Race Terminology – Hypothermia

In this article and in coming weeks, We will attempt to take on some terms used in the community that we believe are being misused,  first up in this “Terminology Series” is hypothermia.


The first Tough Mudder that I ever participated in was in February of 2012. The temperature was 28F when the event began. The temperature never rose above 40F degrees all day, and it was also occasionally windy. About a mile in to that Mudder, we encountered an obstacle named “Arctic Enema”.  Jumping into a dumpster filled with ice is almost never a good idea. Jumping in when the air outside is colder than the water is even dumber. When I went underneath those wooden beams to get from one side to the other, my head experienced something it had never had before, I thought it might actually implode.

Hypothermia Wiki

I came up on the other side of that beam and truly thought I might die. I could not get out of that giant dumpster fast enough. I actually jumped out of the sides because a few extra inches to the end would have taken too long.

Tough Mudder thankfully had a bonfire lit a few feet beyond the dumpsters. My friends and I stood by it and warmed up the best we could before continuing on and finishing. I later learned that many people did not finish the course that weekend. They were pulled into medical tents as a result from suffering from hypothermia.

In recent months, I see this word pop up almost weekly when racers describe their weekend experiences.  There are many races that involve cold weather, many of these races involve cold weather and being wet. In some of these races , someone may have even handed you a space blanket. However, so you know, hypothermia did not occur.

Shivering means you’re cold – its the first stage of hypothermia. Try to get warm. Most people never progress past this stage, but claiming hypothermia here is pretty weak. For example, my neighbor shivers a bit when he walks his dog in the morning. However, he has never said to me “Bro, had to bring in Mr. Wiggles pretty quick this morning, was going hypothermic”

Its when you stop shivering that you have reached a dangerous level of hypothermia and should seek medical attention if possible.

Cranky Goes HypothermicDid you look like this during your race experience?  If not, chances are you were not hypothermic.

If you want to learn more about hypothermia, read out Napoleon and his troops’ retreat from Russia in 1812.  Many of the French troops were dressed for Summer in a war that went on well into Winter and thousands died. For a more recent, OCR related example, check into James Appleton’s ordeal from this year’s Tough Guy UK. He could barely speak or walk from the unbearable cold,  yet somehow managed a 3rd place finish. This video and article will fill you in nicely.

I believe many athletes now believe the word “hypothermia” means “I ran a race and it was kind of cold”.

 Terminology Part II – Next Up “Bonk”

Matt B. Davis

is the host of the Obstacle Racing Media Podcast and the author of "Down and Dirty-The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs". He is also the only (known) #wafflehouseelite obstacle racer.
  1. wonderful.

    as if i wasn’t embarrassed enough, now Im being used as a true representation of hypothermia.

    not a designation im all that stoked about.

    boy did WTM humble my chatty ass…

    1. Haha. I personally don’t look at it like that at all, and perhaps your story will make people realize the difference between a serious issue and someone just needing to suck it up. 😉

    2. No dude, you’re being used as an example of NOT HYPO. It obviously didn’t humble you enough.

      1. I’m not sure how the point of this photo is getting lost. It says if you didn’t look like that, then chances are you WERENT hypothermic. Meaning the guy in the photo is. I took this photo about an hour after this person was pulled from the course. He could not answer basic questions about who he was and where he was. This same person, Christian, took himself OUT of the med tent on th previous lap because he didn’t want to be DQd even though he was shaking and miserable. No one would have blamed him for quitting but he went out of his way to continue.

        In conclusion, “Im really cold and this sucks and I want my mom and want to quit” is a lot different than being “hypothermic”.

  2. May I use this photo for my race review? Can I get a high res version so I can make a custom Fathead decal?

    I’m glad Christian is okay.

    1. Looks fine to me. Pretty clear dude never got hypo in the first place, exactly the point of the article.

      1. Bob – you are missing the point. He was treated for hypothermia. IVs and heart monitoring. He was pulled off the course by medics and met the criteria for hypothermia. Maybe the caption should have read “Did you look like this during your race experience? If you didn’t, chances are you were not hypothermic.”

        I was teasing the subject in the photo because I know him, I think he’d find it amusing, and most of all because I know he survived.

  3. People use it as an excuse for when they get a little cold, quit, and feel need to explain what happened in order to maintain their self-image. It wasn’t that they’re not hardcore enough for the event, you know, it’s more that they’re SO HARDCORE they got HYPO.

    Same problem as rest of OCR – people just doin it for image and pretending to be heroes. Weak sauce.

    1. People just doin it for image and pretending to be heroes? Where do you see that? You need to expound on that statement. I thought people did it for fun and to challenge themselves. If a cool looking photo comes out of the race, that’s icing.

  4. May I suggest “Bonk” for a terminology entry. It’s used anytime someone gets fatigued and/or cramps up. It is so much more than that.

  5. Yep I was in that same chair at WTM. By this definition I was only in the mild category and the guy with me had made it to moderate level. I was alert enough on the course to know I was headed for trouble and needed to stop jumping into water. I was wrestling with the decision when the other guy came running up. I thought “that’s my next step if I get in this water again”. So that convinced me to take the ride to the medical tent. Still had an awesome time and am going back in 2016!

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