>Handling the Heat

>If you want to be a complete triathlete, you better be able to handle the heat…

With IM Louisville last weekend, and the IM World Championships coming up in less than 6 weeks, racing in the heat is a very relevant issue this time of year.  Some people seem to thrive in the heat, and some seem to fall apart.  The ones who fall apart often come up with convenient excuses, some of the classic ones are:

1) I’m too big to race in the heat, my body just doesn’t dissipate heat as well as smaller people
2) It’s not hot enough where I live
3) My stomach just wasn’t right.  It’s not my fault, I just can’t handle certain foods.

Notice a common theme?  A lack of personal accountability for getting ready to handle the heat.

Here are my brief counter-arguments
1) Suck it up.  Peter Reid won Kona 3 times, and he’s 6’3″.  Andy Potts is perenially in the top-10 now, and he’s 6’3″, 170 lbs.
2) Train in the hottest time of day, and if it’s still not hot enough to simulate the race conditions, then wear extra clothing
3) Fueling and hydrating properly becomes more crucial and more difficult in hot conditions, but everyone can do it.  You obviously just didn’t put enough and practice effort into developing a fueling plan that works.

Now that we’ve gotten past the lame excuses, getting ready for the heat is quite simple.  Notice, I didn’t say it was easy, but I did say it was simple.

Here’s one way of approaching the “heat issue”:

1) Train as much as possible in the actual conditions you’ll be racing in.  This one’s a no-brainer.  The more you train in the heat, the better adapted your body will be for the physiological and psychological demands of being pounded on by the sun for 140.6 miles.  This is also the hardest part of heat adaptation, because everything about training in the heat is far more painful than training in the cool early morning or evening temperatures.  Your paces are slower, the sun is more intense, everything seems to hurt a little more, etc…  But if you can handle it in training, then you can handle it on race day.  The converse is also true – if you can’t handle heat in training, then you probably won’t be able to handle heat on race day, either.  Remember – there’s no such thing as “race day magic”.  Your body and mind will perform EXACTLY as they were prepared to perform.

2) Use every workout as a “sweat test”.  Doing one sweat test in one set of conditions is not enough, because every workout has unique conditions, and therefore requires a different sweat rate from your body.  You’ll be best prepared to know your requirements on race day if you know your requirements for a broad range of conditions, because the variations in sweat rates can be drastic.  For example – I know that when it’s 75 degress and I’m biking at Ironman pace, I sweat about 40 oz per hour.  But when it’s 95 degrees, I sweat about 55 oz per hour.  That’s a HUGE difference – Over the course of a 112 mile ride (5 hours), that’s a difference of nearly 5 lbs of fluids.    If I’m 5 lbs dehydrated at the start of an IM marathon in 90 degree heat, then I can guarantee it’s going to be a long, painful, and crappy run, ending in something like you see in the Chris Legh video above.  So… for every workout you do in the heat, write down 5 numbers – a) the temperature, b) your intensity/pace, c) your starting weight, d) the total weight of the foods/liquids you consumed, and e) your finishing weight. 
   I know you’re thinking to yourself, “What?  I don’t need to weigh myself!  I’m great at hydrating!  I just listen to my body and drink as much as I feel I need.”  Carry that attitude, and you’re probably seriously hindering your performance.  I highly recommend you start measuring your fluid losses, because you’ll probably be very surprised with the results.  But if you still want to remain ignorant about your fluid needs, then please send me your race schedule, because I love running people down after T2…

3)  When training in the heat, use the foods/fluids that you will be racing with.  For every big race, the race website lists exactly what products will be available at aid stations.  If you’re taking thermotabs on race day, then train with thermotabs.  If they’re handing out Product X on the course, then train with Product X.  If you find yourself saying “Oh, my stomach can’t handle Product X .  That’s why I had stomach issues”, then the only person you’re fooling is yourself.  (First of all, it probably wasn’t the Product, it was probably that you tried to race above your fitness level or did something stupid with caffeine, but we’ll save that for another post).  My point is – It’s your responsibility to prepare your body to be able to handle the products that you’ll be racing with.  If you’re not ready, then don’t blame the race sponsors or the race director – blame yourself.

4)  On race day – do everything you can to stay cool.  A few tips:   
      a) replace all of your fluid losses with sports drink, not water   
      b) splash water on your face/head whenever possible  
      c) put ice down your jersey and shorts whenever possible  
      d) make sure all of your skin is protected from the sun – either by clothing or by sunscreen  
      e) if you absolutely cannot cool off or maintain your race pace, then just start coasting (on the bike) or walking (on the run).  This will decrease your rate of body heat generation, and your body will be able to cool itself off back to normal temperatures, at which point you can resume going at race pace.

That’s it for now.  Until next time – keep training hard, and resting harder,
Doug MacLean

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