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Racing in the heat - part 2: It’s not a beauty contest

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

Fastest amateur athlete last year in Kona, Malte Bruns from Germany!

This time it will be more ‘personal’ and so I will start with a disclaimer! The views and ideas expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. I’m not sponsored and don’t have any association with companies whose products I’m using during races.

After published my first blog on racing in the heat I have received few messages asking specific questions. It is very difficult to help a person without understanding how their body works or how they will react to different potential approaches to solving their individual problems – but there were few very similar questions and I decided to share with you my opinions.

I will start with reminding what happens with an athlete’s body when he/she races in higher temperatures than they are used to It is a very simplistic explanation, you can find more detail explanations in different articles or scientific publications:

  • When we race in hot conditions our body tries to keep the core temperature down, protecting itself from overheating.

  • More blood is directed towards the skin, we sweat and sweating helps with the cooling process.

  • The blood volume gradually reduces if we don’t replenish lost fluids, the same happens with salts in our body, they are washed out with the sweat.

  • In order to keep the same intensity the heart needs to pump blood at a higher rate (there is less blood available to be directed working muscles) so our HR goes up. We also use more glycogen as fuel (and it runs out quickly).

  • There is less blood around our intestines and as a result we are not able to digest food/absorb fluids at the same rate. As a result we may end up dehydrated or completely powerless with a stomach full of fluids/food that leads to less pleasant consequences. (Needless to say I have experienced it few time before).

What happens at this stage most of us would know: we significantly slow down, or even are forced to walk and it is not uncommon that we need to ‘reset’ our stomach.

Not a nice picture? Indeed not, I hope we have established now that the key to a good race in the heat is to keep the body temperature down and staying hydrated which brings me to my answers to few questions from the readers:

I noticed you were not wearing an aero helmet in Ironman South Africa, why? I tend to overheat when I’m wearing an aero helmet in hot races, I start sweating more, the sweat flows into my eyes… I feel hot, you get the picture. I have tried a few options and noticed a big difference in how I feel on the bike and then on the run when I wear a semi-aero helmet or even a standard helmet in hot races. I had by fastest runs when I was not wearing aero helmets.

You had a good bike split, how did you pace yourself? I race by feel on the bike most of the time but in hot races I monitor regularly my HR, both on the bike and on the run. I have a definitive cap I’m not going to cross whatever happens so I need to be very disciplined. You cross the line once or twice, you may gain a minute or two but it will most likely bite you towards the end of the bike or on the run. Remember – higher HR means you are either overheating, getting dehydrated, working too hard for your ability and fitness level or a combination of all.

It was a hot race but you were wearing an elbow length sleeved top on the bike and on the run? Yes, but it is not so much for aero advantage on the bike – I spray cold water on the top and when it is wet it feels cooler, it also protects from the sun burn. On the run I was wearing a different top – custom made from cold black fabric. Apparently it helps to keep the body temperature down, I cannot say if it does but if you believe it helps it do the trick! Again long sleeve more for sun protection and to avoid chafing under arms – I hate it!

Finally, on the picture from Part one I’m wearing a Camelbak – did you really wear it on the race day? Yes, this is a picture from the race. There is a bit of a story associated with this one – Head Coach Brett (Sutton) was telling me stories about his athletes in the past racing with backpacks and suggesting I should use one as I sweat a lot and slow down after half way in an Ironman, but I have to admit I was a bit sceptical. Only slowest Age Groupers wear Camelbaks, right?

My view completely changed when I saw a guy running very well in IM Lanzarote last year wearing one. I ‘met’ him again in Kona charging like a race horse wearing his small backpack coming out of Energy Lab ahead of other amateurs and me struggling again with the heat and dehydration. Then I saw him at the Awards – the fastest Age Grouper last year in Kona, Malte Bruns from Germany! Then I decided to try it myself. I have been training with the Camelback for few months and it was completely natural to me to use it on the race day. Since I sweat a lot I need to drink regularly my own drink with extra electrolytes as I had issues using different products in the past. It allowed me to carry all my nutrition with me and drink what I’m used to and when I wanted.

Has running with the Camelback not slowed you down? Obviously not, it was one of my fastest IM runs and by far the fastest in a hot race. My issues in the past were primarily caused but gastro problems and pacing. Actually starting with a full Camelbak helps with both, it slows you down a bit when you still feel fresh in first kilometres of the run.

I hope this blog help few of you to have better memory from hot races and allow you to cross the finish line a bit faster if you manage to avoid few common mistakes.


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