Strides For Stroke (aka Heat Stroke) 5K Report

In the spirit of the infamous dehydration race report from 2008, we have a new set of firsts:

1. First blackout
2. First memory hole
3. First hallucination
4. First overnight hospital stay

83 degrees, 69 dewpoint, mostly sunny.  From my dewpoint musings post, when adding temp and dewpoint: “if it’s above 150, forget pace altogether and just focus on finishing.”

I got some great advice from running mentor Adam on how to handle the race, as I’d been freaking about the temps for a few days.  He said bring ice and ice cold water so I did, stashing them in a bush for after the warmup.  Brilliant call on the ice, btw, I suggest everyone do that in summer races.

The Warmup
I go out for a little over a mile, do 4 strides and as usual, they’re slower than shit, about 30 seconds away from my usual stride speed which always happens pre-race but I never get used to it.  “At least I won’t have to worry about leaving the gate too fast”, I think to myself.

As I return to the clump of people standing around, a teenage girl wearing a walker t-shirt calls to me, “Miss…Miss, is that water on you?”  I’m not sure what she’s talking about, then I look at the thick suit of sweat on me and laugh, “Yep, it’s hot out here!”

I go to my ice stash and coat myself with a few cubes, stick a couple in my sports bra, drink some water, visit the porta-potty and line up.   It’s an out and back on the usual race course by the museum, so I know what to expect.  Small field today, more of a walker event.

I look down at my Garmin and think I see 6:59 and I get pissed with myself, but then look again, realizing it says 5:59.  I have never done such a stupid start in my life, didn’t think it was possible with that sluggish warmup so maybe it was Garmin acting wacky, still, I slow down and the first mile clocks in at 6:40.  Just right.

There’s only one girl in front of me, a young thing, and I pass her around the 1/2 mile mark, then realize, “Wow, if I can keep this up, I can win this thing!”  There’s a water stop at the turn-around point and I take a cup of water and dump it on my head (again, as per Adam’s stellar advice) …ahhh.

The folks going the other way are yelling out at me “first woman, wooohoo!”  “you go, girl!” and other fun stuff like that.  I have to admit, it’s a fantastic feeling.  Second split clocks in at 6:48.

I’m definitely hurting at this point, but I want to win, dammit!  And I wish I had eyes in the back of my head so I could know what kind of lead I have (didn’t think to watch for gals at the turnaround).  I’m slowing and I see guys in front of me stopping to walk but I barrel on, thinking, almost there, just a few minutes more, but at the same time, “man, would I love to stop.”  Nothing that I don’t think at least twice in every 5K.

Then, out of nowhere, my legs go jello, I stumble and fall on the ground – that same knee that’s opened up twice already, gets it again.  Another racer is at my side in a heartbeat wanting to help me up, but I wave him away saying, “You go ahead, I don’t want to ruin your race” but he tells me “This race doesn’t mean anything, c’mon, we’ll run in together”.  So I get up and slowly we go, then I remember stumbling again and my next memory is in the hospital being lifted from the stretcher to the ER bed.

What I’m told happened
Until this afternoon, I thought I had a DNF, but  when I got home, I called the StridesForStroke place and spoke to a girl who was there and who gave me the lowdown (what she missed, her parents saw). I crossed the line with the help of that guy and whoever was standing there.  Then I went over to the sidewalk and I collapsed again, they put me on a chair, then they put me, still sitting in the chair, into an ambulance.  Now that she explained this to me, I’m just this evening remembering little tiny snapshots.

Btw, someone from the race called me while I was in the hospital but I didn’t think to ask about what happened.  Nice of them to check on me, though.

The Hospital

Once in the hospital bed, I didn’t realize till an hour later that I had a big memory hole.  I was too freaked because the 3 friends I could call to get me were all out of town, I didn’t have a cent on me or a phone and I felt utterly alone.   On top of it, I was thinking, “This is humiliating, that’ll teach your stupid ego, you should stop racing for a few months, maybe even forever, you really have no clue of what you’re doing, blah blah…”

About an hour later, I was able to compartmentalize this where it belonged, as a medical/heat related problem and not the end of my racing “career” but it was breaking my heart up until then.

