Episode 219 of Talk Ultra is co-hosted by two times MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes. We discuss the 35th 2021 race with expert discussion on heat from Dr Jodie Moss. We also have eight interviews with 2021 participants: Emma Burton, Gower Tan, John Murray, Kim Hutt, Mags McHardy, Martina Taylor, Paul Been and Pierre Meslet.
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Episode 219 is a Marathon des Sables special. After three postponements, the first in April 2020, a second cancellation late 2020 and then a 3rd cancellation in April 2021 finally saw the race take place in October 2021. October was selected due to climatic conditions typically being very similar to those of April. Little did we know that October would see freakish high temperatures that would impact on the race.
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The 2021, 35th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded early October after a 2.5-year hiatus due to the ongoing Covid pandemic issues worldwide.
Three postponements, the first in April 2020, a second cancellation late 2020 and then a 3rd cancellation in April 2021 finally saw the race take place in October. October was selected due to climatic conditions typically being very similar to those of April. Little did we know that October would see freakish high temperatures that would impact on the race.
I have worked on 7 MDS, 2021 was special! I provide this summary as an assessment as I saw the race unfold and how I experienced the conditions in the Sahara.
The 2021 race had relatively low start numbers, particularly in contrast to ‘normal’ MDS years, with approximately 700+/- toeing the line. It’s easy to understand why numbers would be low:
Repeated postponements caused apathy and a lack of focus and therefore refunds were requested.
The October 2021 date was the 4th scheduling of the event, and many wondered ‘if’ it would go ahead and therefore moved entries to a safer and more predictable MDS in April 2022.
Ongoing PCR requirements, Antigen tests and restricted border crossings and travel meant for many, October was just not possible.
One thing is for sure, Patrick Bauer and the MDS team were excited and motivated to resume proceedings in the Sahara and of course, Patrick wanted the event to be memorable for multiple reasons… It was the 35th edition and the first event post Covid.
Stats show that 353 completed the event, Rachid El Morabity running the whole event in 21-hours, 17-minutes, and 32-seconds. Christine Taieb was 353rd in 72-hours, 41-minutes, 31-seconds.
From the 353 finishers, 91 were from the UK, Patrick Kennedy the fastest in 25:16:14 and placing in the top-10 with Martina Taylor the 91st in 44:06:16.
Arriving in Errachidia and Erfoud several days before the runners, it was soon very clear to me that temperatures were high. On the first day, I ran in the desert starting at 11am and temperatures were already over 40 degrees. In the evening, for a second run starting at 1800hrs, temperatures were 36 degrees. The following morning, a run starting at 0700 and temperatures were already 34 degrees. No doubt about it, the 35th MDS was going to be a hot one. Chatting with locals and my driver Said, they all confirmed, ‘These temperatures are not normal for October!’
On social media I provided a ‘heads-up’ to all those travelling to Morocco of the heat situation, and yes, I understand that with just a few days before the race, there is little people could do, however, they could re-think clothing, sleeping bags and make allowances in packing for the ‘option’ to race lighter than originally planned.
Arrival at bivouac 1 early afternoon and the heat inside the tents was stifling, shade protected from the direct sun but not the heat. It was impossible to escape that.
Admin day was extremely hot, and this is notably important, no matter how slick or fast admin day is, runners will almost certainly be standing out in direct sun with no shade for a prolonged time. Here is a first top tip – Take an umbrella in your luggage that you can use when standing in the admin line. It will protect you from the direct sun and keep you cooler. Also, make sure you have water and snacks. Admin can take 30-mins if lucky, but it is possible to be out there for 60/90 or even 120-minutes.
The race started in oppressive heat, on day 1 this was recorded at 42 degrees and the forecast for the week predicted temperatures would go cooler. Those cooler temperatures did come BUT they were still extremely high and hotter than a ‘typical’ MDS and a ‘typical’ April or October month.
In my opinion, the Marathon des Sables is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. The nature of the event is self-management both physically and mentally to endure the challenge, survive and reach the finish line. The weather (heat) is one of those variables and in the 35-years of MDS there have been many hot years and many cool years. Nothing is guaranteed and surviving the weather is integral to the nature of the event. In my editions of MDS, 2021 was the hottest event from beginning to end. However, I have experienced equally hot days in past years, they were more in isolation though.
