How to stay cool when the mercury rises

Heatstroke is an ever-present threat in a marathon, especially when temperatures soar. Here are a few valuable tips to avoid overheating on the roads of the Paris 2024 Marathon Pour Tous, which will take place during the dog days of summer.

Climate change is giving us a wet spring, but sooner or later, the sweltering heat is going to catch up with the runners training for the Paris 2024 Marathon Pour Tous. Unfortunately, it even seems likely that this summer will smash new temperature records. What can you do to prepare for this and steer clear of accidents during training and on the day of the race?

Go out some other time
Adaptation is the name of the game, explains Suzanne Cariant, a French Athletics Federation running coach and the architect of the 10K training plan for the 2024 Marathon Pour Tous. "Even if you have already planned a session, don't be afraid to shift it by a day or two", continues Cariant, who is a marathon runner herself. What if it clashes with work or family obligations? "In that case, you should focus on running during the cooler parts of the day, such as the early morning or late evening, but you must absolutely avoid going out between noon and 4 pm, which is the hottest time of the day. Running in the evening is also a good idea, not least because the Marathon Pour Tous starts at 9 pm. That way, you also get your body used to that timing", she points out. Avoid a common mistakes when you go out training in the morning: "Sometimes, when you wake up very early to beat the heat, you end up running on an empty stomach. However, that can be quite harsh on the body. It's better to run in the evening than to head out in the morning without something in the tank".

Cut your run short
The human body is a homeothermic system, constantly striving to keep its core temperature at 37 °C. This means it works much harder when the mercury rises outside. "So, for long runs, it's wise to cut them short", continues Suzanne. "You need to account for the fact that your body expends a lot of energy in the heat. If you'd planned a 1 h 45 run, 1 h 30 will do the job". Here, too, adaptation is the name of the game. "You need to remember that it's hot, it's the end of the day, sometimes after work, you're tired… So you should be at peace with the idea of with going slower, knowing you're doing your best considering the circumstances. Even if you'd planned to run at 90% of your MAS, 80% will be enough in these conditions."

Choose the right route
"It's important to visualise and plan your route before heading out. Try and stay in the shade whenever possible", stresses the coach. A route that sticks to the shade, perhaps even in a forest —a real treat during the dog days—, will keep you a fair bit cooler, which can make all the difference. "I know it can be hard to find the right place, but running on concrete, inside a city, in a polluted environment… It takes a toll on your body, especially when it's hot out there. This makes it crucial to plan your route."

Stay hydrated
Drinking regularly is also crucial to ward off heatstroke. But remember: "You need to stay hydrated all day long, not just when you're running. You have to drink before, during and after exertion to replenish your reserves". Pick the right gear for training sessions. "Flexible bottles, even if half empty, are great because you can hold them in your hand or otherwise carry them with you while you run. As a coach, I advise drinking every 30 minutes. You can also leave a bottle somewhere and plan a loop route that takes you past that point at regular intervals. Whatever suits you best."

Choosing the right equipment
"I've sometimes seen people rock up to the start of a run wearing trousers, even when it's really hot", smiles Suzanne. "But you need to tailor your clothes to the weather. You need to expose as much body area as possible to avoid retaining heat." Technical T-shirts with good transpiration, for example, will come in handy. Wearing a cap is also a must when the sun hits hard. "Sunscreen can also be useful. Nowadays, you have several types of sunscreens that protect you from solar radiation and prevent sunburn while still allowing the skin to breathe, which is really important. Go ahead and smear some on your face and shoulders." Finally, sunglasses will give you a better view of your surroundings while running.

Recognise the problem
What if you take all these steps but still suffer heatstroke? First things first: you need to recognise the problem, and pronto. "Malaise and nausea are common symptoms of heatstroke", warns the coach. "If you have the slightest reason to believe you're overheating, you need to stop. Don't try to push through. Look for some shade and call someone to come and help you or pick you up." Of course, running back home would be a terrible and dangerous idea. At the end of the day, you need to acclimate gradually to heat to get accustomed to its effects, so avoiding heat like the plague is simply not going to cut it either. "However, the spring weather hasn't really given us the opportunity to adapt…" All the more reason to be cautious!

Article written in collaboration with the French Athletics Federation.