TOWING IN THE OUTBACK

Here’s what the ESS and Big Red Bash crew do when towing on outback roads

Photo: ESS vehicles towing trailers at Deon’s Lookout, Queensland on the way to set up for the Big Red Bash

ESS and Bash crew have been pulling trailers and vans behind 2WD cars, 4WDs and trucks for years and we’ve learned a few things on this journey.

What follows is our experience and it might help readers and others travelling on outback roads. We make no recommendations other than to say this is what works for us. Take from it what you find helpful.

The following information covers load balance and driving practices with a special focus on avoiding the extremely dangerous “death wobbles” as well as preparing trailers and vans for rough outback roads, tyre selection and more.

HITCH WEIGHT – THE KEY TO AVOIDING THE DEATH WOBBLES

This short video from the Caravan Association of Victoria shows how important weight distribution when loading a van or trailer can be to avoid the death wobbles.

When loading our trailers or vans we aim for roughly 10% of the total trailer weight to be pushing down on the tow hitch at the rear of the tow vehicle. For example if the trailer and load weighs say 2000kg, we’ll aim for between 180kg to 220kg down-force on the tow ball.
Different types of tow vehicles have different specs and requirements so the 10% number is only ever a “guideline”. You should also check your state government and manufacturer specifications.

We never tow trailers outside the manufacturer and govt maximums for total weight and braking requirements.

Our 5.5m tray flat top trailer weighs 1.4T empty and when pulled by our Land Cruiser 79 series the trailer has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 3.5T. It has full electric brakes and break away system. We never load it with more than 2.1 tons. We load it so that there is around 250kg on the tow hitch and only our ESS Land Cruiser is big enough and heavy enough (and has the electric brake controller) to tow this trailer.

Our smaller 8X5 box trailers are rated for loads of about 1 ton and have over-ride brakes only on the front wheels. Smaller 4WDs and cars can tow these trailers. We use the 10% guideline for tow hitch weight when loading these trailers. For example we load a trailer with a GVM of 1.8 tons to get 180kg down force on the tow hitch.

We now provide tow vehicles with a set of tow hitch weight scales so drivers can check the tow hitch weight before departure. We use a set of scales like this unit.

Case study 1

As an inexperienced 21 year old in the early 80s I was towing a medium sized, tandem axle , un-braked box trailer on the Melba Highway between Melbourne and Benalla. The trailer was loaded to less than the maximum rated weight with concrete breeze blocks but descending a long gentle hill I got the death wobbles. I knew enough to stay off the car’s brakes and rode the wobble until enough speed washed off and the car and trailer came to a halt in the roadside ditch in a cloud of gravel and dust. Both trailer passenger-side tyres had been torn off their rims, the rear wheel on the car was pushed off the rim and the welds that held the tow hitch to the trailer draw bar were ripped away (the chains held). But miraculously the rest of the trailer and car were okay. This caused me to look into what caused these death wobbles.
I now know that I had loaded the trailer with too much weight to the rear of the balance point. So when the trailer started to wobble it quickly developed a mind of its own and the wobble increased until the rear of the car was being dragged right across the bitumen kicking up gravel on both sides of the two-lane road. I was lucky there was no oncoming traffic.

Case study 2

At the Bash a few years ago we had a covered box trailer that had a few heavy items loaded late and unexpectedly that was loaded right at the rear door. The couple driving it from Sydney to Birdsville had a nightmare trip – every time they went over 85km it’d start to death wobble. They weren’t able to stop and redistribute the load so they had a slow, awful trip.
Since then all loading has been done with more care to load the contents to have enough load over the tow hitch and this never happened again.

PROTECTING THE TOWED TRAILER OR VAN FROM ROCK DAMAGE

Lots of the outback roads we traverse are covered in stones and rocks up to 90mm in diameter. We have generous schedules so our drivers are able to drive slowly enough to be able to spot and avoid the bigger rocks however it’s common that for most of the time on these roads the underside of vehicles and trailers will be peppered by smaller rocks. These rocks can do a lot of damage to exposed materials like plastics, thin cables, pipes and electrical wiring.