The impact of the heat for the 2021 race was substantial and hyperthermia was a very real risk and without question, countless runners succumbed to the rising mercury.
HEAT and SICKNESS
Heat is a brutal beast to manage and quite simply keeping core temperature lower, particularly when running can be difficult. It was very clear that many runners, maybe far more than usual were running considerably less and walking became the norm except for the front of the race, the top men and women were running as usual but at a reduced speed. It’s important to clarify here that walking is essential at MDS and many walk far more than they anticipate, even in a normal year. Heat and a pack add considerable strain and why many think pre-race they will run 80% and walk 20%, the reality is they will walk 80% and maybe run 20%. For 2021, walking was the norm.
MDS is a self-sufficient race with rationed water that echoes Patrick Bauer’s original journey. It was apparent after day 1 that water rations would need to be increased to compensate for the heat. An additional 1 x 1.5ltr bottle was added to each checkpoint (typically every 10km) for every runner and water allowance was increased at the end of the stage.
Additional water was required by all; however, this added an additional problem for many runners… Typically, runners use 2 x 750ml bottles on their chest or they use a 1.5ltr water bottle added on top of a front pack – the Moroccan runners prefer this method. The problem comes when you need to carry an additional 1.5ltr – there is nowhere to put it (typically) other than carry in one’s hand. Not only does this add another 1.5kg to overall weight but it can also alter running gait, and this can cause potential injury or stress.
In a normal year, the excessive heat would have without doubt impacted on the race and the number of runners who completed. However, I strongly believe that the DNF (did not finish) rates would probably have been more around the 10% mark or maybe 15%.
The main reason for DNF in 2021 was sickness (Diarrhoea and Vomiting) and the ongoing knock-on effects. The jury is out on the causes of this sickness and hopefully, in time, we may receive clarification of this from Doc Trotters and the MDS organisation. Of course, there are many rumours, however, here are a couple of my thoughts (I am no expert, so don’t shoot me down):
Food poisoning – The only shared food came on day 1 and 2 before the race got underway. If there was a problem with the food provided by the race, everyone would have been impacted immediately and not over multiple days and the 7-days of the race. During the race, everyone is self-sufficient, so, food poisoning on a mass scale is not possible.
Noro virus – A stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea which spreads rapidly and typically lasts no longer than 2-days. This sounds very similar to what MDS runners and staff experienced with most stating the ‘bug’ lasted just 24-hours.
Bacteria – One or two (maybe more) were sick before the race, therefore, a form of bacteria (equally Noro virus) could have been brought in to camp and quickly spread from person-to-person and tent-to-tent.
Hyperthermia – Increased heat and exposure to heat causes a failure to regulate mechanisms within the body that is extremely dangerous that can result in vomiting and diarrhoea and other symptoms.
Ultimately, the sickness at the 2021 MDS may well have been a combination of several of the above.
One thing is for sure, the sickness when it came was brutal and debilitating. I know, I had it! I got it on the evening of day 3 at 2000hrs and without going in to too much detail was losing fluids from both ends for 6-7 hours. By the following morning I was over the worst but struggled to drink and ate nothing for 24-hours. I had little to no energy for day 4 of MDS.
The above was a typical story for many a runner and quite simply, if you are losing fluids and energy as in the scenario above, combined with intense heat and trying to cover 32 to 82.5km’s a day, it is no wonder that so many DNF’d.
Many a runner proclaimed that they were fit, strong, well trained and prepared for the MDS only to have the race ‘robbed’ from them by a situation that was beyond their control. I fully understand this thought process and can only sympathise. I strongly believe that had it not been for the sickness, many more would have finished the race.
The impact of Covid and the Pandemic may well have impacted on every runner’s immunity and ability to fight bugs and bacteria? For most of us, we have isolated, social distanced and constantly washed our hands for 18+ months. Suddenly, we were all thrown in close proximity with less-than-ideal hygiene… I wonder if this resulted in some problems.
Multiple questions were asked by runners:
Race distances should be made shorter – As I have mentioned previously, the MDS is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. There are many variables of terrain and heat, and this is the challenge. The race is how runners manage this challenge and in 2021, 50% did this.
