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Racing in the heat - part 1: You'd better be fit

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

A number of athletes train very hard through the winter eagerly waiting for warmer days to come. In triathlon, there are no shortage of exotic locations for races with sunny weather – Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, or for those looking for a Southern hemisphere adventure in New Zealand, Australia, or South Africa.

Racing in these locations can result in great fun or great pain depending on how you’ve prepared for the conditions. As unless you’re one of few lucky people who the heat doesn’t affect, or you already live in a hot climate so acclimatisation is not an issue, then racing in hot and humid places will negatively affect your performance. I know only few people who are genetically designed in a way that heat is not a problem – like my wife Alicja – for her the hotter conditions the better. Though for most of us though a race specific preparation is a must!

I will start with a few obvious statements about things to consider when preparing for heat:

– The longer the event the more impact the conditions will have on your body

– The hotter the weather the more will you be affected

– The more humid the worse you will be affected

– The bigger/more muscular athlete you are the more likely you will be affected

– The more you sweat the more likely you may get into trouble.

The list is probably longer, but these are the things that most age groupers would find helpful when thinking about their next race in warmer conditions. Everyone seems to have their own war stories from their ‘hottest’ race. I’ll admit I have come up against such conditions quite a few times where the conditions got the better of many competitors! Ironman China – the hottest Ironman ever with temperatures reaching 45-46C a special one, Ironman 70.3 Phuket, Ironman South Africa, and of course Kona is always tough. Like most, I learned the hard way how to deal with such conditions and I will share with you few tips to help you prepare for such races:

Be fit – needless to say but heat and humid conditions expose much more than cold races any gaps in your preparation.

Acclimatise as much as you can at home. I have written blogs about training on a turbo trainer and a treadmill. As much as number of people hate them, they can help with preparing your body to racing in warm conditions. Doing a few runs on a treadmill wearing a long sleeve top or turning up the heating a bit before turbo sessions is not as ridiculous as it looks. Training in 30C when you are to race in 30C is a common sense approach to me.

From time to time go to sauna – start with 10min and build to 2x15min, alternate hot and wet saunas but be mindful that sauna dehydrates you so drink plenty and treat sauna as a training session – it may be quite tiring!

Know your nutrition – heat amplifies tastes, especially if the nutrition you are taking during the race is warm and in 70.3 or IM races it often is. It means you need to train with the nutrition you are going to consume so that your body is familiar with it and does not reject it during the race.

Get exposure to the sun – even if you become comfortable with the heat and humidity it is very helpful (if possible of course) to go for a training camp for a week or even better an extended week (like 10 days Friday to Monday). It really helps to get over the burning sensation on your skin that you cannot get used to unless you train in the sun. If you are training for an Ironman or a Half 9-10 days is enough to do 2 long rides, 2 long runs, and one longer brick done, all outside, all in the sun.

Learn to read your body. The gadgets help but you need to understand during the race what your body is telling you and how you need to respond to it. You can only learn it training from time to time without gadgets.

Have a sound race strategy and stick to it! If you know how fast you can ride for 4 hours or run for 2:30 don’t think that you can ride faster over 180k or run a marathon at the same pace. Even if you feel great be sensible, even on a more conservative on the side of sensible. Being too optimistic usually finishes with a marathon time being very close or even longer than one’s bike spit and none of us really want that.

A specific preparation for hot races works and the experience of such a race is so much more enjoyable.


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