Rubber matting stone guards. We fit full-width rubber stone guards to the fronts of all trailers plus extra stone guards in front of all sensitive components such as brake units, electric wiring and similar. These stone guards are fitted as close to the front of the trailer as we can. Sometimes we weld or bolt a steel angle at the front under the draw bar to attach the rubber. We use old 6mm or 8mm conveyor belt rubber but you can find similar at Clarke Rubber or other suppliers. Look for a rubber with a tough internal fabric weave. The right rubber can be cut with a sharp Stanley knife and bolted to the frame and will survive for a few years of outback stone assaults.

Some crew attach 3mm polyethelene or similar to the front-facing surfaces of their vans with good results and it’s lighter than rubber matting.

Photo: Rubber conveyor belt matting 6mm used to protect the front of our 8X5, double axle workshop trailer. The lower flap protects the brake cable, drum brakes and u-bolts. The upper matting protects the front of the trailer and reduces rock rebound onto the tow vehicle.

Move or protect the wiring and plumbing. We routinely re-route all exposed electrical wiring or pipes to put them inside the steel or alloy frame or we cover them with steel or a couple of layers of corrugated split conduit or heavy-duty spiral wrap hose protection (available from hydraulic hose suppliers). Pool noodles held in place with cable ties can provide protection for one short trip but will need replacing regularly.

AVOIDING STONE REBOUNDS ONTO TOW VEHICLE REAR WINDOWS

With so many rocks getting airborne behind a tow vehicle it’s quite common for a flying rock to strike the front of a trailer or van and rebound towards the back of the tow vehicle. This has led to many broken rear windows and damage to vulnerable car parts. One year we even had a sponsored Amarok ute with a tub tray lose the cabin rear window to a rebounding rock from a little box trailer it was towing. Those rocks can go a long way.

Our solution is in two parts:

  1. Prevention – we have some crew who use a proprietary solution like Rock Tamers or Stone Stompers that fit to the rear of the tow vehicle or trailer that reduce the airborne rocks that rise to bounce off the trailer (we’ve seen some good DIY systems made too). Otherwise simply attaching rubber to the front surfaces of a trailer will also reduce rock rebounds, this is what we do to our trailers (see photo).
  2. Protection – fit a layer of something to the back of the tow vehicle so that rebounding rocks can’t do much damage. Real estate corflute signs are popular, as is cardboard or fancier solutions using more durable materials. For really good protection you can do both.

TRAILER MAINTENANCE

Our trailers do many thousands of outback kilometres every year so our maintenance regime includes:

Pre-trip:

  • Inspect and re-pack the wheel bearings annually before we head to the bash.
  • Inspect the brake cables on over-ride brake units. We routinely replace the supplied 3mm brake cables with 6mm cable for outback roads and we swage the terminations. The small u-bolt cable terminations that are often supplied on a city trailer last less than 100km on the Windorah-Birdsville road.

During the trip:

  • On long trips check the brake cables, spring u-bolts and other vulnerable parts at intervals.
  • Do a daily, manual check of trailer brakes. Complex electric brakes are especially prone to wiring damage.

TYRES FOR TRAILERS ON OUTBACK ROADS

In an ideal world the trailer tyres will match the tow vehicle – this gives more spare tyres for both vehicles. But with such a variety of trailer and tow vehicle combinations we don’t have that luxury so we simply make sure all tyres are not too old and we have a spare for each. When replacing tyres we usually spend a little extra and get light truck rated tyres for trailers. We rarely carry two spares any more (see the previous post about tyre pressures that explains our reasoning).

Avoid low profile tyres where possible. With less tyre wall in play there simply isn’t as much tyre between the metal rim and the rocky road surface so larger rocks are more likely to hit the rims and do damage or cause pinch-flats.

WHAT ABOUT SWAY BARS AND WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION HITCHES?

We have little experience with sway bars on trailers or vans so can’t add much helpful comment.

We haven’t installed sway bars on any ESS vehicles and none of our other crew trailers have them. Some of our crew tow vans with sway bars or weight distribution hitches and like them.

Our thinking at ESS is that if trailers are loaded with the correct amount of downward pressure on the tow hitch sway bars are not needed. So far this has proved to be adequate for our operations although I’d happily consider sway bars if someone proves a benefit. We tend to be very pragmatic with our fleet dollars and unless there’s an obvious, proven benefit we’ll stick to the most basic set up that gets the job done safely.

