If you live in a hot climate (or let’s be real: anywhere these days!), you know the misery of running outdoors when temperatures—and humidity levels—soar. Your feet feel like they’re moving through molasses; you can hardly catch your breath; and the amount of sweat on your skin is out of control.
So why are hot summer runs so freaking hard? For starters, you’re not just imagining it. “Running in the heat is indeed harder than running in cooler weather for a variety of reasons,” says Jason Fitzgerald, running coach and creator of Strength Running. For one, high temperatures and sunlight increase your core body temperature, which increases your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This means you’ll have to slow down to maintain the same perceived effort—it’s just an unfortunate fact of summer training, Fitzgerald says.
What’s more: Your body has a natural cooling system. As sweat evaporates from your skin, it lowers your body temperature. But, higher humidity messes with this cooling system and prevents perspiration from evaporating from your skin, Fitzgerald explains. This means it’s harder for your body to cool itself down, which leads to that overheated, heavy feeling.
Note: This isn’t a get-out-of-your-workout-free card. “It’s not impossible to run fast in hot conditions,” Fitzgerald says. Research indicates it matters most what you tell yourself about the weather. One study even found when cyclists were told it was cooler than the actual temperature, they performed better! In other words: Your self-talk matters!
Read on for more tips on making hot summer runs more bearable.
1. Stay hydrated (duh).
Drink plenty of water leading up to your outside run—aim for 8 ounces before 45-60 minutes of exercise, suggests Susie Lemmer, a certified running coach and personal trainer. One (sorta gross) way to tell you’re hydrated enough: Check your pee. Your urine should be mostly clear or very pale yellow, Fitzgerald says.
If you’re going on an especially long run (i.e. an hour or longer), you may want to bring along water or add some extra sodium and/or electrolytes to your diet before your long run, Lemmer says. (Skip the sweet sports drinks—they include more sugars and carbs than you really need.) It can also help to choose a route where you know there will be water fountains along the way.
2. Time it right.
Plan to run early in the morning, or in the evening after 6 p.m., advises Aaptiv trainer Meghan Takacs. Avoid running in the heat of midday or between the hours of 3 to 5 p.m., which is “the no-no zone,” Takacs says.
3. Get the right gear.
“This is the time to pull out those ‘investment pieces’ from your running clothes wardrobe—or buy some,” Lemmer says. Look for highly breathable, moisture wicking, light-colored clothing that fits loosely, she suggests. (No cotton!) Fabric that contains SPF is a plus. You also want to wear a hat or visor and sunglasses—these protect your face and eyes from the sun and wick away sweat. See some of our top picks for running gear, here.
4. Take it slow.
Remember: Slowing down in the summer is ok! “Run by feel or effort rather than on pace,” Fitzgerald suggests. And don’t be afraid to take walk breaks. As Lemmer explains, “The further away from 50 degrees the temperatures get, the more you can expect your pace to decrease with the same amount of effort.” For example, if you run an 8-minute mile at 50 degrees, plan on running up to a 9:30-minute mile pace when temps are in the 90s.
5. Seek out shade.
“Try to run on trails, which are often shaded, instead of roads that radiate the sun’s heat back to you,” Fitzgerald suggests. It can also help to run near bodies of water, which can help naturally cool down the surrounding air.
6. Breathe deeply.
As you’ve probably noticed, breathing is more difficult on hot, humid days. Make sure you’re taking huge deep breaths every three minutes, Takacs suggests. “Fill your lungs all the way up and exhale strongly.”
7. Do what you gotta do.
Take off your shirt, dump water on your head, run through sprinklers—and if worse comes to worse, take it indoors or move it to a different day. “If the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory (when the Heat Index, a score that reflects a combination of both heat and humidity, is over 105 degrees) running fast or long will be difficult and dangerous,” Fitzgerald says. And keep in mind, if you start to feel dizzy, light-headed, or extremely fatigued, it’s time to stop—and seek help if those feelings don’t go away.
Still super sweaty? This gear can help!
SPY Optic Sunglasses Allure (for women; $100) and Hunt (for men; $110)
When it comes to sunglasses, you no longer have to decide between fashion and function. These stylish shades will not slide around when you start sweating, thanks to a grippy material on the nose bridge. Plus, the proprietary lenses increase clarity, enhance color, and reflect damaging sun rays.
Mizuno Elite Run Visor, $27, at mizunousa.com
This lightweight visor keeps your head cool and protects your face. It even features reflective material, which comes in handy for early morning or late evening runs.
New Balance Ice Hybrid Tank for women; $45 and Ice Short Sleeve for men; $45, both at newbalance.com
These flattering tops are made out of NB’s high-tech cooling fabric—it’s sweat-activated to take away moisture and keep you comfortable and dry.
New Balance 2 in 1 Short, $50, at newbalance.com
Made with sweat-wicking fabric, these come with built-in boy shorts for ultimate comfort.
ADIDAS Men’s Supernova Parley Shorts, $35, at adidas.com
For the guys, these lightweight shorts are great for summer, and feature a little pocket that keeps your keys and phone dry on sweaty runs.
ADIDAS CMMTTD Marble Chill Bra, $46, at adidas.com
Ladies, this sports bra is the answer to your summer-run prayers: It keeps you cool with a mesh-like fabric and aluminum dots that literally lift heat away from your body.