“There will be weather”. This by now infamous line from the West Highland Way Race may sound daft out of context but anyone running that weekend, in the torrential rain best described as ‘apocalyptic weather conditions’, will fully appreciate the impact of the weather. On this particular weekend, it made the job of running 95 miles, including 14,760ft of ascent in under 35 hours, all the more difficult.
One good thing to come out of that weekend is that, regardless of the ferocity of the rain, I have yet to call off a run because of inclement weather. Having run in the conditions that weekend, nothing seems that bad any more.
As residents of this island we are all too accustomed to dealing with poor weather. We don’t have the extremes experienced in some countries but our weather can be quite grim. As such, as runners, we generally just get on with it and deal with it, adding an extra layer and/or waterproof when required, throwing on a hat, some gloves, a buff etc. etc.
However, the other end of the weather scale is a different matter altogether and, especially, when it just happens to fall on a race day.
Like most people, I love the heat when all I have to do is relax. When it comes to running however, it throws a spanner in the works, especially given that I weigh considerably more than I ideally should. Slowed down, sweating profusely, challenging any chance of a PB, I would go so far as to say that I dislike running in the heat. And yet, this weekend, I set out for a 10 mile trail run in the heat of the day.
When I looked outside, I knew we were in for a hot one. However, rather than rush out to try and avoid the worst of the heat, I waited. It’s not often enough that we get days like this, at least not this year, and what’s to say that the next time I have a race it wont be one of these days. Generally, I tend to get the worst or the best of the weather on race day, seldom anything in between!
As such, I decided to face my demons, to man up, to grin and bare it, to get on with it, to learn to cope, for it is only through adaptation that our bodies become accustomed to running in high temperatures, just as the same process of adaptation facilitates our development as runners in terms of speed or distance.
It was worth it. I went out prepared for the heat of the day and, while I toiled, it was expected. I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed it, and I certainly felt a sense of achievement having finished the run in a time only a few minutes slower than I would normally have done.
It wasn’t until after I completed this post that I found a similar post from fellow Running Bug blogger, Kim Ingleby but I decided to go ahead and post this regardless as there are sufficient additions and differences to justify the post.
So, down to it, my tips for running in the heat.
Apply Sun Tan Lotion
Be sure to apply suntan lotion, ideally before putting on whatever items of clothing you have selected for the run. If you apply after you put your clothes on then there is a chance that your clothing will move and expose untreated skin, resulting in a burn. There’s nothing worse than thinking you are protected only to end up with burnt skin.
Recommendations: Coppertone Sport and Banana Boat Sport sprays.
Look out your lightest running gear and, if you are running longer distances, choose your backpack or waist pack carefully.
Recommendations: Check out RaceReady shorts. This super lightweight US brand has long been a favourite of ultra runners stateside and, thanks to www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com, is now available in the UK. Check out how I got on with a pair of RaceReady LD Sixer Shorts on my personal website.
Chaffing is bad enough at the best of times but can be particularly bad when caused by soaking wet clothing. Consider applying a lubricant to sensitive areas like the groin, nipples and anywhere a backpack or waistpack might rub on your skin.
Recommendations: BodyGlide or Vaseline, though I have found that the former is kinder to clothing when used long term
Cover Your Head
This might actually sound counter productive in the heat of the day but there’s nothing worse than a burnt head and/or neck. Some head protection can also go a long way to reducing the amount of sweat streaming down onto your face and into your eyes.
Recommendations: Visors, Buffs and caps are all useful in their own way. Visors offer some protection and mop up sweat whilst letting air get to the head. Buffs might sound like an odd choice on a hot day but they soak up sweat well and, when soaked in cold water, go a long way to helping cool you down. Caps protect your head and mop up sweat. If you are running in locations where you are likely to be bothered by flies, consider something like the Raidlight Sahara Sunhat, available from www.likeys.com, with its ‘cape’ that protects the back of the head and neck. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of being chased by flies and having them ‘ping’ off the back of your head when you stop! You will likely get some funny looks from people though, as they will likely be unaccustomed to seeing someone in a desert hat.
Be kind to your eyes (and face) and wear sunglasses. There are many lightweight brands out there that are suitable for runners.
“Studies carried out by the National Eye Institute, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicate that eye exposure to UV radiation increases the likelihood of cataract development. Additionally, excessive UV exposure has been linked to keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), pterygium (abnormal tissue growth in the sclera), and macular degeneration (a breakdown of the part of the retina that deals with visual perception). Sunglasses that block 100% of this UV radiation are the best way to maintain healthy eyes.” (runnersfeed.com – Why Runners Should Wear Sunglasses)
Recommendations: I have been using Adidas Evil Eye sunglasses for years. The lenses can be swapped according to the conditions and can be easily replaced. After years of use I found that constant exposure to sweat (and the occasional tumble!) had taken its toll on the lenses. It cost approx £35.00 for two new lenses and prescription lens options are also possible. The sunglasses also have a sweat band which goes a long way to keeping sweat out of your eyes.
Consider Your Hydration
On hot days you should always carry fluids and, depending on the length of the run, I would recommend increasing the amount that you normally carry. If you know that your route will take you past a shop, carry a bank card and/or some cash and top up your fluids rather than carry them from the start. A Jimi Wallet is an easy to carry option that keeps cards and/or cash safe and dry.
Be careful not to over hydrate, especially if relying on water alone. Hyponatremia, or water intoxication, can result when water and sodium lost through sweating is replaced with only water. This leaves the body low in sodium.
I would also suggest reading this article on a new and controversial book, ‘Waterlogged’ by Dr. Noakes, which challenges many of the common beliefs surrounding hydration.
Recommendations: Use High 5 or Nuun tablets in water to restore the balance of nutrients in the body and to offer a range of flavours. Just add the tablets to water. I personally prefer using bottles to bladders as I find them easier to fill at check points in races and, perhaps more importantly, I find that it is easier to monitor how much (or how little) fluid I have consumed.
Some days are not for racing. Arguably, at least for the majority of us, really hot days fall in to that category. The heat will likely impact on your mile times, your chances of a PB and so forth. Be ready to accept that. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Chasing a PB that was attained on a day far more favourable to racing could prove risky to your health.
Recommendations: Stop and walk if you have to. In ultras, walking is all part of the race strategy and I have seen me clock miles just as fast from a run/walk strategy than grinding out purely run miles.
You may find that it is better for you to run early in the morning or later in the day/early evening when the weather is not as hot. Arguably this approach reduced the opportunity to adapt to the hotter temperatures that you may experience on race day. However, if you have a specific goal or are working to a schedule as part of your training, training at the coolest point of the day may make more sense.
Recommendations: Check the forecast for an approximation of likely temperatures at a given time of day.
It is all too easy to let the heat get the better of you and to get flustered. Keeping control of your head is half the battle. Think positive. Be realistic. Expect and accept that your running will be affected by the heat. Adapt your plans as the circumstances dictate. I actually found myself running further than I had initially planned just so that I could spend some time in the shade in a forested area of my route.
Recommendations: Try to think ‘light’ and ‘cool’. Stay positive and try to visualize a successful run.
Dehydration: Symptoms include dry mouth, nausea, extreme thirst
Heatstroke: Symptoms include stopping sweating, confusion, unconsciousness, hot and dry skin
Most of all, be sure to enjoy it!
Recommendations: See all of the above to try and ensure that you do enjoy your run!