Hell’s Heat on the Course

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Who doesn’t love heat mixed with rock and topped off with enormous physical endurance?

“HellaHot” is my nickname for these conditions, and that is the destination direction I give Trail Drivers when they’re packing supply and gear, you’re packing for “HellaHot.”

Trail driving in hot places can deliver searing back-kitchen heat and you have an added bonus of rock and pavement that get even hotter in the sun. Nothing fries tires, shoes and athletes faster than hot pavement.

I remember the great runner Dean Karnasis saying he couldn’t understand why his Trailer Drivers (who were his parents) kept giving him toast on his trail. It wasn’t until he just couldn’t take another piece of toast, that he found out they did send out plain bread, but by the time it went from the car to him across that heat it had toasted.

Extreme heat will ruin vehicles and exhaust athletes in ways they never knew, and challenge keeping protein and milk products at a good temperature in general. Nothing tastes more disgusting when you’re hot than a thick milky drink, which can often lead to upset tummies. Yet those drinks are critical sources of protein that you will have to outsmart (look for later articles on this).

“HellaHot” is a condition that can tear down even the most accomplished athlete.

While there a lot of things to watch out for, the first thing for a Trail Driver to manage is the vehicle itself, especially if you only have one vehicle and it is the lifeline. One flat tire roadside can pull lots of people into deep misery.

Car management is critical in extreme heat and having the ability to cool an athlete down very quickly if you do have to drive them to the medical tent makes the Supply and Gear wagon a moving ambulance for heat exhausted athletes. But those cars will overheat themselves if you just leave them running with the AC on full blast.

Looking for any shade where the car itself can rest is critical, also managing the heat on any electronics or cameras that you have is also going to be critical. Yes, I will frequently pack camera gear and phones in an iceless cooler.

Don’t pull off the road in places that can puncture your tire. When it’s really hot and you’ve been on the road your tires are soft and more prone to pop. Tire management and making sure that you have a spare and all the parts that might be necessary when you are doing “HellaHot” is just common sense and at some point you will thank me for that!

Added heat tip; pack extra plain white men’s shirts that are long sleeved, because you can douse them in melted ice cooler water, and hand them to the athletes to put on. They can run off with it or put it back in the cooler, but they will get an immediate cool down on the largest part of their torso extremities and give quick relief to their heart and lungs.

Those athletes have been breathing in a ton of dry air, so just putting on a freezing, sopping cold men’s shirt will instantly start bringing moisture into the respiratory system. You want a nice lightweight long sleeve shirt, so if they choose to go on the course in it and get the cooling effect, they can later just tuck it away or throw it at roadside where it’s easy for you to find.

Trail well.

Yes, I Will Open Your Bottle For You – How Support Can Help an Athlete’s State of Mind

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One of the things that I remind people who are dealing with athletes is, that when athletes are stressed, not only are their brains not working, but neither are their little sausage fingers…AT ALL!

Trying to open something that requires grip strength, or a little package, is just insanely impossible. For the athlete, not only are they going to spill it, but it’s just a reminder that their body is NOT working the way it normally does.

Messages of “what is not working” is something that we never want to induce or even allow to come through that athlete’s thought process while they are refueling. They are battling a complete boardroom of ideas that the brain turns on to already stop the madness. The brain turns itself into a diligent reporter on bad news when you get to testing your body to its fullest, and it will find a million ways to tell you that you should stop, that this is going poorly, and that you aren’t strong enough to do this.

And then you pull over to the roadside and your stupid hands don’t work either… damn.

I try to remind those athletes about where their head should be during this time on the trail, and what they should be thinking about.  I will have them notice that their gait is strong, or their form is firm.

Trail Drivers can also help them notice things they DO HAVE power over.

How’s your annoyance, do you think you need some salt? Is your stomach queasy, do you need something to get it to stop rumbling? Try this Papaya it is a super-specific tool to help tummies that feel upset gain calmness. I have used it in every country I have been in. Are you having tension on your shoulders, we can ice that down for immediate relief. The fact is that failure IS part of the endurance training, but it can usually be hacked while on the course.

So, let me open that bottle for you so you can keep your focus on what is our next hack to keep you going.  Trail Drivers can be a superpower to have as a partner.

Trail well.

Great Support Makes Things Better – AKA “I wish Mickey were here!”

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Sometimes being a Trail Driver is like one of my favorite drinking songs,
“Henry the Eighth I am, I am.” 

Ohhhhh, I wish Mickey were here, were here,” would be the chorus sung to the boisterous tone of the famous drinking song.

I had a team once when I was Trail Driving for a large endurance event and, on one of the training days I warned them not to because they would have to do it alone. Now I have eyes that are as big as the entire state of Massachusetts, so when they get bigger it should be a legislative act.  My big eyes warning…”You will have no support for the entire time.”

Like all gut wrenching superstars, the six of them all went “no big deal, we can just bring some water and some block chews.”

