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Beat the heat: tips for running in summer

August 2, 2016

Found in Activities, Skills and tips

Ah summer – glorious sunshine, birds chirping and long days. No better time to run, right? Well, that depends. Summer months can bring sweltering conditions that don’t always make running easy. We’ve pulled together 11 hot weather running tips from MEC Ambassadors and staff to keep you moving between June and September.

1. Change your routine

Time of day can make an enormous difference to beat the heat. Early mornings are ideal, especially if you can squeak a run in before 10am. If you’re not a morning person, aim for an evening run. Anywhere from 8–11pm is a sweet spot (just be sure to stay visible in low light).

2. Adjust your expectations

When the heat is sweltering, you won’t be able to run at your full potential. Your body is going to be working much harder than normal to cope with heat, so expect to be anywhere from 5–10% slower. That said, your body will adjust to warmer temperatures over time. After about 1–2 weeks of running in warmer temps, you should find yourself getting closer to reaching your performance potential. It’s incredibly important to listen to your body, though (more on this later).

3. Try trail running

An intuitive yet excellent tip for hot summer weather: trail running. On trails, you’ll often be in densely treed areas protected from direct sunlight, and constant shade makes an enormous difference when it’s warm. Plus, you’re more likely to come across creeks, rivers or lakes to dip your head, hat, or shirt for a glorious shock of cool water.

New to trail running? Read our beginner trail tips.

4. Be shady

Do everything you can to keep out of direct sun. If shaded trails aren’t nearby (or aren’t your thing), plan routes with minimal sun exposure. Also keep your face and neck covered: sunglasses, hats or visors are your friends. Pro tip: bring a lightweight, wet bandana along to cover your neck.

5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Hydrating before you run is essential. Drink plenty of water the night, day, or couple of days before a race or big run; you can’t cram in proper hydration an hour before you head out the door. Mid-run hydration is, of course, key – drink accordingly and bring along electrolytes/salt tablets to keep sodium and electrolyte levels balanced. There are plenty of articles online with recommendations about how much to drink, but it’s important to find what works for you and your body.

6. Carry a little extra

Bring along extra nutrition, hydration or salt/electrolyte tablets. Being able to dump spare water on your head or on the back of your neck can go a long way in regulating your temperature – add ice or use an insulated bottle to keep your water cool. Electrolyte tablets are easy to pack and super effective at replenishing essentials as you sweat, while gels will help keep you going too (wash them down with water).

7. Try cotton

Alright, so this one’s sounds a little crazy. But, having run through many environments with extreme temperatures including the Gobi Desert, Atacama and Kalahari deserts, Jim Willett knows a thing or two about running in hot weather environments. His tip? “A lightweight cotton shirt or hat retains water much longer than quick-dry materials, and when the air hits wet cotton it offers up a cooling effect. So, wear cotton and keep it wet – it’s one of the best things you can do.”

While it might sound counterintuitive, it’s hard to dismiss the word of one of Canada’s most experienced runners who’s logged huge miles in extreme environments. So, give this one a try. (If it doesn’t work for you, we know where you can find a pretty huge range of moisture-wicking and ventilated non-cotton shirts.)

8. Pickle juice

If you’ve ever suffered from cramps due to dehydration or excess heat, you’ll know how much it can shut down your performance. One solution to try? Pickle juice. A wide range of endurance athletes swear by pickle juice as a fast solution to muscle cramps (some reports claim that cramps can disappear in as little as 30 seconds after consuming a small portion). Others have a night-before tradition of eating a jar of pickles or olives before a big day. While the verdict is still out on the science, there’s plenty of internet literature to support the rejuvenating power of pickle juice. Read up and try it for yourself.

9. End with a cold dunk

Plan a route that ends next to a swimming hole, beach, wading-friendly river, or even a water park to finish with a cold soak. Remember to pack spare socks in your running pack or vehicle, so your freshly cooled feet can go into dry, clean socks (instead of the sweaty ones you just peeled off).

10. Listen to your body

There’s a lot that can happen to the body when working hard in hot conditions. If you suddenly suffer from a headache, feel nauseous, or get goosebumps or clammy skin, you’re likely suffering from heat exhaustion. Stop your run, dunk your head in water, restore salt/electrolytes, and hydrate.

If you feel these symptoms but also feel disoriented or nauseous to the point of vomiting, you’re likely suffering from heat stroke. No simple way to put it: your day of running is definitely over at this point. Rest, hydrate, and seek medical assistance if necessary. Don’t try to push through feeling too hot or excessively uncomfortable.

And if the weather station is warning people be careful due to extreme heat, listen to that advice.

11. Take it inside

When all else fails, hit the gym for a treadmill session. The view might not be as great as your favourite outdoor route, but at least the air conditioning will keep you comfortable as you tick off your kilometres.

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