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South African Journal of Science

On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353


HAVENGA, Henno; COETZEE, Ben; BURGER, Roelof P  and  PIKETH, Stuart J.. Increased risk of heat stress conditions during the 2022 Comrades Marathon. S. Afr. j. sci. [online]. 2022, vol.118, n.7-8, pp.1-5. ISSN 1996-7489.

The Comrades Marathon is South Africa's - and the world's - most recognised and largest ultra-marathon event, with over 15 000 participants from across the globe competing in the 89-km road running event each year. Historically, the event has been held before the start of austral winter (20 May - 17 June). However, in 2022, organisers of the race moved the event to 28 August, when austral spring commences. We explore the climate, in particular the Universal Thermal Comfort Index (UTCI), of past Comrades events (1980-2019) and compare these data to UTCI data of the new proposed date (28 August) for the same period. The climatology for May, June, July and August was determined to identify periods with the lowest risk for 'strong' to 'very strong' heat stress. Results show that participants' risk of exposure to 'strong' heat stress and 'very strong' heat stress periods will be more likely if the event is held in August as compared to the original event dates. Therefore, it is concluded that mid-June to mid-July has the lowest risk of heat stress exposure along the route. Runners and organisers should be aware of the higher risk of exertional heat illness during the 2022 Comrades Marathon to ensure safe participation. SIGNIFICANCE: • The new proposed date for the Comrades Marathon will increase the risk of exposure to 'strong' and 'very strong' heat stress conditions, as defined by the Universal Thermal Comfort Index (UTCI). • The UTCI indicates that mid-June to mid-July has the lowest risk of heat stress exposure at the three reference points along the route. • Organisers should warn runners of the higher risk of exertional heat illness due to the possible exposure to high UTCI values or more unfavourable climatological conditions. Furthermore, runners should be informed of a variety of preventative strategies to ensure safe participation.

Keywords : UTCI; Comrades Marathon; heat stress; thermoregulation.

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