5 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid on Hot Race Days
I recently ran a half marathon in 30-degree heat. Though I’m an experienced runner (having participated in over 20 official races) I made a load of embarrassing mistakes on the hot day. As a result, my race experience wasn’t particularly pleasant. In this article, I’ll be sharing 5 rookie mistakes to avoid on hot race days so you can enjoy your racing in scorching weather.
My painful hot race day experience
Before we go into detail about the mistakes I made and how to avoid them, here’s some detail behind my painful hot race day experience.
Having left a bit later than anticipated, the event parking had been used up, so I had to search for some parking. Being in a secluded area, the only safe parking space I could find was a mile away from the start line. Already running slightly late, I had to jog to the mile to the start line which meant I was already dripping with sweat and breathing heavily before the race began.
After the first couple of miles, I found myself gagging for a drink. The hot weather was making me sweat more and my body was working harder to keep operating throughout the race. One problem; I didn’t take a water bottle or sports drink with me. Though the course had three designated water stations (probably not enough considering the temperature on the day), the plastic cups were tiny, and their design made it difficult to get all the liquid into your mouth. What happened? I was extremely dehydrated throughout the entire race and I can safely say the final mile was the thirstiest I have ever been.
The race was in the Kent countryside, in the UK, and featured lots of steep hills to contend with. My training regime in the few months prior to the race did not feature any hill workouts. Stupid, I know. As you can probably guess, racing over the uneven terrain was difficult. To top it all off, the course featured a humungous hill with an incline that felt like it was vertical which felt like it went on forever.
As somebody who loves to push himself, I found pushing myself in this race particularly difficult. Though I was breathing heavily, sweating buckets and my legs were in pain from all the hills, I kept pushing. It felt like agony and in combination with not bringing a drink at the start of the race, I honestly thought I was going to faint after I crossed the line.
To top off this hot and eventful race day experience, a quick glance in the mirror revealed I had been sun burnt bad. Approximately 75% of the race was exposed to the cloudless sky and rays of the sun. Having forgot to put on sun cream, I ran this portion of the race without skin armour. As a result, my face resembled a cherry tomato and my arms were in pain for a day or two afterwards. These were the immediate results, but I was also concerned about potential skin damage. Not good, not fun and not clever.
Though I finished the half-marathon in a respectable time of 1:35, I know for a fact that my race could have been more enjoyable. If I’d have taken the time to avoid making some obvious mistakes, I probably would have run a faster time whilst reducing the risk to my health and safety. As Homer Simpson says, ‘Doh!’.
What are the 5 rookie mistakes to avoid on hot race days?
Did you manage to spot the five rookie mistakes I made on the hot race day in the summary above? Keep reading for a breakdown of each rookie mistake I made and proactive steps to take so you can avoid making then yourself.
1. Parking far away from the start line
Rocking up and parking a considerable distance from the start line is a rookie mistake on a hot day. Doing so means a long walk or light jog to commence the race. Even worse is leaving it till the last minute, parking far away and then having to do a mad rush to the start line. Nine times out of ten, you’ll be sweating and a bit out of breath before you even begin the race.
That’s a lot of energy and fluid lost from sweat before the race commences. This means you won’t be fully energised and ‘in the zone’ to run the crucial early stages of the race. You’ll start the race with a poor performance and your confidence will be sapped out of you, placing you in a bad position for the rest of the race.
All of this from parking far away from the start line on a hot day. Not good.
How do I avoid this hot race day rookie mistake? Leave early and park close to the start line
Don’t be like me on my hot race day and leave it till the last minute to leave the house, only to rock up and discover there’s nowhere to park. Instead, leave the house early with plenty of time to spare.
Leaving early means you will have first dibs to whichever parking space you will like. Therefore, you’re likely to park closer to the start line and won’t be in a fluster to make it to the start line.
If you’re worried that getting there early means you’ll be bored, twiddling your thumbs, bring some reading material with you!
Some good running related books are ‘Born to Run’, ‘Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink‘ and ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. I’ve read all of these and would strongly recommend them to other running fanatics.
2. Not bringing a drink to the starting line
Forgetting to bring a drink to the starting line means you’ll go the first few miles, in potentially agonising heat, without fluid.
Not only will this make you incredibly thirst and uncomfortable, your performance will suffer, and you may even be compromising your health by becoming overly dehydrated.
I think the biggest mistake I made in the hot half marathon the other day was not bringing a drink to the starting line. I thought I’d be fine without it, but after a couple of miles I was absolutely gagging for a Lucozade sport or a bottle of ice-cold water.
To make matters worse, most races (like the one I participated in) have a few water stations and they typically supply water in tiny cups with minimal amounts of fluid.
Not only are the size of the cups often small, their open design makes it incredibly hard to transfer liquid into your mouth and you often end up drenching your shirt rather than your throat. Not what you want during a hot race!
