I experienced an unfortunate case of exertional heat stroke at the 2014 Boston Marathon. After running the marathon in 3 hours and 40 minutes, five minutes off my goal time, my body temperature was 106.8 degrees when they checked it in the finish line medical tent. This body temperature could have been lethal if the medical personnel hadn’t immediately submerged me in a giant ice bath.
It scared the heck out of me. Although I was fine in the long term, the nightmare motivated me to research ways to run smarter in the heat and keep my cool on future runs. My case was extreme, but it’s still important to adjust your running habits to account for warmer temperatures in order to stay healthy and happy.
Here are my five go-to tips for surviving dog days of summer runs.
(Editor’s Note: It’s important to experiment with what works best for you.)
Drink 12-20 ounces of water 30-60 minutes prior to your run—make it cool or cold if you can. Plan to drink about six ounces of water for every 20 minutes of running. Strongly consider bringing an electrolyte beverage or salty snack if you’re planning on running for longer than 60 minutes. In the hot weather months, I like to weigh myself before and after my runs and drink about 16 ounces of water for every pound lost on the run.
Timing is Everything
Avoid running in the hot mid-day sun. Avoid starting your run between 10am and 4pm. Set up morning running dates with friends to keep yourself accountable if you’re not usually a morning runner.
Pick out loose-fitting running clothes made of technical fabrics. Avoid running in cotton, which doesn’t wick moisture well. Wear a visor or well-ventilated hat to keep the sun off of your face. Slather on sweat-proof sunscreen. Choose sunglasses with 100% UV protection.
Switch up Your Route
Choose a shaded trail run instead of your usual sunny road run. The shade will help cool your skin and allow for more efficient sweat evaporation and cooling. If you don’t have access to a shaded outdoor route, consider running on the treadmill.
Don’t be so Hard on Yourself
Adjust your pace according to how your body feels. Don’t feel guilty for slowing down when it’s warm outside. Ideal running temperatures are around 50-55 degrees and every five degree increase in temperature above 60 degrees can slow your pace by as much as 20-30 seconds per mile. If running in a warm environment is new to you, it can take up to two weeks for your body to acclimate.
The most important guideline for running in the heat is to listen to your body. If you start to feel dizzy or light headed, have cramps or chills, or suddenly stop sweating, it’s time to stop running. These may be early symptoms of heat illness and it’s not worth pushing through because these can quickly progress to more serious symptoms.