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Overheating Again: How Prior Heat Strokes Impact Runner Performance in the Heat

Another running event, another heat stroke 💔 As a runner, we all know the feeling of pushing ourselves to our limits, but what happens when our body can’t keep up? It’s time to talk about the real consequences of overheating and why it’s crucial to listen to our bodies.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how hard you try, the same thing keeps happening during races? Your body temperature rises, you feel dizzy and disoriented, and you can’t seem to shake it off. That’s because repeated overheating can have a lasting impact on your body, specifically on the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus plays a critical role in regulating our body temperature, but overheating can cause inflammation and damage, leading to a decreased ability to regulate temperature effectively. This makes us more vulnerable to heat stroke, even in low ambient temperatures during a race.

Although ambient temperature is a factor that affects the body temperature during running, it is not the only one. There are several other factors that can cause overheating, even in low ambient temperatures, during ultra-marathons or any prolonged exercise.



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During exercise, the body produces heat as a result of increased metabolic activity. The hypothalamus senses this increase in temperature and activates various mechanisms to cool the body down, such as increasing blood flow to the skin to promote sweating.

And it’s not just the body temperature that’s affected, overheating also disrupts the regulation of mean arterial blood pressure (MAP). MAP helps maintain blood flow to the brain and other vital organs, but during heat stroke, the body’s normal compensatory mechanisms can become overwhelmed leading to a drop in MAP and impaired blood flow to the brain.

This drop in MAP can also affect cognitive function, leading to confusion, disorientation, memory loss, and other cognitive impairments. And in severe cases, it can lead to unconsciousness, seizures, and even brain damage.

But it’s not all bad news, neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to reorganize itself and form new connections, plays a role in recovery from heat stroke. However, the extent and nature of the brain changes following heat stroke are still not fully understood, and more research is needed.

So how can you protect yourself from heat stroke during races? Stay hydrated, limit exposure to high temperatures, take frequent breaks, wear lightweight and light-colored clothing, and avoid sun exposure during the hottest parts of the day. And if you experience symptoms of heat stroke, such as headache, dizziness, or confusion, seek medical attention immediately.

Don’t let overheating ruin your running goals. Listen to your body and take steps to protect yourself. Remember, a race is just a race, but your health is priceless 🏃‍♀️

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Until next time.

Dr Will



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One comment on “Overheating Again: How Prior Heat Strokes Impact Runner Performance in the Heat”

  1. […] this year at Tarawera (2022 was cancelled… and I was injured), where I DNF’d from heat stroke (read here), and then again a couple of weeks back at the South Island […]

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