June 20, 2017, by Emma Thorne

Don’t let the heat cramp your running style

The heat is on! It may great for topping up your summer tan but does it mean you need to slow down when it comes to your normal running routine? Dr Roger Kerry, Associate Professor in the Division of Physiotherapy, offers some advice on how to deal with soaring temperatures and make the heat wave work for you.

Summer’s here and you want to continue with your exercise and fitness lifestyle – and that is just great! But what should you do? Running in the heat doesn’t feel that great to most people, and maybe you are worried about any negative health effects of running in the heat. Here are a few evidence-informed pointers to help you keep going.

First of all, what is hot? In terms of increasing physiological and psychological demands, for a runner working to a training programme, the temperatures between 15-20c can start to have some additional physiological stressors. However, these are not unusual conditions in the UK, and most runners will be well adapted to these temperatures. No additional measures are really needed in this range.

It is when temperatures start to reach the mid-20s+ that we might start to feel much more uncomfortable and start to think the effects on our running. The amazing thing is that as humans we are highly adaptable, and if we continued to run sensibly in these conditions, our bodies and minds would get used to the environment and we can resume desired levels of activities. A study on American football players showed that most heat-related illnesses occurred within the first days of practice when environmental temperatures changed to 27c (Cooper et al. , 2016).  This gives us a big clue as to what the underpinning issue is here: we can tolerate things that we are used to. If you are a Kenyan runner and familiar with training in high temperatures, you will be able to. If you live in Nottingham and there is a sudden heat-wave, it is simply because you are not used to this environment that there will be limiting factors to your training. There is nothing intrinsically ‘bad’ or dangerous about (non-extreme) heat, it is something we can manage and even exploit. And here’s how:

  • RUN TO COMFORT, NOT PACE. First and foremost, be prepared to compromise on your training schedule and plans. Heat DOES affect performance and pace. This is more significant for slower runners, and heavier runners. (Ely et al. , 2007).
  • DRESS COOL. Wear appropriate clothing. Your body temperature is effected by environmental temperature, but also by other things, like what you wear. This sounds obvious, but light-weight, light-coloured clothing will help to reduce the effects of environmental heat. Also use sun cream and protective UVC eyewear.
  • PLAN: be happy to adjust your usual training schedule by changing the times of day you run – aim for early mornings or evenings, when the temperature is lower. Plan your route to take in as much shade as possible.
  • DRINK: BUT, beware of the dehydration myth! DO NOT START TO SUDDENLY DRINK LITRES OF WATER JUST BECAUSE IT IS HOT! Temperature does have an effect of hydration levels, but in the temperature range we are likely to experience (say 25c – 35c max), this isn’t as extreme as it seems (or at least what we may have been told). There are no clear cut ‘rules’ from the scientific evidence, but it is most likely better to drink when you feel thirsty, rather than as per a pre-determined protocol (e.g. Xml/hour/body mass). In terms of performance, recent studies have demonstrate that dehydration is not a causal factor in performance levels, which changes many existing hydration guidelines (Wall et al. , 2013). Electrolyte supplements can help, but again, be careful with suddenly introducing these into your system. Rather, back off your pace and schedule a little and let your body acclimatise to the environment.

So, work WITH the heat to allow you to maintain your fitness during our heat-wave. Slow down, keep cool, drink sensibly, and enjoy!

  • Looking for a new challenge? Seasoned marathon runner or complete newbie to the world of pounding tarmac? We’re looking for runners of all abilities to join the University’s Robin Hood Half Marathon team, and it’s for a great cause.

    On Sunday 24 September the University is aiming to support a team of 500 runners of staff, students, alumni and friends in the Robin Hood Mini, Half and Full Marathons and we want you to join us.

    This event will be part of Life Cycle 7 – an initiative to raise funds for the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre (CBTRC). We’re looking for runners of all abilities and are especially keen to encourage people who have never run a half marathon before.

    The Life Cycle 7 team and the David Ross Sports Village team will be setting up training events from now until the race as we look to create one of the University’s largest teams.

    Find out how you can get involved.


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