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Considering running in the heat? Why it might actually damage your fitness


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  • Should you lace up? Shouldn’t you?

    Public service announcement: it’s hot out. The hottest it’s ever been in the UK, actually – around 40 degrees in some places. Considering running in the heat, or getting any kind of workout in? We reckon you should read this first.

    This week’s level 4 heatwave – a stark (and sweaty) reminder of the impending climate change we’re facing  – caught the UK by surprise. So much so, many are still lacing up and working out outside – but is this recommended by the experts and should you still be attempting to hit your mileage, even when it’s scorchio outside?

    All good questions – which is why we’ve asked Christian Allen, Product Trainer at Runners Need. He studied Sport and Exercise Science at St Mary’s University and has plenty of thoughts (and tips) for running in the heat. Don’t miss our guides to the benefits of running, running tips for beginners, and training tips for a marathon, while you’re here.

    Running in the heat: your expert-led guide

    Fun fact: did you know that a temperature difference of just 5°C can alter your running pace by up to three per cent? So the extra 15 degrees or so we’re experiencing during this heatwave could impact your running pace by a huge 9 per cent.

    Not only that, but exposure to the sun for prolonged periods of time can lead to heatstroke, dehydration, sunstroke and more.

    As a result, Olympic run coach Andy Hobdell doesn’t advise running in this kind of temperature. “Running in temperatures this hot when you’re not acclimatised is a bad idea but if you’re set on it, aim for pre 9am or get your miles done in an air-conditioned gym.”

    Still keen to get your run in outdoors? Allen’s tips will help you avoid illness.

    1. Take it extra easy

    First things first: don’t go out pushing the pace if the weather’s hotter than usual. You’ll likely end up feeling nauseous.

    “To make sure that doesn’t happen, take it extra easy and don’t test your limits,” advises the expert.

    That means taking at least 30 seconds per mile or km off your usual pace. Trust us on this one.

    2. Be mindful of your shoe choice

    You likely won’t have thought of this one, but Allen maintains that it’s important. “Your shoes are your most important piece of kit, no matter what time of year it is, but this is especially important when running during the heat,” he explains.

    Why? Well, shoes that are too tight will constrict your feet and result in blisters, only exacerbated in hot weather. Similarly, making sure that your running shoes are made of breathable fabrics is important, and Allen advises opting for shoes with mesh vents on top to boost airflow, too, to keep your feet from overheating.

    Our tried and tested round up of the best running trainers might help.

    3. Don’t wear thick socks

    Obvious but important, as socks are another key factor for preventing any pain or blisters when running.

    “Wearing technical socks designed specifically for running will reduce your chances of soreness and rubbing, especially in high temperatures,” explains the expert. “Running socks are made from sweat-wicking material that pulls the sweat away from the skin – well worth the investment during hotter months.”

    Shot of a middle aged woman running in the heat against a multicoloured backdrop

    4. Avoid cotton

    FYI, when it comes to running clothes, cotton is a big no-no, shares Allen. “Not only does the material trap heat, hindering your body’s ability to cool down, it also soaks up sweat, keeping the moisture against your skin and increasing the chance of chafing,” he warns. (Chafe creams at the ready).

    Instead, he advises look for kit that has:

    • Mesh ventilation for airflow
    • Seamless construction to avoid rubbing
    • UV protection to shield skin from the sun’s rays.

    He also adds that, while it might seem counter-intuitive, long-sleeved and ankle-length base layers can be beneficial for running in the sun. Why? Because “the moisture-wicking material takes the sweat away from your skin, as well as protecting your skin from UV rays.”

    Do note, though: it’s advisable to avoid dark colours as they absorb the sun’s heat more easily. “Instead, opt for light colours – especially white – as they reflect the light and keep you cooler,” he recommends.

    5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

    This one’s important. “Whether it’s a handheld water bottle, a hydration belt that fits around your waist, or a hydration pouch that sits in your running backpack, it’s key to stay hydrated on your run,” he shares. “This is particularly important when running during the heat as your body sweats to keep you cool, meaning you lose a considerable amount of water.”

    6. Replace your electrolytes

    On that note: if you’re running for more than an hour or training for big events, it’s important that you drink more than just water to replace fuel and electrolytes. “This can be in the form of sports drinks or hydration tablets and gels,” he shares.

    Shot of a young sporty woman running in the heat

    7. Plan your route

    Planning on just heading out and seeing where your feet take you? Don’t.

    “It’s key to make sure you plan your running route or do one that you already know so that you can pick up some more water on the way if needed. It’s always best to be prepared – even more so in the heat,” Allen advises.

    8. Wear lots of sun cream

    It’s always important to protect your skin from the sun, and this is extra important if you’re heading out for a run.

    Also note: sure, you might not be going for a dip, but waterproof nsunscreen is essential. “As your body sweats, non-waterproof sunscreen will wash away, not only irritating your eyes but also washing away SPF protection,” the expert explains.

    Read our guides to the best facial sunscreen and best suncream here.

    9. Don’t forget sun-shielding accessories

    Make sure you’ve got the right kit to on to protect both your eyes and face from the sun.

    For sunglasses, top tip: make sure they have UV protection and look for extra grip around the nose (to stop them from sliding down in the heat), too.

    When it comes to sports caps – which are great not only for keeping the sun out of your face, but for reducing sweat from trickling into your eyes  and more – as with all summer running gear, look for mesh panelling for extra breathability, advises Allen.

    10. Listen to your body

    And finally, trust your gut – if you’re not comfortable running in this heat, don’t. If you think you are but feel light-headed, nauseous or at all different to normal mid-run, rest in the shade for a while and then walk home. Missing a run doesn’t matter, but making yourself sick does.

    Look at it this way: if you go out and give yourself heatstroke, you won’t be able to train for a week or so, which will impact your fitness more than skipping one run.

    Decide to skip your run altogether? Why not head to the air-con gym and try a strength training for running session, instead. Or, you know, rest…



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