Running without turning into the wicked witch of the west
July 22, 2013 12:29 PM   Subscribe

What are your best tips and tricks for making running outside bearable in hot, humid, urban-US-east-coast-summer weather?

I started doing couch to 5k for a bit in mid/late June before things fully heated up here, loved it, and then fell off the wagon once the humidity went through the roof. (The last day I made it through, just narrowly, was week 3 day 1, on the 4th of July.) I hate the resulting mood drop when I don't run, but it's really hard to bring myself to do even a short run/walk when it's 100+ degrees at 100 percent humidity.

I still see runners out on the street here every day though, so clearly there are ways to make this more bearable. I started couch to 5k aiming to run a 5k in late October, and I think I can still manage that if I bust my ass. (I care not one bit about my time for this race, just being able to run it in its entirety.) Are there changes I can make--whether they be running location/time, the clothes I wear, breathing techniques, or other things I'm not thinking of--that can help me power through this?

Note that I am NOT looking for answers that involve joining a gym and running there. I don't have the money for gym membership (not even the Y) and I don't like treadmills. I might consider free indoor locations, if anyone knows anything good in Philadelphia.

Other things about my current runs:

-I don't wear special running clothes, just loose-fitting, light-colored cotton shorts and t-shirts. I have decent shoes.
-I don't carry water or sports drinks with me on my runs, but I hydrate well before I leave and after I come back.
-I've tried running late at night and I love the solitude of it, but the air feels just as gross and humid as running in the daytime does, and the temperature doesn't feel significantly different. Is early morning any better on this score?
-I typically run on the streets and sidewalks near-ish my house, which have some shade but not a huge amount. I've also tried running on the Schuylkill River Trail (the stretch between Center City and the art museum, for any Philadelphians here), but I don't love the crowds, and it's still pretty exposed in the sun. Is it worth my time to seek out places with more shade and possibly more seclusion? If you are reading this and your are familiar with Philadelphia, what are those places? (Keeping in mind that I don't have a car.)

I've seen this previous question about running in humidity, just wondering if anyone has any additional insight, any Philly-specific tips, or anything I might be overlooking as a very new runner.
posted by ActionPopulated to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Cotton kind of sucks for outdoor activities in the heat. It absorbs your sweat and just holds on to it, making you feel soggy and gross. It may be worth investing in a few "dry fit" active wear t-shirts. You can get pretty decent ones at Target if you don't want to shell out for fancy Nike or Under Armor.

Early mornings are better than the evenings, because the earth has had an entire nighttime of not being pounded by the sun. So even if the air temp doesn't cool down all that much, at least the ground isn't radiating death heat back up at you.

Finally, during our heat wave last week I was soaking a bandana in water and putting it in the freezer until it was frozen solid, and wearing that around my neck. It kept me nicely cool for a whole 15 minutes until it melted and warmed up. But it was a lovely 15 minutes.
posted by misskaz at 12:38 PM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Cheap stuff to try:

-Run slower when it's really miserable out. Obvious, I know, but worth remembering.

-Run near public water fountains.

-I like Target's workout clothing -- they have technical stuff that wicks sweat away and is pretty cheap, but much more comfortable than basic cotton gear.
posted by pie ninja at 12:39 PM on July 22, 2013

Early morning is better from a Sun Beating Down perspective. But a lot of it is just doing it, and knowing that it's gonna suck, but that you can also acclimate yourself.

100 degrees is pretty hot, though. Those people you see running might be idiots.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:40 PM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Two things about outdoor summer running (three if you count the golden rule which is Ugh Just Don't Do It):

01) You want to wear clothing that wicks the sweat away from your body. Cotton does not do that.

02) Running at dawn is pretty much the only sane time; the earth has had somewhat of a chance to cool down without the relentless sun on it, so there is less baked-in heat coming up at you. Plus there are fewer people around to see you crying/barfing/falling down and refusing to get up.
posted by elizardbits at 12:50 PM on July 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

1) Stay hydrated and get enough salt/electrolytes. It might be worth it to carry a water bottle and a sports drink. I have a medical condition. I find it helps to work on hydration and electrolytes several hours ahead of strenuous exercise, not just before I walk out the door.

