Training Tips

Heat Illness Even When Weather Seems Nice

As you get ready for your last long run in preparation for Colfax Marathon, you are probably not worrying about heat illness. That is only a problem that happens when someone runs in hot humid places like Florida, right? Wrong! You can suffer from heat illness even when the weather forecast seems like a nice day for a run.

What is exercise associated heat illness? It can start as something as simple as muscle cramps. Then you start to notice that you are sweating A LOT more than you have on previous runs. Even though you are sweating a lot, you are starting to feel like your skin is prickly or clammy. As you keep running, you start to notice you are feeling dizzy. You try a gel or some sugar and it isn’t getting better. That is because it is not your blood sugar, it is your body temperature. If you keep running, your body temperature will keep rising.

As your body temp continues to rise, you will cross over into very dangerous category heat stroke. You will notice that you are no longer sweating any more. Your skin is eerily dry and caked in salt. You are feeling nauseous. Then the confusion sets in. You are disoriented and not sure what mile marker you are at. If you keep running, you will be in trouble. You could pass out, have a seizure or even worse. This is usually when your core body temperature is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

When does heat stroke happen or what makes it easier to happen? We know that the hotter the day is or the higher the humidity is, the bigger the risk is to develop heat illness. What are the things that put you at risks to develop heat illness.

  1. Prior exercise heat illness
  2. Low physical fitness (maybe you didn’t really train like you were supposed to)
  3. Large muscle mass, obesity- this is because you have a larger mass with less skin surface area to sweat.
  4. Alcohol use- save the beer for after the race.
  5. Certain medications that increase your heart rate or blood pressure- like stimulants used for ADD.
  6. Dehydration
  7. Recent infection

So now that I have scared you right before race day, what do you do? There are great ways to prevent heat illness. First, listen to your race director. If we are worried that heat will be a factor in your race, we are going to warn you. If the weather is not working in our favor, we will warn you to decrease your exertion level. Take this warning to heart. We all want a great race but more important is that we don’t want this be your last race.

Other ways to prevent:

  1. Hydrate!
  2. Clothing- light weight, light colored, moisture wicking, spf protection
  3. If you start to notice those early signs, slow down or walk. Find some cold water or ice- pour it over your head, put a wet towel on your neck.
  4. If you are not feeling better, stop and get some medical attention.
  5. If you can- acclimate! If you know that you will be running in the heat/humidity, try training in it also. If you can’t train, try to arrive early. If you can get to an area 10-14 days before the race, you can acclimate to environment and decrease your risk.

Dr. Jennell Kopp
– Medical Director of Athletics and Head Team Physician, University of Denver
– Sports Medicine Physician at Common Spirit
– Colfax Marathon Medical Director