Coach Mike Mead

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Running Days of Summer - July 2004

Most runners will agree that summertime is the best time of the year for running, particularly with more available daylight to run in the morning and evening, as well as the warmer weather. But for those of us living south of the Mason-Dixon Line, summertime is not quite the ideal time of the year for running. Obviously we’ve got the heat, but add in the humidity and most summer days are like running in a giant sauna. What’s a runner to do? What follows are some suggestions for training during the lazy, hazy, crazy, dog days of summer.

Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out!

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is an old adage that’s been around. Perhaps you should consider going to a milder climate during the summer months just like the “Snowbirds” who travel south for the winter. During my college years, I would go home to my native Michigan for milder summertime weather. We get our share of 90-degree, 90-percent humidity weather in the Midwest but it usually lasts a couple of days, not a couple of months. Give me sunny and 65-degrees any day! I was a “reverse snowbird.” Instead of traveling south for the winter, I went north for the summer.

Become an Early Riser

I don’t get the option these days of going north for the entire summer, so over the years I’ve had to change my training strategies during June, July and August. The first change was the biggest – becoming a morning runner. During my formative years, I ran primarily in the afternoon and early evening time. But when I moved South, I quickly realized I couldn’t survive for long running in the heat of the day.

For many summers now, I’m out running as early as 6 a.m. to get in my daily run. Fortunate for me, my biological makeup adjusts to the light and I have no trouble rising early to run. However, during the winter months, I struggle to rise before 8 a.m. Running in the morning has one major downside and that is you will not be able to turn in peak efforts most days. If you factor that in, you’ll run great times when it comes to evening runs and races.

The Sum of the Whole

If you have trouble running in the heat, perhaps you should cut back on your run and add a second run to equal the total mileage you would normally run. Your body will not become so overheated and you should have a better second workout that is done in the evening. For example, if you were planning for an 8-mile run and the weather that day is 95-degrees with 85-percent humidity and a “code red” ozone warning, then run four miles at your normal time and four miles at dawn or dusk.

Other Summertime Survival Considerations

If you must run in the heat of the day, here are some suggestions to keep you safe:

  1. If you run between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear plenty of sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher). I recently had my first pre-cancerous spot treated.
  2. Drink plenty of liquids. Water is great, but also include a sports drink since you’ll sweat out a lot of important stuff like sodium and potassium. It would be wise to tote at least 8 oz. of water on a run lasting more than 30 minutes.
  3. Seek shade. To cut down on some of the heat of the day, run in shady areas (as opposed to areas know for criminal activities).
  4. Take a nap. The heat can sap you of your energy. If your schedule allows, get in a nap, particularly after a run lasting over 60 minutes.
  5. Take a dip. After a long, hot run, get in a swimming pool (hole) to cool your body down and speed up your recovery.
  6. Eat more fruit! This is the best time of the year to get locally-grown, fresh fruit that will do wonders for you after a tiring run.
  7. Wear light-colored clothing. Wearing black might be hip with the kids, but it might be the color of choice at your funeral should you wear it on a 10-mile run in the heat of the day. I use to run during the summer months without a shirt, but now I wear one about 95-percent of the time to absorb some of the sweat and for protecting from the sun.
  8. Take it easy. Don’t train at a high level during the heat of the day, unless you’re prepping for a big race that you will expect similar conditions. For example, if you’re planning to do 8 x 800 at 2:30 pace, it’s best to do half the workout if the temperature is above 90-degrees.

Finally, to be safe during the summer months be more conservative in your training and racing. Running in the heat can have long-term effects and result in serious health risks, including death. Back in the mid-1980’s I spent three summers living in Americus, Ga. This was during the peak of my competitive running. I recall training in the heat of the day and I believe that twice I suffered a mild form of heat stroke. To this day, my body breaks down when I race distances above 5K and the temperatures are above 80-degrees. So this summer, stay cool!