VENTS

We see people taping over vents on vans to reduce dust entry. Just remember that these vents must be uncovered and functional when using gas appliances inside the van for your safety.

Lucas Trihey 26/01/2020

With thanks to our machinery operator and Bash regular Don Coleman for contributing.

TYRE PRESSURES FOR ROUGH OUTBACK ROADS

Photo: Whether 4WD or trucks all ESS vehicles run on lowered tyre pressures on rough outback roads. Pictured here are the ESS LandCruiser and Mercedes 22 ton truck with 14 ton tri-axle trailer at the Big Red Bash in 2019.

Lucas Trihey explains what his crew does with their tyres for outback work

Lucas has been driving 4WDs, cars and trucks on gravel and sandy outback roads since the 80s. He has worked on everything from the first Australian Geographic expedition to the remote Coongie Lakes in 1986, to supporting desert trekkers across the Simpson to leading the team that over seven years has set up the legendary Big Red Bash musical concert 35km west of Birdsville.

In my early outback driving I was lucky enough to meet Adam Plate from the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta. Adam had witnessed and repaired thousands and thousands of punctured and damaged tyres from the rough South Australian outback roads. From Adam I learned that the best preventative against tyre damage is to run pressures significantly lower that highway pressures.

Adam told me that a softer tyre will ride over a sharp rock rather than battering into it at high pressure with more chance of damaging the tyre structure via repeated small cuts and tears that will eventually lead to a failure.

What we look for when deflating is an obvious bulge to the tyre that shows us that the tyre will be a little more spongy to absorb the shocks of a rough road surface and the occasional sharp-edge rocks laying on the surface.

On our event 4WDs and smaller cars we usually decrease pressure to about 75% or 80% of highway pressures. On our trucks we deflate to about 55% of highway pressures.

The tyres on a lightly laden vehicle will need a little more deflation to achieve the desired bulge compared to a heavily laden vehicle.

4WDs AND CARS

Typically we’ll deflate my event LandCruiser (a dual cab 70-series with a couple of passengers and about 500 kilograms in the back) to 25F and 30R to get the bulge we want It’s currently on Goodyear Wranglers – a medium to heavily structured tyre. Our single cab Triton Ute will be deflated to 18F and 25R if not heavily laden. We have a Nissan X-Trail (with highway tyres) in the crew convoy and it’s usually at about 18F and 20R for the desired bulge.

TRUCKS

We’ve always run our event trucks at far lower than highway pressures and a few years ago met a double road train driver at the end of the sealed road (110km west of Windorah). He’d just delivered 45 tons of fencing materials to a station further west and he told me his company’s guideline is “50% pressures on the gravel mate”.

Our trucks often carry loads onto on soft, sandy surfaces including the lake bed for the Big Red Bash and the sand dunes of the Uluru and Burke and Wills treks.

We run a few large and medium trucks from NSW to the Bash and these tend to run at 50% to 60% of highway pressures to get the desired bulge. My Mercedes Heavy Rigid truck is a bogie drive, 6.5m tray, rigid truck with a rear loading crane that weighs 12T empty and is typically around 20T when loaded for the Bash. It pulls a 6m tri-axle trailer with super-single tyres. It runs 55psi all around once on the gravel roads (recommended highway pressures are about 110psi).

We run our semi trailers at about 60% all round (prime mover and trailer). Our medium rigid single-axle-drive pantechs tend to run at 60% of highway pressures all around on the gravel.

On the return trips we happily leave the pressures low as we poke back along a sealed road to the next servo where we re-inflate. But for the now mostly-empty trucks we’ve often run them back to the Blue Mountains at 55% and the tyres are standing up tall again and we’ve seen no obvious signs of unusual wear or seen any issue with handling or heat.

TYRE MONITORS

Since the 2018 Bash we’ve run tyre monitors on our 4WDs and the HR Mercedes truck so we can monitor pressures and temperatures from the driver’s seat. These have validated our pressure decisions – and we’ve seen that running lower pressures on the gravel hasn’t led to over-heating.

Monitors also alert you to a rapid deflation so you can stop before the now-flat tyre is destroyed. One destroyed 4WD tyre is roughly the cost of a set of tyre monitors. We use SAFETY DAVE external units but there are many brands.

