Charles Allen: Why runners should think carefully about that run in the sun

Runners must take steps to protect themselves when running in the sun. Picture: Archant

Runners must take steps to protect themselves when running in the sun. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Running in the sun. Some of us love it, some us hate it, but what can we do to ensure it doesn't harm our health?

I love running in the sun. I always have done. I enjoy the challenge of testing my body in the heat and have done for years.

Later this year I will be embarking on the Marathon Des Sables Half in Fuerteventura. My journey towards avoiding the pitfalls so many suffer from the change in environment is well under way and here is how I am doing it.

My health comes first. Although I love running and testing myself in the heat, I respect it is a dangerous environment. The increased risk of heat exhaustion leading to heat stroke along with increased cancer risk should make any sane individual stop and consider these things carefully.

It all starts by taking an honest look at yourself. I have skin that tans easily, and I rarely burn. Does this mean I can ignore the risk from the sun? No, absolutely not.

Although it would suggest I am at lower risk than someone with very pale skin. Personally, I would still advise both ends of the spectrum to go for a high UV cover more for the fact they tend to be thicker and less likely to run as we sweat.

I sweat a lot when I run. This is another reason I am less likely to burn although it increases the rate I dehydrate at.

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Heat exhaustion, which is not managed quickly, can develop into heat stroke.

There are numerous case studies where this has happened and even resulted in short-term and long-term disability or in worse cases death.

A great way to measure how much hydration you personally need is to weigh yourself before or after runs and see how much water loss has occurred.

I am amazed that despite fuelling on marathons I have lost over a stone in weight when running in costumes over the distance.

Therefore, to combat this I have worked out a rehydration mix which allows me to take on salts as well as fluid. We have to bear in mind it is equally as dangerous to only rehydrate this level of fluid loss with water alone.

Heat tolerance is also something everyone has a preference on. I dislike the cold and can often happily sit in saunas many of my friends and colleagues just buckle under.

If you hate the sauna you will probably hate running hard in the heat.

The raise in pressure and the increase expansion of our cells means the nervous system can feel the added environmental force.

Can we develop heat tolerance? Well, it is debated but I have seen others who embark on these types of adventures taking steps way before running in 30 degree + temperatures by going out on cooler cloudy days wrapped up in clothing to add a controlled element of heat.

Once the sun is out you lose this from your toolbox but may be one to explore next year?

As I say, I am neither a believer nor disbeliever.

It seems to work for many yet the research into the potential risks and harms are somewhat unclear. Like with all things there are areas of grey between the black and white.

Obviously, hats, changes in clothing type to more breathable fibres and sunglasses all help to reduce the effects of the sun and heat but when it comes to performance can we still expect to deliver?

The answer for most is probably not. We would be better to accept the heat and sun places our bodies under more physiological stress. For most, spring and autumn are more realistic seasons for PBs.

Although psychologically a gentle run in the middle of a sunny day with correct protection and hydration scores high on the value to health, it might be just better to save those tougher sessions for the early evening or early mornings when the effects are not so extreme.

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