Running Hot

So, with the London Marathon this weekend and the press trumpets ‘hottest’ ever, and the prospect of ‘blistering’ conditions. For those in the last days of taper these are unhelpful headlines in the least, and the best option is to try to focus on something else.

However, it’s worth focussing on  few facts to get past the hyperbole. The warmest London marathons were in 1996 and 2007 when the temperature ‘soared’ to 22.2 degrees as these relatively old stats show. Interestingly once you get to the start line, your chances of finishing are extremely high with the numbers on the link above showing that just 1-2% fail to finish, whatever the weather.

Yes, you’re nervous, probably excited, but that ‘squeeky bum’ time shouldn’t be undermining your marathon, especially London. What’s unnerving is that much of the training up to now will have been done in temperatures far removed from these, so the rising mercury tends to bring rising anxiety because for many runners the heat is a significant running challenge.

Yet there’s plenty of very easy, and simple ways, to mitigate the heat and it’s effects. So below are a few tips I’ve seen from other blogs, but also based on my own experience that will help your marathon day go smoothly.

Some might seem obvious but the final race day mind sometimes needs the simple messages to be repeated to get through the fog of the last few days of marathon preparation.

So here’s a few things to bear in mind:

  • Chafing protection is very important. Hot, sweaty kit tends to be heavier and therefore has a greater tendency to rub. Without proper protection and/or lubrication some part of your body, indeed parts of your body you didn’t know you had will chafe at some point during a long race. The bottom line (don’t go there) is that your own supply of Vaseline / petroleum jelly is very important. This is because it saves you from having to accept a large blob from the outstretched hand of a St John’s Ambulance volunteer on race day, and also you can apply it in private prior to the race rather than in front of the many spectators cheering you along as you smear. For male runners (I’ve only ever seen men with this problem) the application of Vaseline and plasters to the nipples is a key mechanism to protect you from the 18+ mile blood streaks on your running top and the post-race scabby nipples that will inevitably result. The challenge of chafing is only ever not addressed once, you have been warned!
  • Kit (Race) – seek out items of clothing that provide the best ventilation, a running vest is probably best, and a hat to keep the sun off the head is very useful. It’s also great as a means of keeping wet to help keep you cool with some water over the head being very useful to keep the temperature down.
  • Kit (Pre-Race) – remember the race still takes place in April when the mornings can be very cold and damp. It is very easy to get quite cold quite quickly whilst waiting in race pens. One option I have found is to wear a bin liner with arm holes cut out to stay warm and dry prior to the start which you can then tear off Hulk like as the race begins. This can also be supplemented with a charity purchased warmer top and/or hat which you can discard at the side once the race is almost ready to begin. At most larger races they usually have agreed arrangements for charities to collect the discarded items so these will get taken on to another home.
  • Stay hydrated (Pre-Race) – in the days (Fri/Sat) before stay on top of your fluid intake drinking steadily throughout the day but there’s no need to go mad (Hyponatremia can be more serious than Dehydration) and consume great quantities of water. Just keep an eye out for the ‘straw coloured’ outcome on your visits to the loo and you should be ok. Some electrolytes may help (a pinch of sea salt) to keep you topped up but try to stick to your usual pre-training run routine wherever possible.
  • Stay hydrated (During Race) – there are plenty of water stations during the race (that’s what the race fee goes towards) there’s no need to assume you have to have a drink at every station. However, it can be very distracting if you are feeling thirsty and wondering when the next station is coming up. I carry a running water bottle with me initially filled with water and a pinch of sea salt to use in the early stages of the race which I then top up with water as required as I pass a water station. This means I always have water with me when I want it rather than having to wait for the next water station. Also you may want to wear your camel bak and then you can be totally self-sufficient for the race. The irony of having just written this and finding that my water has gone off at home is not lost on me!
  • Staying Cool – it is always worth using the water stations to have some to drink and then depositing the rest on your head over the hat so you can carry on with a cooling effect. There are usually showers out on the course during your run these are great for giving and all over cooling burst. However, its best for you to stay cool in the calm and collected sense. Stick to concentrate on the things you can control about the race and just accept this is what the conditions are going to be like, run and most importantly ENJOY your race. Accept it is going to be warmer than you trained in and that that is how it’s going to be. Prepare properly and everything will be fine. It was 21 degrees for the Brighton Marathon last year and I still managed a PB, coming in under 3½ hours after trying for four years to get there.
  • Track the Shade – don’t underestimate the value of shade during the run. Yes, it is difficult on a city course like London, but the roads wind enough so that the taller buildings will provide some shade. Actively seek these sections out and try to stay in the shaded sections as much as possible as it can really help reduce your temperature. By tracking the shaded bits, watching out for them and trying actively to run in them will help to keep you cooler.
  • Pacing – yes you have your target pace. Yes you want to hit your target time, but again you need to run with the conditions and your wellbeing in mind. ‘Listen’ to your body whilst running, start gently and ease into your pace and monitor how it feels for the first 5-10k. If you’re feeling too hot then think about reducing that pace. There will always be another day to race and another chance to get that target time. Better to do that and enjoy the awesome experience of London than suffer a terrible experience and be put off doing it ever again. Stick to your plan, revise it if necessary, but focus on control those things you can and planning your race elements in line with these other key marathon tips here.

Just a few tips to help the day go a little smoother. Yet, don’t forget the amazing progress you have made, just getting to where you are a few days before the race has been a massive achievement and commitment on your part. You’ve trained to be a marathon runner and now the day beckons.

Make it so, and then no one will be able to take away the fact you are the marathon runner. Trust the plan, trust yourself, enjoy and celebrate your amazing awesomeness.

Welcome to the Marathon World, we’ve been waiting for you.

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About Simon Tanner

Eight time marathon runner, having run Brighton x6 and London x2, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals, whatever the distance.
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