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.

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Building upon the successes of short-term heat acclimation protocols utilised with previous years’ competitors, three athletes completed four to five visits each, across a span of the five days prior to departure for the race. Each visit consisted of 90 minutes of heat exposure at 45oC, with core rectal temperature, heart rate, thermal sensation and thermal comfort monitored throughout by University of Brighton staff and under- and post-graduate students. During the heat exposure athletes either exercised on a treadmill or a stationary bike, or rested, to maintain a pre-determined core temperature. They also benefited from an opportunity to practise with the kit they would use during the race and received advice on managing their performance in the heat.

All three athletes (Nick McGrath, Tim Jones and Josh Vallis) completed the race without any heat-related illnesses. Following the race Nick, who finished 70th overall (of 936 finishers) said “the acclimation work did pay dividends and no doubt was instrumental in getting me to the line every day”. Josh, who was raising money for charity, added “Tough week…Appreciate all the prep and question whether I could have finished without this pre-knowledge”.

On behalf of all the staff and students involved with preparation and delivery of the sessions, congratulations!

For more information on our work support MDS athletes, following link here.