The summer months are warmer no matter where you are. Heat is a relative sensation, of course; if your average temperature for 9 months of the year is 30 degrees Fahrenheit, then 60 degrees in June is going to feel pretty balmy. Me, I went out of the frying pan into the fire by moving from Kansas to the Washington, DC area. Summer is a soupy, hot mess in both the heart of the Midwest and in the nation’s capital, and commitment to spending time outside takes a willingness to abandon comfort – and cycle through a whole lot of sweaty laundry.
And yet these warmer months are when the days are longer, when many of us use the bulk of our vacation days, when beaches call and swimsuits are the norm. Summer is, in many ways, the best time of year to up your fitness game. If it weren’t for that pesky Mother Nature, in fact, we’d all be lean and sporting 6-packs in no time, right?
Maybe not, but the heat and humidity certainly do make convenient scape goats for many of us: “I would go running today, but it’s too hot”, or “I had planned to go on a bike ride, but I don’t want to get a sunburn”. While sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration are – and should be – real concerns, a little smart planning can make a robust summer fitness routine both feasible and enjoyable.
If motivation is your Achilles heel, find a group of like-minded morning movers. Most urban areas have running clubs – both formal and informal – that offer runs of different distances, paces, and demographics. Female runners can check out their local MRTT/SRTT chapter (check out Facebook for these groups), and your local RRCA chapter should have intel on what groups are running in your area. Local running stores are often meeting points for group runs and offer a place to store your stuff so you can run as unencumbered as possible. Point being: there are plenty of options out there for additional accountability and motivation – nothing like knowing someone is waiting for you to run to get you out of bed in the morning!
Hydration is the name of the game when temperatures climb. As they say, if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. I had a scary incident a few years ago that landed me in the emergency room – long story short, I ran on a relatively cool morning (50’s and overcast) but was severely dehydrated from throwing up the night before (yes, not the wisest decision to run, but so it goes). I didn’t feel dehydrated, but my blood pressure was so low that I fainted multiple times about 4 miles in, and if a nice couple on their way to church hadn’t stopped to pick me up, things could have been a lot worse. So plan ahead: know the best way to carry water and commit to that every time you head out. Camelbak, handheld bottle, waist packs…there are plenty of options. I also strongly suggest carrying some cash with you in case of dire straits. Know where convenience stores, coffee shops, etc. are along your route so you can stop and pick up an extra drink if need be. If you’re running on a trail, it’s also good to do your due diligence ahead of time and figure out the exit points and if there are functional water fountains along the way.
Equally important is to dress for success. Summer is not the time to be shy. And I promise you that no other runner will judge you for what you’re wearing – they’ll just give you props for pounding the pavement with them. So avoid overdressing for sake of vanity or self-consciousness. Sweating is unavoidable in the summer, but accelerating that process is not wise. In addition, choose light colors – blacks, dark blues, etc. retain more heat. And consider picking up a hat this summer if you don’t normally run with one. You want to protect your eyes and your skin, and a hat can help cool you down. All that said, sunscreen on all of that exposed skin is absolutely critical. Skin cancer isn’t a problem until it is. So shut it down before it starts.
Finally, though many of us training for a marathon must complete the bulk of that training during the summer months, it is absolutely imperative that you cut yourself some slack. There will be days when the heat is simply too much for you to run your best. You may be slower, you may feel worse, you may walk more than you want to. But you’re still out there doing something, so grab hold of that success and soldier on. If you’re really on point, there will be a cool treat waiting for you when you get home.