Strategies for Racing in the Heat
By Angie Anderson
There is a lot of information out there on how to race in the heat. Common heat acclimatization protocols have athletes training in saunas or in the highest heat of the day. If your big race is likely going to take place in high temperatures with full sun, these race-day tips will surely make the event more comfortable. You may not be able to beat the heat, but with a little bit of planning, you can certainly manage it better.
Below are a number of strategies to help you keep your cool on a tough, hot day. Experience in the heat of battle has proven that these tips will make your day a little less steamy!
The day before the race:
- Stay out of the sun as much as you can.
- Hydrate well all week leading into a hot race. A few pounds will likely show up on the scale. As long as you aren’t eating way more than you need, those extra pounds are likely water proving your hydration plan is working.
- Sunscreen: The night before the race shower then apply sunscreen to any body parts that will be exposed. This includes your face although be careful not to touch your goggle line as sunscreen can mess with the seal.
- Fill your bike bottles half full and freeze them. In the morning, top them off with water and you’re good to go. Using an insulated bottle keeps liquids cold a lot longer than a regular bottle, too.
The day of the race:
- Reapply sunscreen the day of the race.
- Cool yourself off as often as you can.
- Pouring water over your head in aid stations sounds easy, but it can be an exercise in bottle management. If you have an empty bottle cage on your bike, you can grab one bottle and put it in the cage, then grab a second before you leave the aid station. Use the second one to cool off with then toss it. Use the first one for drinking or to refill your aero bottle if you need.
- Hot feet: Try pouring ice water over them. It can be a major pain reliever.
- Stay positive: On the bike resist the urge to think forward. Wondering how am I going to run in this heat? is negative. Focus on what you are doing now to manage the heat. Do the same on the run. Remember, it is the same for everyone. The athletes who manage it the best have the best days.
- Consider wearing a hat versus a visor. Ask the volunteers to dump ice into your hat for you while your hold the brim and the back of the hat. That keeps it from falling out. Cold ice on your head feels so good. As it melts the ice water drips down your shoulders and back.
- At the aid stations have a plan:
- Grab two cups of water the first chance you get. Dump them on your head. (Feet get wet. Be prepared. If you get blisters you may want to apply BodyGlide to your feet.)
- Grab ice and pour it down your front and back if you can. (You need the right clothing for it to work. Tri tops are tight and hold the ice nicely.)
- Grab calories. What do you need? Think about it before you get to the aid station. Have a plan so you are clear on what to grab when you’re in the aid station versus being overwhelmed by options.
- As you’re leaving the aid station, if you can grab more water to drink or pour, take it.
- Consider asking the volunteers to throw water on you. If they have two or three cups in their hands and you say “dump,” they’ll do it! It’s likely fun for them, too.
- If you can carry ice between aid stations ... bonus. You can sip the cold water or put an ice cube in your mouth. Bendable Dixie Cups work great for this because you can squeeze the cup to keep the ice in.
- Manage your attitude. It’s so easy to dwell on how uncomfortable you are in the heat. If your mind goes there, change the focus to what can I do to feel better. That might mean slowing down. It might mean taking a bit of extra time in an aid station to get all you need. It might mean staying tough because it’s hard. A good mantra to remember is, “The only thing you can control right now is your attitude.” In tough race conditions that is so true. All of you are special for challenging yourself. Today might be extra hard, but you are extra tough!
Always remember that heat impacts how fast you can go. Pay attention to your body and heart rate, as well as your rate of perceived exertion versus the odometer on the bike or pace on the run. Racing in the heat is an exercise in management. Doing your best for the conditions will give you your best day every time.
Coach Angie Anderson fell in love with triathlon in 1999 at her first race in Leduc. In 2006 she left her career as a high school physical education and sports medicine teacher to coach full time. Team TriLife was born shortly after and has grown to be a committed, inspired and friendly group of athletes in both Canada and the U.S. Angie considers her 10 years as an educator to be the perfect foundation for coaching. Since 2007 Angie has been the Coach Educator for all NCCP Triathlon Certification Courses in Alberta. Other certification and educational influences include NCCP Comp Intro Certified Triathlon Coach, ITU Level II Certified Coach, USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach as well as a bachelor’s of physical education and education. Angie has worked with junior elites on a national level and now focuses solely on coaching age-group athletes. Angie takes great pride in sharing all she’s learned as a coach and athlete with her athletes and the coaches she is fortunate enough to mentor. Angie enjoys the challenge of balancing coaching, training, racing and family. You can contact Angie at teamtrilife.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.