2) I used to walk at night in the Mojave Desert, after temps dropped to 99F. But it was a dry heat. I would definitely try morning before giving up.

3) I have lived without a car for several years and I mostly walk everywhere. Yes, yes, yes, shade and foliage and lack of car fumes makes a huge, huge difference in stamina and comfort.

4) Hot peppers promote sweating. They are popular in countries like India and Mexico. As I understand it, this is because they increase your heat tolerance. You could test that hypothesis.
posted by Michele in California at 12:53 PM on July 22, 2013

I've been an intermittent runner for years, but recently decided to train for a longer race this fall and that means I can't take the summer off for heat. Some things that are working for me:

-I find early morning to be cooler, but sometimes even more humid than evening. I have a blinky light from my bike that I'm not ashamed to attach to my butt for visibility in the morning or evening.
-Wicking fabrics. Check sites like Sierra Trading Post, Campmor, Campsaver for super cheap workout shirts that are NOT cotton. As suggested above, Target, TJ Maxx and other discount stores also have decent wicking clothes that are fairly affordable. I especially love shirts with mesh panels.
-With the short runs, you're right that hydration is probably not needed. (Unless it is exceedingly hot.) Since I'm starting to do longer runs, I recently bought one of these waterbottles with a hand-grippy thing.
-A lot of more experienced runners have said mileage is more important than pace on hot days. Save your speed for when there's a break in the heat.
-Oh, and don't be afraid to dump water on your head or throw ice cubes down your pants. Or put some cubes in your bra if you're a lady! ;)
posted by sararah at 12:55 PM on July 22, 2013

I really don't think it is necessarily possible for everyone. I say that because it is not possible for me. I'm in North Carolina and completely fascinated by people out running at 5:00 pm in July and August - I tried it once and I had to sit on the ground for ten minutes before I got home. So, the moral of my story is: don't beat yourself up if you have a hard time with it. You may just not be cut out for running in the heat.

That said, I did Couch to 5k in the summertime a few years ago and I did 100% of my running very early in the morning, before work. And definitely get some real running clothes made of performance wicking fabric - it makes a huge difference.
posted by something something at 12:57 PM on July 22, 2013

Morning is usually cooler than evening. And I nth ditching the cotton for wicking running clothes, even cheap ones. This includes socks. The difference is magical.

Also, make sure you're drinking enough water in general, not just before and after runs.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:02 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yep, early morning is best for humid summertime runs. Over time you may get more acclimated to running in the heat and humidity; but even then, mornings will feel better.

And, since you're in an urban area: ozone air pollution increases with rising temperatures, so on days when the air quality index is on 'code orange' you're better off running in the morning.
posted by fikri at 1:04 PM on July 22, 2013

Best answer: Nthing the advice to run in the morning. A few years ago I trained for a half-marathon in NYC in August. The highs were often in the 90s, with high humidity. The *only* thing that worked for me was running early in the morning. I'm usually an after-work runner, so this was an adjustment for me. But after a week or two, it got much easier. At first, I felt really slow and sluggish running when I first got up, but my body seemed to adjust and it got a lot easier. It also helped me stay on track to realize that it was truly my only opportunity to run that day. The other advantage was, the race I was training for was held in the morning. I know I performed a lot better on race day because I had already fully gotten used to morning running.
posted by pompelmo at 1:06 PM on July 22, 2013

Best answer: Nthing running in the early morning! If you can get on the 9 bus, you can get to the Wissahickon Valley Park and run on Forbidden Drive. It is almost completely shady, and is generally 5-7 degrees cooler than downtown Philly. There is also a creek that you can splash around in afterward to cool down.

This might only be feasible for you on the weekends, depending on where you live, but it's worth a try -- the park is beautiful! MeMail me if you would like a running buddy/guide if/when you attempt it.
posted by coppermoss at 1:20 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My favorite time to run in the summer (if you can manage with your schedule) is evening, right around sunset. Yes, it's often much hotter than the morning, but the lower humidity means that your body can actually cool itself, unlike (IMO) in the morning when there's no evaporation whatsoever because the humidity is so high. I run in the mornings because it's the only thing that works with my schedule, but the evenings feel -so- much easier when I do get a chance to run then. Shade definitely helps too, as does running on grass (the asphalt radiates heat upwards when you run on streets). If you can run by water, too, the breeze off the water will help a bit.

