Category: Training

The Wall

Originally published in Men’s Fitness

“All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall…”
-Pink Floyd

Ask any runner about preparing for the 26.2 mile grind of a marathon, and sooner or later-usually sooner-you’ll hear about “The Wall.”

It is a truly fearsome place, where legs turn to melting jello and breath comes in short, gasping gulps. It is a legendary place, usually encountered around mile 20, where the flesh weakens, the spirit sags and the will drains away into a little puddle on the hard, hard ground. All hyperbole aside, there is probably nothing as feared, or misunderstood, by the novice marathoner as the 20-mile wall, the point where it is written that a person runs out of steam.

What is The Wall, anyway?

The modern science of running mechanics has stalked and, if studies are to be believed, captured The Wall. Jeff Galloway, in his 1984 classic book “Galloway’s Book on Running,” breaks the 20-mile barrier down into two specific physiological causes.

The first involves glycogen, one of our basic fuels stored in muscle tissue. Glycogen, says Galloway, is predominately a short-range fuel. Glycogen stores, even in a fit person, will only get us…20 miles. When we need endurance, our body should be burning fat; even a skinny person has about 600 miles of fat fuel. There’s a catch (isn’t there always?): fat can only be burned aerobically, in the presence of oxygen.

“When you run faster than you’ve trained, or farther,” Galloway writes. “You overwhelm the muscles.”

The precious glycogen is burned, waste products and fatigue poisons build up the muscles faster than they can be eliminated, and you hit The Wall.

A second factor, he adds, is that many very popular marathon training regimens call for the longest run to be 20 miles. That last 6.2 miles is uncharted territory. If you were to look at a map of the marathon route, the last six miles would have no details whatsoever-just the image of a fearsome-looking beast and the inscription, “Here Be Dragons.”

“So if you extend your long run to 26 miles or more,” Galloway writes, “and run the race pace you’ve trained for, you can avoid encountering, much less hitting, The Wall.”

Simple, reasonable explanations. But do they really answer the entire question, or only a small part?

I have some thoughts on the matter, but I need to give you a little background first.

A few years ago, after a wild day of windsurfing, pizza and beer, my friends and I created what we laughingly referred to as the list, 13 athletic endeavors that could kill you. In the time that followed, I decided to do all 13 things (chronicled in my book, “Over the Edge: A Regular Guy’s Odyssey in Extreme Sports”), which involved morphing myself from a seriously overweight couch potato to something resembling an athlete. Some of the items on the purely arbitrary list turned out to be easy (rock climbing), some terrifying (cave diving), some (climbing Mt. McKinley) harder than I had ever imagined.

Early on in the process, I was lucky enough to hook up with Steve Ilg, author of “The Outdoor Athlete” and listed by numerous publications as one of the best personal trainers in America. When I first met with Ilg in his small, dusty office on a back street in Santa Fe, he struck me as more of a shaman than a coach. I wanted to talk to him about training regimens; how far should I be running; how much weight should I be lifting. That was important, he said gently, but not nearly as important as what was in my head.

Through Ilg, I learned (somewhat lurchingly, I have to confess) that all athletic endeavors have a physical and a mental component. Imagine each of these components as lines on a graph. When a person first starts training, the “physical” line spikes up faster than the “mental” line-as we start training, there’s more physical than mental effort required.

As we push ourselves harder, as we make the decision to test our own personal limits, that mental line-the mental effort necessary to accomplish our goals-increases faster than the physical line.

There will come a point, said Steve Ilg the Shaman, where your success or failure, possibly even your life, will hinge not on the physical, but solely on the mental.

What does this have to do with The Wall? I think for most of us, the 26.2 miles of the marathon represents the first place where the physical and mental lines on the graph converge. Yes, the physical effort of a marathon is tremendous, but it is the mental effort that will carry you across the finish line.

