How Hot Is Too Hot To Run?

Runners hit the pavement in all kinds of conditions year-round, from sunshine to downpours to chilly winter temps. While we all have our own idea of “perfect running weather,” most of us likely don’t look forward to the scorching heat. Especially with the record-breaking temps some areas have experienced this summer.

And it’s little wonder! Heat and humidity make running tough, and both your performance and recovery can take a hit as a result. But just because you hate running in the heat (guilty) doesn’t mean you have to log your miles on a treadmill. It does mean you should take a few extra safety precautions before stepping outside: summer running can prove very dangerous if you’re not hydrated, fueled, and properly dressed.

Why? Exercise in higher temps increases your overall body temperature, which will make the run feel harder at your usual pace. There’s a higher risk of dehydration and overheating, both of which can cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. When your fluid levels start to drop, your body’s cooling methods, such as the ability to sweat, suffer and you’ll have a tougher time controlling body temperature. More serious health risks related to hot-weather running can include heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The risk varies from runner to runner: children, the elderly, and pregnant women are considered to have a greater risk. Experts generally advise running in temperatures up to 95°F (35°C) is safe for most people, but it’s not as simple as checking the temperature and heading outside. Some runners will be adapted for the heat because of where they live; some may need a couple of weeks to adjust to warmer climates.

It really comes down to listening to your body and preparing accordingly. If the temperature is too high for you, it’s too hot to run. Take the following steps to help make your runs safer and more comfortable:

Beat the sun

As temperatures rise, experienced runners know to rise earlier. Predawn hours are the coolest of the day and best time to avoid the heat. If that doesn’t work for your schedule, evening runs are a good way to avoid the sun’s strongest rays. Forced to run midday? Try to find a shaded route that goes through a park or tree-lined streets for a cooler workout.

Adjust workouts as needed

A workout in August temperatures will likely feel tougher than the same workout in April, and you may find yourself achieving the same level of effort at a slower pace. It’s normal for your pace to increase in warmer weather. Don’t be discouraged: a heatwave is not the time to focus on pace. Manage your expectations and run for time or distance, as running slower can help you go farther.

Drink up

Runners can lose between 6 and 12 oz. of fluid for every 20 minutes of running, especially when it’s hot, the Road Runners Club of America reports. It’s recommended you drink 10-15 oz. of water 10 to 15 minutes before your run, and drink water every 20 to 30 minutes while you’re running. For longer distances, bring along electrolytes to replenish those you’re losing. The type and quantity will vary depending on your body, but check out Nuun, Scratch, and Gu drink tabs as brands to start.

Dress accordingly

Lightweight fabric that is light in color is best for those toasty runs. Opt for breathable fabric designed with mesh or vents to stay cool, and choose a lightweight hat and sunglasses if the sun is out. Grab a handheld water bottle or the Distance Pro SPIbelt for easy access to water on the go. And don’t forget sunscreen! 

Know the signs of heatstroke

Heat exhaustion isn’t usually serious if you cool down within 30 minutes, but it can become an emergency if it turns to heatstroke. Signs of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness, confusion, feeling nauseous, excessive sweating, and cramps in the arms, legs, and stomach.

Running may be tougher in the heat, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip your workouts. Adjust your pace, dress light, and hydrate so you can stay safe and active as temperatures rise.