5 Tips for Running in Heat and Humidity

Beat the heat with these five useful tricks that will help keep you cool

After months of endless snow and bitter cold, runners everywhere are shedding layers and rallying for a summer of training. Unfortunately even after three weeks of acclimating to the new weather, many runners find summer training feels harder. It turns out that increase in difficulty isn’t just in your head.

According to a large 2012 study of marathon finishers, “The environmental parameter that had the most significant correlations with marathons performances was air temperature… Humidity was the second parameter with a high impact on performance”.

Heat and humidity combined impede the release of heat from the body causing a rise in core temperature, which increases heart rate and can cause even an easy-paced workout to feel more like a tempo run. Since the air temperature no longer helps cool the skin, the body must try to cool through sweat. However, sweat doesn’t evaporate from our skin in high humidity creating an endless loop of extra work for the heart.

Running at a consistently elevated heart rate can lead to over-training as the body struggles to recover between runs that require increased effort. The following tips can make summer training more enjoyable and help runners feel ready for fall race season.

1.) Train By Feel: As noted, the increase in heart rate can make even an easy run feel harder. The body is actually working harder, so to ensure you do not overheat or over-train it becomes important to rely on how you feel and your heart rate rather than pace.

2.) Don’t Underestimate a Breeze and Some Shade: While you may prefer running in the morning, if the evenings carry a breeze it may be worth flipping your schedule. Even a light breeze will aid the skin in clearing away sweat to help lower body temperature and ease running.

Eliminating contact with direct sun light will not improve the outdoor temperature, but it will keep your skin from getting too hot, hopefully allowing for better sweat evaporation which helps cool the body; one of many reasons summer marathon training runs often start hours before dawn.

3.) Decrease Your Core Temperature: This will require a little bit of creativity. Try these tricks:

  • Wet and freeze your hat or a bandana the night before longer runs.
  • Carry a handheld with ice water, the CamelBak chill is especially great for this. Studies have shown that holding something cold can provide a cooling effect for the entire body.
  • Invest in an ice vest like the pro’s to wear for a few minutes prior to runs.
  • Enlist a great Sherpa to meet you at certain spots with ice sponges.

4.) Switch to Iced Coffee: A small 2010 study of Malaysian runners indicated that utilizing caffeine prior to the run, did not impact the runner’s hydration levels, but did improve performance. For those who enjoy their morning coffee, it appears you don’t need to forgo it during the summer months.  

However, switching to iced coffee will provide an energy boost and thermogenic cooling. Consider this effect for all pre-run fuel; keep digestion to a minimum as it increases body temperature.

5.) Smile: Seriously! Studies have shown that smiling will make you feel better because it’s hard to have both positive and negative thoughts at the same time. Nobel Prize winning scientist Daniel Kahneman was able to show that our facial expression matters, even when we do not feel the underlying emotion.

Related: 10 Tips for Surviving Summer Marathon Training & The Benefits of Low Heart Rate Training