LOW PRESSURES AND SPEED

What we’ve seen via our tyre monitors is that lower pressures on 4WDs and trucks seem to be fine for the maximum speeds we feel safe at on gravel roads. Once back on the bitumen we usually inflate back to the manufacturer’s recommended pressures. However we often run our own 4WDs and trucks on lower pressures on sealed roads to get back to a nice fast compressor at slightly lower than normal speeds without ill effects. Tyre monitors are really good in these situations because the driver can watch the temps and make sure nothing too silly is happening.

OUR RECORD WITH TYRE DAMAGE

Since adopting low tyre pressures on our crew vehicles we’ve seen a sharp decline in blow outs and punctures. In my early outback driving days it wasn’t unusual to have multiple punctures and more than one blowout on some of the rougher SA outback roads.

These days we still get an occasional flat tyre but nearly always these are caused from picking up a screw or sharp piece of wire at the town tip or council yard rather than from a high-speed blow out.

At the 2018 Bash with four crew or event trucks and a dozen 4WDs/SUVs we got two slow leaks on the trucks and one slow leak on a SUV. None of the 4WDs had tyre damage. At the 2019 Bash with four event/crew trucks and a dozen 4WDs/SUVs we had one tyre failure on a sponsored Amarok (a direct hit on a very large, sharp rock near Innamincka). There was no tyre damage on the trucks or other vehicles.

HOW MANY SPARES DO WE CARRY?

A search of the online 4WD and outback forums will see lots of recommendations that you need “two spares” for outback driving. Taking two spares isn’t a bad idea but remember that a spare wheel is a very heavy item. For my own and our convoy vehicles we only ever carry one spare now – simply because we hardly ever get tyre damage. If I had a vehicle with tyres down to the last 15% of tread I’d think about taking two spares but for a good tyre, not too old, we only bother with one for most trips.

TIME TO REPLACE OLD TYRES?

We usually replace older tyres BEFORE a big trip. We believe it’s a false economy to try and eke out every last kilometre from an old tyre on an outback trip. Have good tyres at the start and you’ll be less likely to be forced to get a non-matching or inferior tyre from a remote outback roadhouse. You’ll also be less likely to get flats from dropped nails or screws.

LOW PROFILE TYRES ARE A BIT SPECIAL

Low profile tyres are a bit challenging on rough roads. It isn’t possible to run them at the low pressures we usually like because there simply isn’t the same amount of buffer between the outer tyre surface and the rim. If we hit a medium sized rock with low pressures on a low profile tyre it can do rim damage and possibly result in a pinch flat. If we have to take a low profile tyre on these roads we don’t run at our normal low pressures and we accept that we’ll probably see more damage to such tyres than we are happy with. We also drive more slowly and try our hardest to avoid rocks. We generally upgrade low profile tyres to bigger more conventional profiles as soon as we can. We currently have a 5.5m flat top car trailer that came with low profile tyres that we took to the 2019 Bash and we’ll be upgrading as soon as we can.

SUMMARY OF TYRE CARE FOR ROUGH GRAVEL ROADS

  • Our 4WDs and cars run at 75% to 80% of highway pressures.
  • Our large trucks run at 50% to 60% of highway pressures.
  • Tyre monitors are useful and help you monitor pressures and temps. Monitors also warn you of a rapid deflation so you can stop before a very low pressure tyre is destroyed.
  • We usually carry only one spare unless we have older/more worn tyres in the mix.
  • Replace old or worn tyres before your next outback trip.
  • Low profile tyres aren’t great in the outback. But with slower speeds and more care we get by.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

We’ve explained what we do with our crew vehicles but we because everyone’s needs and situation is different we make no hard recommendations – do your research and make your own decisions.

HELPING AT A REMOTE EVENT? HERE’S HOW TO PREPARE

Veteran of a lots of semi-planned nights out in the mountains and safety consultant to hundreds of expeditions and trail runs, Lucas Trihey explains what event crew can do to prepare.

Event crew, whether paid or volunteers are the backbone of Australian trail running. Crew often end up miles from backup and might need to depend on their own resources if stuff happens.