Unfortunately, we tend to approach mental training the same way we approach physical training-how much do I lift; how far do I run? There are numerous books these days on mental preparation for various sports. The bulk of them tend to offer sort of a brain prescription: two sets of visualization, three sets of relaxation, a quick two laps of positive thoughts and-viola!-instant sports nirvana.

Were that it was only so easy! As I moved through my list and beyond I came to see that the closer we came to our own personal edges, the more we moved away from the physical and onto a mental “landscape.” That landscape was and is fraught with dangers, traps waiting for the unknowing. It is the place where cause and effect start breaking down; where time looses its grip; a place where chaos reigns supreme.

I first caught a hint of this landscape in Death Valley. I was biking and running alongside competitors in the Hi-Tec Badwater 135, a 135-mile running race from Badwater, the lowest point in America, over two mountain ranges to the portals of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in America. Temperatures can range from 125 degrees down to below freezing.

It was morning, and I was alongside a rodeo cowboy turned successful banker, who did ultra-endurance events the way normal people do 5-K runs. The temperature was just cracking 100; we’d been running the flats and walking the climbs. As we walked, he was explaining to me the basics of the mental landscape.

“In an event like this,” he said, “your mind goes to strange places. You’ll experience every emotion, from the highest highs to the lowest lows.”

And then he told me about the dragon. And what an amazing dragon it was! Scales like roofing tiles; eyes blazing yellow fire. It was, he said, a dragon created of all a person’s fears and doubts and fatigue and pain. As the temperature soared, the banker described the dragon; how it came at a person’s lowest ebb, feeding on all the pain and suffering, every thought of failure, every couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t.

As he talked, the great convection oven that is Death Valley sucked the moisture from my skin, leaving only a fine, white dusting of salt.

What do you do, I insisted.

“Why, nothing, of course,” he said. “Keep running.”

To tell the truth, in my two marathons, I’ve never found a trace of The Wall. Mile 20 was no more-or less-painful than mile 18 or mile 23. Certainly training had something to do with not hitting The Wall. But more importantly, the lessons I learned at the edges of the known universe have served me well. I have found my dragon on the cold ice of Alaska, and on the sides of Big Mountains; once even within sight of the lights of Malibu, after all night on a trail and a full day left to travel. He’s there, though, always waiting. If you go far enough, there’s always The Wall.

The old rodeo cowboy told the truth-the mind will go to strange places, and, despite how easy those relaxation and focusing techniques seemed in your bedroom, you won’t have much control. Instead, here are some thoughts that have helped me, and can help you.

  • Accept that a portion of your race will be run on a mental landscape, and that it can be a scary place. It’s a landscape littered with your own failures and successes, your pains and your losses. It’s home to mythical creatures and places of legend, and your journey will be uniquely your own.
  • Understand that you may be beset by storms of powerful emotions-exhilaration, despair, fury. But like storms, the emotions pass. And like storms, these spikes of emotion have no meaning. I once ran alongside a woman who described in meticulous detail how she planned to kill her new husband, because she hated the bastard so much. Remember, strange places.
  • Never question your goal. The completion of a marathon, especially a first marathon, is more than a goal. It’s a summit, and summits have the power to capture and hold a person’s imagination. A trick I use is to “table” the mental discussion of whether this particular event was a good or a bad idea; set it aside as a question I’ll deal with later. Then I focus on why this event captured my imagination.
  • Let go of judgments. While your mind is bouncing hither and yon, sooner or later it’s going to land on the “Why am I running so badly today?” square. It’s a dead end. Rather than expend that mental energy on judging my performance, I repeat one of my favorite mantras: “nothing proves anything.”
  • Negotiate with your body. Crazy as it sounds, I carry on a mental conversation with my body. Before the race, I explain what is expected and acknowledge that it’s going to hurt. I apologize in advance, and promise that I’ll make it up to my body somehow. Amazingly, my body continues to believe me.

Finally, what do you do if you hit The Wall, when you finally meet your dragon?

Why, nothing, of course. Keep running.

