As the days draw to an early close and winter settles in up in the Northern Hemisphere, the birds sing and the flesh becomes exposed down here in the Southern Hemisphere as summer skids head-first onto our trails. Not only that, it quite frankly becomes an oven down here in certain parts of Australia which makes running slightly uncomfortable for most of us. For endurance events, any combination of environmental factors (high temperature, high humidity and solar radiation) along with prolonged or intense activity can cause heat stress in some athletes. Note that heat stress can occur on relatively cool days if a person overheats due to intense activity and is unable to cool down. Conversely, if environmental factors are very high, people doing very little exercise can suffer from heat stress.
So with that, how do you make sure you cope / prepare for running in the heat? Well we’ve come up with our eight top tips for making sure you stay cool, but also cope with the heat.
1. Watch the water
It is common in hot weather to become dehydrated, but the general guidelines are to drink when thirsty. There is a growing body of research that shows a link between over-hydration and hyponatraemia that can lead to a loss of body salts and illness caused by electrolyte imbalance. You’re naturally going to plough through more water when it’s hot, but take care not to over do it.
2. What to wear?
Loose, light coloured, airy clothing will help the body to stay cooler for longer, whereas dark, tight clothing will retain heat. Appropriate clothing is also very important – minimal clothing with the textile fibres being hygroscopic and loose fit (i.e. not lycra or cotton).
3. Get steamy!
When preparing for the MDS a few years ago, I came across some theories that using either the steam room or sauna (depending on what type of heat you’re going to encounter) a few weeks prior to a race is good. The theory here is that you raise your core body temperature a little, so that you can cope with the heat better. I’m no scientist or doctor, but I can see the logic here and have done this a few times. While I have no scientific evidence to back it up, I feel as though it’s benefited me.
4. Get up!
A really simple one this, but instead of starting your workouts in the middle of the morning, or later in the day, get up with the birds at the crack of dawn and run before it gets really hot. As a general rule, I like to try to have my long runs done by 9-10am in the summer months and that does mean some 4am starts.
5. Play to the conditions
Run to the effort level required on that day, rather than your usual running pace. This is probably easier for many hardcore trail running veterans as we generally tend to run to the conditions and terrain before us. If you are new to running trails and ultras, head out a little slower than you normally would to allow yourself to cool properly during your runs. It is all about managing your body core temperature and not allowing it to rise too much, risking overheating and really slowing down.
6. Use your head
In short, don’t be a hero. If there is a heat alert or really extreme weather, adjust your training routine. Bush fires are a real threat and while one minute it can appear fine, you never know when some idiot is going to head into the bush and play with a box of matches. Just a few weeks back there wasn’t a fire danger within 50kms of where I was running, yet within hours someone dickhead decides to start a fire just a few kms from where I was running. You won’t get any super-human reward for pushing ahead in dangerous heat, so weigh up the risks and train smart.
7. Take your time
Give yourself a couple of weeks to acclimatise to the heat, increasing the intensity and duration of your training slowly. Over time your body will learn to bring your heart rate down, boost your sweat rate and decrease your overall core body temperature.
8. Be a bit ‘shady’
It sounds simple, but get out of the sun and into the shade as much as possible. Being bush / trail runners, we’re blessed with having trees and alike to help keep us protected from the sun. Similarly however, that same cover can also be a hot bed of heat if little wind / air can get into the bush.