Bring on the Heat
This time of the year nearly every triathlete is gearing up for a late season race or their championship season. For some there is one big race, for others there are 2-3 races involved. Mid August can be tough to train in. My home base in Florida is brutally hot and humid. I prepare for each long workout differently than I did when I lived in Michigan or Colorado, but even in those places August can be in the 90s. So what are some strategies to beat the heat and prepare for your championship race?
Get up early. Everybody knows this one, but it’s probably the best way to avoid scorching temperatures and sweltering sun. I do this as much as possible, but it often doesn’t fit with our families schedule and I just can’t seem to get up at 4 am. If you can, do it!
Determine your sweat rate. This is always a little tricky for me because it totally depends on environmental factors and discipline. If I’m racing in Florida I need to hydrate nearly twice as much as in other places. Whatever race you are training for you need to try to mimic those conditions as closely as possible to get an idea of your sweat rate. If your key race is Xterra Worlds in Maui and you live Alaska, your sweat rate is obviously going to be very different. Try to mimic your key race as closely as possible for key workouts. It might mean doing a key workout midday when its 90 degrees instead of early morning, or cranking up the heat and riding your trainer. To determine your sweat rate weigh yourself totally nude before a workout. Complete your workout mimicking anticipated race conditions as closely as possible. Weigh yourself when finished. 1lb. of lost weight= 16 oz. of fluid. So if you worked out for 2 hours and lost 2 lbs. your sweat rate is 16 oz. per hour. If you drank any fluids during your workout those need to be added to your calculations.
Stay Hydrated. Staying hydrated begins before your race even starts. Drinking 16-25 oz. of energy drink 2-3 hours before your races can be crucially important, but you don’t want to overdo it. To keep track of my hydration on race day I often fill up a 20 oz. water bottle with First Endurance energy drink. First Endurance energy drink is made specifically for extreme conditions. EFS has 300 mg of sodium per serving while EFS Pro has 500 mg of sodium which is the highest on the market. I sip on this until the race starts with the goal of finishing it 20-30 minutes before the race starts. Having that water bottle ensures I get enough fluids and electrolytes, and it also helps ensure I don’t drink too much. During the race I try to drink 1-1.5 bottles of energy drink per hour depending on conditions with a goal of 200-300 calories per hour. The hotter it is the more electrolytes you will need. You are going to have a net loss of hydration during a race, but you want to limit the damage. Most of hydration loss takes place during the run so you want to make sure that you are on top of it during the bike so that you don’t enter the run depleted. If you get ¾ of the way through the bike portion and decide to slam a full water bottle you will pay for it on the run so start early and evenly drink throughout the bike. Use time or mile markers to help you gauge hydration. 8-10 oz. per 20 minutes is a good place to start. Once you hit the run, carry a water bottle or make sure you don’t skip water stations. On hot training days I run with a water bottle for anything over an hour. In cooler climates I did this only on runs over 1:30.
Wear cool clothing. Light colors that are breathable are the best. I try to wear a visor with a light top and dark underside to keep the glare out of my eyes. I also make sure my shoes shed water quickly. I recently did a race where it was 90 degrees on the run and 80% humidity. I made sure the shoes I wore would shed water when I poured it over my head which I did about six times during the race. Triathlon specific running shoes typically do this well.
Make a plan and stick to it. Know your race and come up with a plan. Practice this plan numerous times before race day so that you can make adjustments if needed and to make sure it works for you. Try to stick to that plan during your race. If you do not practice it, it is easy to second guess yourself during a race. Get an idea of what your key race is typically like. Your plan can have built in adjustments depending on the actual conditions on race morning. If you prepared for 90 degrees and it’s only 70 degrees you should know what changes to make. The more you practice it the more confident you will be on race day. Last year at Xterra Worlds Josiah and I cut a pair of panty hose in half, filled each leg with ice cubes and tied off each end. We threw them in a cooler in our transition area and wrapped it around our neck for the run leg. It made the first few miles much more comfortable. In fact, if you look closely at Josiah’s full page spread in Triathlete Magazine from Worlds you can see the panty hose! Many just thought he’d been doing tons of shrugs in the gym.
Make sure you are fit. Nothing prepares you for the elements like overall fitness. I’ve learned this first hand on numerous occasions. I have found that for hot humid races I cannot hide my fitness at all. Sometimes for cooler races I can get away with decent fitness. Increased overall fitness allows your body to deal with the increased stressors on the body from heat. So push your fitness to the next level if you know your championship race will be hot and humid.
Coming up with a plan of attack for hot training and races is crucial this time of year. We often hear athletes complain about how the heat ruined their race. But there are always a few athletes that shine in these conditions. Incorporate these strategies and be that person!!