Today (Monday 2nd December) was the hottest day in Melbourne since the end of last Summer. So at 5:30 this morning, Shaun and I headed out for a 70 minute hill run before it got too warm. I don’t know what temperature it was at that time of the morning, but it was still warm enough to warrant taking our tops off and we were both drenched in sweat by the time we got back to my place. Now after 7-8 months of running in cool weather, having a hot day like that, can really hit you hard if you’re not prepared for it. So here are my tips for handling the heat.
The most obvious one is try and time your runs to the coolest part of the day. Like Shaun and I, 5:30 is best as it also allows us to get the run in before the rest of the family wake up! But what if you are heading out to a race and it’s going to be a hot day? You can’t exactly choose your start time, so you will need to adapt to it.
We can obviously handle much hotter conditions later in Sumer than earlier on as the body makes physical changes to better cope with the stresses of heat. Initial adaptation can occur in just a few days, but studies have shown that the body continues to improve its tolerance of the heat over weeks although at a much slower rate. So if you have at least two weeks to build up your tolerance to heat, great! But if time is limited, you should spend at least a couple of days in a similar temperature to what you will be racing in. Coming from a cool climate straight into a hot one, is a recipe for failure.
Water will be your number one ally here as dehydration in hot weather is a definite danger. Spending a few weeks before the hot weather hits hydrating a bit more than normal can top up your reserves. But there are a couple of things you can also add to keep your levels up naturally. A magnesium deficiency will prevent correct hydration and us runners tend to use our reserves up a lot quicker than the average population. So find a good magnesium supplement and even consider double dosing for a week or two. Here is a post I did on magnesium a while ago.
Adding a pinch of salt to your water will also help you retain your fluids better, especially over long distances. The opposite to dehydration is hyponatremia which is where you have too much water and dilute the electrolytes in your system. More people have died from this in races compared to dehydration as it is far harder to diagnose. If you dehydrate, just drink water and you will eventually come good. With hyponatremia, it’s very hard to boost your electrolyte levels without drinking more water with added electrolytes! The one thing you have just had too much of. Adding a pinch of salt can help the electrolytes stay in the acceptable levels. When I talk about salt, we don’t want table salt, use a good quality sea salt like I described in this post.
If you are out there for a long time, such as an ultra, sports drinks (although I don’t normally use them) are essential. Just make sure it is one that contains sodium, magnesium, some glucose and another low GI sugar (not fructose). Salt is good for shorter distances but the amount you will be having will not be sufficient to get you through a multiple hour event. You need a more potent option.
One last tip for running in the heat is to wear appropriate gear. Light coloured clothes are better than black and the range of tops from SUB4 are a great option that Shaun and I swear by. Hats are great for keeping the sun out of your eyes, but they are also great at keeping the heat in. Roughly 80% of your heat escapes through your head. So if you need a hat to keep the sun off your face, consider a visor so the top of your head is free. Of course, the occasional cup of water thrown over the top of your head can also work wonders!
Try these tips next time you need to run in the heat so you don’t end up in the back of an ambulance!