With the Cleveland Marathon forecast being a warm one again this year and having some aggressive time goals, I am going to do my best to run well in the heat. It will not be my first hot race or marathon. Many of the running races and triathlons that I do in the summer get hot. I wanted to share some tips that might help out some of my fellow racers in Cleveland this weekend as well as friends racing at Triple T and other places throughout the warm season.
Sodium Loading - If you know that your race will be hot it might be a good idea for you to load up on sodium rich foods and even salt tabs within the 24-48 hour period leading into the race. This will encourage you to drink water and will also help you retain that water longer. For race days, I really like the Hammer Endurolites and the Salt Stick tabs. You can decide how many you will need based on your own personal sweat rate and preference. In general you should plan to have at least one of these an hour as the temperature rises past 65-70 degrees. If you prefer to drink your electrolytes, most races hand out Gatorade or something similar at the aid stations in addition to water. If you are using salt tabs just go with the water. You do not need both. Also, your gels or bars for in-race fuel will contain some electrolytes normally.
Hyper-Hydration - Drink more fluids than you think you need for several days leading into the race. Lots of water and electrolyte rich drinks like Coconut Water, Nuun, decaf herbal tea and of course plain old ice water! Beware of the coffee, soda, alcohol and black teas that have a dehydrating effect. For every cup of water, tea, alcohol that you take in, drink 2 cups of water to replenish.
Acclimate to the Heat if You Can - If it is warm outside try to get some runs or bikes in at those temperatures ahead of the race. If this is not possible you can try running or biking indoors with extra clothes on and cranking up the heat. You just want your body to have a sense for what's coming.
Eat a Cold Breakfast - avoid eating hot breakfast cereals and other foods that are harder to digest. Smoothies and cold cereal or an untoasted bagel or bread are cool options. Stick to cold fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.
Dress in as few layers as possible & Avoid Dark Colors, Cotton - This is not the time to wear your running tights and capris. Don't be shy. Show off those runners legs and don't be afraid to run in a sports bra ladies or shirtless for the guys. Try to avoid darker colors esp for tops and hats. And never ever wear cotton anything (not even socks)! And don't forget the sunscreen before the start!
Precooling - If your race is warm at the start or expected to get warm you may want to get your body temperature down before the race start. Plan to bring a small cooler with you filled with ice, you can use that ice to wet down some towels to wrap around your neck, head, back, etc. You can also eat the ice and have some ice cold water.
Reduce Your Warm Up - Along with precooling, consider reducing your warm up to a very short, light jog with some dynamic stretches. This will keep your heart rate down and save valuable energy for the race.
Start Slowly - Resist the urge to go out extra fast to put time in the bank. Starting easier and building into your first few miles will keep you relaxed and cool.
Hydrate Early and Often - Drink water at every aid station from the beginning - even if you just cruise through the aid stations to get a sip or two at each. How much liquid you should drink will vary person to person but in general you should try to get in a minimum of 6 oz every 20-25 minutes of the race.
Pour Water on Your Head & Upper Body - While you're running through the aid stations grab an extra water to dump on your head, face and shoulders. This will help cool you down. If you have a cooling towel, mat or sponge with you be sure to wet that with cold water often. Again this will help lower your core body temperature.
Pay Attention To Your Body - Even if you have lofty goals, your health must come first. If you feel sick and slowing down or taking a short walk/run break does not help, you may have to consider getting help. Heat exhaustion is serious business. If you feel bad, adjust your goals and push it harder on a better day.