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.

Managing Rapid Temperature Change

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Mountains are beautiful, but they also take a beastly toll on your temperature gauge.

This last week I had athletes that were in the Siskiyou mountains, and at the base of those mountains the temperature was a beautiful 70°. By the time we changed our elevation we were at about 36°.

Among the things to pack for your athletes are the tools that they will need when the temperature rapidly changes. When they are going upward and the climate is getting colder, they will need more layers available to them to add, and they will need to cool off from sweat before they put those new layers on or you will just smother the wetness against their skin and they’ll be even colder.

If you are going downward to a lower elevation, you need to prepare your athletes for the possibility that they are going to need to strip off the gear on their descent and how to get that gear to the stations and tagged so they can get it back at the end.

Adding a simple safety pin to each layer of clothing allows the Trail Drivers to just tag it and bag it. If the temp is cooling quickly you will want to give your athletes warm broth (lots of yummy salt) or even a mild green tea to help in calming the tummy.

In rapid temperature changes where it gets colder fast, you will also see a lot more muscle cramps, so be prepared for that. People naturally start to clench up to fight the beastly environment. Cold, when it is mixed with WET, is deadly, so don’t underestimate the importance of dry gear.

A Trail Driver is a crucial tool in keeping the team healthy and on track. If you are an athlete, find a great one. If you are the one who supports crazy ultra-athletes, be aware of how many ways you can help those people attain their goals.

Trail well.

Overheating on the Road

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Any time you have an athlete that is competing or participating in an event that is not in their natural climate you have a higher risk of exhaustion. 

Heat exhaustion is probably the most common. The first thing to do when a runner looks like they’re overheating is to have them stop moving, but the minute they stop moving their body may actually become nauseous.

Always put them in a chair that is a little bit distant from where other runners will be passing by. Give them some space in case they have to hurl. The chances of a person hurling when they have heat exhaustion and have been moving for a long time is very high. (FYI very few things leave a more lasting scent than shoes full of someone else’s puke.)

As someone who does support for athletes I always try to keep an extra hat in my medic kit when I can. You want to have one that is made of canvas and that can hold a little bit of water. 

For those of you who are grizzled heat veterans you’re already saying “ahhh, the old hat full of ice trick.”  Icing down the head is a quick tool to get the whole body cooled down. The ice itself will start to cool the head immediately and melt. Plus it will start to melt at a drip rate that isn’t too annoying. 

One of the things that you will want to do at the same time is hand them a damp towel. That way they can manage dripping and perspiration, or it will give them a place to throw up privately.

You will also want to look for the perspiration expression of the athlete. Zero perspiration can be an entirely different problem. 

Depending on how long the athlete has been without aid station, they usually cool down in about 15 minutes and they are free to go on with the rest of the race. I will frequently send them with an additional hat of ice so that they can manage their own temperature for a while. 

The quickest way to create a hat full of ice is to literally dip a hat into a cooler of melted ice from the back of the van. 

It will get immediate relief to the athlete because the ice is already in a high melt/water form and will start dripping immediately.  The drip from that ice on the neck and shoulders is also why you choose this technique. 

When serving athletes who are doing crazy things, you being calm and assessing the situation is critical. Trail drivers are the ones that need to have their heads on straight.

Thank you for all of you who choose to Trail Drive. 

Trail well.

Rain Management: A Trail Driver’s Best Friend

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day…because you just make a nasty, muddy mess of the athletes and the trails.

Normally, I’m pretty indifferent about rain. It is what it is. But on the trail? That’s another story. It makes everything not only dirty but smelly. And if you’re at a multi-day event, that smelliness is coming right with you to the hotel room. Not the most desirable sleeping conditions if you ask me.pezibear

But that’s not necessarily the point of this post. The reason I bring up rain is you need to develop a management plan for inclement weather as a trail driver, and this often includes:

1. Discuss in advance. If rain is in the forecast, decide what severity in weather conditions to pull your athletes off the trail. This’ll make cutting the team simple and is actually the easiest thing that could happen to you.

2. Equip the support vehicle. Water spreads misery and stink in support vehicles, so you’ll need supplies to manage the rain. Don’t just bring an extra set of clothes for each athlete — or a stack of towels. Bring a whole roll of garbage bags to contain the dirt and stench of wet, muddy clothing.

3. Monitor your athletes’ feet. Repeatedly moving in wet shoes makes everything blister. Pack moleskin or other protective measures to buffer the friction points between shoes and feet.

4. Take care of their shoes. There will come a point in the race when athletes will want to change their shoes. As soon as they pass them to you, wash off the mud. Then, just leave them open and loose to dry.

5. Buy stock in paper towels. Even though athletes don’t obviously run on their hands, everywhere they touch will get mud on it. Wipe down areas that the team comes in contact with regularly with moist paper towels.

6. Kick up the heat. Rain can make everyone cold and grouchy, including athletes, so let the vehicle heat up to high heat. They can warm their hands and take the chill off of the bones.

7. Slow down. You’re not part of the race, so take it slow. You’ll absolutely slip and slide right under the supply vehicle if you’re moving too fast (and I’ll give you one guess on how I know).

8. Monitor weather patterns. You may already know it’s raining, but you’ll want to keep track of its progress. Knowing this is critical to managing the direction of those athletes, and you may have to pull them to a different trail to keep them on higher ground.

Rain is always a drag on the trail. But when it’s managed, everything will go smoothly. Plus, it comes with an added bonus. The team will inevitably move slower, and there’s nothing better than having a minute to sit back, watch the rain, and think.

Trail well.

Heat Exhaustion: Do You Know the Warning Signs?

As a trail driver, I like to joke about all the crazy and funny things that athletes do on and off the trail. Band-Aids on the nipples, wearable tech on almost every appendage, and something called the runner’s trots — not to mention the shoes. My husband has more shoes than me, and don’t get me started on the socks. I swear he’s got like 30 pair.

greenfingerThat said, I do want to remind you that the person managing athletes has one very important responsibility: to watch over them. While heat exhaustion is a beast that we all hope to tame, the fact of the matter is it can be deadly.

Recognizing Heat Exhaustion

Obviously, it’s up to you as a trail driver to recognize the signs of exhaustion in your athletes.

These signs can vary, but some of the most common include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Some athletes may also experience rapid heartbeat, dark-colored urine, fainting, or a lack of sweat. If you notice any one or more of these symptoms, the responsibility rests on your shoulders to pull them off the trail. Be the voice of reason.

Treating Heat Exhaustion

If exhaustion is related to heat, cool them off as fast and as furiously as possible. I traditionally have a towel that I put on the very bottom of the cooler for just this time. It’s wet, dripping, and frosty, but it does the trick. A portable fan can also help the situation.

It’s also important to get fluids into their system. Water or sports drinks are your best options.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine. It’s also not a bad idea to get some food into their system, especially salty foods, like crackers or pretzels.

From there, remove any and all tight fitting or unnecessary clothing. If these measures don’t improve symptoms or provide relief within 15 minutes, make sure they get emergency medical attention.

Trail well.