SKILLS AND PREPARATION

  • Learn to navigate. If event crew can navigate reliably they are a fantastic resource if runners go missing or if things start to go pear-shaped. Navigating in the bush, mist or rain is our bread and butter at ESS. Our staff mostly come from an Outdoor Recreation background and have quals and experience in off-track navigating because it’s super-important when working at events in rough or remote areas. You can acquire these skills too.
  • Learn and practice these skills:
    • Take a bearing off the map and follow it in the bush.
    • Learn about contour lines and topographic maps. Once you understand topo maps you can“see” the shape of the land by looking at the map.
    • Find out how to plan a route off-track and through the bush.
    • Learn to navigate in mist or snow (and practice!).
    • Discover what a “hand-rail” feature is.
    • Knowhow to take a back-bearing and triangulate off known features to work out your position.
    • Find out about magnetic variation.
  • Get a quality base-plate compass.
  • How to learn? Rogaining is an awesome sport with events all around Australia. Make a team of friends, do a couple of rogaines and your nav will improve out of sight. https://rogaine.asn.au/ Or do a nav course with an adventure company or scouts.
  • Learn to use a GPS app in your phone – these can be a huge help, just be careful with battery life, watch out for water damage and don’t break it 🙂

GEAR – PACK A GRAB BAG OF ESSENTIALS

Have a grab bag packed and with you in case you need to go bush to help at a remote marshal position or to stay and help an injured runner. This is the deluxe list with everything you could conceivably need – use it as a checklist for small or big events:

  • 50+ litre pack. The extra space is useful if you need to take extra gear to give the safety crew a hand or take more supplies to someone.
  • Wet weather gear. In alpine or cold regions include jacket and over-pants.
  • Shoes or boots that’ll keep your feet drier for longer in wet conditions. If you end up staying out for hours (or overnight?)your feet will thank you.
  • Head torch.
  • Knife or multi-tool
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Bovvy sack. An awesome lightweight shelter to keep a few people alive until help arrives. Don’t use a stove inside without plenty of ventilation. https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Mountain-Leaders-4-5-man-Bothy-Bag-Kisu-Shelter-Survival-Cover-tarp-camping/362204807291?hash=item545516c07b:g:YA4AAOxyoA1RU0Lb:rk:5:pf:0
  • OR a tarp or lightweight fly with cord for rigging a rain shelter.
  • Map
  • Compass
  • GPS app in your phone (or even better a stand-alone GPS device that will run on AA batteries for a couple of days).
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Spare socks
  • Thermal tops and bottoms.
  • A lightweight plastic bag to keep spare clothing dry.
  • Fire kit. A ziplock bag with newspaper, matches and a fire-lighter.

BE PREPARED FOR THINGS TO GO WRONG

Most of the time we are a lucky species, however stuff DOES happen and proper preparation can be life-saving.

Develop a pessimistic streak – ask the ”what ifs”:

What if the runners don’t finish by dark as planned?

What if an Aid Station runs out of water or food?

What if a bunch of runners get lost?

Will a mechanical break down mean a crew vehicle can’t get much needed water and supplies to an Aid Station in time?

Will exhausted runners survive a deterioration of weather in Alpine areas?

GET SCEPTICAL

Get used to the idea that tired runners are no longer normal people. “Runner’s brain” can lead them to make bad decisions, miss turns, forget to navigate. They don’t put on warm gear until too cold, they forget to eat enough, they push on when exhausted and then collapse in places where it’s hard to get them.

Do organisers have reserves of resources? Surge capacity can be very useful when a few things go wrong at once (spare crew, vehicles, equipment etc).

Learn about the compounding and cascading effects of small mistakes and omissions in a complex organisation. Sometime an otherwise inconsequential error can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

How good is the Risk Management Plan? Does it look objectively at what might go wrong or does it gloss over the true risks?

Are there crew in the team who can navigate to an injured, ill or lost runner in the rain and dark?

BLOOD ANALYSING EQUIPMENT

ESS has the gear and expertise to do on-site blood analysis for a range of useful tests. We can do tests that help our doctors, nurses and first aiders with medical conditions related to electrolyte imbalance, cardiac issues, kidney ailments and lots more. This gear has proven helpful in diagnosing an illness, ruling out a potential illness and has definitely improved the care we can offer a patient. Our blood testing equipment goes to all the big and/or remote events.

