For many runners with an upcoming fall marathon or cross country season, August is a month of intense training and base building miles. Having a great month of running in August can cap off your consistent foundation of work built through June and July and ensure you are ready for the racing season ahead in the fall. However, for many areas of the country, we are in the midst of what is also the hottest and most humid month of the year—the last thing any of us runners want is to have our training derailed by conditions that are beyond our control. (And, make sure you're taking in enough iron right now--training at a greater intensity in the heat can make you more susceptible for anemia issues in the fall.) A well-planned and commonsense approach to working out can protect us from injuries, but the same actually goes for dealing with the heat and humidity of August.
Stay cool and train smart to run your best through late summer with these five tips:
1. Train during the cooler parts of the day, and schedule longer or more intense workouts around cooler days of the week.
If your schedule allows for any kind of flexibility in when you run, try to aim for the cooler parts of the day for your efforts, like early morning or evening. If that advice feels a little obvious, what might be less so is the idea of scheduling your whole week of training around the weather forecast. Look ahead to the upcoming week’s anticipated daily highs, and work around them if possible when planning your more intense or longer efforts.
In the summer, I’ve moved my long run from its normal weekend slot—which also happened to coincide with the balmy upper 90s—to a much cooler weekday morning. I’ve even spontaneously extended a regular weekday morning run into my week’s long run if I happened to feel good and the weather happened to feel cooler. Sometimes these spur of the moment, (literally) on-the-run decisions enhance your training through more chill temperatures but also a more “chill” and less stressed approach to training as a whole. Learn to be flexible with the timing of your week’s workouts. You also might find along the way that you enjoy the untraditional Thursday long run more anyhow!
2. Always pack an extra—preferably cold!—drink, and keep extra clothes for post-run in your car.
Again, this does involve just a little bit of planning, but it’s worth it! Throw your electrolyte-filled beverage of choice into the fridge the night before, but while you’re at it, toss a second drink in there too and bring both to your run. I never regret having that second drink! This is especially true if I’m driving to and from the trail—drink number two always comes in handy on the drive home. Alternatively if I’m running from home, I can always save the bonus drink in the fridge for the next day if I don’t get to it. Weather is extra warm? Throw some extra ice in there, or even better, throw your drinks in a mini-travel cooler so they stay chilled while in your warm car. If you are headed out for a longer effort, consider planting drinks along your route or carry some form of hydration with you. If driving or otherwise traveling from home to your running spot, pack an extra t-shirt or a light change of clothes so you don't get chilled on the drive home. I have a spare sweatshirt that I just leave in my trunk as my designated post-run wear (even more handy if you stop at the chilly grocery store!).
3. Along the way, incorporate some heat training to better withstand the warm temps.
Of course, use common sense—don’t just jump into a 10 mile run in 95 degree sunshine—but a little training in the heat makes you a stronger runner. This can especially come in handy if you are planning on a race with a late morning start time or in a warmer location than where you live and train. The runners competing in Rio, especially those racing the marathon, have purposefully sought out warm and humid training conditions to better prepare for their race at the Olympics. Remember that your body adapts very well to whatever weather you regularly train in. Weather is very relative: what is hot for a Texan is relatively scalding for a New Englander, and what is hot for the New Englander will feel cool to the Texan. (Since living in Virginia, summer temperatures that fazed me back in Pennsylvania no longer do so.) Rather than always being the enemy, the heat is sometimes a useful training tool! Recently, research has suggested that training in the heat can be even more effective than running at altitude. Do a few short easy runs during a time of day when the air is a little warmer to start; this helps you adjust better to the heat when you might have to face it at a race, and to perform better when you are subsequently in cooler temps. Remember that for your hotter runs, go by effort rather than pace!
4. When running in the heat, be safe by wearing sunscreen and running with a buddy!
Hydrating well may be the most obvious heat training tip, but protecting your skin and being sure you stay safe while running should also be high on the list. Save a drawstring backpack (or even a reusable shopping bag) and use this for running essentials like your drink and sunscreen to ensure you don’t forget them, and then establish a routine of always bringing your “running essentials” bag. Get a sunscreen that can handle all your sweat too! (My dermatologist recommends Blue Lizard.) Last but not least, be sure you have company on the track or (especially) on the trail if running while the thermometer reads sky high. Running buddies don’t let each other suffer heat exhaustion!
5. Run with wet hair!
If the weather is intensely warm and your hair type permits, try showering right before your run so your hair is wet during your workout. With really steamy temps, I like to rinse off and put my hair into a bun on the top of my head—this then feels like running with a cool sponge on my head and helps to cool me off. A quick braid also works well. Even if my hair is dry by the time I’ve finished, I’m glad to have started with this extra bit of coolness.
Training in the heat, when done smartly, can enhance your performance rather than harm the length and consistency of your runs. Get out there and enjoy the sunny trails!