Category: Badwater University

Training for the Badwater Ultramarathon

Click here for Angela’s first-person report about the race.

Recently, I’ve been asked for Badwater training advice by other runners. The question seemed rather peculiar to me because when I look back on the past year, it didn’t seem like I was training at all. Afterall, do moths actually “train” to fly into the lightbulb? Not really. I think they just see something that looks neat so they are drawn closer to it, and hopefully they don’t annihilate themselves during the process. So with that in mind, here is my attempt at a response.

I guess I really only have just one RULE and a few suggestions.

Rule #1 Never Forget the Ruls of “WAAD” – We Are All Different

What works well for someone else may have the exact opposite consequence for you. For instance, I heard that Pam Reed did the entire event on Ensure and Red Bull, but some of my friends insist the Ensure stuff makes them erupt like Mount St. Helens (from both ends!) It is really important to ingest (and retain) as much food and liquid as possible. Personally, my puke-prevention plan includes Metabolol, Fig Newtons, plain Pringles, Saltines and tapioca. I mix Metabolol using a can of Kern’s Mango nectar (to make it taste good and because a fellow run-nerd said mango nectar helps delay lactic acid buildup). To prevent nausea, I munch on steamed white rice (another run-nerd told me it helps absorb excess liquid in the intestines and bowels, enough said.) The WAAD rule also applies to the eternal “foot tape debate.” The stories about duct tape removing sub-cutaneous flesh and the lectures about what works on trails may not work on 150 degree pavement and the scavenger hunt for “Bag Balm” and getting into fist fights over gel-filled versus air-filled soles… At first, it all seemed so fascinating but it wore me out pretty quickly. For me, I’m fairly sure I would not have finished if I hadn’t practiced what Denise Jones preached regarding foot care. That’s why I think attending BOTH training clinics is so valuable – use them to experiment and learn. Better to puke up your stomach lining and experience monsoon toe blisters during a practice run rather than the real thing.

Suggestion #2 Join a Gym with a Dry Sauna, and spend at least 30 minutes a week in it

Sometimes I did three sessions a week for 10 minutes each, sometimes twice a week for 15 minutes. Sometimes I jogged in place, sometimes I just laid there (especially when I got tired of explaining what the hell I was doing to everyone else). I started going two months before the event and stopped going four days just before Badwater in order to fully re-hydrate. For inspiration, see Greg Minter’s online training schedule and review the training section of the race website. But don’t forget RULE #1…

Suggestion #3 Buy the Suit

Yes, you will look like a Hazardous Waste Removal Geek, and it is rather expensive, but your skin and body temperature will thank you. One of my crew members who wore sunblock under the suit got some sort of heat rash, perhaps because his skin didn’t breathe as well. Everyone else skipped the sunblock and just wore the suit with no problems. Again, refer back to RULE #1…

Things you Probably Already Know

  • Take electrolyte supplements, such as Endurolytes from Hammer Nutrition.
  • Buy shoes TWO sizes too big. Running sandals may work too.
  • Try to get at least one person on your crew who has successfully finished Badwater. Otherwise, be sure to drag crew member(s) to at least one training clinic in an effort to “soften the blow” as they step out of the air conditioned vehicle next July. (The one person on my crew who had never been to Death Valley before doesn’t speak to me as often as he used to…)
  • If you plan on using caffeine during Badwater in order to stay alert/awake, then cease all caffeine intake at least two weeks prior to BW in order to allow the caffeine to be more effective on your system when you really need it. (You may want to try and avoid as much contact as possible with other humans during this particularly grueling portion of your training.)
  • Speaking from experience, soda left in a hot mini-van WILL explode if not kept in an ice cooler. If your mini-van is rented, or borrowed from a friend (who you may need to borrow from again), consider putting a tarp down to protect the interior. Also, Gatorade leaves some very sticky and stubborn stains.
  • If your significant other is not a runner, consider purchasing a treadmill so you two can spend more “quality” time together while training at home. My boyfriend got quite a kick out of drinking beer on the couch while shouting words of encouragement such as “You’re almost there!” and “It feels like a 6.0 on the Richter scale in here, way to go honey!” On this same subject, you may want to warn your significant other about the enormity of the challenge you are about to undertake. Preparing for this really is like a second job, but with a tougher commute and less pay. Practice apologizing for the numerous knee deep piles of stinky running clothes scattered about your living quarters. Prepare him or her for your sudden decrease in enthusiasm for all non-running related matters. Furthermore, advise all blood relatives of your inability to attend weddings, reunions and/or funerals until at least August. Finally, you may want to consider acquiring a “stand in” to attend school plays and graduations on your behalf for the benefit of your child(ren).

Cognitive Performance-Science Study

“Changes in Cognitive Performance During a 216 km Extreme Endurance Footrace: A Descriptive and Perspective Study.”

Perceptual & Motor Skills. 100(2):473-87, 2005 Apr. (You may request the full eight-page paper as a PDF file via email from us.)

