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  • Sarah Russell

Running in the heat

Staying cool and hydrated

The temperature is set to rise this week, so here are some handy top tips to stay cool and hydrated. It’ll help your running, but also keep you safe.

Let’s look at hydration first:

Not being properly hydrated can mean you’ll feel groggy, fatigued, headachey, may struggle to maintain body temperature (stay cool), you will be at increased risk of injury (esp. muscle injury), your run will just feel harder and you may feel out of breath.

It can be very subtle, but just being 1-2% dehydrated can make you feel pretty grim when you try to exercise. You might be thinking ‘oh wow, that run was a real slog today, my legs feel sluggish, I feel so hot, tired and I’m so much slower than usual’. That’s probably dehydration.

So how do you fix it?

Drink lots. But not just water. You need to drink the RIGHT drink. If you just drink gallons of water, you’ll flush electrolytes out of your body. This dilutes sodium levels in your blood. Sodium is important to help your body maintain blood pressure and helps keep your body temperature down in the heat.

There’s a fine balance. Drink enough so your urine is a pale straw colour. But not so much that it’s clear. Forget the old advice about needing 2 litres per day. Some people need much much more than this.

Use your own body and activity levels as a guide to how much YOU need to drink. Use your urine colour in combination with any symptoms of dehydration. Tune into YOUR body and learn how much you need to drink for optimum hydration.

Use a pee chart to monitor your urine colour.

Aim for one of the top 3 colours. If it’s darker then you need to drink more. If however, your urine is clear and you’re ‘always at the loo’, it means you’re probably over drinking. So cut back on the plain water, and have a drink with electrolytes in it instead. Try to avoid swings of urine colour – drinking lots so you have clear pee midday.. then by early morning your pee is dark. Aim to be more consistent with your fluid intake.

The presence of electrolytes and glucose in a drink helps your body to absorb the fluid –hydrating you better than plain water. So choose a drink which has high sodium content and low glucose (not zero glucose).

Drinks that fall into this category include SOS Rehydrate, Precision Hydration and good old Dioralyte. Dioralyte is actually a secret weapon for runners (and well everyone actually). Don’t just use it when you’re sick. Use it as a super powered pre-exercise drink which will hydrate you and set you up for a great run. Shh… just don’t tell everyone.

Drinking an electrolyte drink will mean you absorb fluid better and will need to drink less overall. And less peeing.. win win!

Popular tablet-based drinks such as Nuun and High Five Zero (ie zero calorie tablets) are convenient and moderately high in electrolytes, but they don’t contain any glucose, so your body won’t absorb the fluid as well. Remember, glucose helps to transport fluid and sodium into the cells of the body – where you need it.

On the other hand, traditional sports drinks such as SIS, Lucozade and some newer brands such as Tailwind are higher in glucose/carbohydrate. The idea being that the drink can provide both fluid AND energy for long runs. There are 2 problems. 1) the glucose concentration is higher, so the fluid and electrolytes aren’t absorbed as well (something known as osmolarity) and 2) if you’re only running a short distance you don’t need the calories.

The balance of glucose and sodium is the important bit.

Sarah's Top Tip

What you drink in the 24 hours before a run or race is MORE important than what you drink DURING it. Starting a run well hydrated is super important. Drink plenty in the lead up to exercise and just to maintain good hydration levels at all times.

Try SOS Rehydrate, or 400ml of Dioratlye (2 sachets in 400ml of water) the night before (or the morning of) a long run or when it’s hot, or you’re feeling groggy. It’s like a superboost to get you back on the hydration track.

Staying cool when you’re running

1. Sounds obvious but try to run as early as you can in the morning, or later at night when it’s cool. Or head indoors to the gym and the air con!

2. Avoid tarmac, towns and cities and head for the trail, woods and areas of space, greenery and a breeze.

3. Start hydrated with a high sodium electrolyte drink BEFORE your run. This is know as pre-hydration.

4. If your run lasts more than an hour (in the heat) have an electrolyte drink during the run as well. (SOS Rehydrate, Precision Hydration or Dioratlye). The presence of sodium will help your body control temperature in the hot conditions.

5. START cool. Have a cold shower BEFORE your run to lower your body temp. This is known as pre-cooling. Spend 5 mins in the shower lowering the water temp to as cold as you can handle it!

6. During the run, lower your pace and lower your expectations. Running in the heat will make it all feel so much harder as your body is having to work harder to cope in the heat and your heartrate will be higher for the same pace.

7. Drop your pace right down.. probably 1-2 minutes per mile or more. Exercise to effort or heartrate instead. Run so your effort feels like 5/10 and your heartrate is under 75% of your max. Pushing the pace hard will increase your heartrate and body temperature. And you may find it’s too much for your body to cope with and can lead to heat stress/heat stroke. Leave the PB’s and intervals for another day.

8. Wearing an ice towel or cooling scarf around your neck or as a headband can really help lower your temperature and help you feel cooler.

9. Wear suncream, shades and a cap.

I once had to provide emergency first aid to a runner in a half marathon with heat stroke. The temp was only 28 degrees, but he was racing hard, pushing his body, was dehydrated, and he collapsed and ended up admitted to hospital where he stayed for 2 weeks, suffering organ damage. A scary lesson to me showing just how dangerous the heat + running can be. I've been much more respectful of the heat since then.

Enjoy the lovely weather and enjoy your running, but please do stay safe out there. Sarah x

Enjoy the lovely weather and enjoy your running, but please stay safe.

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