Meanwhile, I was in a bad way physically, they don’t give you water for a while and you’re dying of thirst, plus I had a fever so I felt like death, wanting to barf, too.  They gave me ice to suck on and I started to feel a bit better, eventually everyone dispersed.  A short while later, I start to see things.

It’s no secret I’ve had my sampling of recreational drugs but never have I had “visions”.  This scared the shit out of me more than anything.   It was like smokey gray dancing ribbons everywhere I looked, ghostly because you could see through them.  I called for the nurse thinking I’d fried my brain or my eyesight, but she told me it’s normal when dealing with exhaustion.

They gave me tons of tests and took chest x-rays.  I’m told I have serious heat stroke, am profoundly dehydrated, my lactic (lactate?) acid is extraordinarily high and they’re concerned about my kidneys.  So I have to stay overnight.  Super duper suckage bummer of the universe.

On a cute note, everyone was taking a big interest in my plight, the doctors and nurses had running/racing stories and called me the “athlete”.  One of the doctors sent in another doc, a 3-time Ironman, to chat with me who told me my case was cool.

Note: The resident that eventually was assigned to me didn’t even think I should stay overnight.  She thought I would be fine to go home and that my levels would return within hours, which they did, but she didn’t have a say-so in it.

Overnight Stay In Cardiac
My nurse in cardiac had done a tri-relay with her sisters and was thrilled to have me.  She was a nutritionist and wouldn’t stop giving me advice, some of it quite loopy, like next time I race I need to fill a camelback with Gatorade.  She also told me a couple times that I’d approached acute renal failure but when I asked the doctor,  the doc said, “WHAT???  That’s not true, she had no business saying that”.  How’s that for weirdness?

My roommate was an obese woman with Lupus and Crohn’s disease, a funny lady, though we talked through the curtain most of the time.  The only bad thing was she slept a lot but left the TV on a channel that alternates Jerry Springer and Maury Povich for hours.  That was hell.

I was monitored all night and this morning got an echocardiagram.  I should have been able to leave early but had to wait for the main doc to start his shift.  So at 3pm I took the “walk of shame”, not in high heels and evening wear, but sports bra, shorts and racing flats.  Just as pathetic.  At least I’d removed my bib.

My thoughts
Yeah,  I pushed, but it drives me nuts that I couldn’t tell the difference between normal 5K suck and heat suck.  I was asked if I had chest palpitations or any other warning signs but I didn’t.

As for the dehydration, I had a couple glasses of wine the night before (not so good) but also a few non-caffeinated sodas and some water.  Drank a huge glass of water a couple hours before the race and water when I got there.  What I’m kicking myself for was not taking S-caps, I keep forgetting to use them this summer – most idiotic, I would have avoided the whole scenario if I’d taken them (or any other type of electrolyte/salt thing).

Other than that, I think my furnace burns hotter than most.  I’ve always thought that and here’s why:  I would like nothing better than to run in sportsbra/shorts at 65 degrees.  The women where I run won’t wear them until it’s near 80.  I would die.  It’s a little embarrassing to be nekkid compared to everyone else, but I “allow” myself to wear one as soon as it’s 70 degrees.  In fact, when it’s 65, I actually wait for it to get to 70 so I don’t have to wear a sopping wet singlet.

I asked a couple docs separately about this today, wondering if maybe it could be due to perimenopause (sorry folks, this is unsexy talk and I hate it because it shows my age, but it’s my reality).  Both doctors said it very well could be.

I wanted to do was making myself do these summer races because I felt like a whiner and excuser when I bitched about how I don’t handle heat well, especially when everyone goes “hey, it’s only a 5K!”  The whole point was to harden up, but I think I’m confusing guts with self-knowledge, something I seem to lack.  Maybe time will give me that.   Until then, I guess it’s my achilles heel.

