Do you skip your running sessions on the really hot days? There is no reason for that! Here is why you should run in the heat and how you deal with it.
Everything feels harder in the heat, even here, in Norway, the temperature gauge can rise and when it does, the temptation to not run is increased. And if one does run, the need to reduce pace and effort is required as everything feels harder in the heat. Quite simply, heat challenges us and places a strain on our body as it attempts to reduce core temperature.
The body’s core temperature normally sits at around 37°C and does not tolerate large variations; so a core temperature above 42 degrees can be fatal. Fortunately, it is rare that people die from heatstroke… But did you know that 94% of the deaths that comes from natural disasters are because of extreme heat? Of course, it is the old and fragile people who are on top of the statistic, not the young, strong and healthy runners. But still, every year there will be runners and elite athletes who get life threatening hyperthermia or even death from a heatstroke.
So, knowing how the heat affects the body and how this can affect both exercise and racing is wise, especially if you are planning to go on vacation or race in a warm country.
The hotter, the slower…
The temperature you’re running in really matters. Out of interest, take a look at race results from really big marathons, New York, Berlin, Paris and so on. Compare the race times and the amount of DNF on a marathon with temperatures above 25°C and a marathon with temperatures around 15°C. It will show you a distinct difference. Actually, studies show that the best temperature to race in is between 7 and 15°C (44-59°F).
Experience from tropical races
In February 2020 I really got to test out running in the heat when I ran a 230k long multiday stage race in Costa Rica, The Coastal Challenge. Temperatures were up to 38°C (100°F) and the humidity level was 80% at times. After the first day, several of the participants were “totally fried”. I saw elite runners who had the whole race ruined simply because they did not take the heat seriously. And that was why I ran past them, one by one, because I had prepared well for the heat and knew how important it was to respect the heat from the very start of the race.
Don’t skip those hot day runs, they will help you and here is why…
More efficient than altitude training
Several studies have been done on what happens to the body when exercising in the heat. The results from these may help to provide some extra motivation to complete the running sessions even on the hottest summer days. According to studies, exercising in warm environments and exposing the body to high heat will not only lead to increased tolerance to heat in the form that the body will sweat faster and more, as well as provide a lower core temperature. It has also been shown to increase the volume of blood plasma, reduce the level of lactate in the blood and to be even more effective than altitude training when it comes to increasing VO2max!
In other words, you get a lot more out of your running session when it’s really hot outside.
Find a balance
I’m not saying it’s a good idea to embark on hard interval sessions and progressive long runs when it’s hot. The opposite, to do so without adaptation would be dangerous. But if you take precautions, there are no reason to skip your run even on the hottest days. The secret is to find a good balance, giving the body time to adapt to the heat. And soon you will notice that the run will be easier and that the heat becomes less troublesome.
10 Tips for running in the heat
· Be sure to have access to water. On long and hard sessions in the heat you should also supply the body electrolytes.
· Run as much as much as possible in the shade.
· If possible, if you run past water, like a pond or a river or the sea where you can take a quick dip, do it. Getting wet is the best way to reduce body temperature.
· Always bring a wrag or two. A good tip is to have a wrag wrapped around your wrist and make sure to keep it wet. Cooling down the wrist like that, as strange as it may sound, really helps. Also, around the neck, many runners, for example at hot races like Western States add neck ties filled with ice to help reduce temperature.
· Use sunscreen! At every race I have participated in in warm environments I have used the sunscreen from Riemann P20. What’s good about this is that it’s extremely waterproof, sits even if you sweat and you only need to put it on once a day. Perfect for ultra-running in other words.
· Wear caps/sunshade and sunglasses. A hat with a black inner brim reduces flare from the sun and relaxes the eyes.
· Reduce the intensity level. The body needs to work harder when it is very hot to keep the core temperature down. When your muscles work you produce heat, so the body needs to work even harder. Very high intensity can cause heat stroke, which can be fatal.
· Do the hard workouts in coldest hours of the day; preferably early in the morning or late at night. Avoid hard sessions in the middle of the day.
· Does the weather forecast show rain? Take the opportunity for a refreshing run in the summer rain.
· Salt tastes better than sweet. When it is very hot there are many runners who experience cravings for salty things. The body loses salt through the sweat and that is perhaps why potato chips often tempts more than chocolate on the hottest days. So, bring some salty snaks in the bag, it may be easier to get down than gels.