Tips for Walking Races in Hot Weather

Prepare for a Hot 10K - Half Marathon - Marathon Walk

If the weather prediction for race day says it is going to be hot, you should take steps to dress right and be prepared to deal with sun and heat. How hot do we mean? Any event where the high by finish time will be above 77F (25C) can be considered hot, although even lower temperatures may have heat risks if you are coming from a colder climate. Here are ways you can make it to the finish line despite hot weather racing problems.

Get Acclimated

Hot Summer Walker with Smart Phone in City - Getty
Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty

Maybe you chose a race in a warmer climate, or maybe it's been a cool spring but race day is probably going to be hot. Your body needs about two weeks at a higher temperature for it to shift into sweating mode early enough in your workout or race to prevent overheating. Prepare in the three weeks before your race by seeking heat (temperature of 70F or above) to train in. This may mean shifting your long walk to the warmest part of the day. But if there is no really warm part of the day, then the best option is to use a treadmill in a room that can be warmed to above 70F. I don't recommend wearing extra clothing or a rubber suit to simulate higher temperatures, as I don't think that would really work.
How to Get Acclimated to Heat when you Train in a Cold Climate

Get Hydration Right

Marathoner with Water Bottle and Energy Gel
Marathoner with Water Bottle and Energy Gel. Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images Sport

Hot weather on race day means you may need to adjust your usual hydration plan. If you don't have a usual hydration plan, now is the time to make one.
- Weigh yourself before, during and after your long training walks to see if you can maintain a steady weight by replacing fluids as you sweat them out.
- Use the same sports drink that the race will be providing so you are used to the taste and any effects it has on your stomach or gut.
- Plan to use a salt-replenishing sports drink during the race or get your salt replacement from salty snacks. Some races even just provide those little fast food salt packets, which a convenient option -- washed down with water.
- Plan to carry your own water bottle or wear a hydration pack so you can really "drink when thirsty" as race directors advise. Drinking only at water stops may not be enough in hot weather, and there is no guarantee they won't be out of water or cups when you get there.
- If you carry your own water bottle or hydration pack, fill it with ice so you will still have cool water hours later.
ACSM Race Hydration Guidelines for Distance Walkers and Runners

Dress for Sweat

Racers at Starting LIne
kristian sekulic/E+/Getty

You should be dressed in sweat-wicking fabrics from head to foot. That includes your sports bra, underwear and socks. Avoid cotton or cotton blends as sweat doesn't evaporate as fast from those fabrics, and you want fast evaporation to help provide cooling. Choose shorts -- I learned the hard way during a marathon that the capris that felt good the first couple of miles feel horribly hot by the last miles. Don't forget to wear a sweatband on your wrist and on your head to dab your sweaty face.
Before You Walk in Hot Weather

Hat - Sunscreen - Sunglasses - No Rings

Walker with Ponytail
Walker with Ponytail. Wendy Bumgardner © 2011

A hat with a sun bill is essential for hot weather. You may even want to get a racing style that also has a neck drape. Look for a hat that is very breathable and one where you can pour water over your head to do a real cool down at water stops. Be sure to set out a tube of sunscreen and pack your sunglasses when you arrange your race gear the night before the race. That way you won't forget it in the dark of pre-dawn. Don't forget to wear a lip balm that includes sunscreen. Your fingers will swell more in hot weather, so take off your rings the night before and put them in a safe place.
Best Walking Hats

Prevent Chafing and Blisters

2Toms Sport Shield Full Size 2014
2Toms Sport Shield. © Wendy Bumgardner

The more you sweat, the more likely it is that you will have chafing problems. The salt crystals left by your dried sweat act like sandpaper on any expose skin. You may find yourself chafing in spots you never had trouble with before. Buy an anti-chafing lubricant and use it in your long walks while training so you are used to it. On race day, be sure to prep your crotch, underarms, nipple, upper thighs, under your breasts and where any pack straps are likely to rub. Similarly, you will have more problems with foot blisters in hot weather as your feet will swell even more than usual and get sweatier than usual. Be sure to lubricate them well and carry a blister kit to deal with any hot spots before they become blisters.

Disposable Warm-Ups

Finishers Wearing Heat Sheets at Portland Marathon 2009
Finishers Wearing Heat Sheets at Portland Marathon 2009. Wendy Bumgardner © 2012
For morning races, you may be anticipating higher temperatures, but the morning is still cool to cold when awaiting the starting gun. One simple solution is using a trash bag as a warm-up and disposing of it right before you cross the starting line. Don't worry about feeling silly - this is a traditional warm-up at marathons and half marathons. A heat sheet or space blanket from a previous race is also useful as a disposable warm-up. Some racers wear old t-shirts or sweatshirts they don't want anymore and toss them once the race begins. You can find inexpensive disposable cover-ups at some race expos made just for this purpose.

Seek the Shade Along the Route

Helvetia Half Marathon Route
Helvetia Half Marathon Route. Wendy Bumgardner © 2009
Keep as cool as you can during the race by always choosing to walk on the shady side of the street where you have a choice. But use caution, as going from shade into sun you may not see road hazards as well.

Slow Down

Walking Down the Road in the Vendee Region of France
Walking Down the Road in the Vendee Region of France. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Once you are started and you can feel the temperature rising, pay attention to your heart rate. Your heart rate will naturally rise one beat per minute for each degree above 77F, so while you may not be going faster, your body is already working harder and producing more internal heat it will have trouble dispersing. Hot weather is no time to set a pace record. Slow down to a pace that doesn't leave you purple in the face. Your goal will be to survive to the finish without getting dehydration or heat sickness. That means going slower so you are producing less internal heat.
Tips for Racing in the Heat

Soak Your Hat and Bandanna

Water Stop at the Finish Line of the Livestrong Challenge
Water Stop at the Finish Line of the Livestrong Challenge. Wendy Bumgardner © 2008
Use the water stops to pour water over your head or down your shirt to help keep cool. Carry a bandanna you can soak with water to wear as you walk and to swab your face with cold water. Have a friend or loved one meet you along the course with a mister to spray you, or with ice packs for a quick cool down. A frozen packet of baby carrots tucked in your sports bra can feel very refreshing.

Know When to Stop

Stop Sign
Stop Sign. Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

Overheating to the point of sickness even once can lead to years of difficulty with exercising in hot weather. Learn the symptoms of dehydration, hyponatremia, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Don't keep racing once you are nauseated, dizzy, feeling faint, experiencing gray-outs, headache and muscle cramps. Seek shade, sports drink, and call for help or flag down the race officials. A ride to the finish in the sag wagon is free. A ride to the hospital in an ambulance will cost you several hundred dollars. I'm not ashamed to say I've taken that first ride twice, and I count myself very wise for having prevented the ride that includes the flashing lights and siren.

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