Summer Running: Don't Sweat It

Running is one of the best sports and activities out there simply because it is so incredibly versatile. Indoor or outdoor, on a track or on a treadmill, through a neighborhood park or up the side of a mountain: you can literally run just about anywhere your little heart desires. Similarly, it could be a cold winter day, a warm summer night, or the middle of the day in a rainstorm; provided you prepare properly for it, you can run in just about any weather element that Mother Nature throws your way.

There are some important considerations that you should take, however, if you’re planning to be running in the summer. Just like with any run you take, safety during your summer run is of the utmost value, so you don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize your health or well-being.

It’s a beautiful but challenging season to run through, and with some guidance, I have no doubt that you’ll be cruising along in no time. Here are some tried-and-true tips for running safely all summer long.

Start early or go very late. The coolest part of the day is often the early morning hours, pre-sunrise, so one surefire way to beat the heat is to run before the heat becomes a factor. The flipside is that often it’s very humid right before the sunrise, so that’s something you should take into account. If you can’t run in the early morning hours, consider running when it’s less hot out, much later in the afternoon or evening hours (or even right before or after sunset).

Use sunscreen. If you’re going to be running outdoors during the summer, please protect your skin, particularly if you’re going to be running in just a sports bra or without a shirt. Skin cancer is a fairly preventable disease, and one of the best ways to protect yourself—aside from avoiding the sun—is to use a SPF that protects you from both UVA and UVB sunrays. Don’t forget your lips as well! Use a chapstick or lip balm with SPF. Also, remember that you can still get sunburn on cloudy days, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because it’s a gloomy day that your skin is already protected.  

Wear sunglasses and a hat. Just as you should protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays, so, too, you should protect your eyes and your noggin. It may take some time to find a pair of sunglasses that fit well on your face when you’re running, so I’d discourage you from spending a lot of money on running sunglasses right away; even the inexpensive varieties from a big box store could do the trick. Additionally, if you have long hair, the sun can wreak havoc on your hair all summer long, fading the color and damaging the strands (if not also burning your scalp). Wearing a technical, wicking running hat or visor can help mitigate the damage.

Make sure you’re hydrated before you go. Take care to be properly hydrated for your summer runs before they begin. Remember to hydrate throughout the day (and night) before and after each run and that you can get hydrative benefits from water-rich foods, too, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and apples (among others). Particularly after a hard workout that’s longer than 60 minutes, be sure to rehydrate with water and electrolytes to replace that which you’ve lost during your workout.

Stay hydrated on the run. If you run in a place with accessible water fountains, use them prolifically on hot summer days. Even if you don’t actually drink the water, consider dumping some down the back of your neck to help keep you cool. In addition, you may want to consider carrying your own hand-held water bottle with you on hot summer days to help ensure that you’ll always have easy access to your water source. If you’re running loops near your home or near your parked car, you may even want to consider setting up a mobile aid station of sorts, a place where you can stock cold water and electrolyte drinks that you can quickly pick up and consume on the run.

Be okay with dialing back the effort. Remember that when you’re running, generally it feels 20 degrees warmer than it actually is outside; that is, if it’s 70 degrees outside and sunny, when you’re running, that may very well feel like 90 degrees. Particularly if it’s humid in addition to being warm out, your efforts may feel very high, but your times and paces may not reflect the work you’re doing. On the hottest and most humid of days, be okay with dialing back the effort a bit—knowing that the weather isn’t conducive to hitting fast and hard paces—or if you do continue a workout as prescribed, know that the weather will likely be a huge impediment to your workout success that day.

Dress appropriately for the weather. As I mentioned above, remember the 20-degrees rule: dress for weather that’s 20 degrees F warmer than the temperature reading. Your body will naturally warm up during the course of your run, particularly if you are running far and/or fast, and you want to help your body stay cool and cool itself off as much as you can.

Listen to your body. If at any point during your run, you begin to feel light-headed, dizzy, or have shortness of breath, slow down and stop. Give yourself ample recovery time, and have no shame about potentially ending a run earlier than you’d like. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion can be seriously deleterious to your health, and it’s just not worth the risk. If you feel really out of sorts, stop your run immediately, and seek help.

Finally, don’t be dumb. Runners often like to brag about their accomplishments and bravado, which is all well and good and all, but don’t be dumb about it. If your area is having a particularly hot and humid weather day, and the air quality is very poor, don’t try to be a badass. Take your workout indoors, scrap it until tomorrow, or wait for it to cool off. It’s stupid to run in dangerous weather just to be able to say that you did it; literally speaking, live to run another day.

Summer running can be a lot of fun and a great way to enjoy the nice weather, but it can also be fraught with risk and dangerous if you’re not careful. With these tips you should be able to successfully navigate summer running and stay fit all season long.

written for Cliff Original by Dan Chabert. As an entrepreneur Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he loves to run ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations. When he's not running, he also manages the popular websites, Runners 101, Runnerclick, The Fit Bay and GearWeAre, and contributes to a variety running blogs across the world.