Runners training for fall marathons should recognize signs of heat-related illness and seek treatment immediately.
October is one of the most popular months for marathons with more than 200 scheduled in the U.S. this year alone, according to findmymarathon.com. And while this means cooler temperatures during the race, runners are training now in the summer heat with temperatures often reaching well into the 90s and heat indexes climbing even higher. Novice and professional runners alike should be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses when preparing for a big race.
Hundreds of people die every year from heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These are common conditions that summer sun and/or vigorous exercise can initiate. Likely symptoms include:
- Profuse sweating
- Throbbing headache
- Muscle cramps
- Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
While symptoms for heat exhaustion and heat stroke are similar, heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, since the body becomes unable to control its temperature or cool down. It can be identified by changes in consciousness, disorientation and a rapid, strong pulse. Body temperature becomes extremely high, rising quickly to 103°F or higher. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, the individual is dealing with a life-threatening emergency and should be transported to the emergency room immediately.
Runners should also be on the lookout for heat cramps, which may be the first sign of a heat-related illness. Heat cramps are often felt as spasms in the legs or abdomen. Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels, and low salt levels in muscles can cause painful cramps.
If someone is experiencing a heat-related illness, the following first-aid procedures should be followed:
- Immediately take the individual out of the heat, preferably to an air-conditioned building;
- Lay the individual down with their feet elevated;
- Have the individual slowly drink water or a sports drink; and
- Pack ice around the individual’s neck, armpits and groin.
If the individual doesn’t feel better within 30 minutes, or is demonstrating any signs of disorientation, proceed to the emergency room.
To prevent heat-related illnesses, try to avoid strenuous activity between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when temperatures are at their highest. If you must be outside during this time, drink lots of fluids and take frequent breaks. Intense physical activity can drain the body of up to a half-gallon of perspiration in an hour.
When exercising, wear wicking fabrics made of synthetics, not cotton. In extreme heat, these materials wick away moisture better than cotton, which when saturated with sweat, can smother the skin. Also be sure to wear sunscreen.
Knowing how to prevent heat-related illnesses, as well as recognizing and being able to treat the symptoms, will help keep marathon training on schedule this summer in prep for a healthy marathon season this fall.
Catherine Carter, FNP is on staff with the Urgent Care at Stansbury Springs and can be reached at 435-843-1342 and located by Soelbergs off Highway 36 and 138. Urgent Care hours are 8-8 Mon-Sat and 1-5 on Sundays.