Our summer trails are alive with epic displays of flora, and teeming with bird and insect life. With sunrise around 5am in peak season, we have more hours to spend racking up the miles in our trail shoes, and can even squeeze in a decent session before the confines of an office.
So what should we all consider before lacing up in the heat of summer?
That is pretty much the most important element to consider. Depending on where in South Africa you are running, the mountain streams are less likely to be flowing with safe, accessible drinking water. Don’t set up on a mission without pre-hydrating, and carrying enough to see you through.
You can lose between 180 and 360ml of fluid for every 20 minutes of running. Therefore it is important to pre-hydrate (300ml of fluid 10 to 15 minutes prior to running) and drink fluids every 20–30 minutes along your running route. Indications that you are running while dehydrated are a persistent elevated pulse after finishing your run and dark yellow urine. Keep in mind that thirst is not an adequate indicator of dehydration.
Adapting to heat running is a gradual gain, so don’t march out there in 35 degree weather and expect to feel ok. While running, your body temperature is regulated by the process of sweat evaporating off of your skin. If the humidity in the air is so high that it prevents the process of evaporation of sweat from the skin, you can quickly overheat and literally cook from the inside due to an elevated body temperature. Use the early mornings and evenings to be safe, and remember to reduce your body temperatures through use of streams, dams or the ocean during a run.
Heatstroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature, and the body temperature continues to rise. Symptoms of heatstroke include confusion, delirium, or unconsciousness and skin that is hot to the touch, even under the armpits. Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency, requiring urgent care.
Light, breathable fabrics are key, along with a hat that covers your face, ears and neck. The latest bucket hats for trail runners aren’t just a trend, they work. Remember to wear a hat that allows heat to escape from the top of your head. Lighter colours are also advisable when temperatures rise.
Apply sunblock liberally before you hit the trails, and carry small sachets or tubes in your pack for regular reapplication. The rays down in Africa are brutal, and statistics show just how prevalent skin cancer is. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa with about 20 000 reported cases every year and 700 deaths. The World Health Organization reports that between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and approximately 132 000 malignant melanomas occur globally every year.
Summer running presents added risks for trail dogs. Dogs carrying extra fat or muscle, will overheat more rapidly. Their paws are not designed to run on baking hot rocks and trails. Panting, their method for body cooling, is less effective in humid conditions. They need access to streams or similar for body cooling whilst on the run, so choose your time of day and route carefully. Carry enough drinking water for you and your trail buddy, and ensure that there is cool water waiting for him in your car before heading home.
Enjoy the lazy days of summer, but do so safely!