by Bri Frank
Summer racing is upon us and that means the heat is on. Hot temperatures and humid conditions can add to anxiety when signing up for summer races. And with Hawaii 70.3 and Ironman Taiwan on my schedule this year, I knew I had to step up my game if I wanted to take on these notoriously hot and humid races.
There are physiological reasons for why performing in the heat is so hard. When your body heats up, blood is diverted to the skin for cooling and sweating, which means there is less blood to bring oxygen to your muscles. And we all know working muscles need oxygen. There is also the dehydration factor. Put it all together and it can be stressful on the body—but only if you don't prepare for it.
Here are some of the ways I incorporate heat training into my workouts to make the races with higher temps less daunting.
Indoor trainer rides and treadmill runs are great ways to mimic tough conditions. Turn off the air conditioner and fans, close the windows, and wear layers. I sometimes will wear a full cycling kit with arm sleeves for long indoor rides. Some people go as far as riding their trainer in the bathroom, while wearing a hooded sweatshirt and breathing in steam from the shower.
Run in the hottest part of the day
If I can do this safely, I'll run a little later so I can take advantage of hotter temperatures outside. For some sessions, I like wearing a cotton tank top, because for me, it adds to the humidity and increases my sweat rate.
Sip, don't gulp
When I pass the aid stations at Honu 70.3, it’s so tempting to grab several cups of ice-cold water to cool down. However, I've learned the best way to absorb hydration and nutrition is to sip slowly throughout the bike or run and avoid big gulps. There is nothing worse than liquid sloshing around if I'm trying to run hard. Also, it’s been said before but it bears repeating, mimic whatever nutrition you would use during a race on your training days. Trying a new-to-you brand of gel during a race is never a good idea—like one that’s chocolate-flavored and has been roasting in the sun. That was a rough couple of miles!
Salted or unsalted
These are so many types of “performance-enhancing” salts on the market these days. I’m a believer in using salt, but identifying which brand and how much to consume was a process of trial and error over the past few years racing in different climates. The right salt product definitely helps eliminate that aforementioned sloshy stomach. But I also know too much salt can be a bad thing, which I, unfortunately, learned after consuming a new salt product on the morning of a race. (See: Lesson #3)
Gradually increase exposure to heat
After the off-season, I don't dive right into these heat training sessions, nor do I practice them every day. Living in Hawaii, it’s warm and humid most days of the year, so I gradually work up to adding in about 1-2 sessions/week focused on adding extra heat, and generally stay on top of it 6-8 weeks out from my race.
Perhaps the most important thing I can do is mentally prepare for the heat. It's easy to get negative and upset if I don't hit my goals while I'm struggling, which can lead to more physiological distress. Instead, I remind myself to stay calm and collected during a hot workout or race. If you're struggling because of the conditions, chances are good that everyone else is struggling too! I sometimes repeat to myself that I'm "cool as a cucumber" or "comfortable being uncomfortable,” which helps to not only keep me calm but temporarily shifts my focus. Smash-Dimond teammate Mary Knott recently wrote a fantastic post about upping your mental game when approaching the hard stuff.
Overall, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Hot and humid races can be intimidating (Ironman alone is intimidating!), but I found if I could practice ahead of time and understand how my body reacted to different temperatures, I had a more confident and successful race day.