YOU DON’T SEE ESS STAFF WEARING COTTON IN THE BUSH

Photo: On the North Ridge of Mt Cook Aoraki, NZ, 1994. Photo Lucas Trihey

ESS staff have a background in the outdoors. Many are qualified guides, climbers, mountaineers, white-water paddlers and trail runners. We have doctors who’ve won the toughest Sky Runs (hello Jacinta!) and who hold BASE Jump and Windsuit records (gidday Glenn!).

Our regular staff have climbed Mt Cook in NZ, are expeditioners with experience in Antarctica, the Australia high country, the dark forests and alpine areas of Tassie and in the mountain areas in the Karakoram of northern Pakistan and western China. We’ve guided on the snow-capped mountains of Africa and have trekked in the Kimberley of WA.

What do our staff experts wear in the bush?

Well… what they DON”T wear is cotton.

In the world of bush search and rescue, canyon guiding, climbing mountains and inhospitable cold and wet environments cotton is known as “The Fatal Fabric”.

Cotton is hydro-phyllic – it loves water – so it makes a great towel. In fact it’s been reported as being able to absorb up to 27 times its own weight in water. If you wear cotton in a cold and wet place you’ll end up with a damp, clammy garment against your skin. It can get this water from rain or from your sweat. The fabric saps the heat out of your body, makes the battle against hypothermia impossible to win and it takes ages to dry.

So when it’s cold and wet you’ll only see ESS staff wearing synthetics or a good quality merino garment.

There’s more info in this article: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2015/02/why-cotton-kills-a-technical-explanation/

WATER HAZARDS AT A TRAIL RUN – WHEN IS IT TOO DEEP OR TOO FAST?

Lucas Trihey is an expeditioner, outdoor education lecturer, safety director for trail events and ESS principal. He’s trained for Swift Water Rescue and here explains the guidelines for when deep or fast-flowing water gets too dangerous. He also outlines what, if anything, event organisers can do and when it’s simply time to cancel.

Photo: the author high and dry in big water on the north side of the Karakoram in Xinjiang, China on an expedition to 7400m Mt Chongtar in the 90s. Photo: Colin Monteath

 

Experienced trail runners know that “runner’s brain” can lead them to make mistakes and bad decisions when fatigued. Tired runners place their trust in organisers to make high-level decisions about matters like water levels, lightning or wind storms and bushfires. When organisers fail in this role people get hurt.

A good rule of thumb for Australian conditions is that organisers will need to implement extra safety measures to keep runners safe if:

The water is above knee deep, even if slow-flowing.

OR

The water is flowing faster than walking pace (5km/hour) even if shallow.

WHILE EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT, SAFETY MEASURES CAN INCLUDE:

  • Monitor the weather and creek, estuary or crossing levels in the lead up to the event. On event day organisers need to know if the water level is likely to rise, drop or stay the same. Watch out for tidal estuaries.
  • Get experienced water safety people at the crossings – the common standard is Swift Water Rescue but there are other white-water paddling qualifications that may be relevant. These people won’t necessarily enable organisers to send runners across fast or deep water – but they will make better and more informed decisions to help the organisers.
  • Position marshals on either side to show runners where to enter and leave the water. These marshals can also monitor the water level and let organisers know if the level rises or if the flow gets faster.
  • Change the route away from hazardous water, this might be the day for that 2km diversion to the footbridge.
  • Avoid crossings with waterfalls, rocks or rapids downstream.
  • Avoid crossings with log, snags or overhanging trees downstream. With good reason these hazards strike fear into the hearts of white-water paddlers. Even slow-moving water has enough power to pin a person under water.
  • A rope “hand-rail” can sometimes be strung tightly across a crossing. Only ever do so on the upstream side. This technique does not make it safe to cross deep or fast water but it can help runners stay upright in slow flowing or shallow water. Get an experienced white-water person to rig such a rope.
  • Have a safety boat downstream of, or in the middle of a crossing. This doesn’t make a deep or fast crossing safe but can be good to look after nervous runners in slow or knee-deep water or if the bottom is rough.
  • Unless it’s a known sandy bottom tell runners to leave their shoes on. Shoes help them stay upright and protect the feet.
  • Trekking poles can help unsteady runners in water crossings.
  • Runners can buddy-up to cross shallow or slow-moving water. Four, six or eight legs are more stable than two.
  • Cancel the event or the leg that crosses water
  • Event organisers who need to contend with water crossings need advice from experienced water safety people in the planning stages. Make plans to monitor levels and water hazards and have good water people lined up to help you make good decisions on the day.

