Running in heat shouldn't be underestimated. In fact, lacing up in soaring temperatures can have painful consequences. But does that mean you shouldn't be doing it? Not exactly. You just need to take steps to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated, sustaining heatstroke (also known as sunstroke) or sunburn.
Let's run through the things you need to know to keep you running safely as summer goes on. This includes being realistic about what you can achieve in the heat and sometimes adjusting what you had planned. Scroll on for 11 tips to stay safe this sunny season.
11 expert tips to safely run in the heat
We've briefly covered the very real consequences of running in the heat (sunstroke, sunburn and dehydration), so here are 11 expert ways to keep your fitness tracker ticking over this summer.
1. Hydrate beforehand
Adequate hydration is crucial when it comes to keeping your body happy and healthy. Bad news, it's not good enough sip a little in the morning, fill up your running water bottle and head out. You need to make sure you're properly hydrated before you even think about setting off.
"By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated," says Flex Chelsea PT Jason Bone, explaining that waiting until you've started exercise is not okay to start thinking about taking on water.
Besides being thirsty, if your urine is dark amber or yellow that's a clear sign you're dehydrated and, unfortunately, need to postpone exercise until you're sufficiently rehydrated again.
2. Time it right
We get that you might not be a morning lark but starting your workout after 8 am could be doing you and your body a disservice.
"Try to start early," advises Third Space Soho's lead trainer Lucie Cowan. "Run as early as you can before the heat gets too much. A lot of people like to run later in the evening but it's actually much hotter then than first thing in the morning."
If you're a lunchtime warrior who uses the midday break to get the endorphins going, you might want to cool it whilst the heat's quite so high. The sun is strongest between 11 am and 2 pm which means you might be putting yourself at elevated risk.
3. Wear the right kit
Some materials are more suitable to heat and copious amounts of sweat – cotton is not one of them. Anything cotton will soak up your sweat, becoming damp and heavy rather than keeping you cool and dry.
This is especially true in the footwear department. Wear running socks that are designed to wick sweat, not styles made from cotton that will hold on to it and could cause blisters.
Sweat-wicking, seamless, breathable are the words that should be forefront in your mind when picking a run outfit – but ultimately, clothes that are going to keep you cool, covered but not overly hot, are loose-fitting and made from technical fabric are going to serve you best. Some even have UV-reflective properties – a godsend for fair runners.
Outside of clothing, there are some key accessories to keep you safe and chilled:
Cap or hat
Sports sunglasses – or just normal ones
Whether it's a brimmed cap keeping the sun off your face and out of your eyes, sports sunglasses to reduce glare or a run belt stashed with energy gels or electrolyte tablets – make sure you're kitted out properly before setting off.
4. Make your warm-up longer
Whilst it seems counter-intuitive to double down on your running warm-up when you're already very warm, warming up is actually even more important in warm temperatures. "You need a longer warm-up to get your body adjusted to the heat and allow your heart rate to rise slowly," stresses Cowan.
If you're not sure how to extend your warm-up, try these activation drills before your next session:
5. Adjust your training style
Even though you've possibly been doing 5ks for months now, adjusting the way you train with the weather is how you keep your training safe and sustainable.
If you're a long-distance runner Cowan suggests running multiple shorter loops instead of one long loop – something she acknowledges might seem "boring" but will keep you safer if you're running alone or if it's really hot.
"You need to add in an adjustment period," he says. "In England, we tend to get three or four days of ridiculous heat, then the temperature plummets again. On those three to four days, you don't want to be pushing your body to do something you would normally be capable of in colder weather. Instead, on your first run in hot weather, reduce your intensity a little bit and then build up."
Bone suggests changing the actual structure of your workout too. Instead of cantering off, perhaps jog for two minutes, walk for thirty seconds. But, he notes, this is not high-intensity interval training, you're using intervals to break up your normal, jogging pace.
