Currently as I write this, it is 108 degrees outside at 3 p.m. (yuck). Now if you are someone like me who lives in a place that gets incredibly hot you may often times find it difficult to get your training in, for obvious reasons of course. For those who don’t live in this type of place, remember that you may travel one day to race in a hot environment and any tips you can collect and keep in your arsenal will help you to develop as an athlete. My inspiration for this post came from the events that occurred this last weekend, Western States 100 has just finished and during the race they were seeing temperatures of 105+ in certain areas of the course. So without further ado I give you my best tips and information on how to run in extreme heat while being mindful of temperature regulation.
The dangers of running in this type of climate:
The word that many of us are scared to hear, heatstroke. Now while it is obviously ideal to avoid this condition sometimes things happen and you find yourself in a situation, so first off what exactly is heatstroke?
Heatstroke is caused by the body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This is most serious form of heat injury and requires immediate medical treatment. Heatstroke can cause death or brain damage and happens when the body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Symptoms or signs of heatstroke:
- Fainting is typically the first sign of heatstroke but body temperature rising to 104 and above could be the first thing you notice.
- Lack of sweating despite how hot it is outside.
- Throbbing headaches
- Nausea or vomitting
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering.
If you ever do find yourself in a situation where you or someone around you is experiencing heatstroke don’t hesitate to call 911 as a delay in aid could be fatal. Administer first aid by doing a list of the following:
- Fan air over the person while wetting hair or skin.
- Place ice packs and ice bags near armpits, groin, and neck. (Do not use ice for older people or young children or patients with chronic illness.
Scary right? Understanding heatstroke and the symptoms as an athlete could potentially save a life so the information is good to have on hand just in case. Now, let’s get into the part where we discuss the main points on how to prevent this condition all together.
How to regulate body temperature:
When training, running, or doing anything in the extreme heat it is important to take preventative measures against heatstroke and other heat related injuries. Let’s start with apparel and gear:
As far as gear is concerned there are a few key points to be aware of that help regulate your body temperature and allow heat to escape. When choosing a pack to run with, especially during the warm months in extreme conditions, there are a few key things to look for, the first few are the footprint of the pack and material the pack is made out of.
Now when I say small footprint I am referring to how much of your back is covered by your pack. In the example on the left you can see how the pack narrows in to allow the shoulders and the main portion of the back to be exposed thus allowing heat to escape better. The second portion of this is the material the pack is made out of, this is important because the part of the back that is covered will have heat and moisture that needs to escape. Be sure to find something that is airy and lightweight with a small footprint for heat regulation. Another method of regulating heat is to run with a waist pack, Karl Meltzer aka the Winningest 100 Miler on the planet typically only uses a waist pack during his races.”By wearing a waist pack I am bypassing that issue altogether.” Waist packs are a great way to carry your essentials and also free up the space on your back during those warm days.
Now the next critical point of heat regulation would come from your hydration cycle and this is a big one, ensuring that you are on a proper hydration cycle is critical to maintaining a healthy body temperature while in extreme heat. You can click this link to see how to create a proper hydration cycle during training or racing scenarios. Often times people will drink and be unaware they are not drinking enough fluids, the best way to be sure is to do a sweat rate test in the climate you will be racing in. If you are unsure how to do a sweat rate test, here is how:
- Be normally hydrated going into the test- Obviously this would be critical to the test results, don’t drink more or less fluids than you typically would when beginning the sweat rate test.
- Execute test in similar training/racing conditions- You would want to do this test in the area you train the most, or if you have a race, be sure to try and create the same conditions so that your test is accurate.
- Take your weight before the training- This should be pretty straight forward, but weight yourself and write down what you see.
- Run 1 hour – no liquid in OR out- Don’t drink for an hour and don’t pee for an hour.
- Take post workout weight- After your workout or run, dry off with a towel to get rid of the sweat and take your weight.
The difference between pre and post workout weight is the water lost that needs to be replenished.
A friend and I once did a self-supported adventure of the white rim trail on mountain bikes. During a specific point in the trip he began to slow down, which I didn’t think anything of at first but eventually as time progressed he was becoming incoherent and hard to talk to talk to which alarmed me. My friend who is a very skilled athlete was experiencing the first symptoms of heatstroke despite drinking fluids. I tell you this to remind you that just because you are consuming fluids doesn’t mean it is the right amount and for this reason a sweat rate test is the best way to gauge your fluid intake.
It is said that the adjustment period the body goes through varies before it becomes normalized to hotter conditions, I have found that with my cross country students during the hotter months it takes roughly 7 days to make that adjustment. During the transitional phase it is important to take into account all of the small things that equal a healthy body temperature during a race or training scenario. When you find a river wet a towel or your hat, when you reach an aid station be sure to throw some ice in your pack or hat and these things help. But remember the key things that you can do and plan accordingly to ensure a safe and fun race.
Body temperature regulation summary:
From hydration, to the gear you choose down to the color of your clothes, everything plays a role in heat regulation. During times when it’s scorching outside it is so important to be aware of these factors and plan accordingly. Now for those longer races that run you through the night it can be difficult to plan for a hot day and a cold night, in our next blog we will discuss transitioning into night time during a long race scenario and how to do so effectively. What types of things do you do to regulate body temperature? How do you stay cool during those long runs?