The summer racing season is just about here—and it is already in full swing in some part of the country! Awesome, isn't it?!
A few members on our triathlon team have been looking ahead and wondering what they can to do in training to help with heat acclimation to help improve their race performance in hot conditions.
I wish I could tell you that there is some magic formula for performing amazingly well and effortlessly in the heat. That's what we all want, right? We don't want to adjust pace, and we want to feel amazing even as the temperature climbs over 90!
In my experience, there are some of us who are more naturally inclined to do better in the heat, and others who are less inclined. I can only assume that this is, to some degree, how we are individually built. Does our ancestry have something to do with it? I think so, though I have no scientific evidence to support that at my fingertips. Clearly though, we are all unique in our affinity for the heat, and training in it.
But don't despair if you're not "good in the heat." Acclimatization does work. If we give ourselves GRADUAL, progressively increasing doses of training in hotter conditions, we will feel better and perform better with that increasing exposure.
Most runners competing in the Badwater ultramarathon in Death Valley use the sauna to acclimatize to the heat. Famed Badwater runner Arthur Webb wrote an article on this topic that you might be interested in. Click here to read Heat Training in the Sauna. I do, in fact, think the sauna works well, but it is all relative when discussing our individual make up and ability to adapt.
Here are a number of things you can do to help you acclimate and race better in the heat:
Run in the Heat of the Day
In my opinion, running in the heat of the day is very effective simply because we all tend to run at the coolest times of the day to be more comfortable. At least some percentage of the time, we absolutely DO need to train at the time of day we expect to be running during our goal races.
Be Careful With Overdressing
Be very careful with using overdressing as a way to acclimate. This approach can not only cause dehydration and heat stroke very quickly, it can also change your running mechanics. A change in those mechanics might increase your risk of injury. Overdressing is my least favorite thing to do—and it is a tactic I would use only with extreme caution.
Hot yoga can also, like the sauna, expose you to heat while exercising.
Pick Cooler Races
Seriously...if you generally have NOT performed well in the heat and know it's "not your thing," then pick COOLER places to race! This is a VERY legitimate factor in race selection. It does not make you less of a competitor in the least. (In fact, it makes you a pretty smart one!)
Adjust Pace and Stay Out Of Trouble in the First Place!
Early on in the year, you must take into account your lack of acclimatization, and adjust pace DOWN accordingly....while adjusting water/fluid intake UP.
The best way to stay OUT of trouble on a hot day is to not get into it in the first place! How? By being more conservative with your pacing EARLY on in the race or training session. You must slow down to keep HR down in order to avoid paying big time a few miles down the road. The best strategy for getting out of trouble is to never get into it. While this seems obvious, it's not always easy to keep your wits about you and put it into effect.
Drink More Frequently in Training
Drinking frequently during training sessions will help you become more accustomed to the feeling of fluid in your gut, which in turn will make it easier to drink MORE when its hot. Drink up.
Trick Your Brain
Wear a hat and sunglasses. Believe it or not, this WILL make you cooler.
Along the same lines, cool water on your skin doesn't just "feel" better, it works to help you stay cooler.
The Weather is Perfect!
Triathlon IS a hot weather sport, and sometimes we can't choose our "ideal" conditions. As such, we all have to do our best to maximize our performance (and mental toughness) when conditions aren't in our favor. One thing I always have made a habit of saying on the morning of a race, regardless of the weather, is, "This weather is perfect for me!!!!!" I repeat the mantra regardless if it is 100 degrees with blazing sun or 50 degrees and raining! The weather is ALWAYS "perfect" for you.
Stay Away From Sugary Calories
Folks generally always get into trouble when trying to take in sugary calories (or any kind of calories for that matter) during a hot triathlon run or road race. Ingesting sugary fuel on a steaming day is a mistake more often than not. Why?
Stress and fueling are inversely related.
When your body is under duress/stress, that is the WORST time to try and fuel. The run happens to be a period of time when the body is under a TON of stress. Focus on clear, clean water and make hydration your #1 priority. By the time of a triathlon run on a very hot day, none of the calories you're forcing in are going to make it to your working muscles anyway. More of the fluids in your system are being drawn AWAY from the gut toward the skin for cooling. Less fluid means the sugar is more concentrated in your stomach. More concentrated sugar means stomach upset and cramps.
The hotter it gets the less you can fuel, and the more dilute any fuel you take in should be. When in doubt, go with straight water only until your system normalizes.
Give Yourself Time
If you give yourself time to acclimate progressively (exposure to hot days, longer sessions, or increasing time spent in the sauna), adjust pace down, and pay close attention to your effort and fluid intake, then you will do as well as you possibly can—whether you're "good" in heat, or not.
Hope this helps! Keep cool and BE GREAT!