WHAT NOT TO DO IN DEEP OR FAST WATER

  • Rope use in moving water can be very dangerous in the hands of inexperienced water safety people.
  • Never tie anyone in to a rope in moving water.
  • Unless you have experienced water safety people at a crossing leave the rope at home, it’s probably time to cancel that section.
  • Inexperienced safety marshals or event crew should not be placed at water crossings with deep or fast flowing water. There’s a lot that can go wrong and they just won’t know “what they don’t know”.

RUNNING IN THE HEAT

Having provided first aid and medical teams for hundreds of endurance events Lucas Trihey considers the dangers of heat stroke.

March 2016

As a race organiser and responder, heat stroke is the injury that worries me most. When it strikes a runner down things need to happen quickly to save the person from serious organ damage or death. In hot conditions many runners find it difficult to anticipate and prevent.

HOT AND HUMID LEADS TO HIGHER RISK OF HEAT STROKE

High temperatures with high humidity is the worst combination. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) a sunny day with a temp of 29C and 75% humidity with little wind is hot and sticky enough to place people undertaking “continuous activity” at high risk of heat stroke.

In hot, low-humidity conditions runners can cope quite well and avoid heat injury because the body is able to shed heat to the (drier) environment using our body’s wonderful cooling system. But when it’s hot AND humid it’s harder to shed heat and we start to cook.

So while participants in Death Valley (USA) or across the Simpson Desert (Australia) often run in safety in 40+C temps due to the low humidity a day of moderate temps and high humidity will see runners in other areas struggling to stay cool and some will suffer heat injury.

HOT AND DRY = OFTEN OKAY – Body can usually shed heat

WARM/HOT AND HUMID = DANGEROUS – Body can’t shed heat

BASICS OF HEAT STROKE

  • When you exercise, heat is generated as a by-product of muscles working and if you can’t shed this heat to the environment your temperature will rise.
  • If your temperature rises you will get sick, if it rises far enough your organs will start to cook and fairly quickly will stop working – this is life threatening.
  • To avoid heat injury you need to avoid getting too hot. You need to help your body shed the heat that your muscles are producing, protect yourself from radiant heat and if you find yourself getting hot you need to slow down and find ways to cool your body.

HYDRATION ALONE IS NOT THE ANSWER

Be aware that hydration actually has little to do with preventing heat stress. There are many examples of well-hydrated runners and trekkers getting heat stroke. What you need to do is to cool your body. Encouraging people to over-hydrate in an attempt to prevent heat stroke is misguided and is likely to lead to over-hydration and illness (hyponatraemia). As always, the best hydration advice is to “drink to your thirst”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyponatremia

Read about Austrian tourist Caroline Grossmueller who died at Lake Eyre in 1998 of heatstroke with plenty of water remaining: http://www.lakeeyreyc.com/coroner.html

CASE STUDIES AND RESEARCH

Over the years I’ve been at events and have treated runners with heat stroke who have done permanent damage to their organs. I have also researched events where participants have died or received severe brain or organ damage. See the CASE STUDIES below.

After studying these incidents I sought advice from experts including Associate Professor of Physiology, Martin Thompson (Sydney University) and papers from the American College of Sports Medicine. The following guidelines come from this research and should help runners and event organisers to reduce the chances of heat stroke.

GUIDELINES FOR HOT AND HUMID CONDITIONS

RUNNERS

  • Wear loose, light coloured clothing. Avoid black lycra.
  • Use ice water and ice packs to keep your cool. Lots of events provide these items now.
  • Tip iced water over your head, torso and limbs at regular intervals.
  • Put small ice packs under your cap, against your neck (carotid area), under arms and down your shorts to rest against your inner groin/thigh – all these parts of the body have good blood supply and are a great way to cool you down.
  • If possible run in the shade rather than full sun.
  • If possible run in places that catch a breeze rather than in a still, humid valley.
  • If the heat is bothering you take regular rests in the shade.
  • Have a good supply of fluids with you and drink if thirsty – but don’t overhydrate.
  • If feeling the heat stop at an aid station to get help rather than pushing on to collapse somewhere remote.

