On Sunday, I embarked on a bit of a mega run. It was nothing like the distance I did last year in the Gower ultra, but it was the furthest I’d run in a long time. Seventeen and a half miles to be precise. And it was hot. So before I went, I did a bit of research to find out the best way to tackle distance running in the heat. Here are my top tips.
1. Do it
This is the big one for me. If I hadn’t made an arrangement to run, I wouldn’t have gone when I realised how hot it was. But I was really glad I did because it has given me so much confidence in my running. If I can do 17.5 miles on the hottest day of the year, I no longer have any excuse for not getting out for a run. And if you prepare properly, it’s not so bad. There’s even an advantage to running in the heat – I didn’t ache afterwards. I’m assuming this is due to the muscles being so warm.
This is probably the most important thing. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to hydrate en route, you’ll need to carry water with you. We are incredibly lucky to live in an area that has an abundance of natural spring water. This meant that we didn’t need to carry water as we planned our route to take in the springs. But it also meant that we could only drink when we passed a spring. Sipping water all around the run would definitely have been better.
3. Dress for the weather – and the distance you’re running
It goes without saying that you’ll need to wear appropriate clothing for running in heat. I went for a light t-shirt that covered my shoulders so they didn’t burn, along with shorts. What I didn’t plan properly for was the distance. I definitely could have chosen better clothing to avoid chafing.
4. Aim for the coolest part of the day
The coolest parts of the day are likely to be the morning and evening. If you can time most of your runs for these hours, I’d advise doing it. Whilst I recovered well from my run, I wouldn’t want to be running at the hottest part of every day if I could avoid it. I don’t think you can really hydrate enough in that heat to repeat the experience every day.
5. Get wet
Before I set out, I drenched my head and face with water. I did the same at all the springs we came to. And it definitely kept me cool at least for a few minutes at a time. Which was a relieving break from the heat.
6. Consider running in the shade
We planned our route to make sure we were in the shade as much as possible. And more importantly, we were away from the roads. Whilst off-road, hill running might seem like the difficult option – in hot weather it really isn’t. There’s more shade, more variation in the muscles you use and less stress on the joints.
7. Remember the suncream
This one’s self-explanatory. I don’t really wear suncream. We were in the shade a lot and I don’t burn easily, so I didn’t wear it. But if there’s any chance you’ll burn, you need to be covered in it. After all, there’s no stopping to top up half way round unless you carry it with you.
8. Take it slowly
This is another joy of running in the heat. There’s no pressure to beat a particular time. You have to remember that just by running, you’re doing 100% better than the people sat at home complaining about the heat. And pushing it in the heat could be damaging as well as demoralising. Let’s face it, you’re never going to get your best half-marathon time on a day when you’d rather be in the paddling pool with a cold beer.
9. Fuel up
What you eat is almost as important as what you drink when you’re running long distances in the heat. Most people suggest carbs the night before and some sort of energy gels or sweets for during the run. As for me? I intended to prepare the night before with lots of water and a big bowl of pasta. What actually happened was that I got half way down my third pint of cider before I remembered I was supposed to be running in the morning. So then I carbed up on pizza. It was better than nothing, but I suspect I would have flagged less on the last mile if I’d had the pasta and water.
10. Celebrate your achievement
Lastly, don’t forget to take the time to reflect on the achievement of a long run in the blazing heat. You didn’t want to go out, but you did. It’s a tough run, but you did it. Take confidence from the fact that you’re more awesome than you realised.