How to run a marathon in the heat - according to an endurance athlete

Edinburgh marathon runners are set to be basked in hot sunshine this weekend
Edinburgh marathon runners are set to be basked in hot sunshine this weekend
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With Edinburgh Marathon participants set to be basked in temperatures of up to 20 degrees we consulted veteran runner Mark Hines on how to beat the heat.

The capital is currently enjoying a welcome stint of warm weather and while most are content with basking in the agreeable temperatures, marathon runners will be treating the heat with trepidation.

The mercury is set to creep up to 20 degrees this Sunday coinciding with the Edinburgh Marathon and Half Marathon, the heat adding to the already sizable list of concerns for participants.

Extreme-athlete Mark Hines is well practiced in dealing with sweltering temperatures during running events having competed in the Marathon des Sables - a 251 kilometre ultra marathon through the heart of the Moroccan Sahara Desert where temperatures regularly reach 50 degrees.

The author of 'The Marathon des Sables: Ultra Endurance Running in the Heat of the Sahara' has also participated in soul-destroying ultra-marathons through the heart of the Amazon Jungle and the Gobi Desert.

Using his expertise of running in sweltering conditions, Hines has provided a series of tips for those taking part in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival this weekend.

Taste your sweat

Those preparing for a half marathon or marathon won't be unfamiliar with the feeling of sweat dripping over every square inch of their bodies. Mark Hines recommends taking the unusual step of tasting your sweat while running.

"Something many endurance racers do is taste their sweat from time-to-time as they go.

"If the taste becomes pleasant there is a good chance that more salts are being lost in the sweat than are being replaced. Increasing salt consumption will then be indicated, preferably as normal table salt (rather than tablets).

"If sweat or salt tastes unpleasant, it may be that salt stores are sufficient and we do not need more at that time."

Staying hydrated

Maintaining healthy levels of hydration is crucial during a big race and is of even greater importance during hot weather, explains Hines.

"Getting the right balance of water and electrolytes is key for getting through a marathon, particularly on a hot day, and especially considering that performance declines with every percentage drop in hydration status."

Hines outlines the ideal recipe for staying hydrated during a race.

"During a marathon water is fine for those planning to get through in a couple of hours, particularly as those elites will be highly-trained and used to managing their sweat losses (the composition of sweat is altered by training and acclimatisation to heat).

"For everyone else it is important to consume drinks that help compensate for what is being lost in the sweat, so electrolyte drinks have their place here. Carrying some additional salt is also useful, as many sports drinks lack sufficient salt because it would negatively impact on taste."

Glucose over Fructose

Energy drinks and gels have become an essential tool for runners tackling long distance races - and these electrolyte packed supplements are particularly vital when running in high temperatures.

Hines reccomends opting for glucose charged drinks rather than fructose heavy alternatives.

"Glucose is the key carbohydrate for energy, so glucose-rich energy drinks can be useful for replacing spent energy during a marathon.

"Sports gels with a high concentration of fructose should be avoided, as this sugar is not well used by exercising muscles, but does tend to antagonise the gut bacteria, often causing gut discomfort and potentially contributing to diarrhoea."

Less is more

Opting for the correct clothing before your race can save you from unnecessary discomfort and pain.

As well as considering wearing a cap and packing on suncream, Hines suggests that runners should avoid adding layers to their running outfit.

"Minimal is good to promote sweat evaporation from the skin into the air.

"Skin cover and additional layering can cause a humid micro-climate between clothing and skin, reducing capacity to sweat and therefore cool. This needs to be balanced against the risk of sunburn."

To avoid chafing - which is often more prominent in hot and sweaty conditions - the ultra-athlete recommends employing plasters and BodyGlide skin formula.

Cool off chasing your PB

After months of training for a big race, whether it be a 10k, half-marathon or marathon, it may be disappointing to put aside ambitions of gaining a new personal best (PB).

Hines suggests that runners should put safety first in hot conditions.

"Record marathons tend to be run at between 10 and 14 degrees, so a hot day is unlikely to see us smashing the two-hour mark or seeing many people achieve PBs. If unused to this distance or these temperatures; safety first."

Listen to your body

Too often during long distance runs, athletes refuse to listen to their bodies signals, aches and pains.

Staying in tune with your body and running your own race is vital, according to Hines.

"The key is to listen to your body: rest, reduce pace or push harder, drink, eat; whatever you feel like doing at the time.

"Do not be (mis)lead by what others are doing, and going at your own pace will probably be more likely to get you through than working harder or easier than you would like to go at someone else's pace.

"Our brains have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to be able to give us useful cues about whether we need fluids or salts, but we tend to mistrust ourselves and then compound the problem with an extreme and unusual challenge to our physiology such as marathon running on a hot day in Scotland."

Read more about Mark Hines' adventures at markhines.org. Alternatively you can buy his works as an ebook at Amazon.