It’s important to manage expectations when running in the heat (Picture: Getty)
If you love running, you won’t want anything to knock you off your stride.
But it can be hard to continue with your normal routine during a heatwave – and with good reason. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are real issues, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
In any extreme conditions, it’s important to listen to your body. Pushing yourself in high temperatures can be incredibly dangerous, and if you ever feel unwell, or like it is just too hard – make sure you take a break, drink some water and find some shade.
However, there are ways you can continue to run when the temperatures soar. You just have to be really careful, and adjust what you normally do to fit the new circumstances.
Before slipping on your running shoes, it’s important to know the warning signs, risks and safety measures to avoid heat exhaustion, heat cramps or the potentially life-threatening, heatstroke.
Personal training experts, Origym, have put together their top tips for keeping yourself safe without missing out on your regular runs:
Plan a well-shaded and flat route
One of the most important tips for running in hot weather is to stay in the shade as much as possible and save those hill climbs for cooler temperatures. With your body working harder than usual, it’s best to stick to flat routes with plenty of rest spots.
The more trees on your route to cool the air, the better. Their canopies intercept sunlight, block heat from reaching the surface and keep you sheltered. Roads and buildings absorb heat and raise the temperatures even higher.
Wear the right attire
We strongly advise opting for loose-fitting, lightweight clothing with light colours to reflect the sunlight, as well as staying away from 100% cotton. It absorbs sweat and won’t dry quickly so it will become uncomfortable and affect your performance.
A lightweight running hat or visor (which you can freeze the night before or dampen with cold water) will keep the sun from your eyes, protect your head and reduce the risk of encountering heat and sun stroke.
Protect your skin and eyes
Sunburn is another factor that plays a role in preventing the skin from cooling itself down when running in hot weather, as well as the whole host of other issues it promotes.
For this reason, we recommend covering all exposed skin in waterproof sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher 30 minutes before heading out on your run.
Don’t forget the SPF lip balm as well – you can even bring one with you if you carry a little running bag.
If you run for longer than an hour, be sure to take some with you to reapply – and don’t forget your sunglasses.
Keep yourself cool
While running, pause to splash water on your head, back of the neck, under arms and insides of your wrists. Be careful not to get your feet wet – blisters are the last thing you need.
Don’t overdo your warm-up. With the temperatures being higher, your muscles will warm up quicker. A 5-10 minute walk before you start running will help you adjust to the temperature without overheating.
Spot the warning signs of heatstroke
Heatstroke is a serious, potentially life-threatening form of heat illness that needs medical attention as soon as possible. Your body’s cooling system completely shuts down at this point, sweating ceases, and your skin becomes very hot and dry.
Advice from the NHS is to call 999 if you or someone else have any signs of heatstroke, such as:
- Still feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
- Not sweating even while feeling too hot
- A high temperature of 40°C or above
- Fast breathing and shortness of breath
- Feeling confused
- Loss of consciousness
- Not responsive
- Neurological symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, irritability or odd behaviour
One of the most important tips for running in the heat, and simply running in general, is hydration, and this includes ensuring your body is well hydrated before you even head out.
Start with a full glass of water and then ensure you take a bottle of water on your run, drinking sips approximately every 10 minutes to keep you hydrated. A great tip is to freeze your bottle of water the night before, and take it out the freezer 15-20 minutes before you run.
Adjust your expectations
Running in the heat and humidity affects performance. It can be frustrating, but we recommend adjusting your expectations and fitness goals when running in hot weather. Save your fitness challenges for cooler months.
Slowing down will help you produce less heat and improve your endurance. As you begin to acclimatise and feel more comfortable running in hot weather, you can gradually increase your pace and duration if it feels right.
Is it ever too hot to go running?
It can be tempting to use the hot weather as an excuse to take your trainers off and skip your session, but is it actually ever too hot to exercise?
The US National Weather Service states these potential risks after prolonged exposure and/or physical activity:
- Caution: 26-32 degrees Celsius, fatigue possible
- Extreme caution: 32-39 degrees Celsius, heat stroke, heat cramps, or heat exhaustion possible
- Danger: 39-51 degrees Celsius, heat cramps or heat exhaustion likely, and heat stroke possible
- Extreme danger: 51 degrees Celsius or higher, heatstroke highly likely
We’re not likely to get beyond the ‘Extreme caution’ category here in the UK, but it is still worth taking extra precautions.
It’s also important to keep in mind that women are typically affected by heat illness more than men, due to their higher percentage of body fat and lower aerobic power.
Of course, regardless of the temperature, if you just don’t feel up to it, or would rather spend your sunny day relaxing and reading a book, that’s fine.
You don’t actually need a ‘legitimate reason’ to skip a workout. Just do it when you feel like it.
Take breaks and incorporate intervals
Running at a continuous, steady pace and for long intervals causes your heart rate to increase. Your body is consequently working harder to regulate your core temperature, which can in turn – lead to overheating.
Interval training gives you a chance to recover and cool down during the lower intensity durations. Although the production of heat is much greater during interval training, resting between each interval allows your body to lose some excess heat.
Cooling down post run
Take a shower as soon as possible following your run and avoid sitting around in sweaty clothes – this can result in bacteria build-up and cause infections or skin issues. If you can’t shower immediately, have a change of clothing with you.
Your body will need longer to recover when it’s very hot, so be sure to have plenty of rest days or choose alternative exercises that you can do indoors out of the sun.
Fill up on vitamins and minerals
Not only does the heat make running harder, it can also hamper recovery. Valuable vitamins and minerals are lost through sweat and muscle repair in hot weather. Therefore, it’s important to get enough of the right nutrients to support your recovery and replace any necessary nutrients that you are losing.
Consume key vitamins and minerals such as sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin C, iron and zinc.
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