Off they went, no money, no resting places, no salt or sugar other than running gummies and a beautiful hot, sticky 90-degree day.

Some of these were new people who had only known race support by yours truly. They had no idea that they were brought up on magic by the person who wrote the Trail Driver protocol for the everyday athlete supporter in the nation.

This little team just thought this was how running groups worked, that someone just wanted to give up their entire day off, shop and pre-package snacks, borrow, pack and clean out a van, have towels and medical kits ready, have a printed map of the route, buy ice, have bathroom options available, and be a new version of an athletic flight attendant.

No, that’s just what they lucked into. But having heat beating down on you for 30 miles makes no one lucky, especially with just one jug of water that gets hotter by the hour.

The grizzled veterans have stories of how they have fainted, maybe gone slightly blind from salt crashes, or limped four miles on a pulled hammie. Those athletes I don’t ever worry about, because they know they are screwed and will just push through it. Those bright fresher faced ones are the ones my heart aches for, they still have fear and worry swaggering all over their determination.

The veteran athletes are just gonna endure the time of having things be hard, awful, or perhaps disorienting, and rack it up to one more story that they’re going to recite while they’re talking to other people about their life in ultra performing.

“We were hot and bothered as sausages in hell, asking for a drink of water from the devil” would become a better story only if they were bleeding.

The people who are new to endurance, those are the people that are learning a ton of new skills. They are learning how to pace themselves, they are learning what to do when their stomach hurts, they are learning to talk their heads into a different direction, understanding how tight their shoes should be, learning how to be uncomfortable in the new shorts that they picked.

There are literally 1,000 different tiny lessons that new endurance athletes are learning. They don’t need to learn how to be hungry and thirsty. One of the things a great Trail Driver will do is to help athletes who are pushing limits have a constant check-in during their process, and one that is there to support them.

So it was no surprise when I heard that lots of times over the 30 miles they lamented about how not having support kinda sucked. Actually, it sucked LOTS of times, so much that one of them called me and told me they needed to take me to dinner (sweet win).

It’s worth the effort to find a great support team and it really important to ASK AND PLAN for support.

And when you are just going to try to hack it out by yourself, it never hurts to just start singing the drinking song.  “I wish Mickey were here, were here!”

Trail well.

Finish Line Carbohydrates

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The 30 to 60 minutes after an athlete finishes a course are really important, and many athletes actually feel ill at that point.

When taking care of your athletes, I often give them information before I start trying to shove nutrition down their throat. When I know that we are on our second to the last stop of the day, I traditionally remind people that we will have a recovery tool available for them to eat at the very end and that it’s important for them to try to eat it, even if they are not feeling particularly great.

It is the carbohydrate and protein combination that is truly the elixir of rapid recovery.

Even a small amount of carbohydrates will aid their ability to recover immensely. The rules are fairly easy, you’re going to want about a gram of carbs per 2 pounds of body weight.

The addition of protein will really allow those muscles to start healing. An athlete can take in anywhere from 10 to 20 g of protein at the end of their event.

This is absolutely not the time that you want to try to give them something fatty. The body will not know what to do with that and it can actually make them feel sick.

The fastest way to get all of that in is as simple as a glass of skim milk. My secret weapon is to house a delicious smoothie in the coolers.

They don’t need to slam that beverage, they can just take a cup and sip on it slowly. If they are eligible to eat a cracker that’s great, but just slowly sipping that recovery elixir will really improve their strength immediately.

One of my fondest memories is handing my husband a glass of chocolate milk at a forced rest time at mile 54. He got slaphappy and almost looked drunk from how happy his body was to get protein and carbs. He was only going to mile 60 but it had been a really long day. And in the 30 minutes after getting protein and carbs in, we watched all of his body really start to come alive and his muscles were already starting to utilize that fuel.

For those of you who are managing athletes on a regular basis, you will get to know how their minds work and you will start to put in tools that will help them achieve their final goals.

My point in taking care of the athlete after they finish the finish line is that it is still part of the race. Recovery is as critical as any others set point on the course. They must be able to play again.

Trail well.

Pulling Athletes Off the Course

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For endurance athletes and teams that are putting themselves in conditions that are personally and medically pushing boundaries, the last thing they will want is to be pulled off the course.

One of the things that I remind all trail drivers when they are servicing endurance athletes is that if it looks painful to you it’s probably not painful enough for that athlete to quit. They are out there to push their limits to places that most people would not consider.

You are there to make sure that they come out alive. And I mean that literally.

For these athletes, before we even set foot on the trail, we come up with a code word or someway in advance to agree when they have lost their mind, or when they are medically unable to continue.

There also has to be an agreement in advance that they will trust you that when you “call it” that they have to stop. And you will have to trust that athlete to know what their personal boundary is and that they can recognize it when they need to pull out. During that agreement time I will usually give a list of items that will make me immediately pull them from the course and those are traditionally the signs of a heart attack, stoke, or medical emergency.

