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#####!

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!