How to run in the heat

Acclimatising to humidity and summer temperatures is never easy. Let’s say it’s near impossible in Queensland (and let’s face it almost everywhere in Australia these days), where summer arrives suddenly one day and the heat can be relentless.

Some runners are better at adapting to the heat than others. Not only does it make you feel uncomfortable and sweaty, it can have serious health effects as well. Heat illness is serious (and can be deadly serious) so how should runners cope?

First up slow down. Second train to the conditions so they benefit your training, rather than inhibit. Read on to find out more about how you can train through summer.

What is the heat doing to me?

Heat and/or humidity increase the physical stress on the body and therefore, increase the intensity or effort of the run, which results in higher heart rates. For example, let’s say your 6min/km in good weather elicits a heart rate of 120 beats per minute (bpm). Hot, humid weather can easily add 20 beats or more to a runner’s average heart rate. Suddenly that 6min/km pace leaves you with a 140 bpm or more, making it uncomfortable and forcing you to close down.

“The “slow down factor” varies from runner to runner, but in general, slowing down 20 to 50 seconds per kilometre is common in hot/humid weather.”

I don’t want to slow down.

We get it. Training is about speeding up, not slowing down. Relax, you’re not going to lose form or miss that goal time because of the heat. Here’s how to use it to your advantage.

A large part of training is related to the heart rates achieved during training. Even though your training pace has slowed down, your heart rate will still remain in the 120 bpm range and possibly be even higher because of the adverse weather. Your body becomes conditioned to that heart rate range regardless of the actual run pace. When the weather cools down, and you run at that heart rate, you will find you are able to run your 6min/km pace slightly faster after slogging it out through summer.

“Come cooler temperatures, you’ll feel like you lost five or 10 kilos overnight and have to be careful not to go out too fast on race day.”

Okay, I’m listening. What are the downsides?

By slowing the run pace your training is not as specific and certain muscle fibres may not get recruited due to the change in stride. However focusing on your heart rate instead of run pace, you can learn to use hot weather to your advantage.

More hot weather run tips:

  • Make smart choices about what time of day you run – consider temperature, exposure to sun and humidity levels.
  • Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more including some electrolytes such as Infinit.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Invest in high tech lightweight wicking fabrics, light colours and reflective markers.
  • Slow down and train to how you feel.
  • Add walk breaks, for example, run for 3 to 5 minutes, then walk for 1 minute. Or use landmarks, such as driveways and letterboxes.
  • Run indoors. If the weather is too much, run on a treadmill and add 1-2 per cent incline to the treadmill to better simulate running outdoors.

A version of this article originally appeared in Runners World Online (Australia).