Researcher puts heat on local runners

HOT WORK: Massey lecturers Dr Toby Mundel and Dr Darryl Cochrane  put some theories to the test on the treadmill.
HOT WORK: Massey lecturers Dr Toby Mundel and Dr Darryl Cochrane put some theories to the test on the treadmill.

Palmy's balmy weather has played into the hands of a Massey University researcher investigating what happens when the heat is turned up for athletes.

The run of hot, dry weather this summer could not have come at a better time for Massey sports and exercise science researcher Dr Toby Mundel. He is interested in measuring the effects of a hot climate on sportspeople - and Palmerston North's fun runners have proven willing guinea pigs.

New Zealand is "not known for being a hot country", Dr Mundel acknowledged. But while Kiwis had been warned for years about the risks of skin cancers from sun exposure, due to our position under a hole in the ozone layer, little research had been done on the effects of heat on people's ability to exercise here, he said.

"The Sun is a lot stronger here in New Zealand," he explained. Less pollution and the southern hemisphere's closer position to the Sun during summer than its northern counterpart meant the solar rays were an estimated 10 per cent stronger in New Zealand.

"What 25 degrees feels like here is actually much stronger than 25 degrees in Germany, the United States, or Australia."

He has been tracking runners participating in the Manawatu Striders' popular Super Sevens fun run series, held annually throughout January and February.

The research could also have implications for professions where heat was a hazard of the work, including firefighters and soldiers, Dr Mundel said.

Ten Super Sevens runners had volunteered themselves for tests. The study has them swallowing a special pill that enables Dr Mundel to measure their core body heat using a device held up to their stomachs.

He also measures their skin temperature and heart rate, takes urine samples and uses a GPS to measure their pace - all evaluated against the climate on each run to track what effect different heats have on their ability and their health.

Heat could obviously take its toll on athletes' performance - "people are going to go slower or give up", Dr Mundel said.

It could also lead to heat exhaustion, sun stroke, cramps and illness caused by dehydration.

Studying the runners through an environmental ergonomics framework could lead to new conclusions about how to combat heat illnesses and lend insight for athletes training to perform in extreme climates.

Manawatu Standard