How to Race in the Sizzling Summer Heat
Minnesota is no stranger to hot and humid weather. As summer rolls in, it’s likely you’ll find yourself racing in the heat. For many runners, scorching weather is the least desirable of race conditions (give me freezing and downpouring rain before 80 degrees with humidity!), but there are several ways that you can better your hot race experience.
I’ve had my fair share of sweltering race experiences: one year, I convinced my then-boyfriend (now husband) to run the 12 mile Green Lake Road Race in Spicer, Minnesota…in July! The field didn’t look very deep, and my fitness was good, so I figured I could whip out a time good enough to place in my age group. Wrong. On race morning, the temperature read in the high 70s and the humidity topped 80% – If you ran Grandma’s Marathon this year, you can attest to the horror of this weather report! Off the race went, hot and humid, and mile after mile I felt worse and worse. A few kind people put out sprinklers and extra water, but there was no avoiding the relentless sun or my poor outfit decisions (t-shirt and shorts). I finished 7th in my age group, hoping for top 3, and hobbled to find refreshment (and maybe a bloody mary). I knew then and there my race plan needed to adapt for summer weather, here are a few tips I’ve learned:
Dress for 15-20 degrees warmer than actual temperature
This means if it’s 60 degrees, don’t assume a cool race. For races above 60 degrees and with high humidity, wear as little layers and fabric as possible (and that is comfortable for you.)
Never would I have worn this in my early running days, but today I love a good pair of short shorts and a race singlet, ¾ top, or sports bra. Men can get away with running shirtless. Our summer gear guide has more running attire tips!
Hydrate early and often
I’ve written on the importance of good hydration, and it becomes extra critical during a sticky summer race. Take in lots of liquids every day of the week leading up to race day, and don’t skimp the day or morning before (you’ll have to pee no matter what). At water stops, always take an extra cup and drink the electrolyte drink even if it’s not your favorite flavor – sodium replacement is just as important as fluid! (Practice with electrolyte drinks in advance to ensure a happy tummy.)
I tried to drink as much as possible during my race, but part of me just wanted to get to the finish and not stop every few miles. Don’t follow my lead – stop at every water stop!
Use all the water
On sizzling courses, many race directors will make extra water and sponges available at water stops. Wring out sponges over your head, neck, and wrists, and hang onto them if there is a chance they won’t be at the next stop (better to be safe than sorry). If there are no sponges, always take an extra water cup to dump over your head. It may feel wasteful, but cooling down your core temperature is important.
During my particularly hot Green Lake race, friendly neighbors and spectators made sprinklers and extra water available – appreciate this kindness and don’t worry about getting wet!
Adjust your race goals
If the forecast is predicting a hot one, it is very unlikely you’ll set a new PR or have a perfect race, so adjust your goals. Go out at a slower pace, monitor your fluid intake and body temperature, and have fun. Use this tool to help calculate an appropriate pace and race time for the weather. If you’re able to push, fantastic! And if it just isn’t your day, don’t use the race as an indicator of your fitness.
At the Green Lake race, I didn’t adjust my goals (though I did slow down…a lot) and I was disappointed at the finish. Take it from me and reset your expectations; summer racing is supposed to be fun!
With any luck, you won’t need tips for racing in the heat, but don’t let the weather stop you from running this summer!