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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Xterra World Trail Champs – Hawaii Here We Come!

Ok, so it’s been a while since my last post, so here’s a quick update:

Having gotten myself into good shape leading into the Vancouver BMO marathon back in May 12, I struggled a bit after angering my IT band again!

Rehab took me nigh on 3 full months to shake this off, which understandably put paid to much of my 2012 race schedule. However, tentatively ca,e back just in time with plenty of mountain running around my town of Whistler, BC (this was the coolest place to run and train during the heat and humidity during our summer) and toe the line for the ‘5Peaks Whistler’ race. Not a bad outing for an early comeback – came in 9th feeling great and strong.

Next up I was asked to join the Salomon Flight Crew team for the inaugural ‘Meet Your Maker’ 50 mile ultra over and around Whistler, Blackcomb  and the surrounding mountain ranges – epic race. Having not had the chance to log many miles since coming back from my IT issues, I was in no shape to churn out 50 gruelling mountainous miles, but was asked to join the relay team.

I happily accepted the opportunity to race the first and 2nd leg (just 30k out of the full 80k – were we a man or two short??) only to receive a call the night before asking if I would also be happy to race the 3rd leg (definitely a body or two short) – sure! Why not – Bad decision!

Epic run, but the 3rd leg resulting in a full 40+km was definitely one leg too much at this stage for me and the fact it was a straight 10km climb up Blackcomb mountain was not exactly beneficial. Awesome day and event tough and can’t wait for next years.

Next up was the ‘Whistler 50’ – a relatively flat and mainly asphalt trail run in Oct. Greeted by cold, wet and wintry conditions, this was always going to be a slogfest. Started out feeling great, happy following the lead guy around for the first of two laps and then something came out of no-where. My back, hips and hamstring got so tight that I was totally unable to stop or stretch and loosen anywhere off. Severely pissed about this, I found I was unable to run as my stride was being restricted and forced to drop just after 40k – feeling otherwise really fresh and strong.

Given how god I felt once stopping early and having a good soak in a hot tub to relax those strangely tight areas, my recovery was quick. So I did what all running addicts do – I entered a trail 1/2 marathon the following weekend – ‘Hallows Eve’. There had been torrential rain the day before and the terrain was sodden and we were all completely soaked within minutes of the start. This was an awesome run, great fun, challenging, slippy as hell but one I’ll definitely go back and run again. I could tell my legs were a tad jaded from the race the weekend before, but I felt great and finished strong in 4th.

Next up, ‘New Balance Fall Classic’ 1/2 road marathon in Vancouver. I hadn’t done much road racing or training since the early part of the year, so this was an opportunity to test the leg sped out and last hard training / tempo run before my ‘A’ race goal of the Xterra World Champs two weeks later. Felt good and fresh for much of this race, speed was there early on and was made to work extra hard to hold onto 5th place. Happy with my result but not my time – until I remembered that completely uncharacteristically I had been severely hungover a mere 12 hrs earlier – oops. Never again! Like I said, not my ‘A’ race.

So next up – Xterra. It took me a couple of days to get much of my strength and freshness back again after the road 1/2 and not wanting to start my taper too far out, I’ve since managed 3 or 4 good hard hilly trail runs. Also managed some bloody hard runs in deep snow, wich really drains you I can tell you!

One week out and looking forward – The hardest issue to deal with might just be the heat and humidity, especially coming from a wintry mountain. No excuses, can’t wait!

Once done, a few ‘easy’ weeks and some serious strength training in prep for a hard 2013 schedule which includes 6 day Trans Rockies race Aug 13-18th followed by Ironman Canada just one week later……ah well!

Ultra Marathons – Are You Ready?

So you’ve run a few marathons and you love a good challenge. You’ve read about Ultra marathons and perhaps the notion of running 50km, 50 miles or even 100 miles doesn’t seem too daunting, but just how different are these races than your ‘average’ marathon?

