the run is over and the sun is already starting to set high in the sky. Whatever time you choose, be sure to avoid the hottest part of the day, your body will thank you.
Location, Location, Location!
Where you run can make a big difference in staying cool, so choose a route that has as much shade cover as possible. Is there a nearby trail you can run on, or a tree-lined neighborhood that can be your go-to location? Whether it’s on one of my late afternoon runs, or one of my early morning Saturday long runs, I do all I can to stay out of direct sunlight. I have one neighborhood I run through where I run on only one side of the road (all the way down and all the way back), because that is where the shade is! Remember, asphalt spends all day soaking up the heat, and it will spend your entire run bouncing back up on you. Do your research and find safe and shaded locations that can keep you as cool as possible.
However, if your body just can’t handle the heat of the great outdoors, it may be best for you to bring the workouts inside for a while. Maybe you have a treadmill at home that you can put some miles on, or maybe there is a local gym you can join and enjoy during the summer months (and on rainy days!). While the treadmill is never my first choice, they do have their perks: being indoors with the AC, having cup holders that are perfect for water breaks, watching TV while running, and even having a built in fan sometimes! Ultimately, think about what your body can handle and choose a location that is safe and as cool as possible.
Choose Your Wardrobe (and Accessories) Wisely
What you wear can either help or hinder you – here are some helpful wardrobe tips:
• Choose light colored clothes – the sun soaks in to the darker colors and it won’t take long to start feeling the blaze
• Choose loose fitting, breathable clothes – Cotton will hold the sweat in and dry much slower, so be sure to choose synthetic fabrics that are moisture wicking. It’s a pretty miserable feeling when your clothes stick to you and hold in the sweat, but on the flip side…it’s a pretty amazing feeling when your shirt allows a breeze to flow through to help dry and cool you off!
• Wear a visor or cap to shade your face from the sun. I prefer a visor so the top of my head can breathe (and have cold water poured on it!), but a cap with breathable mesh would work well too. One time I put my visor in the freeze before I left for my run…I will definitely be doing that again!
• Don’t forget your skin. All of the time you spend out in the sun adds up over time so don’t forget to apply sunscreen. The damaging effects of prolonged sun exposure are serious and not worth the risk. It only takes a few minutes to lather some on before you head out the door so be sure to take the extra time to protect your skin from those damaging rays. And don’t forget your lips…make sure you lather on some chapstick with SPF too!
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
I say this three times because it is that important! Or maybe I say it three times so we remember to 1- pre-hydrate, 2-hydrate during, and 3-post-hydrate. I am always conscious to stay extra hydrated the day before my long runs. My running group also places water at different points on our running route so we can re-hydrate during our runs, and then we usually have sports drinks in the cooler that we place at our stopping point. Knowing your route and planning for hydration is very important…maybe you can map it out where there is a water fountain, water cooler, or a place you can leave water for yourself along the path beforehand like we do. Another idea for long runs is to have a hydration belt, or a small water bottle that you wear around your wrist. Whatever you do, be sure your body is staying hydrated. Dehydration will definitely set your performance back and can even be extremely dangerous.
Here is a great link to help you learn more about proper hydration: http://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/how-to-hydrate-before-during-and-after-a-workout
Slow Down and Listen
When it’s hot, you need to learn to slow down and listen to your body. Especially when you first start running…start slow and give your body time to adjust and let you know how it is handling the heat. Recognize that a personal record is not worth the risk of heat exhaustion, and that it is okay to run slower and take walking breaks. Know the signs of heat exhaustion, listen to your body, and stop when you need to. Taking care of your body is always your top priority.
So to say the least, training for my first half marathon in the middle of summer is tough…really tough. But I am holding on to something a friend told me: Summer running brings fall PR’s. How true that must be! If I can maintain a good pace in these conditions, I can only imagine that I will do just fine at my half marathon running in much cooler temperatures. Sometimes I try and imagine exactly how that day will feel, all the way from the nerves at the starting line, pushing my body hard somewhere near mile 10 when I want to stop, and that overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and excitement of crossing the finish line and marking a half marathon off my bucket list. And I also think about the cooler weather that will be carrying me through to the end…
Summer training will be worth it, and I will get through. We all will, and we will be stronger for it. We just have to be smart about it and always, always, always listen and take care of our bodies above all else.
Happy Summer Running!!