Instructions for runners in a heatwave

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

The heatwave in London drips on, smothering everything in its moist, muggy embrace. All you want to do is lie on cool sheets next to an electric fan, being fed frozen grapes and elderflower gin and tonics, glass clinking with a symphony of ice cubes.

Unfortunately, your training plan doesn’t really care whether it’s 10 degrees or 33 outside, and you know you’ve got to get up and out and plod that sweaty 16 miles one way or another, so let’s make it as painless as possible.

Carry water, for Christ’s sake

You think you don’t need it, you think you’ll be fine. You hate carrying anything while you run, and hydration packs are money you’d rather spend on a new pair of Flyknits. I get it.

But when it’s 28 degrees in the shade and you’re already sweating everything out at 9am, you’re going to get dehydrated, your mouth is going to feel like a sandpit – and, most importantly, your running is going to suffer.

Suck it up and buy yourself an easy-to-carry bottle with a grip, invest in a lightweight vest or a hydration pack (they’re not all ruinously expensive), or, if you really hate lugging around anything extra, plan your route beforehand to leave bottles along the way, or to run via water fountains. Try not to contribute to killing our planet by buying a plastic bottle and chucking it after three sips. Ta.

But… don’t drink too much water

It would be irresponsible of me not to warn you about hyponatremia, which is the counterpoint to runners being told forever that hydration, hydration, hydration is key. Hyponatremia is when you drink so much water that the sodium levels in your blood drop dangerously low.

It’s apparently pretty rare, so unless it’s your habit to gulp back litres at a time, or you have a pre-existing medical condition/take drugs that affect your sodium levels, you should be OK. But either way, drinking electrolytes during and after a run is always good practice.

Find a shady route

Hyde Park is a yellowing wasteland, populated by confused, perspiring ducks and tourists wobbling round corners on Boris Bikes, licking rapidly melting vanilla cones.

Southbank is a burning dystopia, concrete brutalist buildings pounding the sun back at you while cackling groups of teenagers swig sickly sweet cider and drape themselves over graffitied walls.

What I’m saying is, us Londoners need to change up our running routes. If you’re in the north of the city, check out the shady relief of Parkland Walk and Highgate Wood. If you’re in the south, Battersea Park is pretty good for trees to shelter under. Alternatively, start getting up at 5:30am. Running through a cool, almost-deserted London can come pretty close to bliss.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Plan a treat for the end

There’s nothing like the thought of a double scoop of mint choc chip or a freezing cold orange Calippo to keep you going at mile 14, when the water in your Camelpak is tepid at best, and the sweat under your sports bra has started to rub sensitive skin the colour of rare beef.

Also recommended: finishing your long run at a city lido or, if you’re lucky enough to live in the country, a freshwater pond or the cold, cold sea. Strip off and frolic your heart out.

Don’t expect too much

You’re not imagining things when your mid-summer run feels harder. Heat and humidity increase heart rate, raising perceived effort, while sweating more reduces your blood volume, plus you’re diverting more blood to the skin to cool down, meaning that your muscles can’t get hold of as much oxygen as usual. All this means that you will run more slowly on a hot day.

On the plus side, training in the heat can cause your body to adapt, with reduced heart rate at pace, increased sweat rate (yep, that’s a good thing), and higher blood plasma volume.

Essentially, when you’re heading out for a training run in the summer, don’t be surprised if you can’t hit your expected pace. Train to perceived effort instead, and don’t beat yourself up when your splits aren’t up to your usual high standards.

And just hang on in there. The cool relief of autumn is on its way. We hope.


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