On the dangers of running in 100-degree heat


I realize that it is early to be writing about the dangers of running in hot weather. Predictions from the weather people mention 100 degree temperatures over the Memorial Weekend and that is a good reason to remind runners, and race directors, of the possible dangers of hot weather running.

One of the first points in listing warnings is to make sure a runner knows what the signs of heat problems are. I have had several times putting on races when you literally had to pull a runner off the course for their own safety. One thing to mention for race directors is the safety of the runners. It is not quite as serious on a distance of a 5K, but when the distance moves up to a 10K, or half marathon, and even a marathon, there needs to be course monitors all along the course. For the half marathon here in San Marcos we had the privilege of getting the Explorer Scouts in the EMT group to be stationed at each of the water stops. We had knowledgeable people that recognized heat problems and knew what to do. It is good when you have a lead bike for a race, but on hot days it is good to have patrols going back and forth along the route to check on those runners still out on the course. This is especially true with the slower runners as they are exposed to the heat for a longer period of time.

At water stations it is good to have enough water, but it is also good to have ice and towels to put on a runner to cool them down if they have heat exhaustion. For a runner it is good to check what services are available for handling problems in case they get in trouble. I used to mention it is not, “If you happen to have a heat related problem, but when you have a heat related problem”. Heat problems can happen to any runner at any time. I was at one race where after the race a runner collapsed into a grassy ditch heading back to his car. His buddy said, “He is okay, he is an experienced runner.” Experienced or not he was lying in a ditch and in trouble. The problem became a little worse when the volunteer aid workers came and put a heavy blanket over him. When you have heat exhaustion you do not need to get warmer. I told them to put the blanket under him to protect him from fire ants and sent several people standing around back to the finish area for ice. We put some towels around the ice and put it on his chest and under his arms to cool him off and contacted an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

When a runner experiences heat exhaustion they are not the most intelligent people about their health and any problems they are having. One runner was staggering, made the turn to the road leading to the finish line and ran into a large store window and fell flat on the sidewalk. He felt sure he could get up and finish the race. I had to convince him that as of right now he is finished with this race and sent the next three or four runners with instructions to send the EMT’s back here, or at least get some ice for him. The course monitor has to have the authority, and knowledge about heat exhaustion, to be able to pull a runner off the course for their own safety and health. It helps to have a car with a good air conditioner going to put a disabled runner in and get him back to help.

For a runner the knowledge that the weather for this race may present heat problems and prepare for it in advance. Get enough fluid into the body before the gun sounds to start the race. This can be a little tricky at times. The timing is critical. Too much water, too soon, may mean a trip to the portable toilets and a runner might be busy when the gun to start the race goes off.

The practice of taking advantage of the water stops along the course is important. Some runners think that slowing down, or stopping to get a drink, will take precious seconds off their finish time. Those few seconds to grab a cup of water is nothing compared to the pace you will be doing when you start to experience heat exhaustion and find yourself walking, or staggering side to side, near the finish of the race. Take advantage of those water stops and know the warning signs of heat problems.

A few of the signs include how well you are thinking and recall things like your time, date of the race, name of the race, etc., and goose bumps on the arm and shoulders is not a good sign on a hot day. That funny feeling when the hairs on the back of your head seem to be tingling is probably not from the shampoo you used to wash your hair. If you know your pace and you find that it is almost a minute off what you usually run it is time to start walking, find some shade and get some fluid into you. Just be aware of the possibility of heat problems and know that these problems can happen to any runner, experienced or not. For a runner, don’t be “bull-headed” and think you can run through these symptoms as it is just not going to happen and you will be running into a heat problem. Run safe and make sure your run is a healthy one.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666