How to warm up for a summer of running in the heat
When the sun eventually comes out, you will need to adjust your running routine
Mary Jennings’ enthusiastic running students. Staying hydrated when running in the heat is crucial
My latest intake of enthusiastic running students arrived in their winter woollies on a dark evening last March. I promised them the wonder of spring running days approaching. Evenings when the daylight would return and running without hat and gloves would be the norm.
The other night I arrived to see them sheltering under a tree from the wind and rain still in the same winter layers as early March. It’s the beginning of May and they are still waiting for a hint of these promised warmer days. Any day now, I tell them, but I fear they have stopped believing my optimism.
The long winter
If you have kept running through this long winter and late arrival of spring, well done. With no clearly defined change in season there have been mini pockets of warmth and sunshine but the majority of our running this year has involved wearing more layers than an onion and plenty of wind, rain and even snow. Surely soon it will be pleasant enough to run in a T-shirt and shorts and when that time does arrive we will all feel lighter and more comfortable on the run. Although, summer running brings its own challenges. In the heat your body has to work overtime to keep cool as well as run. Resources are spread thinner and running can feel more of an effort.
A glimpse of summer
The summer has been so long coming that most of us have forgotten what it’s like to run in heat. We had a glimpse of it in that three-day mini heatwave in April but it wasn’t long until we were back in long pants and long sleeves the following week. Some unfortunate runners had trained for an event all winter only for it to arrive on the heatwave weekend. Without time to adapt to the weather many struggled with the change in circumstances as both their body and head could not perform as they had done in training. The heat can be very humbling for runners.
It takes time for the body to become accustomed to the heat. I once made the mistake of arriving into Lanzarote the day before the marathon was scheduled. As wonderful as the wall of heat felt when I walked off the plane, I was less enthusiastic the following morning. With hardly any time to adapt from an Irish January day to a Lanzarote heat, my body struggled to adapt to the temperature. We are unlikely to wake up to such a change in weather conditions overnight in Ireland but the message remains to manage your expectations should you find yourself in exceptional temperatures. Adapting to the conditions can actually take time – up to 14 days.
As our body has to direct energy away from the working muscles and focus on cooling the body, there is a noticeable dip in performance when running in the heat. Running becomes harder and pace can suffer. There comes a time where we need to manage our expectations of our performance in warm weather and listen to our body. Some days we just have to accept that we cannot perform at our peak due to the weather. Rather than measuring our success by the clock, consider running by feel. Don’t put pressure on achieving a time goal in weather conditions that you have not trained in.
Adapt running plans
Change up your running routine in the heat. Make running easier by seeking out cooler locations. City footpaths retain more heat than parks and trails. A sea breeze or a shady run can make all the difference. Consider early morning and late evening runs. Dress sensibly. Wear light, loose comfortable clothing and cover your head, but most importantly protect your skin from the sun. With more skin now exposed, sun protection is essential. If you find sun cream drips into your eyes, pop a little Vaseline on your eyebrows and your problem is solved.
Keeping hydrated is indeed a key factor in adapting to the heat. Hydration is not just about drinking while running. We should all keep hydrated throughout the week to give our body the best possible chance to be optimally hydrated. We lose salt as well as water when we sweat and many people find that adding electrolytes or even salt to their drinks helps with performance, recovery and hydration. Rather than carry water, I often carry some coins and nip into a shop to buy a drink as required. If your run is more rural than that, consider short loops and leave a drink at your gate to sip on each lap.
A new narrative
Even with the new challenges it brings, I’m looking forward to hearing everyone complain about running in the heat. I feel the social element of running has suffered with lack of spring sunshine. Roll on the days when there is less urgency to rush back into a car or shower after a run. I miss the post-run chats, coffees and cooldown sessions lazing on the grass. The summer of running indeed brings a whole different level of conversation but I think we are all ready for the change in narrative.