And n-thing wicking clothing, etc. You can buy pretty cheap stuff from target for about $15 per item which will make a big difference over cotton.

(and I feel you-- I'm training for a marathon right now in NYC.)
posted by matcha action at 1:26 PM on July 22, 2013

Run in the morning, right as the sun is coming up. If you do it late in the afternoon, the heat is still rising up from the pavement.

Try this cooling towel, they have them on sale at Lowes.

Also, if it's too hot, don't run. I know you want to, but heat stroke is no fun, and it's too easy to overheat, especially if you can't adequately cool down. Also, if the air quality is bad, don't run.

How about mall walking? Some malls open early in the morning for the elderly, and it's possible that one in your area will allow you to run.

I have a chronic respiratory disease and I can't regulate my body heat well (I don't sweat) so I don't run outdoors in any weather. (And I have the physique to prove it.)

But discomfort is NOT the only reason not to run in the summertime.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on July 22, 2013

I prefer evening runs over the sun, but I would suggest a hat either way- baseball or a lighter running hat made of the same wicking material as Target's gear. (Which is great-- I have shorts that are on year eight of heavy use.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:32 PM on July 22, 2013

I'm for mornings in this weather [DC]. Did my long (it was 8 mi, so long is relative) run Sunday morning and we had to stop/walk a few times for a few minutes. Lungs were fine, legs were fine, just felt so so hot. And I run with a camelbak full of ice and had shotbloks. So, fine, we walked a bit. Way better than doing no miles.
I am not super familiar with the details of Couch to 5k, but I think it's broken up into walking and running periods for much of it? So, walk some. Walk more than you're "supposed" to. You do what you can (safely) do, and it's totally better than doing nothing. Also, it's acclimating you to the weather.
Run run run (too hot want to die), walk, walk, walk, run again. Rinse, repeat, with careful attention to water and electrolytes.
posted by atomicstone at 1:37 PM on July 22, 2013

The water bottle I bring with me isn't necessarily for hydration -- I fill to the top with ice cubes and then whatever water fits. Having one of my hands be cold seems to help all over. It's still miserable, though.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:38 PM on July 22, 2013

Oh and yes, know where free public water fountains and public spaces are, like the Gallery at Market East or that food court on Walnut by UPenn. I used to do ten mile long runs in DC in the summer when I was young and slightly stupid but I did use my favorite exhibits in museums as breaks for AC and water and shade. UPenn's campus isn't bad for running, I ran around Chestnut and Walnut at twilight without many crowd issues and more shade. There's also that new sports complex built by Penn along the river, which might be good.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:39 PM on July 22, 2013

Do what we did when I was stationed in Okinawa, run at 4am.
posted by zzazazz at 1:54 PM on July 22, 2013

I run slowly, or at night, or wearing nothing but a bra and shorts. I also run 5-6 days a week, so after a week or two, even 90 degrees isn't that awful. If I'm running more than 10-15 miles, I stop and pour a bottle of cold water on my head.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:02 PM on July 22, 2013

Oh, and no cotton. Ever. Not even in the winter.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:03 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're comfortable baring your shoulders, you might try wearing a (technical fabric, as others have recommended) tank top instead of a t-shirt—having a more open neckline and having my shoulders free/exposed helps me feel a lot more comfortable in hot weather.

Even on short runs, you can carry a bottle of (ice) water and pour it on your head/neck to help cool down. Ice in a hat/in your bra (if applicable) is also good. You can also try freezing a damp sponge, sticking it in your clothes somewhere (waistband, bra, under hat) and/or using it to wipe down your face/arms/back of your neck—you can re-wet as necessary with cold water from a bottle, fountain, etc.

