This past weekend was a classic 4th of July cooker. It actually felt like summer. Which is all good. However, when one lives in a climate where just a week ago, people still needed light jackets at night, the sudden onset of “real” summer weather can be jolting, especially in non-air conditioned spaces. So, accordingly, last Friday I skipped my run and went instead to the comfort of my Bikram Yoga class. Who needs 90 degrees outside when you can have 105 degrees inside, right? Right.
Well, class was the same as always- hot. But I survived, thanks to lots of water before, during, and after class. The good thing about working out in that extreme heat is that you are aware of the heat at all times and plan accordingly. No surprises it’s the same in January and July. After class, my family and I packed up our car and headed north to my parents’ cottage. At the top of the list of projects for that day: install air conditioner. Good thing, because when we got there, my parents were waiting in the sweat box… anxious to have the unit installed. It was so hot in the cottage that, as my mom said, “You can’t even think.” Yet, the more you sat in the heat, the more you got used to it- until you went to the cool downstairs or the lake. Then, coming back into the sweat box, you’d see just how bad it was.
Two hours later, my husband and dad had installed the air conditioner, and the room felt “more comfortable.” Note that true coolness came only if you stood directly in front of the unit. Otherwise, it was just sort of “cooler.” Needless to say, it was far from being a place you’d rationally or medically be advised to hang out. Unfortunately, my parents’ bedroom was on that level so they were stuck in the heat all night. The next day, my dad woke up and felt a little sick. This continued all day until dinner when he really didn’t look so good. As he was describing some of his symptoms- fatigue, nausea, general “malaise,” it started to come together for me. In an astounding reversal of roles (my dad’s a doctor), I asked my dad, “Have you had enough water today?” Before he could say no, I went to the fridge to get some Gatorade, and told him he needed to drink it. His reaction, “Ugh, no way, I can’t drink that” sealed the deal. He was experiencing classic signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion, which include the refusal of Gatorade for fear of stomach upset. I told him about one marathon where I finished utterly disoriented and sick to my stomach, and promptly retreated to the first porta potty I saw. Here, I was convinced I’d die because my body felt like it was shutting down. (Editor’s note: seek medical attention if this happens to you after a race!)
My story was enough to convince him to take the Gatorade. After drinking a cocktail sized glass, he realized the revitalizing effects and asked for another, “this time on the rocks.” At this point I knew the electrolytes were working their magic. He was looking better. After a sip of glass #2, he handed it back to me and said, “You run 26 miles for this crap? I think it’d taste a lot better with some ice cream mixed in.” Appetite returning, asking for more fluids. All good. One Gatorade float later, he was recounting the events of the day and realized that he really hadn’t had much water, and had been in and out of the sun all day, doing yard work and other tasks.
Whereas my Bikram class takes place in a (really) hot room, I go in fully prepared for the heat, and consciously handle hydration at every step of the way. It’s part of the “practice.” In a real life situation, when not doing anything terribly strenuous, but just sort of existing in the heat, the danger lies in not hydrating enough and pushing the envelope physically. The truth is, basically anyone in the heat is at risk. My dad confirmed this when he told me more about heat problems the next day. He noted that, “Heat stroke affects many and is no recognizer of gender or age; the onset is subtle, associated with some confusion and utter lack of appreciation of impending problems. The subtle onset in the older, less active population, either outside or in a hot apartment, is a threat to health. There is a loss of appreciation of the body changes due to the mental confusion– sort of slowing down, dulling of the sensitivities, and blunting of reason. This is especially worrisome when the elderly are confined to small apartments without adequate cooling and ventilation. It’s a good idea to check on the condition of parents living alone, or living in poorly ventilated or crowded units. The subtleness of onset can be deadly, especially with older people. It isn’t just lack of fluids- heat stroke is environmental. Beware of heat, lack of breezes, and hot sunshine outside, as well as heat and lack of breezes inside.”
And, as both my parents and other family members have told me maybe six thousand times, runners especially need to exercise extreme caution and preparation when running in the heat. Runner’s World agrees, and advises running before 10 a.m., and after 5 p.m. in order to avoid the hottest time of the day. In addition, it’s important to start out slow and let your body adjust to the heat. In other words, don’t step off a plane in March in Hawaii and run 10 miles. Your body will likely freak out; get acclimated to the heat before you hit the ground running. Hydration is also key… but not just hydration on the run. It’s important to be hydrated before your actual run, and then depending on the distance to hydrate during as well. (The August 2011 issue of Runner’s World has a great piece covering all areas of hydration while running.)
Running expert Christine Many Luff at About.com has further advice on hydration: “You should take in 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. Runners running faster than 8-minute miles should drink 6 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes. During longer workouts (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intake should include a sports drink (like Gatorade) to replace lost sodium and other minerals (electrolytes). The carbohydrates and electrolytes in the sports drink also help you absorb the fluids faster.”
In summary, after hearing from a doctor, a running magazine, running expert, and a runner who has felt the ill effects of dehydration and overheating, it seems that it all comes down to exercising common sense when dealing with the heat. Whether you’re running, walking, sitting, or just living your life… the best advice is to be conscious about what you do and don’t put in your body, and always be aware of signs of trouble.
So friends, when the mercury level hits the roof, remember to stay cool, hydrate well, check on your elderly friends and family… and throw some ice cream in your Gatorade. After all, summer’s too short not to have a little fun.
by abbey algiers