Abstract: Two subjects participated in a 216 km ultramarathon with outside temperatures above 50 degrees C while several physiological and psychological parameters (cognitive performance assessed by a mental calculation task and an attentional task, subjective bodily experience, and lactate level) were evaluated throughout the race. Severe stress from dehydration, sleep deprivation, and total physical exhaustion are combined in a unique manner, allowing evaluation of their effects in a range far outside that obtainable in a laboratory setting. During the race the subjects answered a questionnaire about their actual bodily experiences, underwent 8 medical examinations, and performed two cognitive tests approximately every 35 kilometers. Analysis showed cognitive performance did not decrease steadily in a simple and gradual way but reached a peak in the morning of Day 2 after a short sleeping period and then decreased. In the early morning of Day 3, in general cognitive performance exhibited the worst results but increased differentially between the subjects again in the last test 1 km before the finish line.

The Dangers of Hot Weather Running

Dehydration, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, Heatstroke and Hyponatremia

Originally published by Road Runner Sports

Running in hot weather can pose dangers to runners. Particularly dangerous is racing in hot, humid summer conditions. Here’s how to protect yourself from these five serious (and potentially fatal) conditions.

Dehydration

Dehydration is not limited only to the summer months, although it’s probably more likely to occur during that time. Many physicians believe that most people are in a constant state of dehydration. Since coffee, tea, soda and alcohol act as a diuretic, anyone who drinks these fluids on a daily basis, and doesn’t drink at least an equal amount of water, will probably be dehydrated. If the person is physically active, the potential for dehydration is even greater.

Working out in hot, humid conditions promotes sweating, which in turn can cause dehydration. Sweating is good for you because it cools your body, but when you lose too much water you become dehydrated. If you’re already slightly dehydrated, sweating will only make it worse. It’s important to maintain an adequate fluid intake all the time. Don’t expect that you can make up for several days of not drinking enough by downing two cups of sports drink before your next long run or race. It’s important to keep hydrated all the time. Once you start to feel thirsty, it’s too late.

The average (sedentary) person needs a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day. Runners need more: anywhere from four to eight quarts of fluid. That translates to at least sixteen 8-ounce glasses daily. Remember that diuretics don’t count! Drink water and sports drinks, and if you don’t have to worry about calories, fruit drinks or juice.

Two hours before your daily summer workout or a race, you should drink 16 ounces of fluid. Then ten minutes or so before you start to run, drink another one or two cups of water or sports drink. Drinking early and drinking often is the key. During a race you should drink six to twelve ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes. If the weather is very hot, you may need to drink even more. Training in warm weather, you should drink at least every 35 to 40 minutes. (Remember you will have already had two 8-ounce glasses before you started.) If you’re running a race shorter than 30 minutes, you probably won’t need any water other than what you drank before the start. The same goes for the last few miles of a longer race. If you’re racing or training for longer than an hour, drink sports drinks as opposed to strictly water.

Start drinking immediately after finishing a run, no matter if it was a race or a workout. Minimum is 16 ounces for every 30 minutes you ran. If you tend to sweat a lot, you’ll need more. Weigh yourself after you’ve run. Drink at least 16 ounces of fluid for every pound you lose through sweating.

By monitoring the color of your urine you can tell if you’re hydrated. It should be pale yellow or even clear. If it isn’t, you need to drink more fluids. It’s important that you retain the fluid, so be careful it you’re urinating every fifteen or twenty minutes. To restore your fluid balance, eat something salty (a bag of pretzels, salted nuts, crackers or potato chips), then drink a sports drink. The salt will make you thirstier, so you’ll take in even more fluid and urine production will decrease.

Heat Cramps

Have you ever seen a runner bent over at the side of the road massaging their calves during a race? Chances are that he or she had heat cramps. Heat cramps are very painful (envision someone stabbing a knife deep into your muscles!) and rarely “work themselves out”. The cramps occur because you’ve lost minerals through sweating and dehydration. Once you’ve reached the point of heat cramps, it’s too late to try to replace fluids on the run. To make the cramps go away you should:

  • Stop running
  • Drink fluids immediately. The fluids should include sports drinks as well as water
  • Massage the muscles once the pain begins to subside
  • Cool your body with wet towels
  • Get out of the sun

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a very serious condition that can lead to heatstroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Dizziness
  • “Goose bumps” (particularly on the torso and arms)
  • Nausea (sometimes accompanied by vomiting)
  • Moderate to severe headache
  • Weak legs
  • Lack of coordination
  • Rapid pulse
  • Heavy sweating often accompanied by moist and cold skin
  • Muscle cramping

If you experience any of these symptoms you must:

  • Stop running immediately
  • Get medical attention
  • Drink large amounts of fluids, including sports drinks
  • Get out of the sun
  • Lie down and elevate your feet above your heart
  • Loosen your clothing

Heatstroke

Heatstroke can be fatal. Unfortunately runners will sometimes ignore the symptoms of heat exhaustion (particularly in races longer than 10K) and will continue to push themselves until they’re nearing a total thermoregulatory breakdown. The symptoms of heatstroke are very similar to those of heat exhaustion, but rapidly progress to:

  • Disorientation
  • Weakness in the legs to the point that the runner may fall
  • Strange behavior (including flailing with the arms and shoving)
  • “Fuzzy” thinking
  • Rapid pulse
  • Cessation of sweating and hot/dry skin
  • Body temperature that may reach 104 degrees or higher
  • Lack of consciousness
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Coma

Someone suffering from heatstroke needs immediate medical attention. They should be moved out of the sun, cooled by either rubbing their body with ice or immersing them in cold water and given fluids intravenously.

