With the promise of more hot weather on the way, we found out how we can protect ourselves from the heat and use it to our advantage
The Women’s Running team all love a sunny run, but we’re often woefully unprepared for this elusive British weather. While we usually slap on some suncream and head out as usual, there are lots of things we runners need to think about before, during and after running in the heat. There are also a whole host of benefits to running in hot weather, but there are also some important rules to follow if you want to avoid heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke.
3 golden rules for running in the heat:
- Stay hydrated
- Stick to your usual heart rate, not your usual pace
- Avoid exercise altogether in temperatures of 28°C and above
Once you have these key rules in mind, you can make running in the heat your own.
“For runners who successfully adapt and acclimatise to hot conditions, running in the heat can actually improve athletic performance,” sports physiotherapist Randall Cooper tells us. “The body learns to sweat more – and in turn improve thermoregulation, both in hot and cold conditions. Training in the heat can also lead to positive changes in blood plasma volume, reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate levels and improve aerobic performance.”
Sounds good to us. But, all these benefits don’t come easy. “It needs to be stressed that adapting to running in the heat should be done incrementally over many sessions, and that not everyone responds to training in the heat in the same manner, so it definitely needs to be approached with caution,” Randall warns.
So, how do we do that? Randall has shared his advice with us below, as well as some quick tips to get you out in the sun safely.
“The key to running in the heat is to start slow, and allow the body time to gradually adapt to the heat,” says Randall. “If you’re going for a 30-minute run, build gradually over the first 10 mins so your thermoregulatory system has time adjust to the simultaneous stresses of the heat and exercise.”
“Core temperature may increase more than normal whilst running in the heat, so it’s very important to listen to your body for signs of heat stress,” Randall advises. What are those symptoms? “Light headedness, nausea or a sudden increase in heart rate. If you experience these symptoms, stop and cool down immediately.”
We know that hydration is key, but it’s not just a case of having a quick swig before you go. “Runners will experience much greater water loss while exercising in heat, so drink plenty of water before, during and after your run,” Randall reminds us. “Don’t wait until you feel thirsty or have a dry mouth, as when you do you’ve already lost enough fluid that it will negatively impact your athletic performance. Ensure your urine is clear before you set off on a run.”
Here are some quick tips from Randall on how to prepare when you’re heading out into the heat.
- Run in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest part of the day.
- Wear light, technical fabrics that wick sweat and allow the skin to breathe.
- Wear sports specific sunscreen. The Premax Sunscreen for Sport is light, dry, SPF50+ and specifically formulated for exercise.
- Run a course that is mainly in the shade, and slow your pace to adjust to the heat and humidity.
- Plan ahead for the end of the session. Have extra water on hand, some small wet towels to place on the back of your neck or wrists, and know where you can get out of the heat and the sun into a cooler environment.
You might think that once you’re back inside, you can forget all about your run, but Randall tell us otherwise. “Recovering after a run in the heat takes on additional importance, and a change in strategy,” he says. Here are his 5 tips for recovering well:
- Get fluids in as soon as possible. Replenish the body with cold fluids (water is best), ensuring that your urine is clear (not yellow) 2-3 hours+ after the session. Elite athletes will often weigh themselves before a session in the heat, and make sure they keep replenishing fluids until their body weight returns to normal.
- Get extra sleep. Running in the heat will be more stressful on your body – and getting 7-9 hours sleep is even more important to allow the body to repair and revive. If possible, sleep in a cool room (17-20°C) however try to not run an air-conditioner as the dry air will cause further dehydration overnight.
- Choose a ‘cool’ active recovery. Keep any active recovery session light and easy, and out of the heat if possible. Swimming in a lido or lake is a great idea! It’s also a good idea to plan how you’ll cool down after this session as well. A cool shower or fan is a great strategy.
- Wash the sweat off your skin. You’ll sweat more in the heat, and the sodium (salt) in the sweat can cause skin dehydration and ammonia & urea can cause irritation and inflammation. Wipe down, or shower as soon as you can. Replenish and soothe distressed and dehydrated skin with a moisturiser, such as the Premax Recovery Cream.
- Refuel with the right food and fluids. Running in the heat can lead to a loss of appetite, so getting in some protein and carbohydrates soon after your run can be harder than usual. Cool smoothies, protein shakes and/or ice slushy will be easier to take in, and will also help your core temperature return to normal.