Saturday, May 18, 2013

How to Play It Cool on Your Summer Runs

I hate the heat. I’m cranky whenever the temperature exceeds 80 degrees and pretty much useless when it’s any warmer or even the slightest bit humid. I often joke that I should summer in Nunavut. 

Of course, my hatred of heat must be balanced with my love of running. Strong summer running, after all, begets peak fall marathon performance, which lays the foundation for inspired winter training, which convinces you to give everything you’ve got in your spring races, which further emphasizes the need for strong summer running, and so it goes. 

It pays, then, to run smart in the summer. Here’s what I’ve learned through the years. (Note: My experience is limited to the humid but comparatively cool New England summer. If you live in Texas, Arizona, Arabia, the Australian Outback, Southeast Asia or anywhere else where the summer is downright miserable by comparison, you may have to modify these rules a bit.)

Avoid the sun. A lot of runners hit the road early in the morning. I struggle with morning running, so I do the bulk of my summer runs in the evening. The downside: Bugs looooove to flock to the light of my headlamp. 

Wear sunscreen. Even if you try to run when the sun’s low in the sky, odds are pretty good that at least one run during the week will be in the early afternoon. Take an extra minute to put on sunscreen, especially on your face and especially on your nose and ears. (Trust me.) If you sweat a lot, as I do, and don’t want your eyes to sting like hell, wear a cap; this lets you get away with not putting sunscreen on your forehead. 

Fuel up. You don’t want to be That Guy who’s scaring children by running around the neighborhood covered in salt because he’s too dehydrated to actually sweat. Bring water with you. You also don’t want to pass out on someone’s lawn because you didn’t eat anything before your run. If you have a long run planned, consider bringing fuel with you. This is especially true if you have a long warm-weather race on your calendar, since you need to know how your body will react to taking in more fuel than usual.

Put on sunscreen again. Because you probably missed a spot the first time. 

Slow down. Shortly after you begin to run, your body will ask your brain, “Are you serious? Really?” Tough workouts are an imperative part of training -- after all, you won’t get faster if you don’t push yourself -- but you need to be careful, too. Run for distance, not time, and knock a minute or two off your usual pace if it feels like you’re running inside a sauna. If you must do a fartlek or interval workout in the heat, take longer breaks between sets and be judicious with the water. Better yet, save those workouts for the morning or evening. 

Hit the water. Because who doesn’t like hopping in a pool, lake, river, fjord, canal, estuary, reservoir, pond or ocean when he reeks of sweat, sunscreen, tears, dirt, Gatorade and pain? 

Shower smart. Few things are more annoying than getting all sweaty, taking a shower and then getting sweaty again five minutes later. After you’ve done your business, stand under some cool water for a couple minutes to clean the remaining filth off yourself and contemplate life, the universe and everything. Then, since your bathroom is probably about 120 degrees, towel off elsewhere (preferably five inches from your AC unit or an oscillating fan). 

Rehydrate. Summer’s the time of lemonade and iced tea. There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of either, but don’t forget to drink lots and lots and lots of water. Consider fruit as you rehydrate, too -- seriously, who doesn’t love watermelon?

Did I miss any summer running tips? Anyone from less hospitable parts of the world (including Nunavut) have advice to share?