Majell Backhausen is an Endurance Coach and Elite Athlete for Salomon, Suunto and Compressport and coaches athletes towards success in endurance trail running; educates people on the ‘why’ not just the ‘how’ behind training; and is an advocate for simplicity, patience and longevity in the sport of trail running and outdoor pursuits.
When you train in the heat, it's essential to be cautious. To stay safe and get the most out of your run, you'll need to understand how to prevent heat stress and your individual hydration needs.
Is it safe to run in high temperatures?
Running in how weather is not uncommon, with some of the most famous competitive highlights of the year taking place in places like Kenya, Ethiopia and across deserts. The Badwater event in California or the 4 Desert Grand Slam are some of the most renowned demonstrations of our ability to perform in extreme environments, while the 156-mile Marathon des Sables in Morocco sees competitors running in temperatures exceeding 50℃.
Australian Jacqui Bell is the youngest woman to have run the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. Watch her journey below or explore the full Finding Frontiers series here.
Finding Frontiers with Jacqui Bell
Hannah Moir, Senior Lecturer in Health and Exercise Prescription at Kingston University, has researched the effects of heat when running on the human body.
"Our experience at Kingston University with people running and training in our heat chamber for events such as the Marathon des Sables and Badwater, demonstrates that with enough preparation, hydration and being sensible about how hard you run, it is possible to run safely in high temperatures. But it is important to note, that these races do take a lot of preparation and acclimatisation and running in such temperatures is certainly not recommended without thorough training."
Running in the heat and how you react to it is very individual. Everyone sweats different amounts, has a different sodium concentration in their sweat, and copes differently with the heat. Everyone has a different level of acclimatisation as a result of training and their everyday living conditions.
But one rule does apply to everyone: the best way to manage heat stress is to prevent it in the first place.
Preventing heat stress when running
When the heat increases, the two main things you need to manage is your body temperature and sweat loss.
Pay close attention to:
Hydration: Understand your personal sweat loss (more on this below) and reduce your depletion. Drinking water will keep you mentally sharper and more in tune with your body.
Clothing: Look for clothing which allows your sweat to evaporate — this has a cooling effect allowing you to better manage your body temperature.
Effort Level: Working harder will increase your body temperature, so maintain a pace that will keep you comfortable, even if it's slower than usual. Do not risk overheating. Once you go too far it takes a lot to reduce your body temperature again and it can be extremely dangerous.
Breaks: That said, stop for a break, let your body temperature and heart rate reduce, and make sure you stop in the shade, if possible.
External Cooling: Use water to splash on your skin and allow it to evaporate. This is how sweat works to naturally cool our bodies.
Time of day: Choose a cooler time of the day to run!