Safety begins with being smart

Safety begins with being smart

Finally! A day when temperatures stay in the 80s.

It seems strange to look forward to 80 degrees for running, biking, tennis or softball. After the past couple of weeks, though, it is such a relief.

But it’s still hot, and it’s only the second week of July. We will see plenty more 90-plus-degree days. And those who are exercising outdoors in the heat need to know how to stay safe.

Todd Searing runs throughout the summer and he ran the Freedom 5K on the Fourth of July, when the heat index was in the triple digits.Blog Photo

He runs in the morning or evening during such weather, and he plans his longer runs so he’s running loops that are closer to home, “so I’m never that far from someplace to get relief if I needed it.”

Searing is the cross-country coach for Urbana Middle School, and he offers a summer running camp for area middle school students. He encourages the runners to drink a lot of water.

The runs start and finish at a shady spot so the students can get some relief from the heat when they are resting. Searing also keeps an eye on them, watching for signs of trouble: lack of sweating, difficulty breathing or fatigue.

Searing said the time of day helps as well. The camp is from 8 to 9 a.m.

“Even on days it’s going to be 90, it’s still bearable,” he said.

When the recent heat wave hit, Searing organized activities for his runners that involved water — for example, a relay to move water from a big container to two smaller ones using sponges.

“That kept them moving but helped them deal with the heat, and kept them in the shade,” he said.

“We try to be smart and avoid getting in a situation where it’s not fun, or worse, not safe,” Searing continued.

On some days, that means just not running. On June 29, when temperatures reached 100 degrees for the second day in a row, he canceled his first session in his five years of organizing the camp.

Julie Mills is the coach of the Edison Middle School cross-country team, and she organizes informal training runs in the summer, to help students build their endurance. They run at 6 p.m. twice a week for 45 minutes.

Mills hasn’t canceled any of the runs yet, but she does tell parents to keep their children home from the voluntary running sessions if they feel it’s too hot to run.

Most of the runners who participate are new to cross country and are not running long distances, Mills said. When it’s really hot, she cuts back on how much they run.

“We’ll have them run a half a mile and they’ll come back and take a drink and we talk. Then they’ll run a quarter mile,” she said.

Or they’ll run relays, so each runner can get some rest while someone else is running.

“I don’t take them out on a 2-mile run, or even a 1-mile run, on a day (when it’s really hot),” Mills said. “We may run a mile or a mile and a half over the course (of the evening), but it will be in segments.”

Mills also talks with the runners she coaches about what to watch for when they are running.

“We talk a little bit about getting chills, that if they were to get chills, they need to come tell us immediately,” she said. “If they come to us and tell us they’re feeling tired, we automatically tell them, ‘You need to go sit down.’”

Brendan McHale, supervisor for Carle Physicians Group sports medicine, said muscle cramps, profuse sweating and extreme thirst are among the early signs of heat illness. A person may also experience fatigue and dizziness or light-headedness, he said.

If someone develops a headache or nausea, they need to stop their activity and take fluids at once. A bag of ice on the back of the neck is an effective way of cooling down, McHale said.

He said football players are often more at risk of heat-related illness than other athletes because of the equipment they are wearing. Even swimmers, though, can become dehydrated.

“People think you don’t sweat (while swimming),” he said. “You actually do sweat quite a bit.”

Staying away from the hottest part of the day — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — is one of the best ways to keep from getting into trouble while exercising in the heat, McHale said.

He also advises not to rely on thirst to gauge how much water you should be drinking.

He recommended drinking 17 to 20 ounces of fluid a few hours before exercising, and another 7 to 10 ounces about 10 to 20 minutes before a training session. Sports drinks, which typically have a lot of sugar and sodium, can help replace electrolytes, McHale said, but he advises drinking the same amount of water as well.

McHale said athletes who will train or compete in hot weather need to become acclimatized to the heat, which takes 10 to 14 days.

He recommends that athletes gradually increase their workload during training in hot weather, and that they train at the same time of day their games or event will be held, to become used to the conditions.

Mills said her runners will face similar conditions when they start running in meets in August.

“There is not a doubt in my mind we will have at least one race, if not two or three, where it will be 90 degrees,” she said. “I know we will have races like this.

“The first time you run in the heat, it’s really hard. Then after a while, running in 82 (degrees) isn’t so bad anymore.”

Heat illnesses — and prevention tips
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, heat-related illnesses include:
-- Exercise-induced muscle cramps, caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and fatigue.
-- Heat syncope, or light-headedness, usually occurring if a person is standing for a long time after completing physical activity. Weakness, dizziness and fainting are attributed to pooling of blood in the extremities.
-- Heat exhaustion, during which an athlete may experience profuse sweating, extreme thirst, dizziness, headache, a weak and rapid pulse, and cool, clammy skin.
-- Heat stroke, an elevated core temperature. At its extreme, it can cause organ failure and be life-threatening. Symptoms include confusion or disorientation, profuse sweating, hot red skin, hyperventilation, loss of balance, rapid pulse and possible loss of consciousness.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following safety measures when exercising in hot weather:
-- Maintaining hydration is critical. When training for longer than 90 minutes, drink 8 to 10 ounces of sports drink to replace electrolytes. Urine should be clear or light-colored.
-- Monitoring pre- and post-exercise body weight. An athlete should not lose more than 2 percent of body weight during exercise.
-- Acclimatizing to the heat by gradually increasing the intensity and duration of training over 10 to 14 days to improve heat tolerance.
-- Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that wicks moisture.
-- Training in early morning or late evening to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Photo: Runners cool off after the Freedom Celebration's 5K run on July 4. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The News-Gazette.

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