ORGANISERS

  • Provide ice water dousing buckets around the course.
  • Provide ice packs (party ice in a small freezer bag) for runners.
  • Prepare your marshals so they know how to recognise heat injury and help runners on hot days.
  • In dangerously hot/humid conditions organisers should be prepared to shorten, re-route or cancel the event.
  • Use the WBGT index to help evaluate conditions (see the section on WBGT)
  • Advise your marshals and aid stations not to encourage over-drinking. Simply filling your stomach with too much water will not prevent over-heating and may make them ill with the effects of sodium dilution (hyponatraemia).

USING THE WBGT INDEX

The Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer (WBGT) is an index value derived from a combination of temp in the shade, temp in the sun, wind (or lack of) and humidity. WBGT is recognised internationally as offering event organisers and managers an appropriate tool to make informed decisions about the risk of heat stress for individuals exerting themselves in the heat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet-bulb_globe_temperature

Local WBGT values are available for some Australian locations via the BOM website: http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDN65179.shtml

We use a hand-held WBGT meter at all warm weather events.

HEAT STROKE CASE STUDIES

GLENBROOK – HOSPITALISATION

On a warm day in November 2012 I coordinated the first aid team at Glenbrook Marathon for 200 runners. Temps were mid 30s and humidity was around 70%. Late in the morning we heard reports that a runner had collapsed approx 150m from an aid station. Not long after collapsing this person was unconscious, fitting and having seizures, all signs that the brain was being damaged. We called an ambulance, got ice packs and cold water onto the person, and he spent three days in Nepean Hospital being treated for kidney damage. He was lucky the collapse was close to a road and we were able to get to him within 15 minutes, but even so he suffered life threatening heat stroke. It would have been far more dangerous if this collapse had occurred on a remote section of the course.

BRIBIE ISLAND – FATALITY

At a 15km beach run on Bribie Island in October 2013 a leading runner didn’t appear as expected at the finish. He was later found unconscious on a track among the dunes near the beach. Tragically this runner died. One possibility is that the runner began to suffer from heat stroke, became disoriented and left the beach. This thread on Cool Running has more information: http://www.coolrunning.com.au/forums/?showtopic=38063

RACE THE PLANET – GOBI DESERT (FATALITY) AND SAHARA (BRAIN DAMAGE)

An Australian participant in the October 2011 event in Egypt suffered seizures and heat stroke that led to permanent brain damage. According to media reports the runner now needs 24/7 care and lives on a disability pension.

http://www.news.com.au/national/run-competitor-brain-damaged/story-fndo4eg9-1226453235952

An American runner in the 2010 Gobi Desert event died from “complications due to… heatstroke”

REFERENCES

American College of Sports Medicine (Position Stand)

Exertional Heat Illness during Training and Competition

http://journals.lww.com/acsmmsse/Fulltext/2007/03000/Exertional_Heat_Illness_during_Training_and.20.aspx

http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/position-stands

 

Trek for Timor

Pleased to announce ESS will be providing first aid services and a radio network to the great team of volunteers organising Blue Mountains Trek for Timor in September 2016. This family-friendly, non-competitive trek is 50km with shorter distance options and is a fund raiser for great causes in one of our nearest and newest neighbouring nations. In the past funds have helped build schools and other important community initiatives. http://www.trekfortimorbm.org.au/

Blood Analysis – on site / remote area

We are pleased to announce that our medical service now includes on-site blood analysis. This specialised equipment in the hands of our trained medical staff is a significant improvement and will allow us to make better informed decisions and deliver improved diagnostics and patient care. Particulary important for remote work, the equipment will be valuable at all events where our ability to test for electrolytes, creatinine, glucose, haemoglobin and troponin levels could save lives. A useful effect that blood analysis will provide is that it can be used to rule out options as well as diagnosing an illness and as such can greatly help a doctor to rule out a serious issue and allow a runner/trekker/expeditioner to continue.