The race should be cancelled – Ask the 50% that finished should the race be cancelled; you would get a resounding no. I also spoke with many DNF runners who also confirmed that the race should have continued. Ultimately, MDS will assess the 2021 race and may well sit down and lay out a new set of protocols moving forward that make allowances for extreme conditions that are outside the normal extreme conditions of the race. For example, this could be early start times, longer cut-off times, the option to shorten stages or maybe a combination of elements. BUT would this take away from the ‘toughest foot-race’ tagline?
The race was compromised – The extreme heat and the sickness compromised the race experience for the runners and yes, it impacted on the MDS organisation with demand on 4×4 vehicles, doctors, helicopter rescues and so on at an all-time high. Typically, there are 400 staff on MDS, and in 2021 700 participants. Doc Trotters team was as large as usual, despite less competitors, therefore the ratio of doctors to runners was high. However, I described Doc Trotters as the NHS and the runners as Covid during the race. Quite simply, the 2021 MDS had a perfect storm of events that put all under pressure. It is important post-race that an assessment is done so lessons can be learnt. There are always lessons to be learnt.
The death of a runner on day 2 due to cardiac arrest was announced to all the runners and MDS staff publicly by Patrick Bauer in bivouac on the evening of day 2. The situation was clearly explained to all. It was a sad day and first and foremost it is important to pass on our love and thoughts to all those concerned.
For many, the death was a wakeup call and it suddenly brought home the real risk and danger of participating in extreme event. It changed viewpoints and it may well have influenced 2021 participants to ‘play safe!’ afterwards. Prior to the incident, the urge to push on and fight for a finish was a priority, however, for the start of day 3 and moving forward, I personally encountered runners making decisions based around the day 2 death and their own personal assessment of risk and what risks, they personally were prepared to take. It does not matter if those ‘risks’ were real or perceived (from an outside perspective), from the individuals’ perspective they were real.
On a personal note, I have been involved in extreme events for many years and unfortunately, I have experienced multiple deaths, I have been involved in multiple rescues and I have had to make the decision of when and when not to carry on personally. Just this year at the TDS, part of the UTMB week of races, a runner died during the night – I was there. It may sound blasé, but extreme events are not without risk, danger or death. After all, for many, it is ‘the risk’ that makes the event desirable. MDS, as a prime example, has used the tag of ‘toughest foot-race in the world’ for many years and those who sign up, quote this as a reason for participation. Prior to 2021, the race had experienced 2 deaths. The MDS is not without risk and these risks exist despite rigorous health checks before toeing the line on day 1 and incredible medical support and a huge logistical team. As J K Rowling said, ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all…’
Risk at MDS is actually very low. The medical team and support in conjunction with live Spot tracking, countless 4×4 vehicles and 2 helicopters means that should an incident take place, you will normally be looked after within 20-minutes.
With all the above considered, the death of a runner had an impact.
The 35th MDS took place over 7-days with 5 timed stages and 1 charity stage. Days 1, 2 and 3 were 32 – 38km. Day 4 and 5 was the long day with an allocated 32-hours to complete 82.5km. Day 6 was the classic marathon stage where medals were awarded at the end and officially, this was the conclusion of the timed race with overall ranking positions awarded. Day 7 was a compulsory charity stage of 8.5km and the timing was not taken into consideration.
Day 1, 32.2km race summary HERE – On paper, was an ‘easy’ day with little challenging terrain. However, the 46-degree temperatures in the shade changed that. It turned out to be a very tough day, especially with the race operating on ‘normal’ water rations. The DNF rate after day 1 was modest. I personally anticipated the numbers to be much higher. The organisation assessed the heat and feedback from the race route and increased water rations.
Day 2 32.5km race summary HERE – Was a similar distance to day 1 BUT included a long and lengthy stretch of the Merzouga (Erg Chebbi) dunes. These dunes last 13km +/- and ran from CP1 to CP2. They are the highest dunes in Morocco and would be feared in any ‘normal’ year. For 2021, they were a formidable challenge. Top runners could pass through them in less than 2-hours but for most, they could anticipate 3, 4, 5 or maybe even 6-hours to cross. This is without any shade or additional aid stations. CP1 resembled a medical tent from a war zone with countless runners taking shade and on IV drips. The severity of the heat was soon apparent to all and while some had the ‘sickness,’ it was probably fair to assume at this point in the race many were suffering from hyperthermia. It was the evening of day 2 when bivouac and the MDS staff ere notified en-mass of the death of a runner.
