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Heat Training

This week we have a guest post from Coach Carl

One run in the Atlanta summer and you know that you can’t approach your workouts like business as usual. Between the heat and humidity, it’s impossible for your body to operate at its peak efficiency -- and pretending that’s not true and just trying to push harder isn’t going to help the situation.

The easiest way to deal with training hard in the summer heat is to try to not to do it in the first place. If you are particularly sensitive to the heat, it’s probably not smart to tackle intense marathon training in the heat of the summer. It will be much better to schedule a race in late winter or early spring when you can do the bulk of your challenging training in cooler weather.

But if you have a marathon coming up in the early fall that necessitates getting in quality training during the summer months, or if you’re racing during the summer, you’ll need to modify your approach.

Fortunately, you have several options at your disposal to adjust your training for the heat and make sure that it’s still effective. Which one you choose will depend primarily on what type of workout you’re doing and a bit of personal preference / logistics.

Here are three common approaches and when I think is the best time to use each:

APPROACH: Slow down your pace

USE IT FOR: Sustained runs (easy runs, long runs, steady state runs, tempo runs)


Slowing down your pace is the most common way to deal with the heat and humidity because it’s what our bodies do naturally. The heat and humidity force our bodies to work harder than they would in cooler conditions at the same pace.

That means for workouts where effort is the most important factor, we’re going to need to slow down the pace.

Making sure that your easy runs are easy or your long runs are comfortable will mean running them at a slower pace than you’re used to in the fall / winter. But that needs to happen to make sure that your easy days don’t turn into workout days.

Likewise, steady state and tempo runs lose their desired effectiveness if you run them too hard, so you want to focus on the effort, even if that means slowing down the pace.

It doesn’t mean that you’ve lost any fitness or you’re in worse shape if you’re running your tempo runs slower than you did in the spring. It just means that you’re being smart about your training and actually running the tempo runs the way they’re meant to be run.

APPROACH: Break the workout up

USE IT FOR: Track repeats


Just like running tempo runs too hard makes them less effective, running your repeat workouts (think 10k pace or faster) too slow makes them less effective. So the same approach of slowing down isn’t going to work. In this case, it’s the pace that we’re more concerned about, rather than the effort.

But heat and humidity can make it just as difficult to complete a hard track workout, so we still need to make adjustments. Since pace is important here, we want to break up the repeats until they are a manageable distance that allows you to maintain pace throughout the rep.

For example, if you’re used to doing mile repeats at 10k pace as a track workout in the fall, you may want to focus on 800m repeats during the summer months. You’ll still get the work in at the correct pace (teaching your body how to run efficiently at those paces) and spend time in the correct training zone without compromising the workout.

You can keep the same volume in your workout (4x mile turns into 8x 800m) when you break up the repeats but you may find you need to adjust the rest ratio, too.

So, if you normally take 4 minutes after a mile repeat as recovery it may seem logical to take 2 minutes after an 800m. It’s possible that works for you, but you may find that you want to stretch that 2 minutes all the way up to 3 minutes to allow for the slower recovery in the heat and humidity. This will depend person to person, but feel free to experiment and don’t feel locked into a rigid mindset of “I cut the distance in half so I have to cut the rest in half, too.”

APPROACH: Hit the treadmill

USE IT FOR: Marathon goal pace workouts


Marathon training in the summer presents its own challenges. With so many big-time races in the early fall, it’s pretty common to have to do some of your more intense marathon training in the heat and humidity. While slowing down or breaking up the workout will work in a lot of cases, it doesn’t work well for practicing goal marathon pace.

The point of these types of efforts is to get comfortable holding goal marathon pace for a long, sustained period. So slowing it down doesn’t work because you’re not getting used to the pace, and breaking it up doesn’t work because you’re not getting used to holding it for a long time.

You could try to just push through, but that presents problems, too. You won’t really get to learn how your body feels at that pace and if you struggle to hit the times, it can cause a lot of confidence issues heading into your race.

So for these sessions, I think it’s best to get on a treadmill where you can run in more comfortable conditions and really learn what marathon pace will feel like and if it’s realistic for you.

Because the race will most likely be on the roads, I do recommend making sure that you get a least one long goal pace session in outside if possible -- either on a rare cool day or towards the end of your training cycle when hopefully the weather is more favorable.

With those three different approaches in your toolbox, you should be well-prepared to make your summer training smart and effective -- even if they don’t make it easier!

About Coach Carl

Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all

ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health,

Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services,  click here.


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