Running On The Sun: How To Run Your Best This Summer

The Welch Family and The Page Family at the 2024 Ultimate Runner

“Beep beep! Beep Beep! BEEP BEEP!” You immediately jolt out of bed as the alarm clock screams its all too familiar call to arms, “the dream is over, it’s time to rise and grind!” You do your best to wipe the sleep from your eyes and orient yourself as you brush your teeth, grab some water and a snack then lace up your shoes for your morning run. As you step out the door you’re arrested by a concerning thought. “Am I still asleep?”, you ask yourself. “I must be. There’s no way it can be this hot this early. And that humidity, man it feels like I just walked into a sauna! I must have been transported to a tropical rainforest or something overnight, right?” Wrong! You’re awake and you’re home. Home just happens to be Winston Salem and you’re about to get your first taste of summer running in North Carolina.

Anyone who has lived here long enough knows how crazy our weather can be. During most parts of the year the temperatures and conditions outside oscillate from freezing to scorching but one thing is consistent in North Carolina, summer is HOT and HUMID. What’s a runner to do? Do we just resign ourselves to months of indoor runs on the treadmill, trudging along the revolving belt of doom, taking a long sweaty jog to nowhere? I think not! Summer can be one of the most enjoyable times of the year to run outdoors, if you approach it correctly. Let’s explore some tips, tricks, and tactics to keep you running strong this summer, even on days when it’s so hot it feels like you’re running on the sun!

First off, if the above scenario describes you then let me congratulate you. You’re already mastering our first tip: avoid the hottest parts of the day. Timing is everything and you can save yourself figurative (and literal) headache just by when you choose to run. With temperatures rising quickly in the morning and often peaking and holding steady until late in the evening, mornings are some of the coolest times to get out and hit the roads or trails! Still, not everyone has the ability or the desire to run early in the morning so a close second would be to wait until the evening to run when the sun is low. However, even if you can’t (or prefer not to) run in the early morning or late evening there are ways to make sure you complete your run safely and securely.

Tip number two is acclimate, acclimate, acclimate! Slowly and gradually expose yourself to the conditions you will be running in and DO NOT try to run your normal paces, at least at first. Running in the heat hits your body differently. For instance, your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or how hard an effort feels will skyrocket in the summer heat. Those “easy” runs you’ve been doing may start to feel like hard efforts. That’s okay. When this happens just slow down and give your body time to adjust. Better to finish the run than to suffer from heat induced illnesses like heat exhaustion or heat stroke. During this acclimation phase it’s a good idea to shorten your runs or break them up into multiple sessions and to slow your pace, especially once the temperatures rise above 80 degrees.

Next, we will talk about hydration. Every runner knows you need to drink water and electrolytes to feel and perform your best. That becomes even more vital when you’re dealing with summer heat. That’s why tip number three is one of my personal non-negotiables in the heat: Pre-Hydrate. The average adult can need anywhere from 1600-2000mg of electrolytes in a day. This number is higher for athletes and climbs higher still for summer runners, especially those that run in the hotter parts of the day (guilty as charged). Aim to take in at least 500ml of hydration 2 hours before your run and 6-8 oz more about 15 minutes prior to heading out the door. In addition to pre-hydrating, make sure you carry plenty of water and electrolytes on you while you run or have a pre-planned stop where you will be able to replenish frequently.

Lastly, know when to stop. Heat based illnesses can be insidious in how quickly they sneak up on you. Some symptoms of heat exhaustion are nausea, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, and cold, pale, or clammy skin. If you experience any of these symptoms during your run, move to a shady area, take a break, loosen or remove as much clothing as reasonable, sip ice water, and consider stopping the run altogether. These illnesses can be serious and even fatal. No one run is worth your health so please take the threat of heat related illnesses seriously. Pro-tip: when it comes to clothing avoid cotton like the plague! Instead, opt for loose fitting clothing made of sweat wicking materials that will keep you cool, dry, and comfortable as you crush mile after mile this summer.

“Phew”, you think to yourself, “I did it! I finished the run and made it back in one piece. Sure, I’m drenched in sweat and feel like I need 8 showers before work, but I ran smart. I slowed my pace, carried plenty of hydration, wore sunscreen, and even took a break in the shade when I felt I was getting a little too hot. I feel great and I can’t wait to get in some more miles tomorrow! Summer running may be my new favorite kind of running!”