On the good note, even with the silly start and soap opera finish, it was an improvement over the last 5K and in worse conditions.  But what to do now?  Do I really want to “race for fun” in 80 degrees?  That’s an oxymoron.  I’d hate racing at partial capacity and getting beat.  Stupid ego.  Guess I need to set a temperature limit at which I won’t race (which, if I had my druthers would be 65, but then I won’t be racing much).

Anyway, I’m fine, so no worries – a little weirded out but none the worse for wear.  Thanks for reading this ridiculously long report.  And to think…it was only a 5K.

60 thoughts on “Strides For Stroke (aka Heat Stroke) 5K Report

  1. Sara(MichiganMama)

    Wow, Flo, that is quite a story! So glad there was a happy ending. Once I knew you were ok, I had to giggle a bit at the name of the race. Thanks for teaching us all an important lesson. You need to ease up on yourself, girl! And BTW, you just helped me decide to bail on an upcoming 10 mile race – it’s too damn hot!

  2. AR

    First, I’m glad you are ok! That sounds scary as hell.

    Second, it sounds like you’ve already put this into perspective. Some of us (me included, right there with you with 65 being the limit) just aren’t heat runners, and if anything this experience shows that its NOT a case of having to HTFU.

    Third, how was your hydration in the days PRIOR to the one before the race? I think sometimes if you’ve had a hyrdation deficit going for a couple days (clearly, not a medical term ;p)…you’re at a disadvantage for days. Might be worth keeping track, just to see how you feel.

    Either way, keep moving forward. If you ask me the positive attitude is proof of your toughness!

  3. A muse

    Goodness, Flo, that’s one heck of an experience, and a wacky one at that. Geez, apparently if I hadn’t given you such great advice your head would have exploded right in front of the museum. Then forumites and followers of your blog would come pay tribute through the ages.

  4. Julie

    Ugh. I’m sorry about this. Horrible.

    I run hot too, although I’ve managed to deal with heat a bit better since I’ve started running and racing more in it. What surprises me about this report was how quickly and severely it hit you. With no warning. THAT is scary.

    I’m glad you’re okay.

    And, honey, you don’t need to HTFU. The fact that the first thing you did after you got out was to find out if you got a DNF says it all.

    1. Flo Post author

      I wouldn’t have, I assumed it was a DNF and then my friend Steph posted a comment on the previous blog saying I came in 2nd in my AG! I was horrified, lol! I ended up calling the race timers and they’re going to put a bogus name in place of mine (because they can’t remove my placing entirely). It was an aided finish, so I disqualify myself! :)

  5. progman2000

    Holy crap Flo, another epic race report. If I ever need any advice on which local Philadelphia hospital to visit, you are the one I’m calling. Glad you’re ok.

  6. Jeremy D

    glad to hear you’re feeling better. that is indeed a crazy experience which i’m guessing will put some parameters on your future races.

    out of curiousity, with regard to your curtain roomate, did you ever see the seinfeld where george puts his mom in the hospital after she catches him “in the moment” with a redbook? then there are a series of spongebaths with hot women on the other side of the screen? was it anything like that?

  7. Jim E

    That can’t have been too pleasant. I hope a few people read this and are saved from a similar experience. It is surprising that this happened in a 20-minute race.
    So here are my takeaways: Alcohol within 24 hours – bad, Electrolytes – good. Water – more than you think you need. Ice ditto. Water during race – on head (for 5ks anyway). Hmm, maybe starting with wet hair would be good too.

    So glad you’re OK Flo. Hope you’re insured for that.

    1. Flo Post author

      A Muse, that was BRILLIANT advice. Hell, I would of dropped at mile 1 without it. You should have seen how sweaty I was after the warmup, that ice was beautiful. And the water on my head? I never would have even thought to take anything from the water stop, I pishposh them at 5Ks as a rule. C’mon, great, solid advice, you goof.

  8. Mir

    Eeeek, Flo, I’m just glad you’re okay. I haven’t been keeping up with my blog reading lately, but I saw something about a blackout pop up in my Facebook feed, so of course I had to to check it out. Scary stuff. Thanks for the sobering reminder of the importance of staying hydrated!

  9. Christi

    Flo, I am so happy that you are better. You freaked me out. I am glad that they took good care of you. Rest up and take care of yourself!

