Other than two summers in Colorado and a year spent traveling the world, I've trained in Texas my whole life. So it goes without saying that heat and humidity are no strangers to me.
I've learned to expect to finish runs feeling like I've just emerged from the ocean, that running in a dehydrated state can be as debilitating as sprinting in a mascot costume, and that a spy's disguise (hat and shades) work just as well for summertime runners (just leave the wig at home).
While such lessons don't exactly glamorize the heat and humidity, there are actually some big benefits inherent in such a training climate. Here are a few small tips that make a huge difference in my warm-weather running:
1. Time your training wisely.
Take advantage of the coolest hours of the day, which are usually in the early morning. A 5 a.m. alarm may not sound good in the moment, but I assure you it's a whole lot better than sleeping in and slogging through a blazing midday run. The first few mornings will be difficult, but once you adapt to a new schedule, you may actually find you enjoy the still moments, stirring sunrises, and sense of accomplishment for having achieved a lot before most people are even awake.
If you simply cannot fathom early morning exercise, or if you're a serious runner who needs to squeeze in two-a-days, evening runs are fine too. The risk of waiting until the end of the day, however, is a compromised run (or worse—none at all).
2. Dress for the weather.
You wouldn't brave a snowy run in a sports bra and racing buns, so make your running clothes suit the summertime climate too. Give your cotton shirts and socks a break, scrap any unneeded layers, and strongly consider a cap and shades if you'll be running when the sun is out.
Not only do extra clothes weigh you down once you start sweating (which, in Houston, is the moment I emerge from my apartment), they also run the risk of causing chafing and blistering. My preferred running outfit in the heat is a sports bra, spandex shorts, thin running socks (like Asics Quick Lyte Single Tab), a hat, and snug-fitting sunglasses.
3. Hydrate (and salt)!
Fine-tuned hydration plans are integral parts of running no matter what season it is, and they become even more crucial in the heat and humidity. Begin sipping on water the moment you wake up, refuel during and after runs with more water and electrolytes, incorporate water-heavy foods like melon and celery into your meals, and don't shy away from the salt shaker.
I make regular water fountain stops when it's warm outside, and for longer runs in the summer, I try to stash a bottle with Clif Bar's Electrolyte Hydration Mix in a place that I know I'll pass.
4. Adjust your workouts.
Experts have found the ideal running temperature to be in the low 50s. Move too far above or below that range, and you must work harder to produce the same times. That said, if you're training in 90-degree weather with 90 percent humidity, you simply cannot expect to train exactly as you would in a more moderate climate.
Adjust your paces, interval times, and length of rests to efforts that feel right—or, better yet, scrap the GPS and practice tuning into your body by running by effort rather than by the constraints of a clock.
I learned that skill from my Ethiopian running friends, who are masters of running by feel (and who star in Chapter 4 of my book, Run the World).
5. Embrace the benefits.
Like altitude, hot and humid conditions are objectively tough for runners. Harness the mental and physical strength you've built in difficult conditions whenever you toe the line for a race, and know that you're prepared to handle almost any weather condition.