Heat Acclimation

Jan 13, 2021

Race preparation is about more than just training.  It includes every aspect of your race day experience.  In a previous story, we talked about race day reconnaissance.  On our website we offer a free race plan template.  In this article, we are going deeper into preparing for racing in hot conditions.

Hot is a relative term.  For the purposes of this article, hot implies hotter than what you are accustomed to where you live and train.  Each person’s concept of hot may be different.  But we all have our comfort zone and there are places and times of the year where the heat index becomes uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

At the time of this writing, it is cold in Kentucky.  Traveling south for a race introduces hotter conditions that we must be prepared for.

I have learned over the years the importance of preparing for race day heat.  Most of my hot races have been Ironman events.  Ironman Louisville used to be in August and then it shifted to October.  Ironman Texas is in May.  And the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii is in October.  All these locations and times of the year challenge athletes to mitigate heat.

To prepare for these conditions, you can adapt your training.  Training in heat stimulates an increase in blood plasma volume and sweat rate.  Each of these aids in the body’s ability to perform and stay safe in hot conditions.  It can take a few days to a couple of weeks to notice improvements. 

Training Tips to Prepare for the Heat

Pro cyclist Tony Martin trained in his bathroom with the heater on to prepare for the conditions he would face in the 2016 World Championships in Doha, Qatar.  Afterward, he said that the actual race was easier than training in his bathroom.

Training techniques like Tony Martin used to prepare for race day heat include the following.

Always have a plan for staying hydrated and have cooling options close by.

  • Training in a confined environment with the heat on
  • Extra layers of clothes to experience being hot
  • Resting in or exercising in a sauna/steam room after a workout
  • Resting in a hot tub after a workout
  • Training at the hottest part of the day

Before trying any of these techniques, consider the risk of overheating.  Have a plan to properly hydrate.  Always have a non-caffeinated sports drink with you.  Be careful to pay attention to how your body reacts.  If you start experiencing signs of heat illness, get to a cooler environment and continue drinking non-caffeinated sports drinks. 

Always start out something new in small doses and increase time as you acclimate. Be realistic about race day conditions and don’t over do the heat training.  Safety is more important than performance.

There are reasons why people enjoy early spring and late fall racing.  Cooler temperatures allow your body to focus on performance rather than cooling resulting in faster times.

Tips for Racing in the Heat

Even though you may be racing in hot conditions, there are techniques you can use to help you stay cool and fast.  Here are a few:

  • Wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and a light-colored hat/helmet
  • Pour water in the hat and on shoulders at aid stations
  • If ice is available, put ice in the hat and in your tight-fitting tri-suit
  • Cold wet sponges are often available. They are great under the shoulders of the tri-suit
  • Stick to your nutrition/hydration plan by carrying what you need and drinking frequently. Refill/replace at the aid stations
  • Aim for shade even if it’s not the most tangent path

Taking steps to prepare for heat can help you perform better.  But even with these tips for training and racing, listen to your body and be safe.  If at any time you begin suffering from heat illness, rest at an aid station in the shade and seek medical assistance if necessary.  Remember, for most of us, this is a hobby.  Be safe for those you love and those who love you.

Having a coach provides benefits you just don’t get from a training plan.  Let us share our experience with you to help you reach your big goals.  Join our team.


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