The excitement of race day is almost in sight for fall marathoners. Visions of huddling up in corals on a cool, autumn morning, falling golden-brown leaves and hitting each mile marker at goal race pace are bouncing around in their heads.
When thinking of a fall marathon, hot weather is not always something that comes to mind. If you need a reminder, do an Internet search for “2007 Chicago Marathon” and horror stories of high humidity and a temperature of 88 degrees that forced officials to close the course mid-race will pop up on your screen. Since that race in 2007, the high temperature on race day has been 80 or higher three other times in Chicago.
So what can you do to be prepared to battle a hot marathon day?
A few long runs in warm conditions during a marathon build up can help you acclimate and hydrating well before and during your marathon will go along way. The addition of a pre-cooling plan and some specific equipment can also help you be prepared to beat the heat.
It’s widely accepted in scientific literature that body heat is a limiting factor in performance. Instead of relying on sweat to reduce body heat, pre-cooling methods help the body save energy and retain fluid by decreasing the skin and core temperature. Pre-cooling can improve performance in the heat by keeping the heart rate lower, decreasing sweat production and allowing the blood volume to be better maintained so oxygen can be better delivered to working muscles.
Scientific research is still being conducted to determine which forms of pre-cooling are the most effective. While the new Nike Magneto-style “cooling hood” is currently reserved for a few world-class athletes, there are a couple pieces of cooling technology used by the pros that, along with your preparation, can help reduce the negative effects of the heat and improve your marathon performance. The most practical methods of pre-cooling are ingesting ice slush and wearing a cooling vest. The focus here is on pre-cooling before your race because no one should run while wearing an ice vest and unless you’re an elite, you won’t be able to get a slushy at an aid station.
Yes, you read that correctly: making a slushy in your blender can help you perform better in hot conditions.
A number of scientific papers document how pre-cooling with a slushy improved the performance of endurance athletes in the heat. Studies suggest that when ingested, the crushed ice absorbs heat from the body’s core structures better than cold water. This allows for less of your body’s fluids to be needed for cooling through sweat and can be maintained in the blood to help deliver much-needed oxygen to muscles.
Regular water bottles generally won’t work well with slushy, so a specific bottle for pre-cooling is important. The easy to clean, slushy-specific Floe Bottle is a great option.
RELATED: Stay Cool With A Slushy
Cooling vests have been worn by world-class distance runners for over a decade. At the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens, Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor went on to win silver and bronze medals, respectively. Both athletes performed their warmup wearing cooling vests and wore them up until a few minutes before the start of the race.
Once only available for elite level athletes, reusable cooling vests are available at a reasonable price for those serious about performing at their best in the heat. For example, the cooling vest by ArcticHeat is available in a variety of sizes for a cost of $225.