Burning up

Posted on June 17, 2012


The temperatures really are rising.  I rarely rise early and by the time I’ve had that all important caffeine fix, demolished a giant banana and checked my emails, it’s normally gone 7.30am. Today I could have run for hours … I was so in the zone, out on the sand and totally immersed in belting out Kelly Clarkson tunes … but on my final stretch home, at this point after 10am, I could feel the heat bearing me down, willing me to rest and rehydrate …

Timely then that an email this afternoon included The Heat Index which is a table that shows the apparent temperatures felt by the body due to the combined effects of actual temperature and humidity. As the humidity in the air rises, the body is unable to efficiently evaporate the sweat it produces making the perceived temperature much high than the actual temperature.

The consequences?

EXTREME STRESS on the body and a number of associated dangers.

There are three key heat illnesses that affect ultra running, whether training or in a race.  All boil down (sorry!) to dehydration. If you replace lost fluids and electrolytes and are able to train your body to process a high volume of fluid in a short period of time, you significantly decrease the risk of experiencing them.

1) Heat cramps: Exercising in hot weather can lead to muscle cramps, especially in the legs. This is usually caused by imbalances or deficiencies in your body’s electrolyte stores. To eradicate cramps, you should stop running, drink fluids containing electrolytes (I love elete), cool your body with a wet towel and immediately get out of the sun.

2) Heat exhaustion: Losing fluid and electrolytes through sweat leads to dizziness and weakness if the lost fluids are not replaced. Heat exhaustion is characterised by a rise in body temperature, dizziness, nausea and vomiting and / or a headache. You might also experience weakness, lack of coordination, heat cramps and heavier than usual sweating accompanied by the shivers. If you experience the signs of heat exhaustion, stop running immediately and drink fluids containing electrolytes, cool your body with a wet towel, lie down and elevate your feet and immediately get out of the sun.

3) Heatstroke: In extreme cases, heat can upset the body’s thermostat, causing your body temperature to rise to a life-threatening level. Symptoms of heatstroke include lethargy and extreme weakness, confusion and odd or bizarre behaviour, disorientation and unconsciousness. Your body’s temperature regulation system basically suffers complete failure and seizures can occur as the brain begins to shut down. Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention and whilst it is the extreme, we run through summers with extreme temperatures so it pays to be vigilant.

Ultimately, I think we often become acclimatised to the heat here and perhaps underestimate the temperatures.  I know I sweat much more and find a long run much more draining but I pretty much continue my training as always throughout the summer months. I am fiercely self-aware however and I think it pays for everyone to develop an acute awareness of their body and how it functions.

And you / me aside, it pays to recognise the signs to help other runners too … there’s a reason why the global running scene is like a rich tapestry of camaraderie and community … at different places and in different spaces, we all, at some point, need support from other runners and vice versa …

Now get out & run!

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