Mad Dogs and Englishmen

1 September 2007

The Unrelenting South Carolina Sun
(The Unrelenting Sun by Photo-steve via Flickr)

South Carolina just endured the hottest August of the past 120 years. It may have been the hottest August since the last ice age. Official records only go back to 1887. It was nearly the hottest month ever, behind only July 1986 and 1993. Thankfully, I missed those.

This is not Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. We expect hot summers here. But August was ridiculous. Half of the month featured temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. Most daytime highs were above 95 degrees. Six official temperature records were broken, including the sweltering 107 degrees on the 10th.

My friends reading from the air conditioned confines of the American Southwest may scoff at these relatively low numbers. But as they say, theirs is a dry heat. Southerners fear the dreaded heat index, which adjusts for humidity and makes our “feels like” temperatures soar. That 107 degree day felt more like 120+ degrees. Think Phoenix and add an unpleasant equatorial haze.

In such heat, you can almost cut the sweltering miasma with a Ginsu knife. Some days gills would be preferable to lungs. And you can’t count on the cooling effect of sweat. It simply can’t evaporate into the saturated air. You’re trapped in a sticky, sweaty claustrophobic shroud, even in the pre-dawn hours. Prefontaine help you if you venture into the noonday sun.

I lack the socially awkward perspiration gene, but in this heat, I sweat like Lou Ferigno anchoring the tug-of-war in Battle of the Network Stars. Others fare worse. On a recent trail run, an unrelenting waterfall poured from the elbows of the runner ahead of me. It was like watching a bizarre experiment in rapid human dehydration.

Ah dehydration; the source of heat exhaustion.

If you’ve ever had a fever, you know a bit about heat exhaustion. Humans precariously balance internal temperature at exactly 98.6 degrees. Raise this by one degree and you don’t have to go to school in the morning. Add just 2.4 degrees, and you’re forced to redirect all priorities and earnestly seek a place to lie down.

When so affected, you feel overheated down to your viscera, as if your insides are cooking (they are). You feel light-heated, nauseous, dizzy and sapped of vitality. Friends remark that your complexion appears exceedingly pallid. In short, you exhibit symptoms not unlike those my children profess when instructed to clean their rooms.

The best solutions include a frosty air conditioned room, a comfy pillow, and children to serve you cool drinks. Since you’d be enervated and listless, I recommend the kids also hold the remote and change channels for you.

I know this from experience. Heat exhaustion descended upon me in force this August. Naturally, I did the only sensible thing.

I kept running.

After the longest, worst four-mile run of my entire life, I visited my doctor. I hoped for a chance to catch up on 2004 editions of Good Housekeeping magazine and ask the odd question about heat-related illness. My clammy skin and excessively laid-back demeanor confirmed the obvious diagnosis.

I forbade my doctor from suggesting the unthinkable: that I cease running. He could tell me anything but that. As I paused to await his advice, I swear I could hear the sound of crickets chirping in the examination room.

After an uncomfortably long pause, we went on to discuss the preferred means of constructing a perfect gingerbread house.

I survived by running in the pre-dawn hours, reducing pace expectations, sleeping more, eating sensibly, and consuming an alarming quantity of ice-chilled Riptide Rush Gatorade.

September will not offer much respite from the heat. There are still over 20 days left to summer. I have a funny feeling the weather will soon break, finally offering blissfully chilly temperatures just as I taper for Steamtown. What an unfortunate irony. Note to self: No more early autumn marathons.

Until then, I’ll pine for the temperate coolness of 90 degree weather.

– Dean

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