  10. Steph

    So glad you’re okay!!! That’s crazy about you winning 2nd in your AG. I was wondering why when they called your name I didn’t see you anywhere around lol. This is such a crazy story

  11. ESG/Ron

    LOLX2 @ A Muse. Flo, not sure you could have known the difference. Seems like an improbable situation, engendered by seeing the OA race victory in your sights. What you lack in sense you more than make up for in moxie, kid. ;-)

    Rest, hydrate, recover. Then find a cooler race to win!


  12. LA Runner

    Oh man, girl. I don’t really know what to say, other than so SORRY you went through that. I swear, I wanted to cry when you were talking about feeling so alone! I’m sure you have WAY more people than that to call, but your PRIDE wouldn’t let you! Don’t feel down about your running, and DONT feel bad about your “walk of shame”. That did make me laugh b/c I’ve never really done a walk of shame, but your experience sounds more likely than the heels one. LOL. ((((HUGS)))))) Also, I really need to give you my number in case you need me. Heck, I’m good at getting places fast…

    1. Flo Post author

      I don’t have many close friends here in Philly, they’re all in different states. I’m more of a people avoider in this town. :)

  13. Kristin

    Holy sh!t, I’m glad everything is back to normal. Well, you certainly went to the wall with that one, huh? I’m hoping that your next race report is a little bit *less* exciting. Yeah, you might want to avoid targeting “A” races in the summer, but you were gunning for PDR in the fall anyway, right?

    Did you really not get chills first? I grew up in CA, inland, so it was not uncommon for us to run meets and workouts in 90+ degree weather (though not humid), and for me the red flag is always goosebumps on my arms. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the best way to learn your individual warning signs other than to experience it. I’m also curious as to whether you think you have a better-than-normal response to really cold races.

    1. Flo Post author

      No chills, no stopping sweating (at least that I was aware of), just remember my legs feeling lactic burney, but that’s how it is in a 5K. I do a bit better in cold, not super cold, but it seems 55 is most people’s sweet spot, I’d say mine is closer to 45.

  14. Jodi Higgins

    Flo, I am so glad you are okay. How scary. As you know I can totally relate to your post. I got to do that wonderful walk of shame out of the hospital after my marathon DNF and I was in warm up pants, and sweatshirt, and my flip flops (thank goodness my sister in law brought me dry clothes and shoes since mine were soaked).

  15. Zab

    So glad you’re okay. That’s pretty f-in’ crazy. Take a few days or a couple weeks to think about things before you make any decisions about future racing.

  16. MC0611

    Flo, I am glad to read your blog today and to know that you are feeling much better now! I read your blog quite a bit, don’t know, kinda like your badass attitude ;-) and most of all your accomplishments as a runner and in my freakin’ AG. LOL!! I find it inspiring, I do. I am nowhere near your level, but to me you are an example that it can be done and that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But I have to tell you, what’s all this HTFU BS about? And did this really come out of nowhere? You mention hormonal issues and I think that could be part of it. It’s a combination of things. A heat stroke has some lasting effects or at least you do need a while to really get over this. I hope you’ll take some time off and rest.

  17. Ilana

    Yikes! I am glad you are okay. And heh, I also am always dressed in one layer less than everyone around me (and I’m about your age). But on the other hand, I live in a cool and arid climate – heck, I don’t think it’s physically possible for the dewpoint plus the temperature here to approach 150.

    (Not that I want you to move out here. I like winning my AG!)

  18. Jaymee

    Jeepers, Flo. What a crazy experience. I too am amazed at how quickly you went down without warning. I can offer one piece of advice in case you decide to run another race in the heat. Can’t honestly remember who gave it to me but it was before I ran an evening 5k in August here in Sacramento (it was over 100 degrees). Don’t warm up. There’s really no need in conditions like that. If you have to, just do a stride or too right before the gun. Seemed to work okay.

    Glad you’re okay.

