How to Avoid Heatstroke 101

This is my 3rd summer as a runner! Summer One was when I started running in June of 2007 and didn't really know what I was doing. I was just desperately trying to work up to one mile, then two, then three. I don't remember much about those summer runs except for two special ones: the first time I ran a whole mile without stopping and the first time I ran three miles. Those were huge days for me. I do remember a few other things, like I was running in a cotton sports bra with thick seams and it nearly sawed me in half a few times. And I was running in a cotton t-shirt which chafed my bicep-area terribly. I didn't know about technical clothing, I don't think I took water on those runs, and I went at one of the hottest parts of the day--6:00 p.m. when the pavement has absorbed all that heat all day long.

Summer Two last year was totally different. I was running longer distances. I carried my trusty Nathan Speed Belt Two filled with 10 ounces of water and 10 ounces of Gatorade. I wore technical-fabric clothes. I discovered the value of running at 6:00 a.m.

I learned a few other critical steps to running in the heat as well:

1. Slow down your pace. You just can't maintain the same pace in the heat as you can in cooler, less humid weather. If you need to do speed work, using a treadmill in an air conditioned environment is probably the best idea.
2. Take walk breaks. I admit, this always feels a bit like CHEATING, but all the experts agree that integrating walk breaks into summer runs can help avoid getting into trouble.
3. Take plenty of fluids. It seems a little silly to take water or Gatorade on a 3-mile run, but everyone sweats at different rates, and you may wish you had.
4. If you start having chills or feeling lightheaded, stop running. Walk back to your car. I had symptoms of "heat sickness" last summer on a 10-miler in August. I had lots of fluids, we were using a run/walk method, but suddenly I felt chilled. My stomach was churning. I got a little dizzy. I tried to keep going, but some veteran runners in my running club MADE me stop running. I told them I was fine, but they informed me that a person having heat sickness isn't always the best judge of how they are doing. And they walked me the three miles back to my car.
5. I guess another good idea is RUN WITH A FRIEND! Or at the very least, carry a cell phone.

Yesterday, I had a good six-mile run at a flat, paved four-mile trail in the woods.
My friend and I went at about 8:20 in the morning. I hadn't been to this trail since late February or early March, and since then, the trees and plants had sprung to life. There was a tree canopy completely covering the trail except for one area when we ran over a bridge over the river. It was quiet, cool, scenic, and EXACTLY what I needed. Other than watching for snakes and running through a couple of spider webs, it was quite relaxing. (I always start out on this trail a bit uneasy about snakes--there are definitely some there--but then forget and relax into the run. So far, I haven't encountered one there.)

We walked at the top of every mile, but maintained a good long-run pace in between. My friend is pretty amazing. She has Type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump attached to her tummy, but still has completed 5 or 6 half marathons and is training for her first full in December. She has to check her blood sugar during her runs. At mile two, I watched as she pricked her finger right out there in the woods. It was low, so we walked a bit while she waited for her glucose tablets to take effect. When I think of all the people in perfect health who don't run and look at my friend who has a pretty big obstacle to deal with (not to mention her husband is deployed to Iraq right now and she has two small children), and still manages to find the time and energy and run, it's just pretty darn inspiring.


NY Wolve said…
I read that to be wary of heat exhaustion on days where the heat and humidity add up to 152. Those days are particularly dangerous.

I also run now with a RoadID in case anything happens. And always near water. I grew up running at 5 pm in Texas, and back when I was a kid, never thought of anything else. Now though, I just cant even imagine that.

Good advice though!
Mama said…
Good tips! Your friend is amazing!

MCM Mama
Thanks for the inspirational runner friend story!
Bethany said…
I have a really hard time running in the heat, I think that is why I'm really not gaining miles... Your post has really helped me to feel better about taking those walk breaks and confirmed that(I may look like a goof, *my words*) if I get a water belt for just a couple of miles, but that I am running smart!

Your friend is amazing! Talk about obstacles... Sounds like you two had a great run.
Shelly said…
Great post! Yes- she is an inspiration!