From Cool Winter Training to Hot Weather Racing
After a long winter I am always excited about that first warm weather race. For me it will be XTERRA Costa Rica in less than three weeks. This will be my 5th consecutive time racing XTERRA Costa Rica and I have learned a few things about transitioning from cold weather training to a hot early season race. A quick look at the 10-day forecast has high temps 91-94℉. That’s hot. Even the locals think it’s hot. When you get those strange looks while you are out running at 2:00 in the afternoon, it’s not because of your fly spandex kit, or your pale, sun-deprived skin, it’s because you are exercising in the heat of the day and nobody does that. Luckily the race goes off as soon as the sun comes up, but you still need to be proactive in how you will deal with the heat before and during the race.
Arrive as fit as possible
should go without saying, but the more fit you are the better you will be able to manage the heat. Many of the adaptations you make from endurance training will serve you well in the heat, such as increased blood plasma volume and less electrolyte loss in your sweat. Having the fitness to cover the distance will make you much less likely to cramp or bonk, so consistent weekly long runs and bikes at or over race distance are key. If you know your fitness isn’t ready for a full championship distance, most of the championship races offer a sprint distance, relay, or trail run so you can still use the race as a good excuse for a warm weather vacation.
Indoor training is heat training
I believe one of the reasons I am able to handle the heat well early season is due to the amount of indoor training I do on the bike. I consistently lose 3-4 pounds of water per hour during my indoor training. This gives me insight into how to hydrate for recovery, and also tells me it is good heat training when water loss is over 2% of body weight. No need to turn up the heat, simply cutting a fan is more than enough to turn your indoor session into a heat adaptation session.
Hot weather acclimation takes at least six consecutive days
If you don’t have the luxury of arriving a week before the race and cutting the AC, you will need to include some heat adaptation into your routine before you travel. Typically I start this about two weeks out from the race. This means layering up for outdoor workouts, indoor training with high sweat rates, and/or a steam room/sauna protocol. After the last workout of the day, a 20-30 minute steam or sauna can help further your physiological adaptations to the heat. Shoot for 6 consecutive days, then one or two maintenance heat sessions before you travel.
Pacing can be a challenge in the first race of the year and the heat adds to that challenge. Most bonking and cramping is primarily due to overexertion and/or pushing a high intensity for longer than you are trained for. Be honest with yourself and adjust expectations accordingly. For some tips on avoiding the cramp, click here.
Hydration and fueling
Stay ahead in the days before the race by hydrating consistently and keeping your glycogen stores topped off. Outside of meals hydrate with electrolytes (sodium most important) to retain more of the fluid. Athletes with high sweat rates can benefit from sodium loading the day before and morning of an event. During the race implement a well thought out hydration/electrolyte, and fueling strategy. Fueling needs stay the same, but hydration and electrolyte needs can double in a hot environment and become more important than fueling. For example, if you normally consume one water bottle per hour with your electrolyte drink on the bike, then shoot for two.
Keep your skin cool
Sweating is our biggest advantage as humans when it comes to endurance sports. Expose as much of your skin as possible (skin-to-win) but also use sunscreen. Dump additional water overhead at aid stations for more relief. An additional strategy is to freeze a gel flask or two with an electrolyte drink and keep it in a cooler bag at your transition. Your hands have a high density of capillaries close to the skin and you can hold the frozen flasks and then take in the fluid as it melts.
Adjust your pre-ride / pre-run routines
Plan any course recon for very early in the day or near dusk. If you haven’t been going long on the mountain bike, consider only riding part of the course in the two days before the race. For your pre-rides, plan your hydration/fueling just as you would for the race. Also pay particular attention to recovery/replenishment of lost fluids, electrolytes, and calories after your pre race workouts.
Shorten your race-day warm up
Extended warm up routines can do more harm than good in hot weather. Unless you have a cooling vest, I recommend very little biking and running. Instead, use a little extra time to set up your transition. Still plan for a normal swim warm up unless the water temp is over 84℉.