  19. Jim E

    Did you find out who your helper was? He must been mortified after you blacked out. I would have been. But you probably got medical help sooner having got to the finish…

    1. Flo Post author

      This is weird, but I don’t remember looking at him at all, so focused ahead. I’m really sad about that, too.

      1. Flo Post author

        So I looked at the results and saw a man’s name with the same finishing time as me (or rather “Cintithia Sterling”, the person the timing company changed my name to so it wouldn’t be on Athlinks, bless them). I sent an email to the race folks to forward my note, because I really need to thank him.

  20. judy716

    Yikes, Flo, I’m glad you’re OK. I know what you mean about running hotter than everyone else. If I weren’t so self-conscious I’d be running in a sportsbra at 60*. But, since I am self-conscious, I never bare my midriff. Maybe stupid. So this is the race I ran with you last year. I was thinking it would be happening soon. Thanks for the S-cap reminder. I’d better get me some, in case I ever race again.

    1. Flo Post author

      That’s the one! Remember looking for cold water? It’s not the best organized production. Hope we can race together again in the Fall.

  21. rovatti


    I’m surprised you got into such trouble in a 5K. I’m glad you’re OK.

    You’ve got me thinking more about pushing myself at my age… I definitely won’t push myself unless the weather is decent from now on.

    I hope you recover quickly, both physically and mentally.

    – rovatti

  22. jay gerard

    Glad you are okay. No shame in avoiding races in the heat. Two years ago a local coach was leading the Capitol 10K when he blacked out and crashed at mile 6. It was 70 degrees and 90% humidity.

  23. BarbBQ

    Unbelievable, Flo. Not that you, toughie to end all toughies, would go balls-out in such conditions, but that you’d get 2nd in AG right before being taken to the ER! Actually, I take that back. I _can_ believe that about you, but not anyone else. I’m so glad that it wasn’t worse than it was, but I have to say, that NYT on one of your facebook comments was pretty sobering. Again, take care of yourself, sweetie. I need someone to chase in my dotage.

  24. Janie

    Wow, that was quite a story! and with victory so near! I can relate to the shirtless stuff. Once you go shirtless it is hard to go back.

    I really enjoyed your writing and I am glad you are ok! I am amazed you made it through the finish line (and placed no less) in a black out. That is hard core!

  25. Ewen

    I’m glad you’re OK Flo. I was worried when your report didn’t turn up on time. First overnight stay in hospital? You mean you still have your tonsils and haven’t stacked your motorcycle?

    Yes, avoid the wine and start hydrating the day before (as well as the S-caps). In addition to Jaymee’s advice about not warming up on hot days, try to gradually acclimate to the heat (even if you don’t like it). Do some training in hotter times of the day. Maybe do track races. 1500s and 3000s are doable on hot days. Be careful. You’re not racing for a sheep station.

    1. Flo Post author

      Just for the record, I am acclimated, we’ve had high 80s and 90s for weeks now, there’s been no escaping it.

      1. Ewen

        Sorry. I thought you did most of your running in the mornings when it was a bit cooler (relative to the afternoons).

  26. Carol

    “only a 5 k”…geeze…I’m sort of looking forward to that & sure don’t view it as an “only”.
    And now off I go to walk vigorously!!
    Love you anyway!!! :)

  27. Black Bear

    Flo, I’m soooo glad you are okay! I didn’t even know people could get heat stroke in a short period of time. I always thought you had to be out for hours in the heat. Shows how much I know. Be good to yourself this week, and go easy on yourself – this could have happened to anyone. ((()))

  28. Amy

    Flo! I’m so sad that you were there in that creepy hospital all by yourself :( It sounds like you had quite a few new doctor friends though! It’s scary how quickly it can go from bad to ER with very little indication. I’m so glad that you’re ok, this is not a race report that I hope to come across ever again.

  29. Moth

    I just read your report, scary. In all my years I’ve only needed aid once, when I had to request a medica follwoing a tough 20k when I was coming back from my foot injury. That freaked me out… all the tests came back negative but it tok me a while to really push it again in a race. I’m hoping your transition back to racing is smoother. Thanks for the info, I just looked at the weather archive for my 5k – adding temps, dew point it was 145 with 84% humidity! No wonder I ran crappy.