Five Ways to Avoid the Wall

  1. Train realistically: Athletes (and even some of us faux athletes) have a remarkable ability for self-deception. The best way to know how you’ll respond in a situation is to practice that situation first. If you’re training for a marathon, at least one of your training runs needs to be 26 miles. If you’re training for a race that takes place at night,some of your training needs to be at night. I think of this as showing my body what I’m going to expect from it.
  2. Crosstrain: The more you move toward harder endurance events like the marathon, the more overall balance seems to pay off. I “trade-off” sports, especially on designated long days. to keep my interest up and injuries down. The added plus is that my overall good level of fitness helps carry me through longer events.
  3. Avoid judgements: When I was a “serious” triathlete, I used to study my race results with a magnifying glass. No matter how well I did, I was always performing “below expectations.” I have seen fine athletes talk themselves into quitting because they were running below par. Set your judgements aside on race day.
  4. Mentally prepare: Forget happy talk; you’re going to hurt Out There. But you know that already. In my mental rehersals, I try to be as realistic as possible, including acknowledging that it’s going to be painful. I also remind myself that, despite it all, I’ve crossed a lot of finish lines.
  5. Plan flexibly: Remember, long athletic events tend to be chaos systems. You can’t forsee everything nature is going to throw at you. Mental flexibility is your greatest tool for getting past The Wall.

If You Hit The Wall

  1. Don’t stop: “Program” youself before the event that you’re going to press on regardless, even if you’re barely moving. At the 1993 NYC Marathon, I was running so slowly uphill in Central Park that i was actually going backwards.
  2. “Table” your thoughts: The easiest way to quiet all those negative thoughts is to set them aside. Sometimes I actually visualize a locker-like box, where I stuff all my negative thoughts until I have the time and energy to deal with them.
  3. Get out of your head: Don’t dwell on how amazingly bad you feel. A really attractive woman running nearby is a handy, uplifting area to focus on. I’ve done it, and it works. Hormones are wonderful things.

Click here to read chapter five about the 1991 Badwater Race from Michael Bane’s book, Over The Edge: A Regular Guy’s Odyssey in Extreme Sports

The Meaning of Support Crews



My success at Badwater was entirely due to the fact that I was surrounded by high quality, dedicated people who genuinely wanted to help me be successful. Badwater was not an individual achievement but rather a team effort. A group of four Badwater virgins somehow entered Death Valley and managed to traverse 135 miles through the steaming, hot desert and come home with the coveted sub 48 hour buckle.

There were challenges along the way that I’ve never encountered in any ultra running event I’ve participated in but they were overcome because of the strength of the team.

While no one other than me had a particular role at the start each acquired their own identity as the race progressed. The lone female member of our team was the leader and took control when I needed her most. I leaned on her hard and she never once let me down. My friend from Wisconsin was the silent strength of the team. He could relate to the suffering I was experiencing as he too has suffered and persevered through grueling events.While he communicated in a different way than my other two crew members I was able to understand and benefit. My third crew member and my best friend and confidant experienced my worst moments with me. He could very well have left me in the desert whining to myself but what he did instead was listen. I was walking death between miles 115-122 as we looked for Lone Pine. I relied on my best friend to be my life support system and somehow he kept me moving forward.

Badwater was a success not only because of the finish but also because of what I learned about others. I had two total strangers enter my life on those 3 days and they stood by my side until the bitter end. My one good friend who went into the valley of Hell with me showed me that indeed he is the best friend I’ve ever had. I learned that I have two very good friends that live far away but despite the distance we will always be friends and I can always count on them to be a positive influence in my life. I learned that it is okay to lean on others once in awhile and that true friends will indeed come through for me under any and all circumstances. Badwater is indeed a team event and without a strong group of people surrounding the runner success would be impossible.

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Are You Giving Your Skin Enough Love?

Download this article as PDF – Reprint in your running club newsletter!

Gracia Walker of Kiehl’s poses with just some of the fine skin care products given to all Badwater entrants and staff in 2005.

