Every runner wants to run their personal best every time they race, but sometimes there are certain conditions that just don't allow that to happen. After all, every race can't be a PR, can it? In very hot and humid conditions, it's important to make sure you are aware of what your body is telling you. It's OK to come off your pace (slow down!) if your body is telling you 'something is wrong'. Here are a few important signs to look for and some ways to prevent getting to the extreme of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
What happens to your body in humid conditions:
Humid conditions prevent our sweat from evaporating, so the heat our body produces naturally stays put. Sweating is a natural way for our body to release the heat, so not being able to sweat makes for a dangerous condition.
-As the body gets more and more dehydrated, it goes into “survival mode”, firstly providing necessary blood flow to the most important organs. Since the heart and the brain are the control centers, these organs take the essential blood and oxygen first and the other organs fight for what’s left over. This is one reason why we tend to cramp from our extremities first (fingertips, toes, etc.), then later the GI system, then the respiratory system.
-When extremities start to cramp, this is the first sign of over-heating. This is the start of heat exhaustion.
-If the GI system is affected, then nausea and side-cramping may occur. This is why some people may feel nauseous after trying to drink a sports drink.
-If breathing becomes difficult, then the lungs have become affected and they will have to work harder (along with the heart) to pump necessary blood and oxygen throughout the rest of the body. This is when the heat exhaustion is getting much worse, leading to heatstroke.
-Lastly, if the brain/central nervous system becomes affected, that’s when confusion and unconsciousness result and the body is in true heatstroke . Continued tissue damage may also lead to kidney failure.
How to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke on Race Day in humid conditions:
-Firstly, all runners should know the signs of heat-related problems. If you feel faint, dizzy, disoriented, or have stopped sweating, or if your skin feels cool and clammy, slow down or stop running completely!
-Drink plenty of fluids during the days leading up to the race so that your urine is pale yellow.
-On race morning, drink up to 16 ounces of fluid several hours in advance and another 16 ounces in the hour before. Your urine should again be pale yellow. Include some salt and a sports drink with sodium in your pre-race meal and ingest salt before and throughout the race.
-Avoid caffeine and cold medicines.
-Drink during the race. Pour cups of water over your head to lower your body temperature.
-Use spray/misting stations along the course, getting really wet. The evaporating water will help lower your body’s temperature.
-Wear synthetic fabrics (which wick moisture from your skin so cooling evaporation can occur) and acrylic socks to keep your feet dry and cool.
-Use sunscreen to keep the skin from reddening.
After the Race:
-continue to hydrate with water or a sports drink. If you choose to eat a sports bar, be sure to use plenty of water to wash it down. A protein-carbohydrate drink also assists in glycogen replacement and faster muscle repair.
-Rest and Recover!