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Five essentials for feel-good summer running

Mary Jennings: Transition into these warmer days by being smart about where you run

Over the past two weeks we have literally changed running season. We waited patiently all spring for an evening warm enough to leave the heavy layers at home. That strong easterly wind on the Dublin coast turned up at our running classes for weeks. Then, one late May night, we were taken by surprise by glorious sunshine, flowers in bloom and the long-awaited warmth in the air. Summer had arrived. Finally. We awkwardly wrapped jackets around our waist and sweated in our thermal leggings wishing we were wearing less. The time had come to ditch the layers.

Running in T-shirts

The freedom of now running in just one layer of clothing is amazing. It take less effort to get ready and, once out the door, we warm up faster, run easier and feel lighter. Whatever you wear this summer while running should make you feel comfortable and help you keep cool. Most of the adverts for leisure wear promise to do just that. But there is no perfect outfit for a runner. Even in a group of 15 women I ran with on the beach last week, I notice they all wear different styles, materials and legging length in the summer. Much like there being no universal running shoe to fit us all, we work out through trial and error what outfit gives us confidence and ease.

You don’t need more gear

But this is not an article to encourage you to buy more. In fact, if you have been running for more than a year you have probably already invested in a summer running wardrobe. Add to that your selection of old race T-shirts and a selection of impulse-buys and you have more than enough to choose from. If you are like me, you will always still just wear your few favourite items of clothing no matter how much you buy. So rather than make your wardrobe more cluttered with lots of new gear, can I suggest you invest instead in some practical basics that will make your summer running feel more comfortable, sustainable and enjoyable.

Here are my five practical summer running essentials.


1) Pockets

Aim to run hands-free. I see more runners carrying phones, keys and water bottles now more than any other time of year. Many are missing the pockets they depended on in their winter layers. While you can buy clothing that has inbuilt bonus pockets, why not use a small running belt or bum bag that will carry the essentials, stop the sweaty palms, help you run with better technique and break your fall should you stumble on a summer trail. Clenching your fists when you run tightens right up to your neck and shoulders and we need to run relaxed with less stiffness in our upper body. Aim to return home relaxed rather than tense. If you really must carry something, be sure to alternate between hands during the run so you give each arm a chance to loosen out.

2) Shelter

No sooner had we got excited about the summer sunshine than I was listening to the gang complain about it being too hot to run. Some of us handle running in the heat better than others, but these initial weeks as we acclimatise can be the trickiest as we adapt to the rise in temperature. Transition into these warmer days by being smart about where you run. Try to avoid exposed parks and beaches and head towards the shelter of trees or buildings. Wear a very light hat to take the glare out of your eyes and the heat off your head. Changing your usual route or the time of day you run can make a big difference to your comfort on the go. Let your body spend its energy on helping you run stronger rather than have to focus on temperature control.

3) Picnic mat

A picnic mat is not just for picnics, especially those with the waterproof backing. While you should definitely pop it in the car and bring along for the end of races and parkruns for a social stretch and a cuppa, I also encourage you to use it to nudge you to build in some outdoor strength and mobility work into your weekly running routine. Be inspired by my community of runners who follow along my short pre-recorded warm-up and cool-down routines in their headphones outdoors as part of their training sessions. Do you have a favourite yoga teacher or fitness instructor who has videos you can follow along? Of course you can also just lie out on your mat and relax post run and enjoy a well-deserved rest. Either way, once the mat is rolled out, you are much more likely to use it.

4) Skin protection

We all are well aware of the benefits of summer sun cream, but wearing less layers these days can also bring extra hassles for our skin. With moisture from sweat and more skin exposed, we are prone to skin chaffing. Protect areas that are inclined to chaff with a layer of Vaseline. I’ve been known to use a small strip of medical tape like a second skin for toes or under the front of my sports bra. While you have the Vaseline out, pop a little in your eyebrows to protect the sun cream from streaming into your eyes. Not something I have experienced myself, but many long-distance male runners wear plasters on their nipples to avoid the cuts and chaffing that constant rubbing of a sweaty body against T-shirt material brings. Ouch.

5) Flexible plans

Most of all in summer we must realise that there is a lot beyond our control. Having an open mind and being willing to adapt our running routine to suit the circumstances will save a lot of frustration and help us mange our expectations. Build flexibility into your training plan to allows for uncertainty. The weather is just one element that requires us to adjust plans. You might need to find new routes if your usual haunts are full of tourists or holiday traffic. Running clubs and buddies will have parted ways for the summer and you may find it harder to build motivation and enthusiasm to run solo. Summer changes things up, but we can certainly use this to our advantage, to experiment with our running and create new adventures.

Enjoy the freedom

All of you who have run or exercised outdoors throughout the winter deserve these bright summer glory days now. We have turned up to enough runs, classes and club training sessions in the dark and wet when it would have been much easier to have stayed indoors. Now is your moment. That hard work is all worthwhile. The strength you built in the darkness will now stand to you during these wonderful days. So embrace it while you can.

  • Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Her summer/autumn marathon coaching programme is now open for booking