4 tips for staying fit during a heatwave

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Summer can be a tricky time for runners. Sure, you’ve got long days, but that occasional sunshine can be sweltering. Holidays, BBQs and other seasonal fun can tempt you to skip workouts, especially if you aren’t actively training for something. “There are a lot of distractions for athletes during the warm-weather months,” says Ryan Bolton, who coaches 2015 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Rotich. “Because of this, you have to create time every day - in advance - for your workouts.”

Choosing a goal to carry you through the coming months will keep you from getting stuck in a slothful rut. Put down that pina colada, grab your sunscreen and sunglasses, and set your sights on one of these four targets.

1. Nail a shorter race

There’s a reason why 5Ks and 10Ks are so popular in the summer - they’re short! Runners who aim to race one of these distances should run three or four days per week, working up to a long run of at least three miles (for the 5K) or six miles (for the 10K) a week or two before the event.

Runners with time goals should build their 5K or 10K training around speedwork. If you’re new to faster running, start by adding five to ten 30-to 60-second pickups, with a minute or two of jogging between each, in the middle of one run per week. For more experienced runners, Bolton suggests short, hard efforts once or twice a week to build power and turnover. “Focus on 200-to 600-metre repeats,” he says. Do some workouts with short, jogging recovery intervals (to build endurance and mental toughness) and other workouts with plenty of walking or jogging rest (so you can do every rep close to all-out). For peak performance, race no more than once per month, says Joan Scrivanich, a coach based in Colorado.

In addition to speedwork, advanced runners who want to notch a 5K or 10K PB ought to work in weekly tempo and long runs to build and maintain aerobic fitness. For tempo efforts, Bolton has his athletes work up to maintaining 85 to 90 percent of 10K pace for three to four miles. Long runs can be (relatively) short - the average runner doesn’t need to run more than eight to 10 miles to ace a 5K or 10K.

Related: How to run your first (or fastest 5K)

Related: How to run your perfect 10K 

2. Lighten your load

Summer may be the best time to drop a few pounds: Fresh produce is in season, outdoor activities are abundant and heat often suppresses appetite. Additionally, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that working out in warm temps burned more fat than exercising in cold conditions.

While eating nutrient-dense, whole foods is crucial for weight loss, strategic workouts can help, too. “Recent research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is very effective for weight loss,” says Pamela Nisevich Bede, a registered dietitian and co-author of Run to Lose. For maximum results, keep both the work and the rest intervals short - neither should be longer than a minute - and do each rep as hard as you can. Bede also recommends running first thing in the morning when possible, because your metabolism works at an accelerated pace for several hours post-exercise. To further harness this effect, you could split up a moderate to long easy run into two shorter runs - one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening - to spend more time in that increased metabolic state.

Related: 37 foolproof fat loss tips

3. Stay committed

It can be especially tough to work out when you’re travelling with friends or family. However, you can stay in shape with a minimal amount of miles. Bolton says two weeks of running only 40 percent of your usual mileage is enough to allow you to pick up where you left off. The most expedient way to work training into your schedule is to get it done first thing. If you must go later, you might feel more motivated (less guilty) if you can involve your companions in some way - say, by challenging your kids to ride bikes alongside you as you run.

When you travel, shift your focus to fitting in whatever you can. If you’ve only got a few minutes to work out, don’t get sucked into the “it’s not worth it” trap, Bolton says. Do a plank, some burpees, some squats - anything to activate your muscles and/or get your heart pumping.

However, if the stress of squeezing in workouts outweighs the satisfaction you would derive from completing them, set the goal of coming back refreshed and ready to recommit. You will lose some fitness if you do nothing for a week or two, but your priority should be to enjoy your time away, says Scrivanich.

4. Endure the heat

Toughing out warm conditions pays off in the winter: as you acclimatise to the heat, your body produces more blood to help cool you while you exercise, and that surplus helps fuel muscles even after temperatures drop. However, there’s a point at which it’s better to take workouts indoors. “If I know my athlete will sacrifice the quality of the run because of the heat, I’ll have them do the run on the treadmill,” Bolton says.

Even conditions that aren’t quite that stifling will affect your performance, so lower your expectations for warm outdoor workouts. How much you’ll slow down depends on a variety of factors, including the humidity, your fitness level, your body type, how acclimated you are to the heat, and how hydrated you are. Cut yourself slack if your watch and your perceived effort don’t match up.

For best results on any run, “try to run early in the morning or in the evening if you can,” says Scrivanich, and wear lightweight and light-coloured clothing. Ensure you stay hydrated by caching frozen bottles along your route or wearing a hydration pack or belt. Bolton recommends circling home during longer runs to grab ice, which you can stuff beneath your hat or down your sports bra.

Related: 10 tips for making running in the heatwave tolerable