One thing I feel like I talk about every year, though I was surprised to see that I haven’t done a quick tip episode on the subject since 2016, is heat illness.
If you’re planning to run outside in the summer months, being aware of the early signs and symptoms of heat illness can be invaluable.
Let’s not kid ourselves, heat illness is really serious.
It can legitimately kill you, so you know, it’s kind of important to talk about eh?
Heat Illness Isn’t Just a Southern Thing
One of the reasons I wanted to talk about heat illness today is because it’s something that has the potential to impact all of us.
You might think that since you far enough north that you don’t have to worry about heat illness.
And you would be wrong.
While those of us living in southern climates may have more opportunities to run in dangerously hot and/or humid conditions, because of our incessant exposure to the heat our bodies adapt to help us avoid overheating.
So if you live somewhere northern enough that your body doesn’t have to worry about overheating too often and you get a random string of hot weather, that can a perfect recipe for a heat illness outbreak.
Ok, so it wouldn’t be an outbreak since it’s not contagious, but you know what I meant.
Anyway, that’s why it’s important for everyone to at least be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat illness and why I’m spending the next two quick tips talking about the subject.
Degrees of Heat Illness
There are three defined degrees of heat illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
This is the most common level of heat-related issue, and thankfully it is also the least sever.
Note, that doesn’t mean that heat cramps are no big deal. Ask anyone who has ever had a legit bout of cramping due to overheating and they will tell you how much “fun” they had!
As you would probably guess, the most obvious sign of heat cramps are your muscles actually cramping up either during your run (less common) or shortly after you finish your workout.
You may also notice some fatigue and/or weakness as you start getting into cramping territory.
If your body starts cramping up on a run, that is a pretty good sign that it’s time to shut it down for the day.
Prolly wise to listen to what your body is telling you, eh?
Heat exhaustion is the next level up on the heat illness severity scale, and I can assure you that it’s not fun.
I’m pretty sure, and by pretty sure I mean almost positive, that I was battling a pretty serious case of heat exhaustion at the 2016 Running With the Bears marathon.
Anyway, when you start getting into the area of heat exhaustion things are starting to get a bit more serious.
Not life and death serious, at least not yet, but once you realize that heat exhaustion is going on it’s time to take action.
If you notice that things are really changing with you physically and/or mentally, that is a sign that you may be entering the realm of heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is legit dangerous, so if you think that you’re trending in this direction it is time to shut it down!
In truth, if you get into the heat stroke territory it was time to shut it down a while ago.
The biggest sign that you’ve crossed over from heat exhaustion to heat stroke territory is that you’re not sweating anymore and your skin is dry and hot.
At that point, your body is literally no longer capable of cooling yourself.
Think about that for a minute.
If you’re not sweating and your skin is dry, you need to stop running.
Not in another mile. Not when you get to your car.
Watch for Signs in Others Too
While it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat illness in yourself, it’s equally important that you’re paying attention to those that you’re running with and help keep them safe.
I mean, they are your friends, right?
What kind of things should you look for in your running buddies? Basically anything that doesn’t seem quite “right”.
They could be falling off the pace of the group much more than usual. Or slurring speach. If it’s normally one of the talkative members of your pack, maybe he or she is unusually quiet. A random stagger or struggling to run in a straight line could also be a sign.
The biggest thing you can do is just pay attention.
One aberration from the norm may not be a big deal. But multiple little things that seem “off” probably means that something more serious could be in store if action isn’t taken quickly.
When in doubt, when it comes to the heat, err on the side of caution.
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