An interesting thought struck me while lecturing to a group of hard-core triathletes recently. Yes, they are fit, yes they are intense, and yes, they are amazingly motivated people, I thought. But gosh, the ones who have been doing this for a while look a bit weather-beaten.

I kept this thought in mind when I was at a local road race in New York. Again, many of the runners who had been out doing their thing for a number of years looked a bit leathery.

Following this realization, I began an informal survey in my office. “How do you take care of your skin?”, I began asking. Much to my surprise, many of my patients did little more than apply sunscreen once on their face briefly at the start of their exercise regimen. (This was, in fact, so interesting to me that I am currently doing a study on this issue.)

The facts on skin-related injury are staggering. It is now estimated that one in 50 Caucasians will develop a form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Rates among people with pigmented skin are increasing as well. This is a substantial increase, especially in the past 15 years. According to Dr. Barney Kennet, a dermatologist based in New York, “the numbers of people coming into my office with sun damaged skin and sun-related cancers has grown tremendously in the past ten years.”

What are the factors that lead to sun-damaged skin and skin cancers? With a thinning ozone layer, increased time in the sun leads to increased skin damage.

Who is at greatest risk? Genetics play a role and skin pigmentation and a family history of skin cancer are both important. But even more important is a history of deep sunburn. Repeated, deep, painful sun damage has been strongly linked to pre-cancerous skin lesions.

The key to prevention is avoiding these repeated burns. As Dr. Amy Knopper, a dermatologist from Kansas City told me, “You can’t pick your skin pigment, but you can sure pick what you do to with what you’ve got. Take good care!”

Ok—so that sounds good, but let’s get real, triathlons and other endurance events are run during the middle of the day. Personally, I can recall the sun beating down on my back in Kona during the Ironman Triathlon, thinking to myself, “I’m sorry skin, I’m sorry.” Much to my dismay, by the way, there is a residual burn on my back from that day, despite my efforts at sunblock use.

Are triathletes and other endurance athletes taking skin protection seriously enough? The hydration message seems to have gotten through, as has the threat of hyponatremia and the benefits of stretching and weight training. But is the sunburn prevention message resonating? Unfortunately, I’d say, not yet. Yes, there are some aid stations along the course of some races that have sunblock, but often, these are few and far between.

Until we arrive at the day when skin care and sunburn prevention are taken as seriously as they should be, the onus, my friends, is on you. If you are involved in outdoor endurance sports, you must protect your skin. This means consistent use of waterproof sun block. SPF (sun protection factor) means the relative time it will take for you to burn your skin. For example, if you might burn in 10 minutes normally, then an SPF of 15 enables you stay in the sun for 150 minutes without burning. Of course, these numbers have different ramifications for everyone, so being vigilant is key. For me, I try to find a product that stays on when wet and is at least a SPF 30.

Throughout race day, take the extra time to apply a bit more sunblock, even if it “costs you” a few minutes. Likewise, when you are training, load up on skin protection. Slop it on, all over yourself, and make sure to bring some for later. Also, make sure to use adequate head protection to prevent burns to your face, ears, and the top of your head.

And what about getting a tan? As many members (especially female ones) of my triathlon team tell me during our long bike rides, “It’s OK to fake it; we all do!” Meaning, if you want to be darker and it’s important to you, use fake tan. Even if it doesn’t offer sun protection, it’s much safer than a real suntan.

And lastly, if there are any new or funny looking moles or patches on your skin, speak to your doctor or dermatologist. (They can be very small, by the way.) All types of skin cancer are treated more easily when they are caught early.

As we spend hours making ourselves faster, fitter, and healthier, let’s be sure to remember that our skin needs love. Protect it—unless you are a lizard or a snake, you only get one coat!

Jordan D. Metzl, MD, is a nationally recognized sports medicine specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Metzl is a 25-time marathon runner and four-time Ironman finisher.

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).

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 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 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.


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.