Anything longer than the 26.2 miles or 42.2 kms is considered an ultra marathon. However, the terrain on which they are ran are typically hugely different. Usually marathons are road races, where ultra races take place over varied terrain, but will predominantly cover most of their mileage on various trails. These can range from being very mountainous and hilly and some cases, also very technical underfoot with loose rock, roots, craggy ascents and descents, etc. Not all of them of course as there will also be a number on comparatively flat terrain. Therefore, these races are not for the faint hearted!

It takes an incredible amount of mental and physical strength to complete (yet alone ‘compete’!) these races. Depending on the race length and terrain, you may well find yourself out on the course from anywhere between 6 and even 24 hours. Apart from obviously logging sufficient mileage prior to the event, there is also a need to ‘mirror’ the challenge as much as is sensibly possible.

You will want to practice being up on your feet and running and walking for numerous hours. Of course, as with marathons, there is a point at which you will reach diminishing returns. Many training for these events will do a ‘long run’ of say 4 hours on a Saturday, followed by another long run on the Sunday, perhaps 3-4 hours. The idea being that you get to practise time on your feet and on the second day, you can mimic the feeling of running on tired legs.

You should also try to train as much as possible on similar terrain to that of the event. For example, if the race is over very hilly, mountainous terrain, simply training on a treadmill or on the roads will not really help replicate the race conditions.

Nutrition is also extremely vital to the successful completion of an Ultra. Much will depend on the length of the event, but typically anything over 4 hours or so, will require a very well rehearsed fluid and food plan and should have been tried and tested as much as possible prior to the day. We all know that dehydration plays a major part in how well we can perform and the effect it has, but perhaps unlike in a shorter event, such as a half or full marathon, getting this right can be the difference between finishing or not.

It is wise to carry water or even a carbohydrate replacement drink on your run. Many of these drinks will now also contain electrolyte replacement as well, which is another vital consideration. One should try to drink fairly frequently, taking sips as you move along (there is a risk of over drinking and this can carry its own problems!). It is also vital to look closely at the amount of carbohydrates you regularly digest en-route. Many will consume a number of ‘gels’ which contain much needed nutrients, such as ‘carbs’, electrolytes, potassium, etc, but after a while, these can get a little much for the gut. Sometimes, after hours of running, your body will be crying out or some solid food, or simply ‘reject’ it.

Many staged events will have frequent aid stations stocked with fruit, pretzels and even potatoes. You will even see some runners eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Everyone has a different tried and tested formula, but getting the mix of everything is essential. For me, often the carbs are not sufficient as my body is telling me it needs protein. Now what your body and more importantly, your stomach and GI tract will tolerate, is a very individual thing. Hence the need to practice not only running, but drinking and eating and being prepared to switch plans if necessary.

Assuming you can get the nutrition dialled in, then as long as you have sufficient training and approach the event in the manner that it commands (IE: build up the long run mileage gradually, be familiar with the type of terrain, taper and look after sore or damaged muscles, etc), then there is no reason to fear it. Just start out at a slower than normal pace and try to enjoy it – thanking all the volunteers along the way.

‘Seek The Peak’ – Grouse Grind 16k Vertical Race

So having seen this race advertised in my local gym a  few weeks back, I decided it would add a little spice and fun to my training. This was going to be a challenging race for me, not least because it was all unknown terrain and it dragged us over 4000 feet in elevation gain as we ascended the top of Vancouver’s local Grouse Mountain.

Naturally the weather was atrocious, hissing down with rain, long before the start time, which added an extra twist to the challenges. Being unfamiliar with the course and what to expect, I took off a little slower as I tried to run within myself a bit.

The ‘Grouse Grind’ is a famous climb or set of ‘steps’ reaching from the foot of its mountain to its peak. I knew it would always be a very tough challenge to even try to run this particular section of course, roughly around 3km in length and the average inclination weighing in at around 28% (some parts are in excess of 40%). Personally, it was the 10kms prior to the ‘start’ of the ‘grind’ that was the unknown and provided much of the challenge as I was reluctant to work too hard before I even reached the mountain, especially as much of this contained some serious elevation gain as well.

