Trying to Beat the Summer Heat? Don’t!

“I always felt that the biggest mistake people make is that they go by the watch when they’re running in the heat. If it’s warm and humid, you have to adjust. Early in the run, look at your pace, and if you can’t sustain it, back off. Within a mile, you’re going to know whether you can sustain that for the distance or the workout, or if you have to make an adjustment.”– Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World

It’s no secret that it is hot outside – enough to make anyone want to stay inside and kick out the miles on the treadmill. In fact, temperatures in Columbus, Ohio soared to 101 degrees today. At 11:30 p.m. it is still 88 degrees. However, just because it is hot does not mean you have to sacrifice time on the trails or pavement this summer. And, just because hot weather forces your body into overdrive, you still don’t have to stay home. I’ve put together some tips to keep you running safe, healthy and happy with us on the trails this summer.

The human body is in fact well equipped to handle heat. Working muscles generate heat, blood flows from your muscles to your skin and transports heat away from your body`s core. Then, evaporating sweat cools the blood before it returns to your muscles and internal organs. The human body can sweat as much as 2 liters (8.5 cups) per hour, enabling us to handle most exercise as the temperature climbs past 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yet, hot weather effects every runner – younger, older, experienced or not – we are all susceptible to heat illness and injury. And in fact, even though fatalities that occur as a result of a heart attack while running are currently widely publicized, many argue that heat is actually the single most dangerous threat to a runner’s life (Source: Ryan Shay in the 2007 US Olympic Marathon Trials and author Jim Fixx).It is important to understand why hot weather takes such a toll on your body. During a hot run, your heart rate increases, your body temperature rises and the decreased blood flow to your muscles gets in the way of them functioning properly. If you are dehydrated, your heart must work even harder to keep blood flowing to your legs and also to help keep your skin cool. Your heart rate increases greatly when you don’t drink enough fluids. Add in humidity and it could be a recipe for disaster. The drier the air, the faster the sweat evaporates and cools the body. Humid air slows down the rate of evaporation of sweat thus compromising the body`s ability to cool itself.  Heat from the working muscles builds up, causing your core temperature to continually rise (Source: Eight Essential Hot Weather Tips For Safe Summer Running © 2012 International Association of Women Runners).

Tips to Keep You Running in the Heat:

Run a shorter distance than you might normally run in cooler weather. You can always make up your miles on another day; or later or earlier in the day when it the temperatures might be lower.

  • Run slower than you would in cooler weather. It is okay to slow down in extreme heat. When I am running with my pace group, we often run 30 to 60 seconds slower than our average 13 minute per mile pace.
  • HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE! I cannot express this enough. You should be consuming fluids before, during and after your run.

  • Before: Start drinking water regularly in the days prior to your long run. By the time you head out the door for your mileage, your urine should be clear to the color of weak lemonade so take a look! If your urine looks like apple juice (or even darker), you’re not properly hydrated.
  • During: Pay attention to your thirst and sip water (instead of chugging) when you are thirsty. Some runners take a sip of water every 15 minutes or so, or after every song on their iPod. Find what works to keep you from feeling depleted. But, be careful not to chug or drink too much water, which can also be dangerous by causing your blood to become too diluted. Drink more than water. On any run longer than 45 minutes or in extreme conditions, you need to be consuming a sports drink that has a combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates to sustain electrolyte-fluid balance and your ability to exercise.
  • After: Don’t stop drinking water just because you are done with your run. Have water (or a sports drink) that you can sip on your way home from a workout. Continue to hydrate throughout the rest of your day.
  • Run with a group or  if you are running alone, let someone know where you are running and when you plan to return. In case you suffer from a heat-related illness or injury, you can ensure you have help nearby to get medical attention, if needed.
  • Give yourself a week or two to acclimate to the heat, gradually increasing the length and intensity of your workouts. Your body will adjust by decreasing your heart rate and core temperature and increasing your sweat rate.
  • Run during the coolest time in the day (before or after sunrise).
  • Run in the shade if you can – on trails or tree-lines roads to avoid direct sunlight.
  • Wear light-colored clothing, loose fabrics and as little clothing as possible to encourage the evaporation of sweat. You may want to consider wearing a summer hat or visor to keep sweat and sunlight out of your eyes. You may also wear sunglasses to decrease squinting, which can fatigue facial muscles and potentially cause a headache.
  • Listen to your body! If something doesn’t feel right or if you feel ill, back off of your training or stop and seek shade, cool air and water. While it can be difficult to distinguish normal heat-related discomfort from a serious heat-related illness, be vigilant. In extreme heat, fatigue often sets in faster than normal or after exerting much less effort than normal.

It is also important to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses. And remember, most heat-related illness can be prevented by hydrating properly and following the tips above.

Heat-Related Illnesses:

  • Heat Cramps: Spasms in the abdomen, arms, calves or hamstrings; dehydration, thirst, sweating. Rest, stretch and massage the affected muscle. Be sure you consume a sports drink to restore electrolyte balance to your muscles.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heavy sweating, paleness, headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, decreased urination and decreased muscle coordination. If you experience these symptoms stop running, seek shade immediately, remove excess clothing and lie down with your feet elevated. Cool yourself with water, ice or cold towels and follow up with your doctor if symptoms continue.
  • Heat Stroke: Confusion, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, disorientation, irrational behavior and vomiting. If you or someone you are running with experiences any of these symptoms, stop running and seek emergency medical attention immediately. Get in the shade, remove excess clothing and submerse or cool yourself with cold water.

Stay safe, happy and cool this summer.

Until the next mile marker,


  1. Yes, I need to her the bio-physics of why it’s harder to run the same pace in the heat, and not just that I’m beinga wimp, so I loved your post. I’ve been doing some split runs. Start outside and then finish in the basement treadmill. With AC and a HD TV DVR in front of me. K? (LOL)

  2. I love this information Sara, thank you for sharing! 🙂

  3. Suzanne Westenhofer says

    This summer has been sooo hot! I can’t wait for fall this year.

  4. At least you are running, right?! LOL. 🙂 Glad I could help and TRUST ME! I’ve been out there, you are not being a wimp at all!

  5. You’re welcome! I’m so glad you liked it.

  6. Me either, Suzanne! I am hoping things are a lot better by then too.

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