Excessive heat just a challenge to exercise fans

August 03, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

At high noon yesterday, the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail was exactly how you'd expect it to be on a day when temperatures touched triple digits: Empty. Not a soul in sight.

A thermometer, positioned in the shade, reached 100 degrees.

Minutes ticked by, nobody in sight, and then Timothy Allen, clad in tight shorts and a yellow, breathable shirt, swooshed though on his bike.

"I guess I'm a little crazy," the 35-year-old said after stopping.

Allen was taking advantage of his flexible schedule as a home appraiser, going out for a 35-mile training ride. "My wife said I probably shouldn't ride today," he said. "But I needed to get out."

Amid a heat wave that has brought 100-degree temperatures to the Baltimore area, many people heed the heat advisories and retreat to cool places. But some - call them heat wave warriors - will fight though the sweat and the sun for their workout.

Experts say that working out in extreme heat is reckless, that the body's cooling system shuts down in humid weather when sweat can't evaporate.

"If people aren't prepared for the heat, the body mechanism is going to break down and the body temperature will go sky high," said Frederick Mueller, director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research in North Carolina.

Pointing to a number of heatstroke deaths across the country at high school football practices and among the elderly at home, he said: "We're talking about people who are dying who don't have air conditioning or fans. Think about what happens if someone's out on a tennis court."

But that doesn't deter many from running, biking, playing tennis or golfing - even when the afternoon sun is at its hottest. These exercise enthusiasts crave the sense of accomplishment that comes with a good workout; they say the sense of calm can carry them through the day.

"You can't let the heat stop you from being in shape - you just have to make adjustments," said Allen Foy, 51, who was shooting hoops in Druid Hill Park just before 10 a.m. yesterday.

Foy's black shirt dripped sweat, and a black bandana tied around his head prevented perspiration pooling on his brow from dripping into his eyes.

Foy usually works out in the evening, but he had gone for a run at 6 a.m.

"The day goes a lot better if you get the sweat in. If you don't, you are wound up kind of tight," Foy said. "But I won't be out here later."

Others were. At 12:45 p.m., two figures plodded around the track at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold.

"If it is 90 and above, I love to run," said Lynda Ells, 60. "It doesn't bother me to sweat," she said, taking strides as she talked.

Her face wasn't red, but she was drenched.

"It's not that bad out," she said.

A hand-held thermometer suggested otherwise. In the sun at the track, it read 104 degrees.

"I get annoyed with the news always making out that if you go outside you're going to die," said Ells, a former nurse. "You just have to be used to it."

On a tennis court in Druid Hill Park yesterday morning, two men played a few sets. "I'm sweating pretty hard," said Hoffman Brown, 51, a pastor at Wayland Baptist Church.

The pair intentionally picked the morning to play, although the temperature at the Maryland Science Center reached 86 degrees at 8 a.m. and the heat index was 92.

"I wouldn't be crazy enough to be out here in the middle of the day," Brown said.

Nearby, Bino Ranson, 31, was finishing a three-mile jog around the reservoir. "When you are running, it helps you get ready for the day," he said. "You feel more calm. You are settled. You are lighter."

The midmorning heat didn't faze him. Ranson said he recently ran in 110-degree weather in Las Vegas. "You just have to pace yourself," he said.

People like Ranson who run through hot weather sometimes are looking for something beyond a physical reward.

"I think there is definitely a certain, maybe dangerous, attraction to pushing that limit, and thinking you're going to find some great spiritual or psychological prize out there," said Kirk Johnson, who wrote To the Edge: A Man, Death Valley, and the Mystery of Endurance, a book about running an ultra-marathon.

"I certainly did it and motivated myself that way," he said.

Last week, Johnson, the Denver bureau chief of The New York Times, went running during a heat wave, but he limited his workout to hours near sunrise. He said people should not fool themselves into thinking they're superhuman.

"It is really nutty to think [that] on days like you're having now, you can treat [them] like a normal day," he said.

Kerry Stewart, director of clinical and research exercise physiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the body's cooling system stops working during exercise in extreme heat. The heart pumps blood to the skin so that heat can escape, causing sweat, which evaporates and brings down body temperature. At the same time, the heart has to work harder during exercise to pump blood to the muscles.

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