Running in the heat is not one of my favourite things to do as I get hot really easily. In fact even in winter I run in shorts and a vest top whilst other runners are wrapped up. With my marathon booked for what is potentially going to be a really hot day then running in the heat is not something I can avoid and instead something I need to give a lot of consideration.
Is Running in the Heat Essential?
I guess the first things to consider is do you need to do any running in the heat? If the answer is yes then is it because it is a race, or is it for training? If it is for a race then don’t avoid running in the heat because the more you train in the heat then the more your body will adapt, and you will also discover what works best for you (last thing you want on race day is cramps, feeling sick or a sudden desire for the toilet!). Do run slower though! If it is super-hot on one day then you may want to consider doing some cross-training instead – but don’t ruin your race preparations by avoid running in the heat.
The main thing is to listen to your body, if you start to not feel right then stop. Your heart is working harder trying to keep your body cool so it doesn’t just feel harder running in heat, it is harder! Again why it is important to slow down.
Planning for Running in the Heat
Next you need to consider whether it matters when, how far or where you run? Obviously the hottest part of the day is in the middle, so it goes without saying that it is best to run either early on (apparently 6am) or in the evening when the sun has gone back down again (if you run in the dark don’t forget your lights though).
If you are training for a race which will end up having you running in the heat then think about whether it is possible to break down some of the longer runs by going out more than once a day if you need to cover a certain amount of mileage; or by doing shorter runs more frequently.
You should get yourself accustom to running in the heat by starting with short runs – first so that you are not exposed to the sun for too long – and secondly so you can build up: This will help you know how to hydrate and refuel properly for the conditions.
Planning a Route for Running in the Heat
When planning a route for running in the heat consider places with shade. It may be a good idea to plan loops that pass your house – this will enable you to get more water, cool down or decide whether to go out again or not. You could even stop for a break, cool-down (under a fan), stop for toilet breaks and even refuel. Or even passed a shop – where you can buy water, energy drinks or even a cooling treat like ice-cream.
Make sure you warm up and cool down still. Warming up is more than just about temperature – it gets the body and mind ready for what is ahead. Run slower when running in the heat and even consider jeffing (a walk/run technique) as this will help you keep a consistent heart-rate. Ideally run in a group so you can all keep an eye out for each other, plus is makes the time pass quicker. You can also learn from other runners what works for them, or try new things out together.
What Gear to Wear Whilst Running in the Heat
Of course the obvious thing to wear whilst running in the heat is technical kit that wicks away the moisture when you sweat. Black will absorb the heat and lighter colours reflect it – so now isn’t the time to be self-conscious and go for something black. How much of your body that you cover up is up to you. Tight or loose shorts, t-shirt or vest top. You may be tempted to go topless (or just a sports-bra/top type thing) but remember covering your stomach will help prevent you being burnt from the sun. Either way this brings us on to remembering sun lotion before you go out, and reapplying if necessary. Also apply some petroleum jelly in places where things may rub, plasters in certain places can help too. And of course comfortable running shoes.
Other things to consider for running in the heat are blister prevention socks; whether to wear a hat, visor or headband; sweat bands; and sunglasses. Then you will need to consider whether you want a running vest/bag or bum bag to store water and any extra things you want to take with you (mobile/plasters/keys/phone/energy gels, etc). If you wrap a buff style band around your wrist, should you get really hot, you can wet down with water and then wipe your face and neck (this feels particularly refreshing).
Staying Hydrated whilst Running in the Heat
Obviously staying hydrated is super important when running in heat. But don’t just start on the run itself but drink plenty throughout the week before a run and avoid alcohol/coffee. When running in the heat itself you will want to drink before you are thirsty; but you also do not want to over-hydrate (which will also reduce your sodium levels). Make sure you take small sips. Decide if you want to use water bottles, a bladder or to keep stopping off somewhere to drink (see above planning the route). Alternatively you can arrange to refill your water bottle at places (or plan in places you know you can) or leave bottles hidden along your route. I have also heard that a wet sponge is helpful but haven’t tried this out myself.
You could even freeze a water bottle and wrap it in a tea towel to help cool you down, keep the other water in your bag cool, and have a nice cold drink as it defrosts. If you half fill your hydration bottles and put them in the freezer (this includes salomon soft flasks) if you top them up with water just before going out they stay colder longer. Freezing a bladder helps kill germs and some runners pop ice cubes in them – but be careful they don’t get stuck in the tubes.
You will want to figure out what works best for you – plain water, or energy drinks, or just squash with salt in (I read somewhere not to use table salt but can’t find where I saw this, or any reason to back it up. Other runners have been told to use it. There is also the option of salt tablets)- and whether you want to alternate between the two. It is really important to replace your electrolytes as you can come into all manner of problems – such as runner’s headache. A runner from one of my Facebook groups told me that she used Dioralyte (electrolyte powder) the night before and on the morning of the race.
You may wish to refuel with gels or food as alternatives, or as well as, energy drinks. Good foods are salty foods (nuts, peanut butter sandwiches); flapjack; sweets (Jelly Babies, Percy pigs); kendal mint cake, and fruits (such as watermelon, oranges and bananas). This will be during and after your run depending on the duration of time that you are out. After running in the heat it is also important to refuel and rehydrate.
Hands up I am a novice at all this so if you have anything to add (or even change) to this post I would love to hear it in the comments below.