Hypothermia as a lifestyle choice

A cautionary tale. A touch rambling perhaps, but an important lesson.

The last few months of training have been great. So much so that I decided to reward myself with a few days off at the start of February. Heal a few niggles, reset the adrenals, blah blah blah.

Getting back to running, I felt great. I put another solid week of mileage in the books, then turned my attention to a long run last weekend. The day started frantically, we had a lot of jobs to get through before I could head out. And when that point finally came I had to move quickly in order to get as much of what was left of our limited daylight as possible. I grabbed the first gear that came to hand, didn’t really think about it too much, and pinched a lift from Nic out into the Peaks, as our beloved adventure van is out of commission at the moment.

I ran in tiny shorts, a thin baselayer, and an old Rab windproof top. I had a tiny bag containing some ginger bites, a few rice cakes and a bottle of water. That was it. I’ll remind you at this point that it is the middle of February, and this is high terrain. Nic did question this choice, and I blithely waved away her objections. Because I am a tool. I’ll also answer the obvious question here before we get into this tale of woe; No. On this run, I wasn’t wearing any Merino. Blame it on haste to get out the door, blame it on my lack of forward planning, blame it on whatever you like. But for somebody that has been doing this as long as I have I was ridiculously under-dressed and ill prepared.

The run started reasonably, a brisk outing over Millstone Edge into Hathersage and across to Abney. I climbed the clough, slipping often in the thick mud and cursing my choice of shoe, Salomon Fellraisers (they are subsequently going off to charity).

I laboured a bit over Abney Moor but circled around to come back to Hathersage and up to Over Owler Tor. Managed a bit of scrambling here and there in the midst of the run. All good. On the way up to the tor however I slipped again, this time wiping out entirely. My left leg went down first, and my right knee buckled outwards as my body followed suit. About as awkward a fall as I could probably manage.

The knee felt terrible. I ran on, but was aware that I was moving much more slowly. Meanwhile 4pm had come and gone, and daylight was beginning to wane. Accordingly, the temperature was decreasing rapidly. I was shuffling. It suddenly (?!) occurred to me that knee pain aside, something had actually gone very wrong in a very short space of time. I was horribly cold. A deep cold right the way through my body. It wasn’t the knee that was really slowing me down, it was my body shutting down.

And of course, I had f-all in my bag. No spare layers. Nothing.

Now, I’ve been out in the hills in baltic temperatures hundreds of times. I’ve fallen chest deep in bogs in the middle of nowhere and hauled myself out. I’ve got cold enough on Kinder that I couldn’t feel my arms from the shoulders down. Once, I actually froze the side of my head whilst I was out running with Sam on Derwent Edge (that one hurt). But this was different. An at first pervasive, then enveloping lethargy started to squeeze me, constricting not just my physical ability, but my mental awareness and basic cognitive functions. And it was far too late by the time I had realised what it was. I tried to plod on, and managed for a short while. But at just eight miles in to a very standard ‘easy’ run I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. More than anything in the world. Just sleep.

What followed next is a bit of a blur. I remember calling Nic for a rescue. I remember that she couldn’t make out what I was saying. I was so cold my mouth wouldn’t work properly and I couldn’t form words. It took a few attempts to make myself reasonably clear. Once the cavalry had been mobilised I sat down and propped myself up against a rock. I ate the last bit of food I had and tried not to fall asleep. I’m guessing about twenty minutes later Nic arrived and bundled me in to the front of the car. Delirious, a bit scared, but most importantly hypothermic. I was wrapped in every item of clothing and blankets that she had to hand. I don’t remember the drive back, but I have found out subsequently that it was about minus four outside at that point.

No fancy photos of looking good running in beautiful places today I’m afraid. Just this. Recovering at home.

Once home,the process of getting warm again began. Slowly. At first in bed, then in the bath. I fell asleep in the bath, so we decided that the bed was a safer option. I didn’t move until the next day, when the real fun began.

I was feeling rough, but determined to get up and get on with things. It was after all Valentine’s Day and we had plans. But by late afternoon I had faded away again, and went back to bed. We checked, and my temperature was still low enough to qualify as hypothermic. Later on I got up again, but out of nowhere completely blacked out. That has never happened before. I fell through a door unconscious with such force I actually broke apart the metal hanging hooks on the back of it. Back to bed.

