Heat Exhaustion & Running – Devastating Consequences

I have recently had the opportunity to experience first hand the detrimental effects of running (racing in my case or barely anyway) with the effects of heat exhaustion.

I was lucky enough to take part in the Xterra world running champs in Oahu, Hawaii recently and although the scenery at times was simply breath-taking, I certainly found it tough to appreciate this because of the stress my body was going through.

I’d come off of some recent races feeling strong, fast and fresh and ready to take on the front pack and although I realised that of course it was going to be hotter there than in my training yard of Whistler, BC in the mountains, I guess I hadn’t fathomed on just how much this change of climate would affect me.

I’d been training for the couple of weeks prior to the race in very wintry conditions, running up and down mountains in sometimes knee high snow. So it was fair to say that the change from freezing temps to what transpired to be heat in the 80’s and very high humidity was quite the ‘jump’ and my body was ill prepared for this.

The race took place a mere 48 hrs after arriving on Hawaii soil, which obviously didn’t give me much time to acclimatize. The effects were devastating though! Within 5 km of this 21km race I was literally cooking. My pulse was skyrocketing and my blood was boiling. I already knew here and then that this was NOT going to be my day. I admit I did think about pulling out at that point, but decided after a brief stop to try to collect myself, cool and see what the next few km’s would allow me.

I actually re-grouped and got it together a little, but I was suffering and there were definitely signs of something not being right. At every aid station from there I dumped a couple of cups of water over me and inhaled whatever electrolyte drink was on hand. This helped for a good few km’s, but hills were unnaturally killing me (one of my strengths normally) and around the 16km mark when I’d had to slow to negotiate some traffic I felt my heart literally trying to jump out of my chest and the beat very erratic. Admittedly at this point I was quite concerned and considered dropping yet again and wish I had.

I jogged and ran in the final few km’s and although my ego felt as bad as my body, somehow managed to throwdown a final sprint over the last few hundred meters. The poor girl trying to get my timing chip off me and then hang a medal around my neck unfortunately received some unfortunate abuse as I barked at her to leave me alone and let me through. I’d been feeling faint for a while and was concerned that now would be the time I actually did.

Fortunately after throwing my patient wife a glazed look after crossing the line, she realised all was not well and allowed me to keep moving and grabbed me water, electrolytes, etc. Everything was off and my body was not functioning properly, but after sitting for a while and down copious refreshments I started to come round.

I peeled off my bad choice of running shoes (it was mostly smooth running surfaces and not enough mud, roots, etc for my choice) and socks and found some of the worst blisters I’d ever had, but all at one time. A direct result of sweating so much and losing so much electrolytes.

A full recovery was made within a few days, but it was getting my body back in balance that took it’s time and slowed muscle recovery, etc.

On reflection, such a sudden and drastic change in heat and especially humidity was obviously the killer and if circumstances allow, I would certainly get out to this race climate a good few more days before. I’ve since read studies that all agree that acclimatizing and conditioning to this climate will usually take around 10-14 days as the blood plasma adapts. It is also found that running in heat above 70 degrees farenheit, your heart rate will typically increase around 10 beats per minute. Studies also show that high humidity will also increase your heart rate by around a further 10 beats per minute – Little wonder I was f#####!

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