Think you can’t handle the heat? Actually, you can, but it will take committing to some heat training before your race and then playing it smart on race day. High temperatures are going to slow everyone down, but they’ll slow you down less if you’re prepared.
Most runners don’t care much for running in the heat. Perceived effort is much higher on hot days, and performance is in the toilet compared to what can be accomplished on cooler days. No wonder runners are pounding the path outside my window at 5 a.m. during the summer. But both metrics, performance in hot conditions and how bad it feels, get better with heat training.
What is Heat Training?
Heat training is as simple as getting out in temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or above. So instead of running in the early morning to avoid the heat, you want to challenge the hottest part of the day. Eight to 10 heat training sessions spread out over three to five weeks should be sufficient for you to get the benefits of heat acclimatization. The more heat training you do, the better.
Does Heat Training Actually Work for an Ultra Marathon?
Heat training really works. The physiological changes it brings on make you a better sweater, improve your blood flow, help you retain water and lower your heart rate. In fact, recent studies show that heat training will even improve your performance when you get back to cool conditions.
How To Prepare for a Training Run in the Heat
When you go out to train, protect yourself from the sun by slathering on sunblock and wearing light-colored clothing that will reflect the sunlight rather than absorb it. Stay well hydrated, and on longer runs, find out what works for you in terms of salt replacement tablets and electrolyte supplements. Most importantly, keep to a moderate pace. If you begin feeling any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion – lightheadedness, nausea, dizziness, cessation of sweating or an obvious rise in your core temperature – slow to a walk, seek out shade and wait until you feel better before slowly getting back to running.
How do I Manage High Temperatures in an Ultra Marathon?
On race day, lower your expectations about how fast you will go. The heat is going to slow you down. Focus on finding a pace that you can maintain without overheating. Drink more than usual. Put ice in your fluids and pack it under your cap or in an ice bandanna. Take advantage of water buckets, streams, rivers and any other opportunities to scoop water over your head and wet your hat. Walk the uphills and slow to a walk should you start feeling ill. Think of your race day as an adventure in running in the heat and finding your limits rather than as an opportunity to run a fast time.
Even though you’ll turn in a slower time than usual, you’ll probably finish just as high in the standings as you would in ideal conditions, or even higher. I’ll never forget running one classic 50 miler in Northern California in 9 hours and change on a cool race day. There were about 250 runners and I finished in 35th place. The very next year, at the same race, in record heat, and again with about 250 runners, it took me over 11 hours to finish. It felt like a total disaster. Everyone was in death march mode. I figured I was finishing maybe dead last. What place did I get that year? 34th.