It’s hot. It’s damned hot. And maybe we’d all better get used to it…

Don’t worry, Al Gore hasn’t hijacked the post. But just in case he’s right, as looks increasingly likely, maybe it’s time to learn how to run cool when the weather turns hot.

The thing is, I don’t think I’ve had a single email from a fellow runner lately where ‘this damned heat’ hasn’t been mentioned at least once. We have all discussed it, until we are blue in the face, or in my case, extremely red. And yes, we are all agreed that it makes going for a run a bit of an uphill struggle and adds at least 10% to normal training times.

If I’m honest, I’ve always tried to avoid running in any kind of heat, generally waiting for nightfall, or at least rainfall, before I run during the Summer months.

Which is probably why, every time I arrive at the start line for any kind of race, and it’s so unseasonably hot, which it always, always is, that I have such a hard time dealing with it. All of which simply feeds my Arthur Dent-like paranoia, that even were I to run the Arctic Marathon there would be some kind of fluke heatwave on the day of the race.

Paranoia aside, however, the fact must be faced that while I’ll never be able to run the Saharan Marathon des Sables (After all, it took several St John’s Ambulance persons to talk me away from the pretty white light and towards the finishing line at the FLM last time I ran in 23 degrees heat), I feel that I really should be training myself to handle warm days a little better.

But is that really possible? Well, I’ve done a little bit of research, and it seems that while some of us will always fare worse than others in the heat, particularly during sporting activities, some acclimatisation is beneficial to all, even sweating, red-faced weirdos like my good self.

Now, before getting to the serious business of sharing my findings on acclimatisation training, there is just one thing I’d like to share with you, for no reason other than that I’m plainly a very bad person. And it is this: according to the American Medical Association: “Exertional Heat Stroke (EHS) can affect seemingly healthy athletes even when the environment is relatively cool. EHS is defined as when the rectal temperature becomes greater than 40 degrees Celsius.”

Ohhh-kay! Thanks so much for that particular mental picture…which surely brings a whole new terror to post-race changing areas.

But back at the serious subject of acclimatisation, current scientific thinking is that after as little as 14 days of light exertion in a hot climate, the human body is capable of re-prioritising blood flow, sending more of it to cool at the body’s surface, thus reducing fluid loss and also the strain placed on the heart by having to pump more blood during exertion in hot conditions.

So, while it’s currently 22 degrees outside, I think I’m going to go for a slow 6 miler anyway, complete with a Camelbak full of iced Taut, and see if I can’t improve my performance the next time I run in the heat.

Or, at the very least, avoid the possibility of a paramedic checking me out for EHS…


Running in a heatwave. Ideas anyone?

longroadRegular readers will know that running in the heat really isn’t my speciality. I can acquire sunburn simply by watching Ice Cold In Alex on the TV and develop heatstroke from standing too close to the toaster.

Little surprise then that I find running in anything over 18 degrees uncomfortable, and anything over 23 degrees to be borderline suicidal.

But as it is always at least 23 degrees when I make it to the start line of any race, anywhere in the world, I’ve been making efforts over the last couple of years to improve my performance in the heat.

Medical opinion is that by regularly exercising when it’s hot, you can train your body to send more blood to cool at the surface. But having tried this theory out through most of last Summer, I have to say that this doesn’t work for everybody.

In fact, the only thing I’ve found that helps to ease the pain of hot runs is to slow right down in order to minimise the strain on your heart.

The effects of heat on heartrate

Having recently reviewed the Garmin 405CX, I’m beginning to pay more attention to my heart rate than my running pace these days. So I recently noticed that while pacing myself at exact 8 minute miles with the Garmin, my heart rate was fully 15% higher in 22 degrees of heat than it had been a couple of days earlier in a more pleasant 16 degrees.

Yet when I repeated the exercise and compared otherwise identical hot and cool runs at a very leisurely 8.45 pace, my heartrate was just 3% higher in the heat.

So while these are far from being the results of a major medical study, they certainly convinced me that the only way to avoid putting too much strain on my heart in the heat is to treat every hot weather run as a slow run.

Unless of course, you know better?

Dealing with heat is one area in which I’m happy to admit my shortcomings. So if anyone out there has got a great tip for how to deal with it, feel free to leave a comment.

I’m going to be writing a ‘how to deal with the heat’ piece for my Mate Down the Pub column on the shortly, so any really good tips will be shared with roughly 50,000 fellow runners.