The ‘Grouse Grind’ is often referred to as ‘natures stairmaster’ and let me tell you, no amount of running will really prepare you for this. Aside from being a few thousand ‘steps’ over slippy rock and roots, at times being forced to scramble and crawl our way around hikers already out on the trail, we also had to cope with a deluge of water pouring down the rocks and course and which only worsened as we got nearer and nearer to the top.

Having reached the top of the ‘grind’ there were still a couple of kilometers left to tackle…in some very dense fog. A couple of times I had to ask for directions, to be told “straight on” and still having to clarify, “which way is straight?”. It felt like winter up there still, even in the middle of  July, and already being soaked to the skin, the conditions up top at times felt like it was about to snow again!

Was this a fun course?…On reflection, yes! It was certainly a different workout and challenge than I would otherwise have run that weekend and all in the name of charity. Hopefully the vertical ‘training’ will put me in good stead for the couple of trail ultras I have coming up over the next month or so.

Felt a little too good having finished, not least because I could dry off, change and warm up, but still had a fair bit left in the tank. The continuous ascending meant there was less muscle damage done and joints took less of a battering, so recovery for me was swift. Perhaps I could / should have pushed a little harder seeing how goo I felt, but maybe we’ll see next year as this is definitely a fun event and add’s a little something extra if considered as a training run.

‘Comfortably Numb’ Trail Race Post Mortem

So – Survived this extremely technical run and lived to tell the tale…just!

Not quite the time or the placing I was hoping for, but I’ll take it for what it was – A good first serious forray into the world of trail racing. This race is known as a ‘west coast classic’ in these parts of the world, for a number of reasons. The main one being is that it really is extremely darn difficult, because of the ascending, descending and in particular, over the terrain in which you are asked to do it!

It was noticeable right from the start that I had the legs of many of the ‘racers’ as I inadvertently ended up leading the strewn out pack up the first fire road hills and onto the first couple of single track trails. However, this is where it all went wrong. I almost immediately hesitated and took a slight wrong turn and the 3 guys behind me all took off in the ‘correct’ direction. No big deal, just took off after them.

This was quickly followed by two or three kilometers of straight up switchback hills and worse, causing one or two to walk some of the steeper climbs. The terrain quickly switched to a ‘wall to wall’ root carpeting of the forest floor together with rocks, some mud and naturally more climbs as the first half of this race took us predominantly uphill.  It was in here that I quickly learned that my road speed alone was not going to be enough as I vied for my position for a few kilometers with a couple of guys who were 1) seasoned trail runners and 2) very accomplished at descending rapidly in this loose, slippy terrain. And so it went with them passing me on the downhill and me overtaking on any flat (not that there was much ever!) and the uphill sections.

This definitely become a little weary for me until I let these guys simply stay ahead for a bit. So out there on my own for a while allowed my to ‘run’ (more of a run , hop, step, dance and jump really) at my own pace and also come a little unstuck once or twice as I struggled to find any race markings and the natural path – obviously slowing me down further. A couple of near full body-plants into the ground were beginning to niggle with my temperament as I become more frustrated with myself until I eventually hit the ground a little harder, dusted myself off and took off again.

Eventually we reached a slightly rockier, firmer section of the race which allowed me to plant some firmer footing as I was getting fed up with the tree roots at every step and this typically meant being out in the open with the sun beating down on me.

Eventually I approached what I thought was territory that I recognized from a couple of previous forrays into the very end section of this trail as I’d previously tried to accustom myself with and felt a little happier. That was until I spotted a photographer on the course and tripped coming down off some rocks and boulders. Down and with the wind sucked right out of me, I really wanted to stay down to regroup, but with this photographer telling me I was doing great and in 6th or 7th place…for now, I realized that I had to get up and back on my running feet quick, not least as my pride was hurt and all I could think about was hoping he hadn’t captured that magic moment on film!

Shaken and in a bit of pain, I carried on, but in trying to shale off the niggles, I was quickly passed on some tricky downhill sections by a couple of speedstars who’d come from deep within the pack. By now, I was longing for some open, buff trail, where I could open my legs and really run. I knew I had the legs and speed to take these guys ahead of me, but was being well beaten by a few guys who were obviously far more comfortable on this terrain than I was.