Day 3 37.1km race summary HERE – Had a sombre start with silence and the whole race departing with a walk and clapping. The distance ahead longer than the previous two days and the death from day 2 lingering on many people’s mind. The ‘sickness’ within camp was now considerably more obvious, with many runners complaining of D+V and I personally witnessed countless situations of runners vomiting before me. The route was generally easier but there was a considerable amount of soft sand. The day was tough one with many withdrawing, the heat, sickness, and the death all playing instrumental in how individuals assessed their own personal risk assessment of the challenge ahead.
Day 4 82.5km race summary HERE – Was the long day with two starts, most of the race starting at 0800 and the top runners originally departing at 1100 but this time was brought forward. Importantly, the distance of the long day was not notified to the runners until the completion of day 3. This was one of the ‘surprises’ of the 35th edition. However, this no doubt contributed to the anxiety and worry for the 2021 participants. I know from experience, the first thing runners do when they receive the ‘road book’ for the edition in which they will participate, is that they look at what distance the long day will be. To not know this leaves question marks and worry. For the 2021 edition, with so much heat and sickness, this was one additional worry they did not need. As it turned out, the distance was normal 82.5km, however, it did include the infamous Jebel Oftal that for most, would be climbed at night. With less than 10km covered and before CP1, the long day was proving too much for many. I personally put 9 people in vehicles who were suffering from sickness, heat or a combination of both. CP1 was full of runners who would withdraw and who were already on IV drips. It was going to be a very long day, night and following day. Many headed advice taking the day as steady as possible looking to gain time during the cooler temperatures of the night.
Day 5 – Was the conclusion of the long day for those who needed it, or a great opportunity to sleep, relax, hydrate, eat and look after personal admin.
Day 6 42.2km race summary HERE – The marathon day and now approximately 50% of the race had DNF’d. For those who started the marathon day a medal waited at the end, and it was fair to assume that all those who started would run, walk and crawl to get that medal. All who started finished.
Day 7 was the charity stage, a compulsory 8.5km to help raise funds for charity and facilitate the departure from the desert and back to civilisation.
The race was won by Rachid El Morabity, his 8th victory and finally, Aziza Raji stood atop of the MDS podium for Morocco.
Rachid El Morabity 21:17:32
Mohamed El Morabity 21:32:12
Mérile Robert 22:39:02
Aziza Raji 30:30:24
Tomomi Bitoh 34:39:17
Aicha Omrani 35:47:48
NOTES ON THE RACE
I said previously that in my opinion, MDS and races like MDS are about management of the physical, mental and equipment to achieve a goal. After all, it’s a self-sufficient race in the Sahara. THIS IS the challenge. The route changes year-on-year, the terrain changes year-on-year and the heat and other conditions are not guaranteed.
What sets 2021 apart is the sickness that ripped through bivouac, not only for runners but also staff.
Without doubt, why so many DNF’d.
A self-sufficient race is about personal management and I have always said to friends, participants and coaching clients, there are two things that cannot be controlled:
The sickness the ripped through bivouac left runners drained, empty, void of calories and energy, despite the will and desire to push on, so many were left with empty shells that had to succumb to physical conditions. The physical conditions of course were only made worse by the oppressive and damaging heat.
2021 and the 35th MDS had a set of ‘perfect storm’ conditions that resulted in the highest DNF rate in the races long history.
It’s pointless to compare MDS to other races and state stats and figures. Some races have regularly few finishers due to the severity of route and the time allowance. Other races have a high DNF rate due to the terrain and weather. In most scenarios, runners when entering will research the race and understand the chances of completion. For MDS, stats show that typically less than 10% DNF. Therefore, any runner toeing the start line of the 35th edition will have had this in mind and will have hoped not to be in that relatively small percentage. The fact that 50% did DNF shows that the 2021 was an extreme race, but the major DNF factor was the sickness which cannot be planned for.
Understand the event, research it, train accordingly and prepare meticulously.
