I have never over-heated to the point of passing out or having any real problems or long term consequences. I’m lucky that I have not because I do a lot of running and have had a few extremely hot runs in the past. I live in Reno, NV and our high temperatures in the summer can reach into the triple digits and cause problems. When I was in high school the dangers of heat and athletics had become more of a national focus because several high school football players across the country had recently died from heat exhaustion during practices. Possibly one reason why I never had too terrible an experience of running in the heat was because there was an increased focus on keeping high school athletes cool in the during summer practices when I was competing.
In her book Grunt, Mary Roach examines what heat exhaustion means for members of the military. It can be a serious problem for service members in full military gear on patrol in the hot deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan. Luckily, for soldiers and high school athletes, the body has a quick solution, “heat exhaustion is embarrassing but not particularly dangerous. Fainting is both symptom and cure. Once you’re horizontal on the ground, the blood flows back into your head and you come to. Someone brings you water and escorts you to the shade and you’re fine.” Roach continues to explain that heatstroke is what can kill, going a step beyond heat exhaustion.
It is important to be aware of how hot it is, how much water people are able to take in, and how much rest and shade is available as well. It is often not when people are in the middle of exercise that overheating becomes apparent. Roach writes, “counterintuitively, overheated people sometimes pass out not in the midst of their exertions but when they stop and stand still; this is because contracting the leg muscles helps keep blood from pooling.” Breaks and cool down points have to come before people are soo hot that stopping exercise will cause them to faint. Hopefully the fainting an lying flat helps get the blood out of the legs to cool the rest of the body, but if they have gone too far, then they are already in more serious trouble. This was a painful lesson that coaches were learning at the time I was in high school, and hopefully drill-sergeant high school coaches are more aware of the importance of water breaks today.