How do I avoid this hot race day rookie mistake? Bring a drink and energy gels to the starting line
The best way to ensure that you stay properly hydrated during the crucial early stages of a race is to take matters into your own hands.
Equip yourself with a drinks belt or carry some water or a sports drink. Doing so means you’ll be able to access a decent amount of fluid whenever you want and are not at the mercy of the drinks stations as you go around a course on a hot day.
Additionally, I’d recommend purchasing and carrying some energy gels. These are handy carbohydrate gels that provide bursts of energy and hydration on the run. Not only are they small and easy to carry, they make for a much needed ‘pick me up’ during a hot race.
Purchasing some energy gels and a sports drink may set you back £10 or $15 at a maximum but the benefits of doing so are incomparable. Must have essentials for hot race days.
3. Not training for the race day terrain
On hot race days, everything is going to be much more uncomfortable than usual. Therefore, you want to make sure you’re properly trained for the occasion.
Not training properly for the race day terrain, like steep hills or a tricky trail, will make your run more painful than it needs to be on a hot day.
Take me and my lack of proper training as an example. I ran a half-marathon which I knew before hand was filled with tricky hills. Despite knowing this, I didn’t alter my training regime to incorporate hill workouts and as a result I suffered a lot on the hot race day.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have suffered whatever the weather, but the hot sun made the hills even more unbearable. My own rookie error for not training to the race day terrain.
How do I avoid this hot race day rookie mistake? Train properly to the race day terrain
The best way to avoid having an awful hot race day experience is to best prepare for the situation by training to the race day terrain. This will mean your body is prepared for the surfaces you’ll run over on race day and the hot weather won’t be a major burden for you.
For example, if you’re running a trail marathon then you will want to spend lots of time training in trail terrain. Sounds obvious, know, but you’d be surprised by the amount of people (like myself) who don’t think to train to their race day terrain.
Therefore, make a special effort to research your race day terrain and be sure to train to that terrain.
There’s no guarantee that it will be hot and humid but if race day rolls around and it is, is you will be glad you trained to the terrain.
4. Pushing yourself too hard
One of the biggest mistakes you can make on a hot race day, as I found out the hard way, is pushing yourself too hard.
When it’s hot your body is worker harder than usual to keep you cool and your body functioning as normal. You’ll find you sweat a lot more when it’s hot. Therefore, you’re more likely to be dehydrated when it’s hot and the risk of health issues like dizziness, collapsing and even shock.
With your body already contending with the hot conditions, running at 100mph is likely going to end in disaster. Putting lots of strain on your body to deliver an ace race day performance in the heat means it will lose much more fluid. As a result, the hazards of dehydration will more than likely present themselves.
I found this out the hard way when I almost fainted after pushing myself to the finish line of a half marathon in 30-degree heat.
I knew something was up. For 20 minutes afterwards, I couldn’t think or speak properly. I knew something was up and as soon as I started to drink water and rest, I started to feel normal again. Undoubtedly, I was suffering early signs of extreme dehydration. Not good.
How to avoid this hot race day rookie mistake? Don’t push yourself
If you’re somebody that likes putting your foot on the accelerator on race day, it’s time to re-think this tactic when it’s hot. Seriously.
Instead, use hot race days as a means of purely enjoying the running experience. Take it easy and pull back from your maximum effort. Not only will you reduce the risk of overworking your body and becoming dehydrated, you’ll appreciate your surroundings and enjoy running with other a lot more. A unique race day experience which those of us who are prone to pushing ourselves never get.
Don’t aim for a personal best on hot race days. Keep calm and apply minimal pressure. It’s important to run a good race but it’s more important to keep yourself safe and healthy. Don’t push yourself on hot race days.
5. Not applying sunscreen
Something we’ve all forgotten to do at least once in our lives is forgetting to put on sunscreen. The result of this is looking like a tender piece of lobster with skin that burns to the touch. Ouch.
A rookie mistake to make on a hot race day is forgetting to apply sunscreen before setting off. The nature of running dictates that most races are held outside. Naturally, this means being exposed to the elements with the sun being one of them.
Runners who run hot race days without putting sunscreen on are doing more than making themselves red. They’re exposing their skin to high levels of exposure from the sun.
Repeated sun exposure that results in sunburn increases your risk of skin damage and certain diseases. The worst disease arguably being skin cancers, like melanoma. Not good at all.
How to avoid this hot race day rookie mistake? Apply sports sunscreen
There are plenty of products on the market which offer skin protection from the sun.
Sunscreen is, by far, the most popular and arguably the most effective. Sunscreen provides a thin layer of silky coverage across the skin which protects against burning and saves the skin from the scorching sun.
Perfect for race days with little shade and solar rays beating down on you. Some products can offer runners up to 10 hour of UV ray protection. A must have for hot race days.
Happy hot race day running
There you have it. Ways to avoid making the 5 rookie mistakes on hot race days that I made. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning from this article and are now able to have failure free races, even when it’s hot. Good luck!