by Marilyn McDonald
I am Canadian, which means I grew up in the winters. I also grew up in northern Alberta, so I experienced real cold. But despite growing up with cold weather, I never really got to like it.
But heat is a different story. When it comes to heat training and racing I have had some good success and hopefully have some good advice to share.
My biggest success with heat racing is IM Malaysia '04. I came from the dead of winter and no experience in tropical climiate to win the womens race. I have since done many heat training camps. Training and living in some of the hottest places in the world: Australia, Thialand, Phillipeans, Tucson, Phoenix, Hawaii and Palm Springs. Scott Molina use to call me the dessert lizard.
Here are some tips to keep in mind for training and racing in the heat:
- Plan short camps in hot places and be on top of mineral replacement. Doing long training camps in the heat can be very tiring and will drain you of many important minerals. Consider the timing of these camps -- keep them far enough out from your important race day so you have time to replenish before your big event.
- Train hot but live cool. This is key! Keep your actual living place -- especially your sleeping area -- very cool with air conditioning so that you come out of a heat camp successfully.
- Learn what training and racing nutrition works for you in the heat. What you will be able to tolerate in the heat is very different than normal weather. I suggest using carbs only (no protein) and liquid only, although bananas and chocolate seem to be okay for many people. Adjusting the amount may be necessary. Add more sodium if you are a heavy and salty sweater. Never put anything in special needs that will go off (like protein -- that's another reason to avoid it in hot weather).
- Get a tan. It sounds silly, but if you get a sun burn it will hurt you. Get a good base tan before heading to the heat can help you avoid getting a massive sunburn. I went to the tanning bed before leaving Canada for IM Malaysia. Be sure the body parts (like your back) are tanned if your race kit exposes it. This obvious disclaimer here is to be safe when you tan.
- Use sunscreen. Yes, we need it, but choose a spray-on version that doesn't clog your pours and send your body into a mad sweat. Those heavy thick lotions will shoot your sweat rate through the roof and could overheat your body.
- Have a cooling system. Wear light color clothes. Use wrist bands or a cap to put ice or cold water under. Be sure your cap or visor is a cool one that is light in color and doesn't hold heat. Nice dark sunglassess will help too. Use a vented helmet rather than an enclosed areo helmet.
- Do heat-specific training sessions.If you are coming from a cold place into a hot place you can do heat-specific sessions indoors to prep yourself. I would do trainer/treadmill sessions with extra clothes and no fan so that I could teach my body to deal with the stress of being hot, sweating and absorb calories with a higher core temperature. I would also do bikrims yoga once per week.
- Plan your training. When training in very hot places for months on end you need to be smart about how much you expose yourself to the harsh conditions. It's easy to get very depleted and really cook yourself. Choose training times that are a little less exposed. When we live in Australia we get up early and ride or run, swim in the heat of the day and wait to ride or run again when its cooler in the late afternoon or early evening.
- Pace wisely. It may be necessary to adjust your pace in hot conditions. You'll find your overall heart rate will be higher and avoiding going too hard will help.
- Get fit! This one may seem the most obvious, but being very fit and lean will help you deal with hot conditions. The fitter you are for hot races the better you can cope.
Always remember that you need to look after yourself when dealing with any extreme condition. You never want to go too far or too hard in the heat -- heat stroke is real and if you get it once you'll get it easily again, so avoid getting it! Use commom sense and teach yourself a coping plan in small doses.
Enjoy the heat! It beats shivering your buns off.