Heat acclimation pre the MDS will increase the chances of a successful completion, this should be done in the 7-10 days before the race. The best option is to travel to Morocco and be in the environment that the races take place in. Of course, this is not possible for most. Therefore, heat chambers, saunas, bikram yoga or even taking hot baths will all help.
Start slow and ease into the race.
The minimum requirement of a runners MDS pack is 6.5kg. You really need to get your pack as close to this weight as possible. Any additional weight is just a burden that adds to fatigue and stress. Test all your kit and fine tune it.
Prior to admin day, you have your luggage with you in the desert. Take options of kit so that you can fine tune kit selection based on climatic and other conditions. For example, 2021 was so hot a lighter sleeping bag was certainly possible and the need for a down jacket minimal.
When you arrive in bivouac you have dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided by the race before self-sufficiency begins. You could plan to be self-sufficient for food in this scenario and therefore reduce the risk of any potential stomach issues from unknown food.
Admin day as mentioned above can take a while, take an umbrella to provide shelter, take liquid and snacks.
Food options for the race are key, particularly when fatigue and heat take its toll. Look to eat well early in the race as food can become less appealing as the race progresses. Think high calorie and low weight. Balance sweet and savoury and understand that sweet is less inviting in intense heat and later in the race (for most people.)
Taping shoulders, lower back, and other potential friction points in advance of the race can be a great idea if you know from training this is a potential problem area. Tensoplast is perfect for this.
Get the correct shoes with the correct fit. A thumb nail of space above the longest toe is ideal. Do not go too big with shoes. A shoe that is too large allows the foot to move. A moving foot causes friction. Friction equals blisters. A shoe with a wider toe box can be a good idea as it allows toes to splay. Road shoes can work but the desert is harsh with lots of rocks, a trail shoe usually has better toe protection and an outsole that offers more durability.
Keep hydrated and take salt tablets as provided by the race.
Keep luxuries to a minimum. Always think about weight and ask, ‘can I eat it?’ MDS quite simply comes down to three simple things: Running, sleeping, and eating/drinking.
Take a mat, it provides comfort when relaxing and gives a better night’s sleep.
Personal hygiene is important – be careful. You will be in close proximity with many people with less-than-ideal hygiene conditions.
The long day is always feared but you have loads of time. Take the first day easy, controlling pace, reducing stress and if extremely hot, take more rest and shade. As the day comes to an end, look to maximise the night when cooler temperatures will facilitate a faster pace with less effort. If possible, look to get the long day done before the sunrise the next day… If you can avoid another day of heat, it is well worth it.
The oppressive heat of 2021 is a possibility that can appear in ‘any’ MDS and while the 35th edition was extreme, the heat has been experienced before, albeit not for a sustained period. One needs to be prepared to adapt and self-manage to achieve a finishers medal. This is Morocco. This is the Sahara and this is the nature of the event. With global warming and climatic conditions changing worldwide, hotter temperatures in the Sahara may well become the norm, plan accordingly.
The sickness that ripped through bivouac is an uncontrollable variable that cannot be mitigated against, and I can fully appreciate that many feel that a finishers medal was stolen from them. I would not disagree. However, this is nobody’s fault, just darn bad luck. Just like an injury, to coin a phrase, ‘shit happens!’
50% of runners managed to navigate the conditions, implement an effective race strategy, and finish the race. I am sure that many of the 50% avoided the sickness but not all did, I am aware of countless stories of runners who got ill, battled and somehow came out the other side.
The 2021 and 35th MDS was always going to be memorable, now the race is over, we can all confirm that it will never be forgotten. It will be talked about and discussed in many, many years to come.
The below was released by MDS on October 28th. Approximately two weeks after this post was written.
There are lessons to be learnt from the 2021 race, for runners and the MDS organisation.
I for one experienced first-hand, day-to-day, on the course the challenge that everyone undertook and I can hand on heart say that I saw runners fight to the bitter end to hopefully achieve a lifetime goal and I equally saw MDS staff work 16+ hour days helping to facilitate that.
If you are entered for 2022 or 2023, don’t be worried. Respect the event and look at the extreme 2021 event as an opportunity to learn and plan.
The 2022 event will take place 25th March to April 4th.
