By Ken “SGT Ken®” Weichert
Trouble on the Trail
I could not believe this was happening! I had all of the classic symptoms of heat exhaustion—muscle cramps, nausea, weakness, headache, dizziness and confusion. Worst of all, I decided to hike this unrelenting trail alone.
It was a beautiful summer Saturday in Northern California, just north of San Francisco, California. I decided to trek the trails in Muir Woods to get a good workout. I often invite friends and properly prepare for each path. This time, however, I grabbed an 8-ounce water bottle and set out solo to trail run six miles.
I normally try to beat the heat by working out before sunrise, but this time I slept in. I thought I would be okay at midday. I felt fantastic after the first three miles, so I decided to change routes and double my distance (12 miles). I thought to myself, “At this rate, I will be back in no time.”
I was wrong.
“It’s better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have.” Franz Kafka
It was one of the rare times in my life that I did not practice what I preach. I was far from any ranger station, alone, and out of water at the other side of the mountain. Bottom line, I was in trouble!
To be continued…
Top 10 Tips to Beat the Heat Head On
- Win with Water. Drink more fluids than usual. Consume 16 ounces of room-temperature water 30 minutes before exercising, and drink 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes. Drinking enough fluids during exercise helps improve heart function, maintain kidney function and lower the core temperature of the body. Dehydration can stress the heart and reduce the ability of the kidneys to maintain the correct balance of electrolytes. Athletes may want to take mineral supplements such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. These nutrients can be found in dark, leafy greens; nuts; seeds; whole grains; sea vegetables; blackstrap molasses and bananas.
- Learn to love lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothes. Dark, tight or thick clothes hold in heat and don’t let your body cool properly, and they inhibit sweat evaporation.
- Always acclimate. Sometimes it can take several weeks for your body to get used to the heat. If you have been working out inside all the time, don’t dash for your first marathon. You might want to walk briskly your first time under the sun and monitor how you feel.
- See the sunrise. Get up early and work out in the morning. The temperatures are lower before sunrise and after sunset. Working out in the morning also jump-starts your metabolism, making it possible for you to burn more calories throughout the day. What a great excuse to see the sunrise!
- Stop the sunburn. I always hike with a lightweight, wide-brimmed hat to protect myself from the sun, and I apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 45 to any exposed skin. Sunburned skin reduces your ability to get rid of the heat.
- You and your urine. A good way to determine your level of hydration is to monitor your urine. It should appear to be lighter than lemonade and never dark and cloudy like apple juice.
- Try to find a shady spot for your car. On a hot day in the direct sun, the temperature in your parked car can rise 20 degrees Fahrenheit in approximately 10 minutes. Let your car cool off before you drive it.
- Tub time. After strenuous sports under the sweltering sun, it is great to soak in some tepid water. Taking a bath is a great way to lower your core temperature and stop the sweating.
- Always have a Plan B. Being in an air-conditioned building is one of the best ways to prevent heat exhaustion. If the heat is too high outside, it might be wise to work out inside instead.
- Prescription precautions. Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether the medications you take make you more susceptible to heat exhaustion and, if so, what you can do to keep your body from overheating.
Turmoil at Mile Ten
My headache increased and my vision blurred. I was in the open, several miles beyond the cover of the trees. My mind started to drift a bit.
I remembered the things my drill sergeant taught me years ago about what to look for while in a hot environment:
- Heat cramps. Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions, mainly affecting the calves, quadriceps and abdominals. Affected muscles may feel firm to the touch. Your body temperature may be normal.
- Heat exhaustion. With heat exhaustion, your body temperature rises as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit and you may experience nausea; vomiting; headache; fainting; weakness; and cold, clammy skin. If left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke.
- Heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency condition that occurs when your body temperature is greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Your skin may be hot, but your body may stop sweating to help cool you down. You may develop confusion and irritability. You need immediate medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure or even death.
The Wonder of Water
Mad at myself! I normally plan for the worst and hope for the best. I trekked these trails several times in the past without any problem. Today, however, was one of the hottest days of the year. I needed fluids and to cool down fast.
I sat down in the middle of the open trail and tried to shield myself from the sun with my shirt. My mind was telling me that sitting in the sun for a while might make it better. I drifted off into a daze. My yearning for sleep was uncontrollable.
“You okay, dude?”
I opened my eyes and found a hiker with his dog staring down at me. My watch indicated that I had been asleep for 30 minutes. I noticed that I was sunburned on several exposed areas of my body.
“Water?” I asked in a low raspy voice.
He immediately pulled his second canteen.
Water never tasted so good! I remembered to sip it, instead of giving into the urge to gulp it down. After several moments of sipping water and talking to my newfound friend, I stood up slowly and walked with him for five miles until we reached a ranger station. I thanked the hiker multiple times and found the ranger on duty.
The ranger looked me over, and determined that I did not need urgent care. He drove me to my car, parked at the other ranger station approximately 10 miles away. He monitored me while on the drive. He wanted to be certain that I would be able to drive home on my own without any problems.
I decided to find an air-conditioned place close to the ranger station to eat some lunch. Once hydrated and fed, I drove home, took a bath, dried my body and took and a nap.
Check on Learning
Proper preparation provides peak performance.
Use the Top 10 Tips to Beat the Heat Head-on to make your exercise routine exceedingly safe and extremely effective.
Be a victor, not a victim.
Want some free fitness tips, go to http://www.startfitness.com/workouts.
Tips for preventing heat-related illness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.html. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
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Hyperthermia: Too hot for your health. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hyperthermia. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
Warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
O’Connor FG, et al. Exertional heat illness in adolescents and adults: Epidemiology, thermoregulation, risk factors, and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
O’Connor FG, et al. Exertional heat illness in adolescents and adults: Management and prevention. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
Mechem CC. Severe nonexertional hyperthermia (classic heat stroke) in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 3, 2017.
Headquarters, Department of the US Army. STP 21-1-SMCT, Level 1. Task 081-831-1008, Perform First Aid for Heat Injuries. Assessed June 2009.