Many times simply resting, or managing water, or a nutrient review will give that athlete enough to continue forward. I never threaten to pull someone from the course, I only invite the idea of rest so they don’t have to get pulled from the course.  I also, during times of complete fatigue, give them a time limit that tells them when I will be managing their health check points. “If you’re still listing sideways  or unable to keep your balance I need you to just sit down and I’ll come get you. I will be watching you in three minute intervals.”

What that simple piece of information does for the athlete is it also lets them know within three minutes if they’re getting better. That sometimes is all the help they need to keep going forward.  It only takes about three minutes for food, hydration, or rest to start working for that athlete.

It also gives you a short enough time for the athlete to work out in their head that we have to go for medical.

Trail well.

 

Dirty Thirsty – Dusty Roads

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Dust on a trail can do lots of things, it can bring your athletes to a different kind of thirsty. Dirty Thirsty is when you’re in a dusty land that is also thirsty. 

If it’s dirty and hot your breath starts to kind of stick to the back of your mouth and your lips start to crack

The other thing that happens is that athletes start to breathe differently because they’re trying to not cough.

Rule number one when working in dirty thirsty areas is to give those athletes a hard candy or something to suck on so that they don’t breathe through their mouth.

Teach them to practice rinsing their mouth before swallowing, or to rinse out their mouth on the trail regularly. Rinsing will instantly calm them.

Dirty thirst starts to bring on a level of tension in the head area when they are going long distances. If you ever felt like a new human being when you got out of the shower you will understand the need to rinse your mouth in the dusty terrain. 

Remind them that nose breathing is critical to avoid getting dirt thirst. This will be a difficult task if any of those athletes are also trying to manage mild allergies on the terrain. 

At each roadside stop you will want toothbrushes and some sort of mouthwash or toothpaste.  

Remember trail drivers, your job is to support each athlete during what is often the most difficult personal and emotional circumstance that they could put themselves in. Your service to that team or individual will allow them to move farther and faster than they could without you.

Trail well. 

Heat Cramps

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When you are managing athletes that are possibly in danger of heat exhaustion you want to really ask about how their muscles feel and look for cramping.

Muscles are SUPER particular about how much hydration and salt they have when they are being exerted. When they are out of whack many athletes will get heat cramps, and those cramps can happen in any of their legs or arms. Being hot and tired for an extended period can induce cramps.

Here’s the phrase I will burn forever into your brain :

“It’s time to switch when you see the twitch.”

The earliest sign of heat cramps is a slight little tremor twitch on a muscle, and sometimes the eyeball will give you that first indication. The “switch” part means that you have to switch what the athlete is taking in for beverages – specifically electrolytes and sugars. Six to 12 ounces of sports drinks at a rest stop may not be enough to combat what the body is consuming; 400-800 ML/hour is the optimum rate of liquid intake for an athlete on the trail.

They don’t need just more liquid- they need fuel. Look to salty broth mixtures with heavy carbohydrates to aide the body’s consumption. Over hydration will exasperate the problem plus lead to rapid nausea, and nothing is more disgusting than a surprise liquid splashing chow-blowing. If they get dizzy and blow, they have too much water and not enough fuel.

A heat cramp later on (from over extension) can be signaled when an athlete lilts, weaves, or changes gait without even knowing it because they are hyper focused on their endurance goal.

Heat cramps also come in the abdomen but we will cover those in a different blog because abdomen cramps can mean a lot of things.  FYI parents – I see abdominal heat cramps a lot more in younger athletes (pre-teen/high school) and it is misdiagnosed on the sports field frequently. “My stomach hurts” is usually a common heat cramp from overexertion in youth.

Most cramps come from muscle tightness, but heat cramps are actually easy to identify. Tension cramps are from a type of tightness, and in the onset a tension cramp will “snap” in and feel like a knot. The biggest way to know if it is heat related or tension related is when rubbing doesn’t actually help and the larger muscle is having spasms. Heat cramps will NOT subside until the body has been cooled and the correct amount of water and salt is replaced into the muscle. That can take more than 30 minutes, so trail drivers will have to pay attention to early onset and keeping athletes regularly cooled down.

Heat cramps are a warning sign that the athlete is approaching heat exhaustion, so it’s a really good idea to use an external cool down method as well as an internal hydration method.

Immediately get out of direct sunlight.
Try to cool the entire body.
Give clear juice like apple.
Give sports drink with electrolytes.
Broth mixtures (with marrow) are also good.

Wrapping athletes in ice soaked towels will help manage core temperature, but the relief won’t come until the muscle has been put back in equilibrium.

If an athlete is going to try to run through heat cramps they absolutely need to be taking in sports liquids with heavy carbs, but if those cramps are more than an hour long they will have to shut down and rest in order to get relief.

To keep them on the trail remember “It’s time to switch when you see the twitch.”

Trail well.