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With temperatures rising and longer lighter days for many of us in Europe and North America, we can hopefully all get out and run more. But as we all know, or maybe we don’t, we need to consider several things when running in the heat:
You sweat more
You need more fluid
We need to adapt. So what happens when the mercury rises?
Question, do you prefer it:
On your back?
In your hand?
Around your waist?
Of course I am talking about your method of hydration.
Exercise in the heat can place a lot of strain upon your body, if you’re used to cooler climates. For this reason, many elite athletes will spend time acclimatising to the higher temperature. Acclimatisation can require up to 14 days, so what if you’re an amateur athlete traveling abroad for an endurance event, who can’t afford to travel 3 weeks before the event?
This is part 2 of our ‘exercise in the heat’ blog series. Last week we explained why exercise in the heat is such a problem (you can read by clicking the coaching articles link at the top of the page and then scrolling down through past blogs). In this week’s blog, I’ll explain how you can acclimatise before you travel and highlight the key physiological changes that take place, as a consequence of acclimatisation.
It’s a bit cold up North, so acclimatising might be difficult!!
Okay, if you live in the North of the UK and you’re traveling abroad to race, then you might be struggling to understand how you can possibly acclimatise. I use the term ‘North of UK’ as we all know that in the South of the UK, the temperature rarely drops below 18c. I’ve never traveled further South than Birmingham, but I hear they wear shorts and flip-flops pretty much year round.
In simple terms, to acclimatise before traveling, you need to make yourself hot and encourage sweating when you train. There are really easy ways to do this:
Wear extra clothing
Run on a treadmill or cycle indoors and turn up the heat
Spend time in a sauna or steam room on a daily basis
I’d recommend you start doing this from 2 weeks out, but you need to do it consistently. Ideally it should be on a daily basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the above methods can help acclimatise you before travelling to warmer climates.
If you’re exercising outdoors, wearing extra clothing will lead to a higher sweat rate, so make sure you hydrate during the session. The same can be said for indoor running or cycling, make sure you are hydrating throughout.
You should expect it to affect performance to some extent. If you use a power meter when cycling or you run at specific speeds on the treadmill, you should expect your power of speed to be a little lower than normal. If you’re temperature is higher, attempting to maintain the same intensity as usual could result in you being exhausted by the finish of the session!
Try to progress the sessions in terms of exposure and intensity. For example, if you ride indoors, gradually turn up the temperature over a 7 day period and gradually build up the volume and intensity of the session. Don’t simply crank up the heat on day 1 and ride the full session as you’d expect to in cooler temperatures.
The same rule applies for the sauna and steam room. Start with 10-15 minutes and gradually build your time to 30-45 minutes. Take a drink into the sauna or steam room with you to ensure you are hydrating adequately.
What are the physiological changes that take place?
There are a couple of key changes that take place when you are forced to sweat at a high rate:
The first is an expansion of plasma volume, this refers to an increase in the amount of blood plasma. Last week we explained that blood is made up of plasma (the fluid part) and cells. As you sweat, you lose plasma, which then thickens the blood. Part of the acclimatisation process in as increase in plasma, which means your blood is thinner. By increasing your plasma volume, this also means that you have more blood in general. The amount of cells doesn’t change, but the fluid component is increased, thereby increasing the overall blood volume. This is handy when your blood has to supply both muscles and skin, as discussed last week.
The second key change is a reduction in salt loss. Early in the acclimatisation process, your sweat contains a high amount of sodium. As the acclimatisation process progresses, your body retains sodium by reducing the amount lost in sweat. In simple terms, your sweat becomes less salty. If you’re acclimatising over a 2 week period, lick your skin every day and see if you can taste the change. It’s not socially acceptable to lick someone else’s skin.
As stated earlier, for these 2 changes to occur, you simply need to encourage a high sweat rate when training. The more you sweat, the more these changes will occur. Be sensible, reduce the intensity of the training session and gradually build up heat exposure over the 2 week period.
Until then, stay cool.
Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.
2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.
In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.
In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.
In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.
“Drink as much as you can, even before you feel thirsty.” That’s been the mantra to athletes and coaches for the past three decades, and bottled water and sports drinks have flourished into billion-dollar industries in the same short time. The problem is that an overhydrated athlete is at a performance disadvantage and at risk of exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH)–a potentially fatal condition.
