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Backpacking Fitness

Heat Exhaustion with No Effort

A Quick Change in Climate Does a Mountain Guy In

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Two days ago, I made the transition from 6,150 feet in Colorado Springs to the beach in southwestern Florida. I’d forgotten how the heat and humidity wastes you. I haven’t done anything more strenuous than walk to the beach, walk back, walk to the pool, and walk back. And mind you, the thermometer hasn’t crossed 80 degrees yet.

Yet, every night I feel as if I’m crashing into bed after a six-hour hike up and down a 14,000-foot peak. I have no problem sleeping soundly for 10 hours (although I suspect this is more a result of my two kids sleeping 12 hours a night and my refusal to wake up before they do).

Funny how living at altitude all winter and training hard for the last six weeks means nothing when you suddenly face temps that qualify as “warm” or “hot.” In fact, it seems to take almost as long to acclimatize to heat as it does to altitude. A 1998 study by the University of Connecticut found out it takes two weeks(!!!) to feel normal in a hot environment. During that period, your body actually adjusts to expel less sodium than it normally would, which means you can stay better hydrated. Stay better hydrated and you’ll feel less like someone ran a marathon in your body while you took a nap.

Now I’m nowhere near reaching a critical state of heat exhaustion, but man, I do know that if try to go for an all-out 10k run right now, I’d succeed in turning myself into a useless pile of goo for, oh, the next two days.

I throw this out here today because I know those first suddenly warm days of spring are about to hit the majority of us cold-weather residents any day now. And we’ll be driven by some innate Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind pull to go for a 6-hour trek or trail run or four-hour ride when we had originally scheduled half as much time for exercise. I say, don’t fight it. Hell, days like this are what we live for, right?

Just use some sense out there, people. Load up on the water, electrolytes, food and sunscreen. Dial back the intensity from “hammer” to “thoroughly enjoyable” and see how many first signs of spring you can spot instead of how many miles you’re going per hour. Save the intervals, sprints, and long, hard exercise for the impending cold front and last winter storm that will wipe those goofy grins off our faces.

Stay cool. –Grant

Grant Davis has spent the last decade writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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