6. Use the wind to your advantage
This one takes a little forward planning but it'll make those last few miles feel so much sweeter. "Start with the tailwind behind your back so that when you're on the way back – or the second half of your loop – feeling knackered and hot, you've got the headwind in your face," says Cowan, who uses the technique in her own training.
The UK Met Office has a handy real-time wind guide to show you which way to set out with the wind on your back.
7. Grab a friend
Picking a training buddy to workout with at a safe social distance could be one of the biggest things keeping you both safe in the sunshine.
You'll be able to monitor each other for symptoms of heatstroke, heat exhaustion, sunburn and dehydration more accurately than you going off how you feel.
8. Avoid competitive workouts
This may seem like an obvious one but competitive workouts where you're trying to beat a friend – virtually or physically – or yourself are properly out of the question.
"It’s okay to tell yourself that you’re not going to hit anywhere near what you can normally do. And that’s not you being a failure or you not having the determination or being lazy. That is a physical response to your body having to work much harder at a higher intensity before you even begin," says Cowan.
Basically – no heroics, no ego. Listen to your body, be smart, and, as Bone says, "don't try to hit any PBs in the heat."
9. Listen to your body
Bottom line, your body has to work much harder to run in the heat: your heart rate will already be higher as your blood is pumping to the surface to cool your body down, explains Cowan.
"Listening to your body isn't a cliché – it feels tougher because your body has to work harder at that temperature," she says. With that in mind, truly pay attention to how you're feeling and perhaps take advantage of shorter runs, at the same intensity.
Keep reading for the symptoms of dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and how to handle sunburn.
10. Cool down as quickly as possible
You might be expecting a series of stretches to recover after a run but, while they are important, actually cooling your body down as quickly as possible is far more important according to Cowan.
"Don't get in, put the telly on and sip on a drink," she levels. "Whilst you don't have to get into an ice bath, try and have a cold or cool shower as quickly as you can to get the inflammation away from your joints and muscles and bring your core temperature down as efficiently as possible."
11. Replace lost electrolytes
When you go to the bathroom or sweat you lose electrolytes, something that's exacerbated when exercising in extreme heat. Electrolytes include essential minerals such as salt, magnesium, iron and calcium and can be easily restored with home recipes, add-to-water tablets or sports drinks.
In fact, Lambert's go-t0 home recipe is easy to knock up when you're in a pinch to restore lost electrolytes during or after a run:
200ml orange juice
Pinch of salt
Signs you've been running in heat for too long or too much
If you didn't manage to temper your session and are feeling south of normal, make sure to check in with a medical professional. You might be suffering from dehydration, heatstroke, heat exhaustion or sunburn.
Symptoms of dehydration:
dark yellow and strong-smelling pee
feeling dizzy or lightheaded
a dry mouth, lips and eyes
peeing little, and fewer than 4 times a day
If you're displaying serious signs of dehydration, call 999 or go to A&E:
you're feeling unusually tired
you're confused and disorientated
any dizziness when you stand up does not go away
you haven't peed all-day
your pulse is weak or rapid
you have fits (seizures)
Symptoms of heatstroke and heat exhaustion
dizziness and confusion
loss of appetite and feeling sick
excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
fast breathing or pulse
a temperature of 38C or above
being very thirsty
If you're displaying serious signs of heatstroke or heat exhaustion, call 999 or go to A&E:
feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
not sweating even though too hot
a temperature of 40ºC or above
fast breathing or shortness of breath
a fit (seizure)
loss of consciousness
What to do if you get sunburnt
get out of the sun as soon as possible
cool your skin with a cool shower, bath or damp towel
apply aftersun cream or spray, like aloe vera
drink plenty of water to cool down and prevent dehydration
cover sunburnt skin from direct sunlight until the skin has fully healed
do not use petroleum jelly on sunburnt skin
do not put ice or ice packs on sunburnt skin
do not pop any blisters
do not scratch or try to remove peeling skin
do not wear tight-fitting clothes over sunburnt skin
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