Dedicated runners have already roasted themselves and their motivation this summer by braving the recent skyrocketing temperatures, high humidity and a scorching sun – me included. Surviving isn't just a test of willpower and determination, but also how well you prepare ahead of the race.
A few years ago I ran the 25 kilometre leg of the Ned Kelly Chase 100 kilometre run with some friends. Looking back, I was doomed for a bad run. My training was chaotic and my pre-race nutrition and hydration didn't match the conditions. A later than predicted start time meant I set off in the peak heat of the day, and by half way I knew I was in trouble. At the 18 kilometre mark I started to experience severe leg cramps, light-headedness and I couldn't cool down. I kept going and crossed the finish line, but my body was scorched and my confidence was in tatters.
So how can you run in the heat without burning up?
Advice from the professional
Lucy Bartholomew is one of Australia's up-and-coming trail runners and knows how to outrun the heat. In 2016 she took on the Devil's Ridge 70 kilometre in the Gobi Desert, China. She says it was both an amazing and exhausting experience.
"I was running across blistering salt plains, which was a completely different environment to mountain trails. With no trees in sight, the temperature rose to 42 degrees in the canyon," says Bartholomew.
Acknowledging the risks
Bartholomew also admits running in hot weather can seriously affect your health.
"When you're running in high temperatures your body is under greater stress to keep cool whilst expending energy. This means a greater loss of sodium and water, which makes your blood thicker and your body work harder to stay cool."
Bartholomew says overheating and dehydration symptoms include leg cramps, muscle spasms, dizziness, headaches, nausea, lack of sweating, fatigue, clumsiness, stumbling, confusion and even mental disorientation. She recommends following these tips to run through the heat.
Cool down your training
If it's going to be super-hot or humid during the day, go for an early morning or late evening run. Bartholomew also suggests dialling back the intensity of the planned training or replacing a run with another activity. "Sometimes I'll do an easy training session because my body is already under stress or if it's been a few days of heat and I feel exhausted, then I will change the run to a ride or a swim."
Hydration is important to staying cool and performing your best in hot conditions. Prevent dehydration by starting your run already hydrated (your pee should be a straw colour). Runners sweat differently so it's hard to say how much water you need to drink to replenish lost fluids, but make a conscious effort to drink plenty of water before a run. "Carry water with you or follow a route with taps along the way," says Bartholomew.
Wear light coloured, loose fitting, sweat wicking running gear. Technical apparel allows moisture to pass through them to be evaporated, keeping you cooler. Wear sunglasses that filter UVA and UVB rays, sports sunscreen, sleeves and a hat or visor to protect your skin and eyes from the sun. Try wearing a cooling neck scarf or headband as well.
Salt with that?
"Taking on plain water sometimes isn't enough and when the muscles don't have the right balance they can cramp," says Bartholomew. Drink fluids or eat foods with sodium to help reduce the possibility of muscle spasms, and if they happen, walk it out or reduce the intensity.
Embrace the headwind
It might sound crazy but if possible, start your run going with the wind and then run back with a headwind. Running into the wind has a cooling effect, and you'll need that on the home stretch.
It's always hotter in cities than in surrounding areas because asphalt and concrete retain heat. If you must run in an urban area, look for shade such as a local park and switch out pavement for grass.
At the aid stations, take one cup of water to drink, and another to pour over your head.
If it's simply too hot to venture outdoors, substitute your training with a treadmill run in an air-conditioned room or gym or give pool running a try.
If you threw caution to the wind and end up roasted after running in the heat Bartholomew recommends finding a cool place to recover. "Find a shady spot or seek out air-conditioning and drink water as soon as you can. To aid your recovery also have a sports drink or eat a banana to replace lost electrolytes."
Any tips for running in the heat? Leave them in the comments section below.
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.
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