How to Approach Summer Run Training

This time of year has made me cringe for the last several years. The heat and humidity in the Philly area can be stifling and training for long distance races is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Is there any way to put a positive spin on the situation? Here's how I'm planning my summer.

First, what exactly makes summer training so bad? In a nutshell, it's your body's inability to dissipate heat when the humidity is high and evaporation just doesn't happen very well. Heat accumulates and you feel lousy.  The heat is bad, but adding humidity (as you can see below) can be disastrous.


Yellow zone or worse? No running!

The Role Of Body Weight

The more you weigh, no matter your body composition: muscle or fat, the harder it will be to dissipate heat. In fact, the winners of recent Olympics or World Championship Marathons have often been the smallest athlete, rather than the best credentialed. I remember watching in awe as my wife Jen, all 100lbs of her, raced her fastest ever Half-Ironman triathlon in conditions that could only be described as hellish. And, of course, since running is the last leg of the race, she was running during the hottest portion of the day. It was 96 degrees. Not many people were smiling that day, but she was!

All that said, everyone is a little different.  I know big and small people who tolerate heat differently.  One common theme I've noticed is that when you're in your best shape, you also tolerate heat your best.  Makes sense.  Your ability to circulate blood efficiently is key to all of this!

Plan Your Fitness Peaks

One suggestion is to look at how you structure your training year. When do you want to be in peak shape? You can achieve this about twice per year. Traditionally, athletes in the Philly area will target spring and fall because that's when most running races take place. Triathletes will target the summer because that's their season.

In the past, my mistake was trying to target three seasons. I'd train all winter for a spring marathon or Broad Street and then try to maintain that fitness throughout the summer before hanging on for some fall road races. Now I know better.

This year I will actually enjoy the heat. I'm taking all of the pressure off by returning to base training, a period of relaxed, easy training. Stick to the extremes by either sprinting (with lots of recovery) or running easy.

I love heart rate monitors and pace watches as much as the next guy, but you might as well forget about your “usual” numbers. When it gets hot, your heart rate will be higher at your typical pace and your pace will be slower than usual.

In fact, your brain will automatically adjust your pace at the start of the run to protect you. Studies have confirmed that you will actually slow down BEFORE your core temperature gets too hot, not BECAUSE of it. So there's nothing you can do about it -unless you're highly motivated and choose to override your body's natural protective mechanism. I don't advise it.

Ok, so you've chosen a mid-August race as your peak race. Then what? Just adjust your expectations.  Do include all of the necessary training ingredients: speed work, tempo runs, long runs, hill repetitions, yoga, sleep, good nutrition, and consistent hydration. But here's the take home point: Listen to your body! 

Some Helpful Practical Tips

*Take extra recovery between intervals if needed, or better yet, run them indoors.

*Perform your tempo runs slower and go by feel (ditch the pace watch).

*Make sure you've got extra water available to you on long runs.

*Ideally, train first thing in the morning.

*Find a shady route - especially on trails or grass.

*If possible, rearrange your schedule so that the longest or most taxing workouts are on the coolest day of the week.

*I like this one from Runner's World - if possible, start your run going with the wind and then run back with a headwind. Running into the wind has a cooling effect, and you’ll need that in the second half of a run.

*Take a cold shower afterwards while drinking an ice cold recovery smoothie. It seriously tastes better in the shower! I swear. (That's not weird, is it?)

Be safe out there, ok?

Got any other tips?  Coolest route in the city? Favorite workout when it's hot? Leave them below, please!