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Flirting With Heat Exhaustion on Today’s Run

Posted on June 03 2014

There’s a fine line between being tough about your training and being stupid. I crossed that line today, then continued to run a bit further.

I had 8 miles on my schedule, but honestly had not thought to look at the weather report this morning. I was working in my air-conditioned office at the clinic all day and never stepped outside. Around 2:30 I decided to head out for my run. When I stepped outside it felt pretty warm, not oppressively hot, but warm. My plan was to run a bit over a mile to a trail head, then do 4-5 miles on some tough trails, and finish with about 3 miles on the road back to the office.

About a quarter mile into the run I realized that it was indeed pretty hot, and that I had not brought along any water. “It’s only 8 miles” I told myself, not a big deal. That was the moment that I crossed the line into stupid-land.

I made it to the trailhead without incident, then had fun running the switchbacks up and down the hills through the woods. It was cooler under the trees, but it was tough going and I did notice that my mouth was getting really dry. But I was determined to get in the full eight miles. Another dumb decision.

I emerged from the forest around mile 5, and once I hit the asphalt I started to feel weak. For the next two miles I had no tree cover and I was baking in the sun. My legs felt completely fried, and it was a struggle to not walk. I was dying for some water, though I was still sweating plenty and did not feel dehydrated. Fortunately at mile 7 I reached a local park and found a water fountain. I drank a bunch, poured a bunch more over my head and legs, and managed to struggle through another mile and a half to get back to the office. I had absolutely nothing left, my legs didn’t want to move.

When I got in my car to head home the thermometer said that it was 88 degrees out. It was probably hotter where the direct sun was radiating off the asphalt. I honestly had no idea that it was that hot, but it explains a lot. That’s by far the hottest it has been so far this year in NH. For the next few hours I felt light-headed, occasionally dizzy, and weak. I had to leave the dinner table to go lie down. My legs felt shaky.

My wife told me that she was going to call me and warn me about how hot it was, but she thought I’d scoff and tell her I knew it was hot and that I’d be careful. I wish she had called, because I really had no idea and it would have at least prompted me to take water. She’s the more sensible one in this relationship.

I like to think that I continue to make stupid training decisions so that I can write about them here and tell others how to avoid doing the stupid things that I do. Today I was not smart, and I paid the price. It could have been worse – I probably would have had to walk the final mile if I hadn’t found the water fountain. I don’t think I’ve ever had full-blown heat exhaustion, but I may have come close today.

I’ll chalk this up as yet another reminder to me that I need to pay attention to the conditions outside as the weather continues to get warmer. A few weeks ago I flirted with dehydration, today it was over-exertion in the heat. Both made for pretty miserable runs.

So the take-home message here: Be smart, adjust your training schedule or run time if possible, and if you do decide to run when the heat is oppressive at least be smart enough to go really easy and bring some water.

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