Hyponatremia

Within the last few years the condition known as hyponatremia has begun to attract the attention of sports medicine physicians, exercise physiologists, and the medical directors at some of the larger marathons around the country. Hyponatremia has been called water intoxication because of the symptoms it produces. According to Dr. Tim Noakes, Professor of Exercise & Sports Science Director at the University of Cape Town, “…a person with hyponatremia looks like he or she is mildly drunk. They can’t concentrate normally…they forget what you were talking about and start to concentrate elsewhere.”

Hyponatremia occurs when the body becomes dangerously low in sodium. It’s caused when you literally take in too much water. Although scientists have known about it for a long time, it has only been in the last few years as more runners have been competing in marathons that it has become a concern. According to Dr. Noakes, fluid has to be ingested at high levels for several hours for hyponatremia to occur. He suggests that a runner would have to be drinking water regularly for at least four to six hours to develop the condition. So runners taking four to six hours or more to run a marathon are at particular risk.

Unfortunately, symptoms of hyponatremia tend to mimic those of severe dehydration and/or heat exhaustion. By giving the athlete more water to drink the hyponatremia becomes worse, as more and more sodium is flushed out of the system. If a runner with hyponatremia is given fluids intravenously, they can suffer a fatal reaction. Dr. Noakes and other sports medicine professionals recommend that physicians and other medical personnel at road races be alert for the signs of hyponatremia. One of the earliest symptoms is a craving for salty food.

Although hyponatremia is rare, it’s wise to be aware that it can occur, particularly if you’re running a marathon in unusually hot weather. Hyponatremia serves as a reminder that water is good, but don’t forget sports drinks, which replenish your body with the sodium, potassium and other trace minerals you lose through sweat. It’s worth repeating: if you’re going to be running (or racing) for longer than an hour, you should be drinking a sports drink as well as water.

About the author:
Claudia Piepenburg has been running for 21 years and is the current editor for Peak Run Performance. She holds or has held state age-group records in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia. In 1990, she was ranked 18th fastest masters woman in the world and 8th fastest masters woman in the U.S. in 1990 and 1991. She competed in the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials, was 20th woman overall in the 1987 Boston Marathon and women’s winner of the 1986 Virginia Beach Marathon.

Super Dave’s Hot Weather Racing Tips

  1. Ditch the cotton T-shirt. You’ve heard this countless times before but it still blows me away to see you running in cotton t-shirts. If you have to, wear them during training. When race day comes around, you want every performance edge you can get. Cotton is hot and gets heavy with sweat, both of which will slow you down. CoolMax“ on the other hand is lightweight all the time and breathes.
  2. Wear Sunscreen. The sun sucks energy out of you especially if it is given the chance to burn you. The best sunscreen I have ever used (It holds up for 10+ hours in the heat of Kona at the Ironman) is Banana Boat Sport.
  3. Wear a coolmax hat – read #1 and #2 for reference.
  4. Go with a lighter weight sock. Your feet will swell more in the heat. A lighter weight sock will breathe better and allow for the swelling.
  5. Train in the heat. The best way to get used to racing in heat is training in heat. Make sure if you do this to pay attention to items 1 through 4 and stay hydrated.
  6. Drink at every aid station on the course. This way you maintain your hydration levels. At the end of the race if you feel hydrated enough, you can skip the last aid station. At the end of the race, if you are dehydrated, nothing can help you until you cross the finish line and stop your activity.
  7. Stay out of cold air-conditioned rooms. If at all possible, the day before and the morning of the race, stay out of cold rooms. The shock to the body from that really cold room to the really hot race will be less.
  8. Make sure you continue hydrating immediately after the event. Your body continues to sweat to stay cool long after you have finished. If you stop hydrating or worse yet, head to the beer tent, you will slow down your recovery dramatically.
  9. Wear the same coverage of clothing you do during training. There is nothing worse than wearing a different cut of shorts than you normally wear. The night after the race you notice that your skin that is not normally exposed to sun is not hot pink and stings. You look funny when you sit down in the nylon lawn chair that evening.
  10. If you are near a body of water at the finish, go stand waste deep in the water. The cooler water will help your legs recover. My favorite thing to do here in San Diego after a long hard run is to dip my legs into the cool 68-degree Pacific.