Dr. Tim Noakes takes you inside the science of athlete hydration for a fascinating look at the human body’s need for water and how it uses the liquids it ingests. He also chronicles the shaky research that reported findings contrary to results in nearly all of Noakes’ extensive and since-confirmed studies.
In Waterlogged, Noakes sets the record straight, exposing the myths surrounding dehydration and presenting up-to-date hydration guidelines for endurance sport and prolonged training activities. Enough with oversold sports drinks and obsessing over water consumption before, during, and after every workout, he says. Time for the facts—and the prevention of any more needless fatalities.
An excellent article written by Joe Uhan is available on iRunFar and I recommend you read it as a follow on from the above ‘teaser’.
Okay, lets start as we mean to go on! Do you you prefer it on your back, in your hand or maybe you need both hands or maybe you prefer it all centered around your waist… of course I am talking about your method of hydration.
With temperatures rising, the UK in a heat wave and longer lighter days, we can hopefully all get out and run more. But as we all know, or maybe we don’t. We need to consider several things when running in the heat;
You sweat more
You need more fluid
We need to adapt. So what happens when the mercury rises?
Well, the body’s core temperature rises with exercise. In simple terms the more we exercise, or the harder we exercise and this core temperature rises. Unchecked this internal core would exceed boiling point; not a good idea. So, our clever body reduces this core temperature by evaporation (sweat). This process helps cool the body, maintain a manageable core temperature and hopefully allow us to continue exercise.
I say hopefully because the process of evaporation means that we loose liquid (hydration). So the trade off of a cooler core is potentially dehydration.
Dehydration as we all should know is something that does not go well with any sport. It increases heart rate and also adds to core temperature rises. It therefore can become a vicious circle. Initially running will feel much harder, the supply of oxygen to the brain will become impeded as blood is forced to the skins surface to help reduce the internal pressure. Your muscles will start to fail, become heavy and cramp. You may start to have blurred vision in extreme cases and in severe cases you will just stop, potentially collapse and black out. If you need clarification, this is NOT GOOD.
Kilian exhausted at the end of Transvulcania La Palma – dehydration ?
Depending on external temperatures, your ability to withstand heat, your own personal sweat rate and your adaptation to heat it is possible to loose 3-4 litres of fluid in an hour when running. I know, 3-4 litres! Loose more than 2% of body weight and this will impair performance and your mental ability. So, if your looking to perform or if you just want an enjoyable stress free run in the heat, you need to keep on top of hydration.
Hydration is NOT just fluid. Sweating means that we loose key minerals. These minerals keep our body in balance. Therefore you must replace electrolytes (salt) to keep your body in balance. Like your own personal fluid requirements, you salt requirements will also differ to that of your run friends. So take your time to work out what works for you. At the end of a hot run do you have salt marks on your clothes, do you have dried salt on your face? If so, you are more than likely a heavy sweater and your salt needs may very well be double or triple. Plenty of products are now available on the market and they all offer different methods and tastes. For example, Saltstick offer a really handy tablet which works well with bladders or bottles as it means you can keep your electrolyte supply separate and it also means that you can adjust your needs on the fly. However, Nuun offer a very popular flavoured tablet that comes in a handy tube that again can be taken with you on training or racing. This product must be added to your liquid though. Of course other products are available and I use these two reference points as purely as demonstration of what is on offer. It is fair to say that all sports drinks manufacturers now offer a form of electrolyte replacement.
How do you avoid the dreaded dehydration?
First and foremost assess yourself and your abilities. If you live in a hot climate with all year sun and heat you are going to be well adjusted. If you live in the UK and then we suddenly get a heat wave, you are not going to be adjusted. It’s a simple fact that many fail to acknowledge. Running 7 min miles in 10 degrees is much easier than running 7 min miles in 25 deg. As I said previously, you try to run the same pace in much hotter temperatures and only one thing will happen; your core will rise, you will sweat more, you will start to suffer and eventually you will come to a stand still.
Slow down. Accept that the warmer temperatures will mean a slower pace. This will allow you to regulate your temperature and keep on top of your hydration. The longer you spend in the heat, the more you will adjust and eventually you will start to be able to lift the pace for the same effort and sweat rate. In simple terms this is what pro athletes do when they ‘acclimatize’.
Start a run hydrated. Your urine colour is a great indicator of how hydrated you are. A light straw colour is best.
Keep the sun off your head when running by wearing a white hat with a peak.
Wear light clothing that is loose and that will reflect the suns rays.
Use waterproof sun cream and be careful around your eyes.
Drink regular and often.
When possible, pour water on your head to reduce your core temperature.
Plan your runs and make allowances for refilling bottles or bladders on long runs using streams or shops (as applicable). You may want to carry some water purification tablets if you are in extreme places.
Take some money, mobile phone and ID.
Do a self-check when running:
Do you feel cool? (and I don’t mean in a ‘rap’ way)
Do you feel clammy?
Have you stopped sweating?
Do you feel sick?
Are you dizzy?
Are you fatigued?
Is your heart rate pounding?
Any of the above and you are starting to show signs of dehydration. Don’t wait to be thirsty… it will be too late. Depending on how bad your symptoms are you will need to do one of the following:
Reduce your pace to a walk, let your temperature drop and slowly rehydrate – don’t gulp.
Stop. Sit down in the shade. Recover and let your temperature drop while drinking slowly to rehydrate.
Stop and basically STOP. If you have all or a combination of the above symptoms your best option may well be to stop and recover. Come back another day with lessons learnt
Recovery is key and it is important to rehydrate post training and racing. For every 1kg of weight loss drink 1ltr of water. When your urine has returned to a light straw colour, stop drinking and resume normal drinking… do not over drink.
Drink sensibly, don’t force yourself with water. Research into Hyponatremia has shown that it’s not a lack of salt, which leads to hyponatremia, it’s drinking too much fluid. If you urine regularly and it is clear, you are drinking too much. A bloated stomach is a sign of the onset of the problem, headaches and nausea. During an event just sip and understand your sweat rate and needs. You can always test yourself by wiggling yourself naked pre run, run for 1 hour without drink and then re weigh yourself. The difference will give you an idea of your sweat rate; 1kg = 1ltr. Of course please keep in mind external conditions. Your sweat rate will differ for hot/cold days and depending on how hard or easy you run.
Drinking methods when running?
Do you you prefer it on your back, in your hand or maybe you need both hands or maybe you prefer it all centered around your waist…
How we carry our fluid is very personal and it also does depend on the demands of the training or the race. If you are racing you may need to carry compulsory equipment and this will almost certainly mean waist pack or rucksac is required.
But how we carry the liquid is what counts. The fluid needs to be accessible at all times as this will promote drinking.
Bladder v Bottle
Bladders come in varying sizes. 1ltr to 3ltr, with different methods of distributing the liquid to the runner, ultimately this is a pipe with a mouth valve. Bladders sit on your back or around the waist and offer an easy slurp system that is easy to use. The main issues with them are that they are difficult to clean, you are never quite sure how much you have left and they are more awkward to fill when racing.
Like bladders they come in varying sizes but 500ml to 1ltr is normal. The size of the bottle may very well depend on your carrying system. For example – handheld bottles, bottles in a waist pack, bottles on a rucksac (at the back) or bottles on a rucksac (at the front). Bottles are easy to fill on the go, easy to clean, cheap to replace.
Manufacturers realize now that runners needs are increasing and runners are becoming more demanding. Therefore packs such as the S-Lab 12 has allowances for a bladder, bottles on the front and even two large ‘dump’ pockets on the side of the pack that will take bottles. The advantages here are excellent as you can customize your needs for each run.
Putting it into practice
I personally use all of the above.
When it is really hot and I am just going for a training run I love just having two hand held bottles (Dakota Style) and running free. It allows for no restriction on my waist it also allows my back to be free and ultimately enables me to remain cooler.
If I need to carry some essentials then I will add a waist pack that will hold just a light jacket, phone, money etc and keep the bottles in my hand.
When the demands are greater I shift to a rucksac allowing me to use a bladder and or bottles with the option to carry other equipment.
I am not a fan of waist bottle belts as they usually become uncomfortable, bounce and rub the skin – but that is my personal feedback.
It’s not rocket science but not putting it into practice is the difference between a great run and a lousy run. More importantly, when racing, it is the difference between potentially winning and not even finishing.
Choose your method and keep hydrated on your next run!