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Summer Running: Adjust, Adapt And Be Realistic

Summer training presents a unique set of challenges. Here's how to combat a few of them.

Summer training presents a unique set of challenges. Here’s how to combat a few of them.

While it’s true running in the winter presents some serious motivational challenges thanks to short days, cold weather and icy roads, it’s actually the summer season that negatively impacts training the most. Sure, bright sunshine and beautiful scenery make it much easier to get out the door, but the truth is, heat, humidity, vacation and a lack of sleep all wreak havoc on your training plan.

Since summer is one of the most popular and important training seasons, especially if you’re racing a fall marathon, it’s critical that you approach the summer with realistic expectations about your performance and understand the potential pitfalls. In this article, we’ll look at the two most common summer training mistakes and how you can avoid making them this year.

Not Adjusting Workout And Race Times For The Temperature

You will train and race slower in hot weather. This is a physiological fact and it’s critical to keep in mind when planning your workouts and evaluating performances.

Your normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Exercising, even in cold temperatures, naturally raises the core body temperature. At first, this rise in temperature aids performance by increasing blood flow to the working muscles, hence the importance of warming up before hard workouts and races. However, once your internal body temperature gets above 102 degrees, you start to experience a significant drop in performance.

At 102 degrees, your body can no longer effectively cool itself and your body begins to divert blood to the skin to help keep it cool. This decreases the amount of blood available to carry oxygen to your working muscles. As a result, your ability to run fast is diminished considerably.

Therefore, you need to be realistic about your race performances and ability to hit workout splits when running in the heat. Many of the runners I consult with get very frustrated when they aren’t able to hit their goal times or when workouts feel harder than they should in the summer. However, it’s impossible to avoid this and it has nothing to do with a lack of fitness. It’s simply a physiological reality.

RELATED: 5 Tips To Stay Safe On Summer Runs

How To Combat
My advice is to use a temperature calculator, like this one derived from the work of Dr. Jack Daniels, that can help estimate how much your times will be impacted by hot weather. Of course, every runner handles heat individually, but this can be a good gauge for how much to adjust your summer workout and race paces.

Not Enough Recovery

Getting enough recovery during the summer months is also a huge challenge for many runners, and it often results in poor performance and overtraining. I’ve found this recovery deficiency to be a result of a lack of sleep, more activity outside of running, and from fatigue buildup as the body redirects resources from recovery to keeping itself cool.

Lack Of Sleep
To beat the heat, most runners have to hit the streets before the sun comes up. Unfortunately, in the summer this can often mean starting workouts at 5:30 a.m. or earlier. Typically, this earlier wakeup time isn’t offset by earlier bed times. In fact, most runners probably go to bed later in the summer as they enjoy the opportunity to take advantage of the weather.

Moreover, it’s difficult to catch up on sleep during the weekends since you still have to get up and out the door early. In the winter, runners can make up for early weekday mornings by sleeping in and enjoying more pleasant running weather later in the day. Unfortunately, if you’re not out the door by 6 or 7 a.m. in the summer, you’re in for a miserable run. As a result, you never have a chance to catch up.

Travel And Fun Stuff
The summer is a time for family hikes, trips to the beach and a host of other activities that make the season so enjoyable. However, as I’ve covered in a past article, being active all day or soaking up the sun at the beach will impact your run the next day. While I am not suggesting you avoid having fun this summer, factor in your activities to your workout expectations. If you spend Saturday at the beach or on a great hike, don’t expect to have a great long run Sunday. Manage and adjust your performance expectations.

RELATED: 5 Ways Heat Affects Running Performance

Fatigue Backup
Recovery between workouts is slowed during the summer months. Unless you happen to spend your entire day in an air conditioned building (and unfortunately, some us may actually do this), your body is going to use resources it would normally use for recovery on keeping itself cool.

As discussed previously, your body will divert blood to the skin to facilitate cooling rather than pumping your muscles full of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. As a result, recovery is slowed. Think of this process like a traffic jam. All it takes is a small bottleneck or one lane closing to back up traffic on the highway for miles. With recovery, all it takes is a slight reduction to back up the recovery process for days. Therefore, in the summer, running the same number of miles per week is going to feel harder than it does in the spring and fall when the weather is perfect.

How To Combat
My advice is to schedule the occasional down week or build in an additional recovery day during your weekly training. This can help you catch up on sleep, allow you to enjoy a consequence-free hike or day at the beach, and can help avoid overtraining and getting frustrated with what appears to be a lack of progress.

As you prepare to tackle your summer training, keep these factors and physiological principles of running in the heat in mind to avoid frustration and potential overtraining.

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