What you need to know about heatstroke when running in the summer

Summer has finally arrived, synonymous with many beautiful sunny days and outdoor recreation. But for runners, the arrival of summer means acclimatization and preparation for running in hot weather.

Most of us know that it’s harder to run at a set pace in a workout when it’s hot outside, and doubly harder when it’s hot and humid. But this is more of a nuisance than a risk. The real danger is heatstroke.

How does the body deal with overheating?

A study from the American College of Sports Medicine shows that intense exercise (like running) increases our body’s heat production by up to 20 times. Much of this comes from the energy that is released when the muscles contract as the runner moves forward.

To avoid overheating, you need to get rid of heat – this happens due to the evaporation of sweat from the skin. The risk of overheating increases when heat is combined with high humidity, because in such conditions it is much more difficult to get rid of excess heat: evaporation occurs much more slowly and sweat accumulates on the skin.

How does overheating occur?

The brain anticipates the dangers of heat exposure on a hot day and increases your fatigue in response, forcing you to slow down before body temperature reaches dangerous levels.

But despite the body’s natural defense mechanisms, extreme dehydration and overexertion can impair the body’s ability to maintain an optimal temperature, that is, to resist overheating.

The longer we run, the more the muscles and the body warm up and the perspiration increases. In an attempt to cool down, the body sends blood from the muscles to the skin to come into contact with relatively cooler air and sweaty skin that has cooled down through perspiration. Overheating occurs when the air temperature exceeds your body’s excess heat production.

The athlete’s body tries so hard to cool the skin with sweat that dehydration sets in: the loss of water and electrolytes mean that the muscles have to work even harder to stay at the same level of activity as they would do it at a lower temperature.

What influences our perception of heat?

The warming up of the body during a race is not only affected by the air temperature. Obviously, the temperature is the main factor, but humidity also plays a big role.

Other factors such as clothing, body weight, distance, pace, hydration regime, heat acclimatization and personal predisposition to heat-related illnesses also influence. It’s also harder to cool off if you’re not used to the heat, so you have to wait for your body to adjust to the hot weather of early summer.

Severe cases of heatstroke are much more common in short races of 5 to 15 kilometers, and much less common in marathon distances and beyond.

This seems counterintuitive, as longer distances are more dangerous as runners spend more time in the heat. But since the pace demands of a marathon or ultramarathon are not as high, heat generation during running is lower and body temperature gradually increases, giving the brain more time to recognize danger. and slow down over time. The shorter and more intense the effort, the higher the heat production and the more likely it is that the brain will not respond to the threat in time.

Three stages of heat exposure

heat cramps This is the first stage of an “emergency”. They usually occur due to a deficiency of electrolytes in the body during physical activity in the heat. Heat cramps feel the same as any other running spasm – sharp pain, muscle tension, rarely goes away on its own. Typically, runners experience heat cramps in the legs, primarily in the calves.

In addition to athletes, seizures are especially likely in older or young children, overweight people, and people who drink alcohol.

Here’s what to do if you or someone else experiences heat cramps:

  • move to a cooler place out of direct sunlight
  • lightly massage the spastic muscle, then gently stretch it
  • drink cold water or sports drinks every 15 minutes

Heat exhaustion A heat-related condition that can occur after exposure to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration. It’s a great general term that covers a whole range of symptoms.

Signs of heat exhaustion: muscle cramps, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, pale skin, headache, rapid shallow breathing, goosebumps and extreme weakness.

By the way, the feeling of extreme fatigue that comes after a long day in the sun, which fills you with apathy for anything but lying on the couch, is also heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is caused by a combination of overheating and dehydration. There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • dehydration (dehydration), in which the athlete experiences excessive thirst, weakness, headaches and loss of consciousness
  • hyponatremia (disorder of electrolyte balance in the blood), where the main symptoms are nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, dizziness, swelling of the extremities.

What you need to know about heatstroke when running in the summer

What to do in case of heat exhaustion

The first thing to do is to protect yourself from the sun and to cool down. Reduce core body temperature by applying towels soaked in cold water to your skin, take a cool bath, spray yourself with a garden hose, or put ice packs on your neck, head, armpits, and chest. elder. Lie on your back with your legs elevated above the level of your heart.

Drink an electrolyte drink that contains salt and sugar. Do not drink alcoholic beverages as they can cause dehydration.

Then you should eat or drink something cold: ice water, a cold milkshake or ice cream. It’s not uncommon for heat-tired runners to run out of calories due to nausea, in which case the food will help both cool them down and give the body the fuel it needs.

Rest the rest of the day and do not overwork yourself, it is better to skip training.
After recovering from heat exhaustion, you will likely be more sensitive to high temperatures over the next week. Therefore, it is best to avoid hot weather and strenuous exercise until your doctor confirms that it is safe to resume your regular exercise routine.

Although heat exhaustion is not as serious as heat stroke, it should not be taken lightly.

Heatstroke happens quite rarely, more often runners suffer from heat exhaustion of varying severity. But, if action is not taken in time, heat exhaustion can develop into heatstroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs and even lead to death.

In heatstroke, all of the symptoms of heat exhaustion may be present, plus:

  • body temperature 40 degrees or more
  • hot, dry skin
  • cardiopalm
  • confusion, excessive restlessness, slurred speech
  • change in mental state, inability to answer simple basic questions
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness

Heatstroke is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Basic tips for running in the heat

Watch how your body reacts to hot weather

Heat not only affects all runners differently, but the same athlete on different heat days may feel differently. This is especially true for long runs with frequent sun exposure or high intensity workouts.

It can take a long time to adjust to the heat, so keeping an eye on yourself on every run, and noting the temperature, humidity, conditions and how you’re feeling in your notes can help you find patterns. term and to prepare for certain conditions on race day.

Gradually increase volume and intensity

Start gradually adapting to the heat by doing only a few runs a week in hot weather. This will help the body acclimatize, avoiding too much exposure. After a few weeks, increase the number of heat exposure days.

The biggest mistake you can make is going broke running every day in high temperatures in hopes of adapting your body faster.

Plan your training program

One of the best ways to prevent heatstroke and other heat-related issues is to plan your workouts ahead of time with the weather forecast in mind.

Even during intense training blocks (e.g. competition peaks), avoid training with VO2 max during the hottest part of the day. Instead, practice running at a slow pace in the heat, allowing yourself to acclimatize without undue risk.

Pay close attention to hydration

Drink enough water throughout the day. In hot weather, drink an isotonic drink after workouts that last longer than 30 minutes.

If you are going on a long trip, be sure to take water with you. In addition to drinking, water the head and body. Remember that alcohol, antihistamines and antidepressants can have a dehydrating effect.

Read more: How Much Water Should You Drink? And during the race?

Protect your skin and stay cool

The less your skin is exposed to direct sunlight, the better: Apply high protection sunscreen to areas not covered by clothing. Choose loose clothing in light fabrics, and don’t forget sunglasses and a hat.

Read more: How to take care of your skin before and after running

Be aware of complex heat issues

Blisters, chafing and sunburn can occur at any time, but are more common in hot weather. Wear well-fitting (oversized) shoes and trim your toenails regularly to avoid black toenails.

Lubricate areas of the body prone to friction with a special cream or petroleum jelly.

be patient

It takes about two weeks for your body to adjust to the heat. This is called thermal acclimatization and consists of a series of physical adaptations that help the body cope better with heat stress, thereby cooling itself more efficiently.

Instead of increasing your pace, reduce your running distance or intensity over a few weeks of acclimatization.