Seven Running Hacks to Beat the Extreme Heat and Humidity

As I write this post, the Real-Feel temperature on my weather app says it feels like 101 degrees outside. Tomorrow, it is supposed to reach a Real-Feel high of 109 degrees, and the day after, 107 degrees. While this is an extreme heatwave for where I live, excessive heat and humidity is something most runners face all over the US and the world.

So, how can a runner combat these extreme conditions? 

I want to share seven runner’s hacks to help you cope with extreme heat and humid conditions.

But before we dive into the hacks, remember to be safe! Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real dangers, even if you love the heat and are a seasoned warm-weather runner. Whenever you run, you increase your overall body’s core temperature.  In extreme conditions, your core body temperature goes even higher than when you run in moderate conditions. The more your body temperature increases, the more blood is diverted to the skin, to help cool you down through sweating and evaporation. Therefore, less blood is available to other parts of your body, causing less oxygen to flow to your muscles, and your running performance is negatively impacted.

In addition, extreme temperatures and excessive sweating increases the likelihood of dehydration. As your core body temperature rises and you sweat more, you are exhausting your fluid levels and decreasing your ability to sweat long term. As your body struggles to cool itself, your core body temperature rises, thus creating a cycle that not only impacts your ability to run, but in severe cases can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Now, onto the seven hacks to help you run during extreme heat and humid conditions.

Hack #1. Find a Different Option.

Maybe not the advice you want to hear, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Consider an alternative with a lower probability of being impacted by the heat; such as swimming, aqua jogging, or using the treadmill in an indoor, air-conditioned environment. Many of you would rather do anything then use a treadmill, but it’s better to get in a safer, quality workout on the treadmill than running a slower, shorter, riskier workout in extreme conditions.

Hack #2. Slow Down and Shorten Your Run

If you have no option than to run outside, SLOW DOWN and SHORTEN your run. Change your expectations up front and modify your planned workout. While not everyone is impacted by the weather in the same way, it is not uncommon to slow your pace by as much as 30-90 seconds per mile. Also, don’t be afraid to shorten your distance by 20-30% either. Remember to not be overly concerned you will lose conditioning because your heart rate goes up in warmer conditions. Therefore, even though you are running a slower pace or distance your heart is often working as hard – if not harder – than at moderate temperature conditions.

Hack #3. Cooling Before and During Your Run

As we discussed earlier, a major problem in extreme heat and humidity is your body’s core temperature increasing too quickly or even overheating. So, consider lowering your body’s temperature before a run by eating some ice chips, a freeze pop, or small slushie type drink (preferably flavored with an electrolyte type drink) about 10 minutes before your run. You can also use this concept during your run by putting ice cubes in your water bottle. You can also place a cooler at the track, or somewhere you have easy access so as you come by you can get a cold drink or even use a damp, cool towel you placed in your freezer the night before, to help cool you down during your run. By slightly lowering your core body temperature before or during your run, you can extend the amount of time you run before reaching a critical body temperature.

Hack #4. Run During the Coolest Times of Day

It may seem obvious, but temperatures are coolest early in the morning and in the evening. If you wait until the middle of the day to run it will be more difficult to control your body’s temperature. So set your alarm early and begin your run around sunrise, or adjust your schedule and run around dusk. However, don’t forget to factor in the humidity and go by the Real-Feel temperature. Morning temperatures are often the coolest, but the humidity can be the highest then, making the Real-Feel worse than evening. Just be sure to check your weather app to determine the coolest Real-Feel temperatures for the day factoring in heat and humidity.

Hack #5. Run Cool in Cool Gear

Gear that helps your body temperature stay cooler is always preferable to cheaper athletic gear. “Cool”gear is made of lightweight, bright colored, wicking fabrics. These clothes reflect the sun, don’t weigh you down, and help direct sweat away from your body cooling you off faster. When I ran in high school I often ran in dark, cotton t-shirts and shorts – a dangerous decision for high-temperature runs. Invest a few bucks in clothing that helps you stay cooler – it will be worth every penny on a hot and humid day.

Hack #6. Pick a Cooler Course

Running on the pavement or on a track is not usually the coolest course for your run. Blacktop absorbs the heat and radiates it toward your body. Temperatures on a blacktop can easily be 20-30 degrees warmer than their surrounding surfaces. Roads and tracks are often in direct sunlight, also increasing the Real-Feel temperature of those surfaces. A hot day is the perfect time to find a well shaded trail or path. Or run near a stream, lake, or river where the water will often keep the nearby air temperature a few degrees cooler (especially early in the morning). Even if you must hop in the car or take a cab to the park to find a shaded trail, it will be time well spent.

Hack #7. Hydrate Properly

We all know we need to stay well hydrated when we run, especially on a hot and humid day (see above.) But are all fluids equal? Should I drink a lot of electrolytes during my run to replace what I am losing? Hydrating is a challenge, as studies have shown that runners under identical training conditions can differ in the amount they sweat by as much as 2.5 liters per hour. If I am a heavy sweater (which I am) my hydration needs are, therefore, vastly different than a running partner who sweats much less under the same conditions. So, I need to replenish by fluids more quickly than my partner who doesn’t sweat as much. One tip to keep in mind is you should drink water or diluted sports/electrolyte drinks before and during your workout and full-strength sports/electrolyte/recovery drinks after. Why? Because full- strength sports/electrolyte drinks tend to have a higher carbohydrate content, which slows the absorption rate. Water does not, and can be absorbed by your body quicker. Therefore, during your run water or diluted electrolyte drinks are more efficient at replenishing your body’s fluid levels. Whenever you run on a hot and humid day, err on the side of caution. Be safe, use these runner hacks, and wait for cooler/less humid conditions to get after your longest and hardest workouts.

How do you deal with the extreme heat? Let us know and share your tips with fellow runners.

By David Willard.