Heat acclimation athletes successful in “The world’s toughest foot race”

The Environmental Extremes Lab once again supported athletes preparing for the Marathon des Sables this year, considered by many to be the world’s toughest foot race. Adding to the challenge of six stages, covering over 250km across sand dunes and desert, participants are required to carry all their own kit, have a limited water supply and, of greatest interest to our lab, do so in temperatures ranging from 30-50oC.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading

Hercule Poirot and Suchet Family Supported Before Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu!

In a nutshell, your advice was not only spot on, it saved us. I believe that if your words about “Headache+1” had not gone through my head on that first night, I would have toughed it out, and in Dougie’s (professional guide) words, I would have lost. How seriously? Doesn’t bear thinking about.” (John Suchet, 2018)

The Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) hosted the Suchet family, including John (newsreader and musical host on Classic FM) and David (Hercule Poirot) Suchet, on the Saturday 17th March ahead of their trek two weeks later to the iconic and breath-taking Inca city of Machu Picchu. In collaboration with local altitude awareness charity, Para-Monte, Dr Neil Maxwell, Gregor Eichhorn (PhD student), Mel Stemper (recent MSc graduate) and Josh Pennick (current MSc student) carried out altitude screening on the six members of the Suchet family, before Neil provided education around altitude illness and ways to prepare for the trek to make it enjoyable but also safer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading

Marathon des Sables Support 2018…2 Months To Go!

With only two months to go until the 33rd annual Marathon des Sables 2018 race, the University of Brighton’s Environmental Extremes Laboratory (EEL) has been busy completing many one-off heat pre-screening tests and arranging heat acclimation protocols for ultra-endurance runners to include in their important tapering periods in the lead up to race departure. The key to a safe and successful Marathon des Sables race is preparation, education and adaptation.

Continue reading

Marathon Des Sables 2017

Building on the success of last year, the SESCU team worked with 10 contenders in the Marathon des Sables, prior to their journey to Morocco. Endurance runners from all over the UK and as far as Switzerland have sought out SESCU’s expertise and facilities to help them prepare for the race.

The Marathon des Sables, is an annual 6 day ultramarathon in which competitors travel 251km in the desert heat. Continue reading

EEL support ultra-marathon runner for 220km Cambodia Ultra-Endurance Race!

EEL’s Ash Willmott and three MSc students (Hannah, Luke and Zander) assisted ultra-marathon runners Nick and Andy as they prepared for a 220km race in Cambodia.

“The support provided by each of Hannah, Luke and Zander was excellent in all regards, and proved extremely helpful to both me and Andy in completing the ultra marathon we had entered in Cambodia. The experience we gained around how our bodies would respond to stress in the hot and humid environment, coupled with the physiological knowledge that was shared by the students to help us understand how and why these reactions occurred better equipped us to deal with them during the event and improved our performance. All of the students were professional, friendly and demonstrated a good understanding of the subject matter, which they communicated very clearly – enabling us to maximise the value from the learning experience. I would have no hesitation in using the facilities at Brighton University and support provided by the team in future similar endeavours.” Nick

“I have known Ash now for around 2 years, having first met him while training to run the 2015 Marathon des Sables. More recently, Ash has helped a friend and I prepare for a similar 6-day 220km stage race in Cambodia. The fact that I successfully completed both of these events was, in no small part, helped by the heat acclimatisation and preparation that Ash and his team provided. In particular, the time I spend with Ash helped me better understand the way my body would respond to stress in both hot and humid climates, allowing me to develop appropriate mechanisms to deal with the effects of running in such environments.

Ash has considerable knowledge of his field, together with an ability to impart this knowledge to others through an effective communication style and a genuine desire to help others learn. He takes the time to explain things, not just from a scientific perspective but also from a practical perspective, relating the theory to how things feel and happen in practice. He also has a selfless desire to help others succeed – both in terms of clients who he is helping with acclimatisation and students who he is supervising. Together, these traits mean it is an absolute pleasure to work with Ash and I would, without hesitation, recommend him for any future role and look forward to working with him again in preparation for other events in the future.” Nick

 

Marathon Des Sables 2016 SESCU Support

Multi-stage, ultra-endurance events within extreme environmental conditions are becoming increasingly popular with endurance athletes. Deemed the “toughest foot race on earth” the Marathon des Sables (MdS), is a ~250 km multi-day race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, which attracts around 1000 competitors annually from around the world. During the MdS race, competitors are self-dependent, carrying their own backpacks which weigh around 5-10 kg in extreme levels of heat stress (~40°C). The route covers sand dunes, dry river beds and, stony and rocky surfaces, and is relentless in terms of physical and mental fatigue.