Eventually I came out of the technical trails onto something I could really run on and set about giving some real gusto to my effort. Frustrated for miles about not being able to really speed up and let my pace show, I now wanted to see if I coud either catch someone, or at least feel better about pushing the envelope a little with a kilometer or two to the finish.

As I approached the finish, I could hear a few cheers and the tannoy. I’d obviously gained a little ground, but all I could do now was round off the last few hundred meters feeling relatively fresh, but happy to let rip.

Speeding across the line I always feel a little cheated as there’s always the thought that if I feel so good still, why couldn’t I have left a bit more out there on the course?! That said, all in all, a good fun run.

Apparently I’d missed the several bear sightings – too busy looking for my footing to see that far away from me…at least I assume they weren’t that close to me!

I was glad to have made the decision to run with a hand held water bottle. Something I wasn’t inclined to do, especially as there was supposed to be a water station at the halfway mark, which, didn’t materialize. Thankfully, the bottle also broke my fall a few times as well, although not sufficiently to stop me damaging my rotator cuff presumably on lens!

On reflection though, not a bad performance, slower than I had predicted by about 1o minutes, but given falls and wrong turns, not bad. Definite room for improvement and a nagging desire to quickly improve my technical downhilling skills.

Next up, the ‘Tenderfoot Boogie 50KM in 6 weeks. Mainly trails, but nowhere near as technically difficult!

Maybe we’ll give the Xterra trail running championships here in Whistler a throw of the dice with a concerted effort to run trails between now and then. Shouldn’t need much incentive, especially with a chance to run in the world finals in Hawaii at stake!

‘Comfortably Numb’ – Trail Race

This somewhat aptly named trail race takes place this 4th week in June in and around Whistler, BC. Due to the heavy snowfall this past winter, even this late into the year, there will still be a lot of snow to contend with on the trail during the race, further adding to the complexities of this run and its already numerous challenges.

Personally, as much as I love trail running, I guess you’d say that my bread and butter is on the smoother, buffer road surfaces. However, this year I am determined to focus a lot more on trail running, not least because it is far more enjoyable, better scenery, more fun and a lot easier going on the body in terms of the impact with each pounding step or stride. On another slightly ‘blue sky’ approach, around the part of the world I live and the way society is taking to this sport, there are a lot more trail running challenges and perhaps a greater chance to get sponsored as an athlete – Like I said, ‘blue sky’ approach!

I currently live in the mountains and have an embarrassment or riches outside my door when it comes to trail running, so it seems only fitting that I grasp this opportunity with both hands.

Now, as with most sports, most training and fitness is very sport specific. The greatest, fittest swimmers in the world do not translate into some of the best runners simply because they are ‘fit’. Same deal with translating from road running to trail running. Although similar, trail running engages and requires a lot more of the runner. More concentration when judging your step and how to approach the terrain, different muscles – a lot more core for example and a lot like everything, there is a completely different skill set is involved with the trails. For me, my biggest development is to improve on my descending skills as some folk will literally throw themselves down any and all terrain, no matter how slippy, dangerous or imposing it looks and this is where much time is made or lost.

So having already ran the Zurich marathon in some heat and sickness earlier this April and a half marathon just 3 weeks ago, I embarked on throwing myself at as much trail running as I could handle in the 3 weeks build up to this race. It is an extremely technical race and this in itself is perhaps one if not the biggest challenges of this course.

The terrain is a real hot pot of slick tree roots crossing in every which way, to rocks and boulders, wooden bridges, some slick, some not, switchbacks to ascend & descend with no real end in sight and a chance….just a chance of sighting or coming across a bear or some other wildlife.

Personally I cannot wait to get at the course and see what exactly it has to offer. Apparently in places there are still patches of snow to navigate, so we’ll see just how much this slows the course down. The record was set at 1hr 49 by an outstanding athlete, so I can only hope to come in somewhere around the 2hr zone and hope that with these conditions I place well. Given my self certified novice status at trail competitions, this will serve as a real test as to how well prepared I am to handle the arduous trails out here in BC – How hard can it be, eh?