BY DEAN KARNANZES
Furnace Creek is known as the hottest place on earth. Temperatures there have surpassed an asphalt-melting, hair-singeing 130° Fahrenheit. And Furnace Creek happens to be located along the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon course. When it comes to racing in the heat, nothing is more extreme than the Badwater Ultramarathon.
Having done this race a couple of times (okay, ten), I’ve learned a few things about exercising in excessively hot temperatures. The lessons I’ve learned can be applied to anyone working out in the heat, not just the blistering inferno of Furnace Creek in Death Valley.
When approaching the heat, I use a somewhat analytical strategy. There are two separate systems to regulate: your exterior and interior systems. Appropriate measures should be taken to keep both in check. Let’s look at these below.
Exterior System – When formulating a strategy for keeping your exterior cool, I advise starting from the top (i.e., with your head). If your noggin’ overheats, it’s game over. So a good hat is essential when temperature creeps upward, one that offers UV protection, a brim, and also a neck cape. My personal favorite is the Ultra Adventure Hat by Sunday Afternoons. Moving lower, a UV protective moisture-wicking shirt helps keep the body cool while protecting the skin from the sun. I prefer a breathable short sleeve shirt and a layer of cooling arm sleeves underneath, with ice pockets. Calves sleeves are also helpful to protect your lower legs, not only from direct sunlight but also from UV reflecting up from the pavement. Another beneficial cooling strategy is to wrap your neck with something cold. The cooled blood gets circulated throughout the body via the carotid artery. There are specially designed bandanas with ice pouches, though wrapping ice in a traditional bandana works pretty well. Lastly, spraying yourself with a plant mister is useful for the evaporative cooling effect. Of course, this works better in lower humidity environments. Spraying off with cool liquid still helps in humid conditions, just not to the same extent because the water does not evaporate, and thus you don’t get the same evaporative cooling. Now, let’s move inside.
Interior System – As most people know, the human body keeps fairly tight control on internal body heat. When temperatures dip below 95°, Fahrenheit, hypothermia can be a risk, and when a fever exceeds 105° Fahrenheit, there is the danger of heatstroke. That’s not a large range, especially when you compare it to fluctuations in outside temperatures.
So how do you keep your core from overheating when the thermometer creeps upward? One way is through consuming cool liquids, ones without lots of simple sugars, Hammer Nutrition Lemon-Lime HEED being my personal go-to. The flavor wakes up the pallet, and the carbohydrate source used in HEED is slowly and evenly absorbed. It is also important to note that HEED is formulated without citric acid. The stomach is already an acidic place, so it makes no sense to add more, yet many sports beverages are loaded with citric acid. Why? For the same reasons they use simple sugars, it’s cheap. Another useful trick is to swallow whole pieces of ice—being reasonable with the size, of course—as getting ice directly into your belly can help with both cooling and, as a result, absorption. A common issue with endurance athletes in hot conditions is GI distress. This can come as a result of elevated core temperatures, which prevent food and liquid from emptying the stomach. It’s not uncommon at hot weather endurance events to hear complaints of sloshing in the stomach, bloating, and distension. No matter how much gets consumed, it never gets absorbed. I’ve been there, and it’s no fun. Keeping the stomach from overheating is one factor that can assist gastric emptying, and so is having the right amount of sodium and electrolytes. That’s where Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes Extreme plays a critical role. Not only are the electrolyte levels optimized for high-heat conditions, but Endurolytes Extreme also contains ginger root powder, which naturally settles the stomach and aids absorption.
Next time you’re training or racing in hot conditions, I encourage you to take the approach of managing two systems, external and internal. And who knows, maybe we’ll see you at the start of the Badwater Ultramarathon.
Dean Karnazes is an ultramarathoner and Hammer Nutrition Athlete. He is a past winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon.