Which burns more calories: running in the cold or running in the heat?
If you said cold, you're wrong. The body must work harder to maintain a stable core temperature when exercising in the heat. And that raises the danger of heat exhaustion for all — emphasize all — runners training during the summer in Austin.
Ask Suzanne Vernau, an experienced Austin triathlete.
Competing in the elite wave of the Capital of Texas Triathlon on Memorial Day, Vernau was in second place in the final leg of the race, the 10K run.
Having won the XTERRA South Central Championship in Waco just a week before, she was in terrific shape, but coming across the Congress Avenue Bridge, something went wrong.
Vernau began to wobble, and her coach Zane Castro, who was on the scene, waved for her to stop.
Not even recognizing her coach, Vernau tried to continue on before collapsing on the pavement. She was rushed to the medical tent where doctors used iced towels and a saline drip to help bring her temperature back down.
"With back-to-back races, I went into Cap Tex Tri feeling dehydrated from XTERRA the weekend before," said Vernau. "I was diligent to hydrate and fuel my body throughout the week, but the heat and humidity still caught up to me on race day.
"My coach and bystanders poured water on my body to cool me down until the medics arrived. I had a temperature of 105.9 on the scene and was taken by ambulance to the ER while packed in ice. I woke up in the ambulance with no recollection of what had happened on the bridge," she said.
"My temperature stabilized in the ER after three IV treatments, but I can still feel the effects of the heat stroke two weeks later."
Heat, humidity and heavy exertion overwhelmed ability that morning. It was 9 a.m. when Vernau was crossing the bridge, and it was 83 degrees and 82 percent humidity.
Plug those values into a heat index calculator (like the one found on www.runtex.com), and the words "extreme caution" come up.
So, what's a runner to do during the summer, especially when there are plenty of running events? One strategy is to focus on "maintenance" running during the hottest part of the summer and follow some easy guidelines, like:
Run in the early morning when temperatures are lowest.
Hydrate, taking in as much as 16 ounces of water or sports drink before a workout.
Try using a single mile loop in the neighborhood where you can station a cooler with an icy drink in a shady spot.
Get adequate sleep; it helps the body deal with heat stress.
"Training here in the summer is not ideal. Performance is drastically affected. The biggest consideration is management of heat, fluid and recovery," said Castro, who is a local coach for USA Triathlon. "And take into account your everyday activities like work and social stuff too.
"Intensity and work load are big considerations," said Castro. "I tell my athletes to start early in the morning, maybe even 4:30 or 5 a.m. And if they do a second workout, make in the evening and make it light. Everything is about management."
Note: Bernard Lagat (who trains in Austin part-time) broke the American record in the 5,000 meters on June 5 in Oslo, Norway. Lagat ran 12 minutes, 54.12 seconds, beating the mark of 12:56.27 set by Dathan Ritzenhein last year.
Saturday: Camp Ben McCulloch 5K Run, 8 a.m. at Camp Ben McCulloch, 18301 FM 1826 in Driftwood. See www.campben .com for more information.
Saturday: Vern's No Frills 5k, Race #15, 8 a.m. at Berry Springs Park & Preserve, Georgetown. See www.runtex.com .
Sunday: Lake Pflugerville Triathlon, 7:30 a.m. at North Beach, Lake Pflugerville. See www.lakepflugervilletri.com .