After the winter many of us suffered through, now you're complaining about the heat? Yes, it slows your pace–by 1.5 to 3 percent for every 10-degree jump above 55°F, in fact. And it can sap your enthusiasm. But by training through scorching temperatures, runners reap a performance boost come autumn.
In hot weather, one way your body tries to cool itself is by sending blood to the skin's surface, where the blood's heat dissipates into the air, says Janet Hamilton, a Georgia-based running coach and exercise physiologist. This cooling action diverts blood (and its run-fueling oxygen) away from working muscles. To satisfy the opposing demands of cooling and exercising, your body makes more blood. Once the mercury drops, your muscles enjoy this surplus. "You feel like you can fly, like Peter Pan," Hamilton says. "If you're on the cusp of a PR, heat training can be the factor that closes the gap."
Even if you're not gunning for a personal record, summer brings a host of advantages that you'll miss once the snow starts falling. Next time you're tempted to grouse about hot weather, consider summer's perks.
The Ideal Summer Running Pace
Summer's extended daylight makes morning and evening runs more appealing. "People who may not feel safe running in the dark can find a daylight time that doesn't interfere with work," says Hamilton. This exposure to sunlight also makes it easy to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Since getting out the door feels harder in the dark, a bright sky means you're less likely to skip summer workouts, says Ken Mierke, a Washington, D.C.-area coach who developed the Evolution Running program. You can even experiment with running twice in one day, say 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night. "Twice-daily running can be helpful when work or family commitments limit big blocks of time," says Hamilton.
Motivation To Run Easy–Really!Summer weather makes Hamilton's runners "feel like they've got concrete blocks for feet," she says. But instead of lamenting your sluggishness, work with it: Deliberately run your first mile at a slower pace to extend the amount of time you can run without overheating. For example, if a nine-minute mile is your norm, start between 10-and 11-minute pace. "Most runners struggle with the concept of keeping an easy pace," says Hamilton.
8 Hydration Myths, Busted
More Chances To Race ShortNo matter where you live, summer triggers a spike in the number of races offered–especially short ones. Even in steamy Atlanta (where Hamilton trains and coaches), there's a 5-K or 10-K almost every weekend, and some on weekday nights. Running one per month can boost your motivation and serve as a progress check for your goal race in the fall. Races can also substitute for speed workouts, says Mierke. "Having a number on your chest provides some added motivation, and it's a lot more fun than hitting the track till your lungs pop," he says.
More Outdoor Workouts
Ditching the treadmill for fresh air and sun may help correct your form, says Mierke. "Without the treadmill's cushion, runners tend to take smaller, quicker strides," he says. Mierke is also a "huge proponent" of cross-training through cycling, swimming, hiking, and paddling, which not only offer escape from sweltering pavement but also allow for greater training volume with less fatigue and injury risk. Summer is also prime time for trail running, Hamilton's favorite form of "cross-training" for runners on a steady diet of road miles. "Trails build strength and stamina by forcing you to pick up your feet and adapt to varying terrain and surfaces," Hamilton says. And because trails tend to be shaded by trees, they offer sun protection–and even an oxygen boost, says Mierke.
Less Long-Run Fuss
In the summer, water fountains are on, bathrooms are open, and long-mileage workouts require less preparation. Take advantage of such conveniences by scheduling long runs accordingly: Plan jaunts with stretches through parks that have plumbing. And enjoy a break from the layering tactics (and resulting laundry) needed in chilly seasons. "Summer is great for folks who like to wear very little," says Mierke–which makes summer equally great for people-watching.
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