Ask your average human what the ideal temperature is, and you’ll probably get a response of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Ask your average human who enjoys distance running the same question, and you’re likely to get a different response of somewhere around 15-20 degrees cooler.
We runners love us some chilly air. And the science backs us up on this point. Runners’ performance has been shown to decrease when the temperatures rise above the “perfect running temp” of 55. And the further away you get from that ideal temperature, the more your performance decreases; when it’s 65, you might slow down a bit, but if it’s 85, you will slow down a lot.
So, since it’s heading towards July and getting warmer every day, I guess we just have to stop running until fall. Bye!
Wait! You actually CAN run in the summer heat, as long as you take a few precautions:
- Hydrate. Is it common sense? Yup. Do we all do it? Maybe not as much as we should. Be sure to hydrate before, during and after your run. You should start with a full tank and top it off early and often. Water is great, but mixing in a sports drink, electrolyte tablet, salt tablet or salty snack will help replace a lot of the sodium that you’re losing in your sweat. You can get all sciency if you’d like and figure out your sweat rate, multiply it by the duration of your run, and have enough hydration to fill what you’re depleting. Or, just focus on drinking when you're thirsty.
- Gear up (or down?). You really only need a good pair of running shoes to go running, but there’s nothing like running in the heat to motivate you to search out some high-quality clothing and accessories. You probably should never be running in that heavy cotton t-shirt, but you definitely shouldn’t be running in it in the heat. Lightweight, “sweat-wicking” shirts, shorts, socks and even underwear is now readily-available and (sometimes) not terribly expensive, and will remove a lot of misery from your summer runs.
- Slow down. If you’re unfortunate enough to have race day fall on a super hot day, you probably won’t be setting that PR. Many make the “business decision” to use that race day as an easy run, get your medal, banana and plastic cup of beer, and find a race within the next week or two and hope for better weather. And if you’re not racing - just slow down. In extreme heat, run your training runs at easy pace. If you don’t slow down intentionally, you will slow down eventually.
- The best way to run in the heat is to not run in the heat. You’re probably going to need to have a flexible schedule if you’re running regularly in the summer months. Sure, you’re used to a Sunday morning long run, but if the forecast calls for 65 on Saturday and 95 on Sunday? Make Saturday work. And many a night owl has been converted to an early bird by having to squeeze in their runs before work - and before the temps get too hot. If you simply can’t avoid the heat, there’s always the (insert scary music) treadmill.
- Find a cool route. Not cool as in sunglasses emoji cool. Cool as in less scorchingly hot. Avoid wide open, paved streets and paths in favor of shady trails and parks. Most running tracks aren’t ideal in extreme heat, with the lack of trees and the artificial turf reflecting and radiating heat. We broke down some of the best local running routes here, and some of them are good in the heat. We could add to the list my personal favorite summer route from Malden: Revere Beach-and-back! Depending on where in Malden you live, it can be a bit long, but what’s a better summer destination than the beach!
- Wear sunscreen. You know you should, so do it.
So, bring on the summer! I’ll see you on the roads. I’ll be the one drinking lots of water, wearing my sweat-wicking singlet, running at an easy pace, early in the morning, on my way to the beach.