Monday I couldn’t go to work. Spent it in bed.

Tuesday the same. Spent it in bed. Although happily by Tuesday evening my core temperature had increased to something a bit more like normal. A mere 72 hours later.

Since then my time has been spent nursing a very sore knee and sleeping about twelve hours a day. I am, quite literally, screwed. I have made it back to work the second half of the week but in truth I’m operating on autopilot. The knee is sortable but my overall levels of wellbeing are just completely sapped.

Net results (health aside); Last Sunday was a complete non-starter, missed two full days of work, terrified my wife, missed the weekly Heathens club run, missed my intended race at the Barlow Half this weekend (letting down a mate in the process), racked up a total weekly mileage of 4.3 miles. Those miles were this very morning, a tester before heading out to support at Barlow as a compromise. Quarter of a mile in and at my slowest recovery canter pace, I was already in Level 3 heart rate and dizzy.

Came home, went back to bed, slept it off. Missed Barlow entirely. I’ve really messed up here.

This is not a recipe for competing hard in Chamonix. I am so very angry with myself.

So. Don’t be like me. Don’t head out arrogantly. It is still winter out there. Wrap up. Take spare kit and layers. Carry food, fluids, and the means to make contact in an emergency. Tell somebody where you are running and how long you are going to be. Stay safe. Because I can tell you from experience, even ‘moderate’ Hypothermia as I have had is not fun, and is certainly not an easy and quick fix even once you are over the worst. A few weeks ago I headed out into the hills in far worse conditions and knocked out 5,000 feet of climb and about twice the distance, and I was totally prepared, clothed and comfortable in some decent baselayers and an Ashmei Merino hoodie . What a contrast. Take the time and gear up properly.

And please take a couple of minutes to read this leaflet by an old friend on the subject;



6 Replies to “Hypothermia as a lifestyle choice”

  1. Reblogged this on All Running Matters and commented:
    This is a scary read about a near miss in the hills.

    I often wonder about people that I see in jeans out hill walking in light jackets totally unprepared for what might happen. And it is worth noting that while you dress for the hills according to the weather that you can see you must always be prepared for the weather and conditions that you least expect.

    There is no harm in carrying one or two kg of extra dry clothing in a bag, it’s not that heavy and won’t slow you down. But it may save your life!

  2. Good reminder about the perils of running solo and unprepared at this time of year. I went for a solo run on Sunday morning and even though it was relatively mild I took FRA kit as I ran around the Tigger Tor race route and then back into Sheffield. The main reason for taking a bag full of kit is because I had a similar experience to you once I’d finished, yes FINISHED, the Edale Skyline in 2015. Whilst out on the race I stopped to help a fellow competitor who was teetering around the moderate phase of hypothermia shortly before Grindslow Knoll. He was sat down, had stopped shivering, could hardly speak and was not in full control of his limbs. I should have put my over-trousers on at this point and taken a few seconds to eat something too but another runner and I got straight down to business to help him. Within just 5 minutes I had started to get very cold but then passed him onto another runner and carried on my way. The main outcome for me is that my hips had started cease and I couldn’t move as quickly as I had done earlier and started to cool down considerably. I carried on with no real problem apart from dozens of runners coming flying past me.

    All was fine until I crossed the line when I then slowed right down as I headed to the village hall and started to chill right down as I hobbled down the road. I knew the symptoms and took action but was mad with myself for getting into that situation. If only I had eaten and drunk more whilst up on the hill put an extra layer on and changed my gloves.

    Since then, I hunt out articles similar to yours and make sure I’m familiar with the best FRA guidelines and do what I can to minimise the risk. It’s not hard but it does take a bit of prior thought.

    The main lesson learnt is that Hypothermia is a persistent danger at this time of the year and we should all do what we can to avoid it catching us up.

    Thanks for posting this and you honesty.

  3. Always take my bumbag with me. It contains Pertex jacket & trousers, hats, gloves, whistle, compass, buff, scarf, midge net, suncream, sweets, mobile, handkerchief, money. Feel naked without it now. Only used it once waiting for a delayed bus after a race.

  4. Sometimes an honest report on something that went wrong is the most useful thing to read. Thanks for sharing your experience and not being afraid to talk about a mistake. Had no idea recovery would be so long!

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