Many races over the world are conducted in the height of summer – meaning at some stage you are inevitably going to be competing on a scorcher. Dry heat, oppressive humidity, beating sunshine, gusty hot winds; these are all possible conditions you’ll have to contend with, not just on race day but also training days. Some people prefer, or handle some conditions better than others – I know for me a cold, wet windy race day, although not that much fun, was one I tended to perform better in. Preparation, acclimation, and knowledge are key to help improve your ability to tolerate and perform in most conditions, but also for safety and wellbeing.
Getting used to performing in the heat isn’t just an issue for age groupers – pro Grace Thek has also worked hard on strategies for coping with hotter climates, as she admits when it comes to performing well, hot conditions historically haven’t been her friend. She shared some strategic tips:
“Get to the race location early if possible to be in the exact conditions & get acclimated that way. If I can’t do this, I have done laundry trainer sessions with the heater and dryer on to replicate heat and humidity.”
Sauna prep also has merit and is another tactic that Grace has utilised, but warns that target watts for these types of sessions, or when doing a lot of heat sessions in a week, must be adjusted as the physical stress load is much higher. Add in plenty of recovery if you do heat work.
It goes without saying that hydration requirements go up in the heat. But complicating this is that thirst signals and the desire to ingest fluids can go down; this is where it helps to plan have fluid targets and to have done some prep and learning work in training. I recommend getting some base fluid loss ranges by weighing pre and post session – both you as well as water bottles. TIP: remember to account for sweat in clothes and fluids lost if you have to go to the bathroom mid-session, or cool off by tipping water on you.
Doing a session that aims to replicate conditions as well as intensity will at least give you a estimate of fluid targets. Sweat testing is something else to consider in the knowledge and application tool box.
Grace’s pro tip strategy when it comes to racing is to make use of on course fluids, not just for drinking but also “over head water, ice in hat and down trisuit”.
All of this heat training and acclimation is important, but it all comes down to your actions on race day. It's important to consider the colour of your race suit and helmet. Says Grace, “this year I learned that for hotter races I need a white helmet & lighter colour tri-suit too”.
Grace's pro-tip is to “understand that the pace will be different in these conditions. Watts will be less, Run paces will be slower but everyone is in the same boat. Try to race your own race because some people will go too hard and try to do the same as in a normal race and blow up!”
Keep calm and cool before a race, even if that means finding novel ways to cool yourself down. Often Grace will "bring a bag of ice from hotel that I can put down my trisuit while I’m waiting for the race start." She warns that it is equally as important to not 'over warm up' before the race.
- Pip Taylor, Performance Dietitian