Runners: Beat the Summer Heat

Summer running season is here and the good news is longer daylight hours and no more running in the dark — plus warmer temps and fewer layers. If you are training for a big race, like a marathon, or just running to stay fit, managing the sun and heat should be part of your overall plan.

“There’s a lot more to hot weather running than applying sunscreen and drinking more water,” explains Dr. Julia Bruene, sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.

Dr. Bruene offers these tips for runners this summer:

Maintain a safe body temperature

“Once your body temperature gets too high, your performance suffers and it could put you in a health danger zone,” Dr. Bruene explains.

Give your body at least a couple of weeks to get used to summer weather and gradually increase the intensity and length of your runs, even if you have been running all winter and spring.

If you continue to run while overheated, your body will go into survival mode, keeping the blood flowing to your skin and vital organs, to basically keep you alive. This can cause problems like GI distress, side stitches, becoming lightheaded, even heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

Avoid the hottest – and most dangerous – part of the day, usually between 10 am and 4 pm. Reward yourself with a frozen treat when you are done!

Hydrate strategically

Find your hydration balance! If you hydrate too little, you risk dehydration and heat cramps. If you over hydrate, you risk diluting electrolytes and developing hyponatremia. Staying well-hydrated can prevent symptoms like stomach cramps, lightheadedness, and headaches.

Drink at least 8 to 12 ounces of water 30 minutes before any exercise to keep your perspiration system functioning. Try to consume another 8 to 12 ounces for every 20 minutes you’re exercising. For long runs over an hour, carry water or plan a course with water fountains or other sources of water along the way.

Wear the right clothes

Wearing the right clothing lets your skin breathe, pulling moisture away from your body and letting it evaporate much faster. Look for light colored, lightweight, loose-fitting, non-100% cotton clothing to reflect the sun and heat – and to allow your body to cool naturally.

Consider wearing a lightweight hat to not just protect your head and face, but to draw perspiration away from the head to keep you cool through evaporating sweat. Look for a good hat that lets air in through the fabric to further cool you down.

Choose a better route

Avoid running on asphalt or concrete because they retain heat and radiate sun, causing you to overheat faster and tire sooner. Instead, run on grass, trails, or gravel paths. A forest preserve or other wooded trail is the best in warm weather.

Never forget sunscreen

Remember what your mom said and apply the sunscreen! According to a recent study, runners are at a higher risk of skin cancer and skin damage than other athletes.

Look for products with an SPF of 40 or more that provide broad-spectrum protection, protecting you from ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB – the two most damaging forms of ultraviolet light. Apply it at least 15 minutes before going outside and remember to use it even on partly cloudy days which still have harmful rays.

Don’t worry about pace

In the heat, alter your long runs to include walking intervals. Try walking every 4 to 5 minutes for 1 to 2 minutes to keep your core temperature in check. This will maximize your running quality and reduce the chances of developing heat stress.

Dr. Bruene advises runners to watch out for these conditions:

  • Heat Exhaustion: heavy sweating, rapid breathing, fast/weak pulse, headache, fatigue, and nausea
  • Heat Stroke: rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, disorientation, nausea/vomiting, body-core temperature above 104 degrees
  • She also warns runners to pay attention to these potentially dangerous symptoms:
  • Intense headache
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry throat
  • Loss of color in the face
  • Confusion
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Chills

If you do experience these symptoms this summer, stop running immediately, find shade and rehydrate. You should seek medical attention from a qualified physician if they don’t subside.


If you would like to talk with Dr. Julia Bruene about a running injury, please visit www.rushortho.com or visit 877.MD.BONES. Online self-scheduling is now available.