While I was reading up on the simple rules of hydration, I was reminded that there are some alarming hobbies in the world. While some people enjoy the simple pleasures of jumping off bridges tied to elastic bands or crawling under mountains, through tiny tunnels in the pitch dark others like a little more extremeness in their recreation.
There are several great desert foot races as well as one across the Antarctic. There are athletes who test themselves to incredible mental and physical extremes to run, walk or crawl across the Sahara or the Gobi. I can only imagine the kind of fortitude it takes to complete such a race, crossing mountain-sized sand dunes like Namibia’s ‘Big Daddy’, and I’m not sure I’d ever do it voluntarily, even if I was in prime physical shape.
On the site for the Namib Desert Run there is a list of helpful tips, some more worrying than others (Getting Lost is not a section one would want to need to refer back to…) but they make a lot of good points that are useful even to people going hiking, running or playing sport in our more ordinary summer conditions. In my youth I can recall coming over with heat-stroke when training in an abandoned gravel pit. We were running laps of this sun-trap when I became dizzy and began to shake uncontrollably, my heart rate gone through the roof. It took me most of the day to recover but it could have been avoided very easily. I hadn’t eaten properly at breakfast nor had I made sure to drink plenty of water in the morning before we started.
In the desert challenges dehydration is going to be the biggest enemy; with water rationed and handed out at the checkpoints it is recommended that you bring your own emergency supply because either you or the water truck could get lost. Tablets containing electrolytes and vital salts are a must-pack item or you will pass out. In heat we lose a lot of body salts through sweat and these must be replaced often. In my Irish case of heat-stroke, a half-decent breakfast would have sufficed. There are plenty of important salts in a reasonably balanced meal as well as carbs for energy. Topped off with water, I wouldn’t have brought the training session to a halt by scaring the wits out of my friends.
One of the other points made on the Sahara Marathon de Sables is about appropriate footwear and clothes. As obvious as this might seem in a major race, in more ordinary endeavours it’s often the least considered thing. I’ve been on mountain hikes with people wearing deck shoes who were in agony on the second day walk home because they had no cushioning and when their feet got wet the friction gave them blisters. It was painful to watch!
The Antarctic race is a funny one in a way, because dehydration can sneak up on you there in a less obvious way. When you are being scorched at 48C in a rocky canyon in Namibia you will actually see the water pouring from you, reminding you to drink. But it’s so cold that any moisture that you’d expect to be in the air is solid and underfoot: every breath out dehydrates you a little. Also, the Antarctic is the highest and windiest of the continents, and both of those things will decrease humidity. It’s harder to drink here, what with being dressed up like a walrus, and wearing thick gloves that makes it just that bit trickier to deal with a water bottle. I’d imagine it could be easy to become perhaps a little distracted as the day wears on.
Of course, it’s also a little harder to relate this race to our daily lives in Ireland; a couple of hard winters does not the Antarctic make. I’d be a little surprised if any of our readers found themselves in a position to be seriously dehydrated as they slid and slipped their way to the shops. Though there may have been a possibility of it if you had to wait for a bus during those cold months.
PS The photo is of Karalyn Leavens who completed the Sahara run and you can read her blog about it here. It’s funny and faintly terrifying.