Summer can be one of the most difficult times of the year for training, but it can also be where breakthroughs are made! If we can stick through the sweaty miles, we will come into the fall a stronger runner, both via fitness and mental strength. Summer doesn’t have to be all suffering, though - there are strategies that we can use to make those sweaty miles more tolerable.
Give yourself 2 weeks of consistent training in the heat to acclimate - It takes approximately 2 weeks to acclimate to the heat. Give yourself 2 weeks of consistent training (at least 4-5 days/week) in the hot/humid weather and it will start to feel more tolerable after that adaptation period.
Slow down and give yourself some grace - By using rate of perceived exertion (RPE) instead of a specific pace, we can better account for the heat and how it impacts our training. I always want athletes to go by feel for training, particularly in difficult training elements. We expect our easy pace to slow down by at least 20-30 seconds per mile when it’s hot out, so throw pace out the window and tune into your body’s cues instead.
Utilize pre-cooling strategies - In the summer, what ends up being our enemy is a rise in our core temperature. When our core temperature rises, our bodies have already set in many protective mechanisms to slow us down and prevent us from overdoing it in the heat. Pre-cooling strategies are mechanisms that can be used to lower our core temperatures before getting out for a run. Pre-cooling can be done in a few different ways, such as drinking an ice slurry, which was utilized in the study (I prefer a Freeze Pop!), or wetting yourself down with cold water, ice, or an ice vest before heading out for your run. A study from 2011 showed that pre-cooling by drinking an ice slurry can help reduce our core body temperatures, which increases the amount of time we can run in the heat. (PMID: 22064722)
Utilize during-run cooling strategies - If you learn anything from this tip, it’s to STAY WET! Cooling strategies during a run are one of the most important aspects of summer training, in my opinion. In hot temperatures, use a handheld water bottle or nearby sprinklers, water hoses, or streams/rivers to wet yourself down as much as possible throughout the run. By wetting yourself down, you help cool down your skin temperature, which then will help keep your core body temperature lower. Get yourself wet BEFORE you start to feel hot. In addition to water, ice will be your best friend in the summer. Throw ice into your running vest, sports bra, or shorts pockets, and/or use an ice bandana on the back of your neck to help stay cool, especially on race day. Aid stations at trail races almost always have ice on hand, so remember to ask for ice before you get hot to prevent that rise in core temperature!
Take occasional walk breaks or shade breaks - It is pretty incredible how much our heart rate and perceived exertion can go down just from a couple of minutes walking or taking a short break in the shade. You are not any less of a runner for taking a break or walking mid-run - you’ll probably have a better run overall if you utilize these breaks occasionally!
Plan quality sessions on days with cooler temperatures or in shaded areas - When you need to do a quality session or a long run, try to plan them for the cooler days of the week if there is a variance in temperature to choose from. Sometimes, the hot days are unavoidable, but when you do have the choice, choose the day that will allow you to put out the greatest output for your session. This will help you gain the most benefits possible from each quality session.
Trust that fitness is being built in secret, even when it doesn’t feel like it - Summer can start to feel like a slog, especially when we’ve been trudging through the miles for what feels like days and weeks on end. Trust that the fitness is being built even when the miles feel slow. When the cool weather of fall comes around, you’ll feel like a new runner! Trust the process in the summertime and reap the benefits with a fast fall!