By Joe Ainsworth
Running has provided a necessary outlet for many in the uncertain time of summer 2020. I will admit though, running in Western North Carolina in the summer can be a chore! I begin most runs around 7 a.m. and the other day I looked at the weather app on my phone and noticed that the temperature was a cool 63 degrees. “Not bad!” I told myself. I laced up my shoes and got out the door quickly before the bright sun and heat had too much of an impact on my run. However, one mile into my 60 minute cardio workout I was sopping with sweat! Rather than gliding through the cool morning air, the moisture felt thick as if I was trying to wade through warm soup rather than effortlessly putting one foot in front of the other.
Humidity can play a major role in how our body responds to physical activity and how we feel during it. Humidity refers to the amount of moisture present in the air and is often measured on a scale of 0-100%. In Western North Carolina you will often see higher amounts of humidity in the early morning hours (when temperatures are lower) compared to the afternoon time when temperatures reach 80 degrees and above. The presence of humidity makes it increasingly harder for sweat to evaporate off a runner’s body and the physiological cooling mechanism we all rely on to lower our core body temperature during physical activity does not work as effectively or efficiently. When I run and I see beads of sweat sitting on my shoulders I feel as if my pores cannot breathe and give my body the ventilation it so desperately desires while exercising in the summer. It can definitely make an early morning summer run uncomfortable!
As I said earlier, I like to run in the early morning. It times well with my morning coffee and allows me to plan my day around other work or errands I need to complete. But when I go through a series of early morning runs when the humidity seems oppressive, I often wonder if I would rather trade these high humidity/low temperature runs for afternoon runs with lower humidity and higher temperatures. This all assumes, of course, you have a flexible schedule that allows you to run in the morning or afternoon (as a full-time educator, fortunately, I do).
In my quest to figure out which time of day works best for me here is what I found. First, when looking at my weather app I found it extremely helpful to look at the heat index measure (or in some cases the “feels like” tool) which combines heat and humidity to give you an idea of how warm it will be at a given time. Now, it’s the heart of summer so we may be stuck picking between the lesser of two evils; some days are going to be a drag no matter what. However, if I am scheduling myself a tempo run at a faster than comfortable pace and I see that the “Feels like” is 70 degrees at 7 a.m. and 89 degrees at 5 p.m. that is certainly enough to make me want to run in the morning, even with 92% humidity vs. 53% (this is a predictive forecast for Friday July 9th, the day after drafting this post.) Conversely, if I see a nice rain shower will approach Asheville at 4 p.m. and will drastically reduce the humidity and lower the temperatures, I may take my chance on running at that time.
Second, regardless of when you run, there are measures you can take to combat intolerable humidity and warmer temperatures. Running in shaded areas (Hello, Montford!), running by bodies of water (Carrier Park anyone?), and taking walking breaks can all help you get through that warm uncomfortable run. It never hurts to carry water as well, especially if you plan on exercising for more than 30-45 minutes.
Finally, treating your body right with what you wear will help tremendously. Most importantly… sunscreen! Protecting your body from harmful UV rays is important and will help you stay cooler longer. To cool down even further, I will sometimes put a t-shirt or tank in the refrigerator 30 minutes before I run. It will feel cold on the body at first but it will help lower your core temperature so that you do not warm up as fast once you are outside. If you want to go a step further, you can even put a couple of ice cubes in a running hat or buff to keep your head and face even cooler.
So much of when you run is a personal decision that factors in timing, responsibilities, how the body feels that day, and weather conditions. If running in the thick of the humidity and temperatures topping out in the 90’s still doesn’t appeal to you, you can always run on a treadmill in an air-conditioned room. However, if you are venturing out during high risk times of day, whether with humidity or temperature, please consider when may be the best time for you and always remember to plan your run responsibly.