Essential skills: basic first aid for runners

Do you know what to do if your training partner gets sunstroke when out running or suffers a strain? Here's some first aid advice from St John Ambulance

What to do if an accident happens when out running


As nice as running in summer can be, it is vital that triathletes look after themselves while training in the summer months, or else there is a high risk of developing heatstroke, which could be fatal if not treated properly.


Heatstroke is caused by a failure of the brain’s ‘thermostat’, which regulates the body’s temperature, resulting in the body being unable to cool down when it becomes too hot. Heatstroke occurs if someone has been exposed to heat for a long time, such as spending too much time in the sun. The condition can develop with very little warning, and casualties may become unresponsive within minutes of feeling unwell.

What to look for:

1. Headaches, dizziness and discomfort

2. Restlessness and confusion

3. Hot, flushed and dry skin.

4. Quickly becoming less responsive

5. Full and bounding pulse

6. Body temperature is above 40°C

What to do

1. Take the casualty to a cool place; remove some layers of their clothing.

2. Call 999/112

3. Sit them down and wrap them in a cool wet sheet. Pour cool water over it. Aim to reduce their temperature to at least 38ºC

4. Once their temperature is lower, replace the wet sheet with a dry sheet.

5. Check their temperature, breathing, pulse and whether they can respond

6. If they become unresponsive, get ready to treat someone who is unresponsive


One of the most important things to remember when competing in any sport, is to drink enough fluid. Remembering to drink enough can become difficult when you’re mid-race, but the consequences could be drastic if you don’t.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you take in. Becoming dehydrated is common when doing constant exercise, due to the amount of sweat that the body produces, which is increased in warm conditions. If left untreated, this can lead to athletes developing heat exhaustion, which is a serious condition caused by loss of body salt and water, and so it is vital that triathletes rehydrate themselves with water and electrolytes as soon as possible.

What to look for

There are four key things to look for if someone is suffering from dehydration:

1. Headaches and light headedness

2. Dry mouth, eyes and lips

3. Small amounts of dark urine

4. Muscle cramps

What you need to do   

Stop the casualty from what they are doing, and take them to a cool place to sit down as well as providing them with plenty of fluid to drink. Water is the best liquid to get fluids back into the body, but oral rehydration solution will help to replace water as well as salt and other minerals which would’ve been lost- you can buy this in sachets from any pharmacy.

If you or the casualty have any painful cramps, plenty of rest is encouraged, as well as stretching and massaging muscles that hurt.

If you or the casualty remain unwell, seek a healthcare professional straight away.


Sprains and strains

After a gruelling open water swim and cycle, the run is when athletes will push their bodies more, in order to finish in the best possible placing. Because of this, it is easy for injury to occur, such as sprains or strains. Injuries such as these are also easily occurred when training on uneven surfaces.

Strains and sprains are common injuries that affect the soft tissues around joints – the muscles, tendons and ligaments.

A sprain is when a ligament has been overstretched or partially torn.

A strain is when the muscle has been overstretched and has partially torn. (A rupture is when a muscle or tendon is completely torn). When the muscles and tendons are torn there is bleeding around them which causes pain, swelling and bruising.

Unless a sprain or strain is treated correctly, it may take longer for athletes to fully heal, and so will be out of action for quite some time, as well as possibly requiring some physiotherapy. In order to avoid missing out, here’s how to treat a sprain or strain according to St John Ambulance, the UK’s leading first aid charity.

What to look for

If you think that you, or someone else, has sprained or strained a muscle, ligament or tendon, here is what to look for:

1. Pain and tenderness

2. Difficulty moving

3. Swelling and bruising

For the best way to treat strains and sprains, simply remember R.I.C.E:

1. Rest– You or the casualty should lie down and support the injury in a comfortable, raised position

2. Ice– To cool the area and reduce swelling, apply an ice pack or frozen vegetables covered in a cloth. Remember not to leave on for any more than 10 minutes

3. Comfortable support- Leave the ice pack in place or wrap a soft layer of padding, e.g. cotton wool, around the area. To hold it in place, tie a support bandage around it which goes up as far as the next joint on each side. For example, for an ankle injury, the bandages should go from the base of the toes to the knee.

4. Elevation- Elevate the injury and support it on something soft, like cushions. Check that the bandages are not too tight every 10 minutes.

St John Ambulance


Each year, 400,000 people learn how to save a life by completing a St John Ambulance training programme. First aid is such a simple skill, but has an incredible impact and can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Visit for more first aid advice or to arrange a training course.

Essential skills: basic first aid for cyclists

How to spot and help someone in trouble when swimming