Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

End Needless Suffering in the Heat

Why is this runner sitting down?

This is called competitive advantage. Click here to read my guest post on John Vonhof's blog:

John Vonhof's latest blogpost

If you're a runner or just spend a lot of time outdoors on your feet, the biggest favor you could do for yourself right now is to get yourself a copy of John's book, Fixing Your Feet, 5th edition.

Yesterday I watched a good-sized group of runners doing a low-key, ultra "fun run" locally here. The temperatures reached the mid-90s. I rode my bike up to watch for about an hour. It was noon and getting hotter by the minute. Many of the runners in this group are new to ultras, and they were challenging themselves to this event. I went up to cheer for a few people I know, and was observing as the runners came down the hill to their turnaround point.

I heard the runners commenting about how hot it was and how they'd just like to chew on some ice, but none of them were wearing ice on their necks or heads, a few were not carrying enough water, and some didn't have hats on. I suggested these things to a few of them, and at their aid station I saw some wisely take breaks to sit in the shade in between repeats of the hill they were running.

I saw a few who were obviously feeling pretty miserable. Running is supposed to be fun, especially in an event like this, but being unprepared for what were predictable conditions was the number one mistake these few made.

It's a good thing to challenge yourself, and when you get a group of young, new ultrarunners together they push each other to see who can be the "craziest", but some common sense and sanity are in order here.

The problem is that heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to something more serious, and when you don't routinely run in those conditions, it's even more dangerous. Being prepared can save your life, or someone else's. Be careful out there.


Alex said...

Hey Alene, glad you could come out and watch, cheer, give some sage advice on Saturday. We all appreciate your concern and I wanted to let you and your readers know that by and large the participants in Saturday's run did have a great time - check the comments on FB and posts on other blogs. Sure there were some challenges with the heat, but we all (new trail/ultra runners and very experienced) dealt with them and continued to have a lot of fun out running the trail together. Hopefully you can come run with us sometime (we run every Tuesday and Thursday evening. There are a lot of great things happening in the Fort Collins running community. Happy running!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks for your comments Alex. It looks like it was a great time and a lot of fun. I wish I could have done a few hill repeats myself up there on Saturday. I know that some people stopped or cooled down when too hot for them, which is wise. I also saw a number of runners doing things (or not) that I wish I hadn't seen. People do have to learn from experience and I think that is one of the strengths of having a group like this, you have a mix of new and experienced runners, with lots of collective wisdom and knowledge to share. It's a great resource, and I hope new runners will use that wisdom to their advantage as much as the experienced runners will share what they've learned. Yes Fort Collins is a GREAT place to be a runner. When I can run trails again, I would love to join you for a run. Happy running to you!

Brian said...

Alene, congrats on your Badwater double. That's some hardcore stuff right there. Also thanks for coming out and cheering folks on last Saturday.

I was caught a little off guard by the title for your blog post, "End Needless Suffering In the Heat". I get a negative vibe from that title, and that vibe is in opposition to what I took away from our 24 Hours of Towers event. I also felt our event was mis-characterized a bit.

By and large the majority of us had fun and were relatively smart with the heat. I have heard no negative feedback. As to the heat, you take what you get when you schedule an event 4 months out. I suspect some lessons were learned regarding running in the heat on Saturday. Good or bad, most of us runners learn best by making mistakes. The short out and back course helped to limit the impact of these mistakes. The veteran runners among us were quick to share advice if asked for and I believe all of us would have stepped in if we saw something truly stupid being committed.

One area I feel our event was unfairly characterized was in creating an atmosphere of one-upping the other to the point of unsafe competition. We did not have any awards based on total laps/miles run or anything like that. We did keep a group tally of laps run, collectively instead of competitively adding to it.

As Alex said, I'd love to see you out on some runs with the FCTRs. I am sure I could benefit from some experienced advice on running in the heat. My heat tactic is to delay rather than deal with the heat. I sat in the shade from 11:00 until 4:30 on Saturday before picking things back up in the evening.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Hi Brian, I appreciate you writing, and I'd like you to read the blogpost again, carefully. Also read the link in it. It was primarily about Badwater, and I used an example of what I saw last Saturday when I was watching your event from about 11 am to 12:30 pm on a day where the conditions were quite predictable (a weather pattern that's been here for at least a week). I realize you were the event organizer so I can see where you'd take it personally, but it is not a criticism of you or your event.

I saw a small number of people out there at mid-day without hats and running out of water, and quite uncomfortable. Those are the ones I'm talking about.

My point is: Part of learning to be an ultrarunner is being prepared for the variety of conditions you will face while running long. When someone is not prepared, and they put themselves (and possibly others) in danger, then it becomes an issue.

The "that's crazy" as a badge of honor is another part of becoming an ultrarunner. Pushing each other and encouraging each other to find one's limits is a good thing. Again, see my point above.

Your strategy was smart, now it's time to teach those people who suffered why you used your strategy and show them how it served you well. That's the strength of having a group with mixed levels of experience.

And yes, I would love to be able to run trails with your group, and as soon as my ankle is rehabbed sufficiently, I would be happy to join you.

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Anthony C. Humpage said...

Alene, your comments on heat especially for those who are not heat adapted or prepared are well made.
At the low end, heat illnesses can be unpleasant -- dehydration, cramps, fainting -- however they can also be fatal.
Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and often fatal because of the timeit takes for medical help to arrive -- AND recognize the problem.
At the MCM in DC, the finish line corpsmen have THREE ice water baths ready. And that race isn't even very hot.
Do bad things happen very often? Thankfully no. But when they do happen, it isn't pretty.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Woofie, I think it's also important to realize that just because nothing bad happens to anyone in your race, that it doesn't make a race "safe". It means you were lucky. No ultra is safe to begin with, they carry a lot of inherent risks. Add some heat and there are some big risks involved. Anyone can end up with heat illness, even the most experienced runner. Look at Lisa Smith-Batchen in 2011 Badwater, in the hospital with kidney failure on her 10th Badwater. For the race director, that means taking on the combined risk of everyone who participates.