8 tips for running a race in heat you haven’t trained for

The joys of our unpredictable English weather mean for some runners, race day can be a different climate entirely to the one they’ve trained in. As the temperatures rise this week, we take a look at the smart race day tips for running in the heat:

1. Don’t get sunburnt this week

As tempting as it might be to top up the tan pre-race-day, sunburnt skin loses its’ ability to sweat, making it less efficient when it comes to keeping cool. We’ve taken a look at the best sunscreen for runners here, but don’t wait till race day to apply it. 

Related: What hot temperatures can do to your running and how to cope 

2. Celebrate your training

It’s easy to stare at the weather forecast and let this week’s sunny weather bog you down with worries and forget about all the hard work you’ve already put in. Ground yourself in these achievements and remember, your months of training mean that you’re going into this race prepared.

3. Know that slowing down isn’t all bad

Despite what we said in point two, accept the fact that this marathon is likely to be a little more difficult than anticipated and that it’s ok to slow down a bit. Start slower than planned and make getting to the finish running strong your main goal. Run by perceived effort rather than mile splits.

4. Stay hydrated 

While research suggests you may not need to replace every drop of sweat as soon as you sweat it, staying hydrated is important, especially when you’re running on a warm day. Drink enough in the days leading up to the race – aim for light-yellow urine. Drink a good few hundred mls of water or sports drink on race morning, then replenish at aid stations along the way. Yet it’s important not to over hydrate with water or sports drink – drink when you feel thirsty. If your fingers start to swell, this could be an early warning sign of hyponatremia – a dangerous condition that can occur from over drinking, seek medical attention immediately. 

5. Avoid anything that will dehydrate you

Alcohol, antihistamines and even caffeine can dehydrate you, as can some prescription drugs (check with your GP beforehand before choosing to stop taking any course of medicine). Save the celebratory beer for after the race and if you’re used to drinking coffee beforehand, consider having half as much as usual. 

6. Stay protected from the sun

Sure, nothing new on race day, but make sure you’re wearing wicking fabrics that will help keep you cool as you run (even if this means ditching the charity vest). Consider wearing a running cap or sun visor on a taper run this week and make sure before you get to the start-line, you’ve applied a sweat-proof sunscreen to all exposed skin. 

7. Keep your body cool

If you can, once you’ve sipped enough water, pour the rest over you before throwing it to the side.

8. Know the warning signs

The heat can be dangerous, so know the signs to look out for:


Heat Cramps

Cause: Dehydration leads to an electrolyte imbalance

Symptoms: Severe abdominal or large-muscle cramps

Treatment: Restore salt balance with foods or drinks that contain sodium


Heat Fainting

Cause: Often brought on by a sudden stop that interrupts blood flow from the legs to the brain

Symptoms: Fainting

Treatment: After the fall, elevate legs and pelvis to help restore blood flow to the brain


Heat Exhaustion

Cause: Dehydration leads to an electrolyte imbalance

Symptoms: Core body temperature of 38-40°C, headache, fatigue, profuse sweating, nausea, clammy skin

Treatment: Rest and apply a cold pack on head/neck, also restore salt balance with foods and drinks with sodium


Hyponatremia

Cause: Excessive water intake dilutes blood-sodium levels; usually occurs after running for four or more hours

Symptoms: Headache, disorientation, muscle twitching

Treatment: Emergency medical treatment is necessary; hydration in any form can be fatal


Heat Stroke

Cause: Extreme exertion and dehydration can impair your body’s ability to maintain an optimal temperature

Symptoms: Core body temperature of 40°C or more, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse, disorientation

Treatment: Emergency medical treatment is necessary for immediate ice-water immersion and IV-fluids

A version of this article appeared on runnersworld.com