Now that we're emerging from pandemic lockdowns, summertime 5Ks and other running events are also making a comeback just in time for the warmer weather. And summer running is when strength is cultivated and personal records (PRs) are made — or so they say. Yet while summer training can sound and be empowering, it can also be intimidating for some newer runners. But with proper preparation, running in the heat can be fun and safe in addition to helping you reach your goals.
Even if it might not be your fastest — or even if it's your first race — signing up for a summertime 5K or another running event can help reinvigorate some of the motivation you may have lost during the pandemic and get you a few steps closer to your fastest self once fall and winter hit.
If you've got a summer 5K on tap, you're probably anxious to crank out some solid training, even if you're dreading the heat. Some of the most important aspects of summer running and race training are ensuring you stay healthy and carry out your training safely. Read on for some tips on how to make summer running as painless as possible.
Be mindful about the time of day
It can be tempting to sleep in on the weekend and start your long run late after a week of early-morning alarms for work. But as your runs get longer, it's especially key to be mindful of overheating. Getting out before sunrise or saving your runs for around sunset can help to cut down on overexposure to the worst of the summer heat.
Be OK with slowing down a bit
It's only natural that your pace will slow as the temperature and humidity levels climb. Embrace it — this won't set your training progress back. If anything, it will help you keep your easy efforts easy while avoiding overheating and putting your body and health at risk.
Additionally, even when it comes to workout and racing efforts, you might find your performance falls slightly short of your long-term pace goals. That's OK, too, as that effort is exactly what you want to focus on. Once fall hits, you may find that you fly after putting all those hot miles in the bank.
Choose your routes accordingly
One of my favorite summertime running routes is a three-mile crushed gravel trail surrounding the perimeter of Rice University in my hometown of Houston. Not only is it an easy way to avoid being held up by car traffic, but the entire loop is shaded by trees, which can bring relief from the blazing sun no matter what time of day you find yourself out there. If you have options to minimize sun exposure, take advantage of them.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
It's more important than ever to get enough fluids as temperatures soar. If you're prone to dehydration and don't encounter enough water fountains on your route, you may want to consider carrying fluids and electrolyte tablets on the run, such as with a handheld bottle, fuel belt, or hydration vest. Pro-tip: Fill up your bottle or pack and freeze the contents ahead of time. You'll find that they'll melt down pretty quickly, and you can't beat having ice-cold water literally at your fingertips during a hot summer run.
Dress as comfortably as possible
There's no way around it — you're going to sweat more than usual in the summer heat, so it's in your best interest to say as cool as possible. When it comes to choosing gear, stay away from cotton and opt for breathable, technical fabrics for your tops, bottoms and shorts. Additionally, if you're a heavy sweater and find that a soaked shirt weighs you down, feel free to save yourself some laundry and shed it. Don't forget to also lather up with plenty of anti-chafe gel and sunscreen, as well as sporting a hat and/or sunglasses to protect yourself and run more comfortably.
Don't shun the treadmill
The old 'mill can be a lifesaver on those days where I've slept too late and the sun is blazing, especially if I have a workout on tap. But unless it's air-conditioned, your gym or garage will also likely be more stuffy than breezy, so don't forget to hydrate here as well. A hand towel to occasionally wipe the sweat off your face will likely come in clutch, too.
It's no secret that summer training can be the bane of many runners' existence, but it's also so key to building strength and resilience toward your long-term goals. By taking steps to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable in the summer heat, you can confidently get the most out of summer and ensure you're running happy all year long.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.
I'm a Houston, Texas, native who's run 11 marathons and 30-something half marathons, with 3:30 and 1:39 personal bests. I'm also a freelance health and fitness journalist, a USATF Level 1-certified running coach, and a lover of country music, baking, and world travel.