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Running into sunny summertimes

How to train in summer when hot, humid and no/limited races are calling?


Summertime sounds exciting but can be a challenge for

runners: the hot weather and a lack of (important) races make for a reduced motivation. Many runners come out of summer with a much lower fitness than they had when the summer started. They start to train hard for an autumn (half) marathon and realise there’s a lot of work to be done to get their fitness back. Sometimes that can lead to injuries, because their bodies are not ready to take the load. Here are a few tips on what to do to make the best of your summer:


  1. Take time to get used to the heat

  2. Welcome the break

  3. Find a new focus

  4. Plan some races

  5. Drink


Take time to get used to the heat

Science shows that the average runner needs 10-14 days to get used to the heat. During this transition period your ‘sweat system’ is not yet very effective and as a result your body temperature and heart rate will be higher (in training as well as in daily life) and you lose more sodium through sweating. Your body also uses more glycogen in the heat, making long sessions more stressful for the body. Just like with high altitude training, you need to take the time to get adjusted – and you will most likely never reach the point where you perform exactly the same as in cool conditions. However, if you are careful in the transition period, you can do great sessions once your body is adjusted.


What does this mean? The most important adjustment you have to make is to reduce the length, intensity and pace of sessions. I see heat as an extra stressor and that means you have to reduce the ‘stress’ of the training, to avoid overstressing your body. Keep your runs shorter in terms of the total length, as well as the length of the intensive part. You also want to reduce the length of the intervals. So for example, if you had planned to do a session of 4 x 8 minutes at threshold pace, you may want to change that to 6 x 4 minutes. This way each interval is shorter, and the total length of the session is also shorter. Once you feel that you are adjusted to the heat, you can gradually start to make it longer again.


In terms of pace, when running in the heat you mostly need to stick to a certain effort or heart rate and totally forget about the pace. In other words; the above mentioned session of 6 x 4 minutes should be done at your threshold effort. That could be 10 seconds or even 40 seconds per km slower than in cool weather. And that is okay, because the training effect is mostly based on the internal load, not on your actual pace.

If you use a heart rate monitor, try to stick to your zones, which means running at the same heart rate, but at a slower pace – similar to what you would do at altitude. In case it’s so hot that it’s impossible for you to do easy runs in your zone 1-2, simply because your heart rate keeps going to your zone 3, the best solution is to run by feel and to stop doing any harder workout for a while, until you are more adjusted to the heat.


By the way, by using the term ‘stressor’, you may think that I view heat training as something negative, but that is not necessarily the case. Although I think training in the heat for many months in a row may not be ideal for most runners, there are also positive effects of heat training, such as an increase in our blood volume. This is the reason some scientists call heat training ‘the poor man’s altitude training’.


When you take your time to get adjusted to the heat, rather than continuing with your training as if nothing happened, your body will get better adjusted and you will be able to gradually increase the length and intensity of your sessions during summer (as long as the temperatures doesn’t keep on rising of course).


Welcome the break

Lots of athletes lose focus during summer, because they find it hard to train, and because they didn’t sign up for any race. They may have a big race in autumn, but nothing to motivate them during the summer. My first tip here is: say welcome to a small break.


One difference between elite runners and amateur runners is that elites know when to train hard, and when to rest. They are experts in switching on and off – being focused when they have to, but also taking a break when they can. Physiologically and mentally that is better than training practically the same (or having the same amount of focus) throughout the year.


Taking a planned two week break in summer can be an ideal way to recharge your mental battery. Step out of your routine training system for a little while and enjoy doing some things you normally cancel or postpone. If you do this in a planned way, rather than that it just happens to you, it makes it much easier to ‘switch back on’ at the end of your planned rest. The planned rest period can last one or two weeks, or even a month as long as you start up at least some training in the second half of the month.


Find a new focus

As football legend Johan Cruijff used to say: every negative has a positive. Summer is the ideal time to work on speed and strength.


First of all because it’s off season for most long distance runners.

Secondly because our performance in speed and strength related tasks actually improves in the heat (while of course performance on long distance tasks is reduced the longer it gets). After your well-deserved break, start training with a different focus. Tell yourself that, even if you won’t be able to do the mileage and intensity that you used to do, you will come out of it stronger and faster. The added strength and speed will give you a great foundation upon which you can build your (half)marathon training.


Start including regular strength training. I recommend both weight lifting sessions such as doing squats and lunges, as well as strength and conditions exercises using only body weight. Try to do the strength training with the same focus as you do your running sessions. Gradually increase the weight you can lift in the gym. Check out my YouTube page for some inspiration. Those exercises will make you a stronger and more robust runner.


Apart from strength, this is also the time to work on your speed. Plan regular sessions of hill sprints (8-10 sec all out uphill), longer hill work (20-60 sec uphill), or any kind of interval session at your 3-10K race pace. When it’s hot, doing a marathon workout such as 5 x 5km is out of the question, and doing 10 x 1km is going to be hard or impossible too. Instead you can plan workouts such as 10 x 400m (great for improving your VO2max), or a fartlek of 20-30 minutes alternating fast and slow running. Longruns can still be done as well, but you will have to adjust the length and intensity.


Plan some races

There may not be any big races in summer, but most countries have lots of smaller 5-10K races on road or track to pick from. Having a few races on your program is an ideal way to stay motivated. Ideally you want to have a race every 4-6 weeks. So check out the racing schedule and pick some races that motivate you. When doing your workouts in the heat, this gives you something to train for in the short term. If the smaller races can’t motivate you, make sure you book your autumn (half) marathon and tell yourself that every workout you do during the summer, counts towards your big goal.


Drink

It’s an open door, but that doesn’t mean every runner sticks to this. The hotter it is, the more you sweat and the more you have to drink. After workouts and, in case you run longer than an hour, also during your sessions. If you find that your urine is very yellow/orange, this means you’re dehydrated and nee


d to drink more. One way of knowing how much you need to drink is to measure your weight before and after a run. The amount of weight you lost is a good indicator of how much you need to drink. Add some electrolytes (especially sodium) in your water, either by adding salt or a specially designed sports-drink.



I hope those tips help you get the best out of your summer. And if it really gets too hot at home, don’t hesitate to come to Kenya. In Iten it’s never too hot – on most days the maximum temperature is anywhere between 20 and 25 degrees, with the mornings being a lot cooler. The ideal place to train when the conditions get tough at home.






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