 

The athletes face numerous physiological challenges including; cumulative fatigue, restricted water and food availability, sleep deprivation, high solar heat loads with limited shade and, prolonged metabolic heat production. Such consequences exacerbate physiological strain, and increase the likelihood of dehydration, skin tissue injuries and risk of exertional heat-related illnesses (EHRI). These are obviously detrimental to health, which can lead to race-withdrawal and serious health consequences. It is therefore, imperative that athletes prepare effectively through heat acclimation (HA), which includes repeated, prolonged exercise exposures to high temperatures (>30°C) and moderate-high humidity (>40%). Short-term HA (STHA) can induce nearly up to 75% of physiological adaptations which includes a reduction in heart rate and core temperature, in addition to lowered perceived exertion, along with improved thermal comfort, sensation and perceived fatigue.

As part the Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU)’s Environmental Extremes Support services, this year Ash Willmott led a team to support 10 MdS athletes prepare for the race, this included Dr Mark Hayes and several post graduate research students including Kirsty Waldock, Rebecca Relf and Emily Watkins. The athletes, mainly from the surrounding south east region, visited the laboratories 4-6 times for heat acclimation sessions, which included running and cycling in 45°C in the lead up to their departure for Morocco. The methods prescribed and measures taken during the heat acclimation were all research informed from many of the sport science research studies completed here at the University of Brighton, and applied successfully for the MdS athletes.

Over the course of the heat acclimation we saw many adaptations in the typical markers of repeated exercise-heat stress as well as novel findings including improved perceptual measures and increased sweat output over a shorter time frame as compared to those previously seen.  Out of the 10 athletes we supported, 9 completed the race safely and successfully, with some even finishing in the top 10% of the field. Some of the feedback from the athletes included, the improvement in mental toughness and confidence gained through training in their teams in the extreme heat of our chamber, while others felt that learning about their heat rate, sweat rate and hydration guidelines really helped them during the race and how to pace themselves during the peak temperatures.

The work competed by Ash and the team has now been written up and published in the Journal of Sport Sciences.

Rosa has also put a video together for the MdS support we offer:

If you would like to find out any more information on the MdS, or other services within SESCU please contact SESconsultancy@brighton.ac.uk

Supporting Hampshire Scout Expeditions

The Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU) have started their initial support programme with Hampshire Scout Expeditions (HSX) in their attempt to ski to the South Pole then kite ski back, a total distance of 2,300km.

The team of scouts visited the Welkin Environmental Physiology Laboratory, where Ash Willmott and Dr Mark Hayes tested them for baseline health measures and cold response screening tests in -20°C. They also took a dip in the ice tank to replicate the conditions they may face during their challenge if the unthinkable was to happen!

The HSX challenge involves skiing 700 miles from Hercules Inlet at 80° South, to the South Pole in 60 days. On the return journey, the team will exploit the prevailing winds and kite-ski back the way they came in 20 days all while being completely unassisted.

The team is undertaking this to not only challenge themselves but to raise funds and awareness for the charity MND – Motor Neurone Disease.

Find out more about the HSX challenge.

Mount Everest Climber Visits University Laboratories

Bonita Norris, alongside Indus Films, visited the Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU) to film a promotional trailer for a new “Extreme Environments” documentary. The video was shot in the Welkin Laboratories as part of a pitch being made to Red Bull TV to commission the project.

Bonita reached the summit of Mount Everest in 2010 as a 22-year old. At the time, she was the youngest British woman to achieve the feat, and held the record until 2012.

Bonita was put through her paces in a range of extreme environments by SESCU’s environmental physiologist and PhD candidate, Ash Willmott, and SESCU manager Alex Bliss. The three environments simulated in the laboratories in Eastbourne ranged were -20 degrees Celsius, +45 degrees Celsius, and 5000m above sea level.

SESCU and Indus Films will look to provide support for Bonita as she prepares to encounter a range of extreme environments as part of the four-show series.

If you are interested in hearing about our “Extreme Environments” support packages then please email sesconsultancy@brighton.ac.uk

EEL Members Deliver Extreme Altitude Preparation Day

In August 2014, a group of colleagues from Centrica Energy in Windsor visited the University of Brighton’s Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU) for an Extreme Altitude Preparation Day.

The day was in preparation for the group’s Mount Kilimanjaro challenge in October 2014. During the challenge the team raised £11,736 for Babies in Buscot Support (BIBS). BIBS supports babies and their families in a special care baby unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

Continue reading