What better place to learn to cope with the heat than from the Ultra-marathoners who have completed the toughest footrace on the planet? At the Badwater Ultra-marathon participants begin in the bowels of Death Valley and run a brutal 135mile stretch of highway to the finish on top of Mt. Whitney in temperatures that can soar as high as 130 deg Fahrenheit.
Due to the extreme heat, participants and aid-station volunteers at Badwater are always trying to come up with new ways to keep cool. Denise Jones, an aid-station volunteer, came up with a simple, yet effective solution known as the “Badwater Bandanna”. This simple cooling technique has become common gear at Badwater now.
Tony Clark, 34, of Wichita is no stranger to heat training. He has completed the Badwater Ultramarathon twice and has been featured in Runner’s World magazine for his heat training methods.
At the recent 2012, Badwater ultra-marathon held on July 16, Team Clark was ready to deal with the desert heat equipped with plenty of ice and bandannas. His crew consisting of his wife Angel, Kevin Swiniki, Jason Dinkel, Kyle and Stacey Amos, and Stuart Ray were well versed on helping Tony Clark keep cool.
“The plan at the beginning was to meet him every 2 miles. We have one bottle of Gatorade and one bottle of water with him, an ice bandana, a hat that was submerged in ice water and 5-6 cubes of ice in it when we gave it to him. We would make a line, each member about 30 yards apart – one person would take his bottle and give him a sponge that was also soaked in ice water, I would hand him his bottles and take his old bandana and hat, the next person would give him his new bandana and hat and any food he needed – while he was putting the hat and bandana on he would tell Angel what he needed the next time we saw him.” saidJason Dinkel.
To make a Badwater Bandanna, simply lay out a bandanna in a diamond shape, place a row of ice cubes in a horizontal line just below the tip of the bandanna and then roll it up like a burrito and tie it around your neck. This sounds simple enough, but Jason Dinkel found that there is an art to making the perfect bandanna.
“The Ice Bandana was difficult for me at first. You have to get the ice placed in it so it doesn’t poke his neck, sits right on the back of his neck and doesn’t sit in the part that is tied around his neck – don’t want the melted ice water to go down into his shorts, then chafing occurs. The challenge out there was the wind and lack of flat surfaces (to make the bandanna). After the first few times it was challenging but I got it figured out.” – Jason Dinkel.
The back of the neck is very sensitive to temperatures. Just think of the last time someone put ice on your neck or blew on your neck and sent shivers all the way down your spine.
In one 2011 study in the Journal of Athletic Training, researchers found that cooling the neck during exercise in the heat increases the time it takes to reach complete exhaustion by dampening the perceived levels of thermal strain. During the study, researchers found that when they cooled participants necks, they were able to tolerate higher core temperatures and heart rates. Researchers found that by wearing a “cooling collar” in hot environments, performance could be improved by approximately 6%.
“The head, neck, and face are regions of high allesthesial thermosensitivity and cooling the neck has been shown to more effectively alleviate heat strain than cooling the same surface area of the trunk. Investigators have proposed that the neck might be an optimal site to cool because of its close proximity to the thermoregulation center which is located at the base of the brain and receives afferent signals regarding the thermal state of the body from many deep and peripheral thermoreceptors.”
In short, the ice does not cool the core. It gives false signals to the brain that it is cooler than it thinks it is and allows you to continue at a higher heart rate than you would have normally been able to keep. Obviously this could pose a threat to the health of the participant. If the extent of the thermal strain experienced is masked heavily, the athlete might experience potentially dangerous body temperatures that put him or her at risk for heat illness. Caution is advised.
However, most Badwater runners find the bandanna to be a lifesaver. “I alternate energy drink with water, and keep a bandanna with ice in it around my neck constantly. This allows crisp, cold water to soak the front of my shirt, which feels wonderful even with the slightest breeze.”says 1999 Badwater finisher Brian Manly.
If you do not want to hassle with rolling your own bandanna, there are bandannas you can purchase that have a built in pouch for ice. Give the Badwater bandanna a try on your next hot run and see if you feel a little cooler out there.