Especially after your runs, make sure you're getting salts and electrolytes (as fancy as Nuun or Gu Brew or as simple as a banana and some pretzels) in addition to just plain fluid—you lose more than just water when you sweat, and I notice that if I'm not careful about replacing electrolytes, I get headachey after running in the heat.
posted by rebekah at 2:21 PM on July 22, 2013

Do any local schools have indoor tracks you can utilize?
posted by stefnet at 2:40 PM on July 22, 2013

I'm high school when I did cross country we'd run early in the morning.
posted by theichibun at 2:45 PM on July 22, 2013

Californian here: I've found that (very) early mornings are best for avoiding heat. We've also done a few late-night runs (after the sun has gone down) running with headlamps, which can also be pleasant and different.

Cotton kind of sucks for outdoor activities in the heat. It absorbs your sweat and just holds on to it, making you feel soggy and gross.

And worse: damp cotton chafes and that can be really miserable. N-thing the Target recommendation: their Champion stuff is cheap and cheerful.

Also good for sweaty runs: a running cap with a built-in sweatband. Keeps both sun and sweat out of your eyes. I saw Headsweats recommended here on MeFi when I started running 3 years ago; my first Race Hat is still going strong. Bonus for super-hot days: soak it in cold water before you set off.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:01 PM on July 22, 2013

If you're not broke, how about a membership to someplace w/ an indoor track for a month or two? (As a Philadelphian myself, I'm hoping for one...)

Edit: I suck and didn't completely read the question. Sorry! :)
posted by nosila at 3:19 PM on July 22, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, y'all are amazingly consistent with your answers here. Morning running and real sweat-wicking clothes it is. Are I love the idea of the frozen bandana as well.

For the morning runners here, do you typically eat before or after you run?
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:01 PM on July 22, 2013

I did C25k over the summer here in Australia this year when it was around 35 to 40 c most days (but not humid). I actually liked it (and am sucking at winter running now). Yes absolutely you want to stick to the shade or times of day without direct sun. I didn't wear special clothes, except minimalist 5 finger shoes, which kept my feet wonderfully cool.

I did take water even for short runs. I'd drink about half a bottle and use the rest to pour over my head.

The best is if you can run in a public park which had a sprinkler system at dusk or dawn and run through the sprinklers now and again. Or if you can run by a beach, lake or river where you can splash through the water now and then.
posted by lollusc at 9:21 PM on July 22, 2013

For the morning runners here, do you typically eat before or after you run?

Nothing before, and definitely after. If I'm feeling a little hungry when I wake up, maybe a bite of a protein bar and a sip of water. Eating anything before a run is great way to ruin my morning, but that might just be me and my sensitive stomach.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:05 PM on July 22, 2013

Ugh, I hear you. I'm in Center City, and I cannot deal with the heat, so I've stopped running for a bit, and it's kind of killing me. Mornings are the only time that's even somewhat tolerable, but basically I've had to slow down and basically just walk or barely jog. I am just not good with hot. As for where to run, I used to run along the river, too, but in this hot weather I mostly stick to Rittenhouse Square area, up and down Pine or Spruce and around the park. It's not ideal, but it's easier to find shade, and two slow miles is about all I can take in the heat.
posted by mothershock at 6:09 AM on July 23, 2013

I don't eat very near run time, after a bad incident in highschool.

Temperature and humidity makes a big difference on your body when you're running. I've been training with a heart rate monitor, and I noticed this weekend I was running a minute and a half faster mile pace than last weekend at the same heart rate level just because the temperature was 10 degrees cooler. So if it's hot and terrible outside, it's perfectly reasonable and acceptable to run slower.

Working on a 5k, you're probably aren't out there long enough that you need to hydrate during your run, especially if you're doing a good job before and after you exercise.
posted by garlic at 6:26 AM on July 23, 2013

For the morning runners here, do you typically eat before or after you run?

Roll out of bed and eat a banana for the blood sugar, give it 15 min or so to settle, then I'm out. But for some people eating anything first is a recipe for disaster - so experiment.
posted by Theophylactic at 7:35 AM on July 23, 2013

When I was stationed in South Sudan and was only able to go jogging at 4:30 pm I managed to train myself to mentally deal with it. I also was very hydrated and wore clothes like the Nike Miler top and very non absorbent shorts. So basically you can do it if you want to mentally do it.
posted by tarvuz at 7:53 AM on July 23, 2013

posted by ActionPopulated at 6:34 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

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