  30. Slow Turtle

    I’m glad that you survived the ordeal, GIM — it sounds really awful. I think I know what you mean about your “furnace burning hotter.” Thankfully I can always skip the sports bra :) But, I’m out in shorts and a T even when temps are hovering around freezing. You’re tougher than me, girl, to even attempt a race in the 80’s.

    Take care!

  31. Steve/TTM

    That’s crazy! Still can’t believe this happened to you. I’m with Amy on you being there alone in the hospital. That really bites! This is certainly a good lesson for all of us, just really sorry it happened to you. Don’t let it affect your future racing other than to know that this can happen and it does. Take care and definitely take it easy for a while Flo.

  32. Jenn

    OMGosh Flo I am so sorry to hear about your terrible experience and I am glad you are okay now. Jeebus that’s all so scary. Maybe this is weird because we’re not tight but if you ever need any help please let me know. I am available if you need a ride or something else. I’m in the city and I am happy to help. I think you can access my e-mail from my posts and if you want to get my contact info just let me know through e-mail or FB.

  33. Katherine

    I AM SO GLAD TO HEAR YOU’RE OKAY! this is one of my huge fears as a runner. It is amazing how the heat impacts you without even realizing it and it becomes a huge situation instantly. Best recoveries!

  34. Mark U.


    Thank God that you’re OK!

    Racing a 10K in hot-humid Houston a few years ago I’d helped a woman runner by literally catching her as she nearly collapsed mid-stride – which luckily happened just as I was about to pass her. Proving a runner’s sheer-determination (& our collective insanity) in her semi-conscious state she was repeatedly mumbling “please lift me up and help me finish” (which I obviously did not do, we were over a mile from the finish!) As I remember it, after they’d brought her to the emergency room and ran tests they found her to be both overheated and depleted in electrolytes. Following that incident, and an even more life threatening scare in seeing a good Houston running friend nearly die from a hyponatremia-induced seizure I’ve become a HUGE customer of the S!Caps, so was glad to see in your write-up that you’re already familiar them. FWIW I agree with your view that had you thought to bring some of them you might have been OK. Still… it’s understandable and you shouldn’t beat yourself-up, or suggest you need to HTFU!! Glad you’re OK!

  35. CurrentlyVince

    I’m very glad that you’re back here to chronicle your tale! Thanks for the reminder that we need to take precautions in the summer. I remember heading out Sunday morning for a run when the dewpoint was reported as 79F here in Houston. It was like wandering into a stew and I sure didn’t feel like doing anything resembling 5K pace!

  36. linds

    wow Im soooo glad you are okay :) !!! also sorry the stoopid hospital sucks about giving water lol i had the same thing happen to me last year during my stay, 12 hours of no water and i refused IV so i was DYING !!But rest up and take care, I will be happy to see you back on the roads next week :D

  37. Mark U.

    Flo – Me again… Suffering from the same uncertainty as to how to best adjust my pace taking into account hot/humid weather conditions I did some additional research and found a couple of great sources which I intend to use in the future: (to, for example, convert your 83F and 69F dewpoint conditions to an equivalent 87F heat index), then which suggests that an ideal 5K 6:40 pace would be heat-adjusted to an understandably slower 6:50 pace. Personally, as I run about 10F hotter than Daniel’s (or Tinman’s) pace-adjusted tables this suggests my own equivalent pace would be even slower yet, i.e. a glacial 7:10! Bottom line – the toughest thing we do is not racing in heat – but is adjusting our expectations (which one of these days I hope I can do)!

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  40. Zoe

    So I am late to this party, but as someone who suffered from what I think was heat exhaustion on Monday, this post is making me feel better. First, I’m glad to know that what I consider to be bad conditions are actually bad conditions–I live in Florida, so those are perpetual in the summer. Second, I was feeling like an idiot for leaving too late and pushing too hard when I should have known better. It makes me feel better to know that many of us try to do this when we run. Which means either all of us are idiots or this is just a runner thing. I’m opting for the latter.

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