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Heat Exhaustion – Swift And Deadly

Heat Exhaustion – Swift And Deadly

If you only take one thing from this post, let it be this: heat exhaustion can overcome you much, much, much quicker than you think.

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So you’re running around in the desert feeling great. Five miles under your belt, you’re actually thinking of picking up the pace a little. This isn’t so bad! You feel euphoric, powerful and strong!

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One mile later, you can hardly stand. Your legs are wobbly, you’re getting goosebumps on your arms and legs, your eyes are not focusing properly and your balance is compromised.

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This is not an exaggeration – this is exactly how quickly heat exhaustion can occur.

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Think of heat as a flash flood. It comes out of nowhere and sweeps the unsuspecting before it. Think of shade, water, SPF lotion and protective clothing as climbing to higher ground.

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The fact is that no matter how hard you train for a hot weather activity, you can be overwhelmed by the heat quickly and dangerously. Over-confidence is deadly in the heat – you must learn to respect temperatures of 100F plus, or any high heat index caused by a combination of humidity and heat. If you can comfortably run three miles, don’t try and do six – do four.

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HOW TO AVOID SUCCUMBING:

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1. Do not stray too far from a source of shade and safety. If you are running alone, I HIGHLY recommend that you never run more than a mile from your car. In Death Valley, I wouldn’t dream of running solo without knowing my car (or crew) was nearby. Any reasonably fit athlete should be able to manage a mile back to their car if they find themselves in trouble – but I guarantee, it will hurt. Make sure the car is stocked with water, ice, towels, protective headgear, electrolytes.

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2. Drink water. I know, but it bears repeating. Drink lots of water and electrolytes before you run or hike, then drink lots WHEN you run or hike. You can lose up to 24oz per hour in the desert – replenish and stay safe. At least 8oz per 20 minutes is recommended. Personally, I think that’s low – I’m a big lad and I need to drink 32oz per hour to stay functional in 120+ heat.

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3. Cool down. Take breaks in the shade. There are few prizes awarded for heat running, so don’t go out to set any records. Enjoy the experience and take it easy. If you are running back and forth from a car, sit on the trunk and wrap an iced bandana around your head. It feels great and sets you up for another two miles.

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4. Wear sunscreen on any exposed part of your body. Always. Without fail. Wear white if you can, long sleeves if you can stomach it, a hat with a neck veil. The more you cover, the less damage the sun can do both in the short term and over the course of your life.

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5. Some prescription medications can increase your susceptibility to heat exhaustion. According to WebMD, “These include antihistamines, diet pills, diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants, seizure medications (anticonvulsants), heart and blood pressure medications such as beta-blockers and vasoconstrictors, and medications for psychiatric illnesses such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. Illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine also are associated with increased risk of heat stroke.” The site goes on to say that diabetics often underestimate their potential exposure to heat danger.

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6. Not strictly a tip for preventing heat exhaustion, but tell someone where you’re going, when you expect to return, and when to send for the cavalry. Because life is good, and you probably want to enjoy more of it.

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TREATING HEAT EXHAUSTION

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So you ignored most of the above and now you’re fainting, vomiting, slightly delirious and generally not in good shape. Never mind. You should still live.

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If you or your runner is suffering from heat exhaustion, characterized by nausea, vomiting, cramps, fainting, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, unconsciousness, dark urine and other symptoms, DO NOT DELAY. Call 911. It is a medical emergency. Worry about the bill later. You have no idea how serious this is, and if you get it wrong you or someone you care about could die.

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Now find a cool place. Get your runner or yourself there and wet the head and face first, then any other parts of the body you can reach. Remove clothing if there is no direct sun on the victim.

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If possible, immerse them in water – shower, bath, hose, whatever. Ice them if you can.

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Fan the victim if possible. Get them into an AC environment if you can – the passenger seat of a car with AC is good, just keep the windshield and side window out of direct sun.

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Continue to drink liquids, but don’t force-feed them.

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Heat Running is a great sport, and it’s getting a lot more attention out there – which means more people are doing it, and some of them aren’t prepared. Please, don’t be one of them – build up your tolerance gradually, respect the danger inherent in any extreme sport, read the basic rules and be careful.

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Have fun out there!

Jon Rice
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Jon Rice

Jon is a highly-experienced runner who adopted the sport of heat running in 1996. He visits Death Valley every year to participate in his bizarre creation, The Darth Valley Challenge - a one-mile charge through the desert in the height of summer, dressed as Darth Vader.

To prepare for such silliness he takes extraordinary precautions. He trains year-round in the sauna, runs countless miles in extreme temperatures, and has crewed the Badwater Ultramarathon twice.

Jon's only request as you read this site is that you prepare carefully, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back, and take more water than you think you'll need.
Jon Rice
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