Environmental Extremes Lab’s Contribution to Heat Mitigation in Tokyo 2020/21 Olympic and Paralympic Games

So It has been a hell of a last 18 months and it is difficult to process the magnitude of what we have experienced in the wake of the pandemic. However, as we are days away from the opening of the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Olympic Games, as all good practitioners should do, I thought it was worth reflecting on what the Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL)’s contribution has been to helping our athletes, coaches, practitioners, officials, governing bodies and many others along the way, as they step up and face the heat of Tokyo.

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Dhiman Brothers take on the Jungle Survival Marathon

Over 6 days in the heart of the Belize Jungle, 2 brave athletes were faced with the hardest challenge, both physically and mentally that they had ever had to confront. The Jungle Survival Marathon entailed 6 days of survival training in the jungle followed by a 200km race across similar terrain to eventually escape and reach the final checkpoint – this meant at least 10 hours of running a day! The two athletes brave enough to take on this challenge were the Dhiman brothers, Gary and Steve who courageously took to the challenge after a brotherly rivalry led to a bet – neither of them was going to back down and look where they ended up!

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Para-Monte Ambassador Matt Shore takes on Aconcagua…Again!

nd On just the third day of the new decade, with some of the UK still not recovered from their New Year hangovers, Para-Monte Ambassador and Train Strong personal training founder Matt Shore started his journey to the summit (6962m) of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, for the second time.

Para-Monte The Adam Savory Memorial Fund: Raising Altitude Awareness

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.