Neil Featherby: How to stay cool at the Norwich Half Marathon

Neil Featherby Crete Marathon

Neil Featherby racing in Crete in very hot conditions. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Whilst I have covered the effects of running in the heat before, I thought now is as good a time as any to emphasise how important it is to consider its effects. 

With the weather due to be hot this weekend ahead of the Larking Gowen City of Norwich Half Marathon, it's important to consider how it might affect your race.

It’s good to think now about seeking advice about what might be best to wear and how much to drink come race day if as expected it is very warm. 

When we run our body temperature rises, even more so when exercising in warm weather. This causes the cooling actions of the body to divert blood to the skin surface to help dissipate heat which in turn causes the body to sweat. 

When the outside temperature increases though, particularly when the humidity is much higher, our bodies find it more difficult to cool down due to the difficulty in evaporation of the sweat. 

With the increase of blood flow trying to divert heat to the skin this also means that we have less blood going to the working muscles which means the heart has to work that much harder to try and maintain effort causing us to not only burn and break down our stored energy much more quickly, but also add to the risk of dehydration. 

If we are sensible, then of course we will just slow down or better still start out at a much slower pace. The problem being is for those who have trained hard and prepared themselves to hit a certain target time only to then have to deal with an untimely change in the weather particularly when there has not been enough time to acclimatise for it. 

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Frustrating it most certainly is, but we do have to be careful because not only are we likely to blow a gasket if we do go off too fast, but we could also end up doing ourselves some damage. 

That is exactly what I did in The Grandmas Marathon (Minnesota) back in 1990 which saw me ending up in the medical tent hooked up to a saline drip. However, and on another occasion in Crete, I along with a few others decided that the 90F temperature was just not ideal for marathon running and we ran well within ourselves preferring to leave the fight for another day. Don’t get me wrong, none of us felt good about it one bit, especially as it was an all-expenses paid trip, but apart from the headache the next day which was more down to the after race party, the rest of my body was still in good nick when it came to running. 

Wear clothing which is light and of course made from materials which are designed to wick moisture away from the body. Wearing a breathable cap is a good idea particularly if you are bald like me and then soak it in water before you put it on your head. You can also do the same with your running vest too. I would also wear a neckerchief, again soaked in water and then when it came to the water stations, apart from taking on a drink, I would pour water over my head and the neckerchief too, to help keep the nape of my neck cool. 

With regards to taking fluids on board during the race, well firstly it is important to start the race in a hydrated state.  

As race director Lawrence Wade said: “It is far more important to arrive sufficiently hydrated as opposed to gulping down loads of water just prior to starting.” 

In a nutshell if your pee is clear then you can be confident that you are hydrated. You must also be careful to make sure that you don’t over hydrate too (hyponatremia) as this can also be dangerous. 

If you consume approx 130/150 mls every 15 mins then you should at least stay in a reasonably decent hydrated state. 

We are all different though and fluid requirements can depend upon body size, fitness levels and intensity of effort. 

Most importantly though, do not wait until you are thirsty before taking a drink as it will be too late. 

Apart from water, electrolyte drinks are excellent, but make sure you keep the concentration to the correct measure. In warm weather I would say five to seven percent. 

Nowadays there are all sorts of equipment on the market which you can use, such as hydration vests and bottle belts to carry round your own preferred drinks and other supplements for those who are going to be out there twice as long as the elite. 

However, I would also be very careful about the consistency of any gels and other foods which you take on whilst out on the course. 

Personally, I feel if your nutrition has been spot on leading up to race day and on the day itself, then you should not need anything other than fluids for a half marathon. Nevertheless, for those who like to get a few extra calories in by way of supplements other than in fluid form, then consume some water too at the same time. 

Good luck and just take that extra bit of care if you are racing this weekend or indeed if and when just out running in what is expected to be very warm conditions.