Heat Prep 101
1. Even when it’s cool enough that you’re barely sweating, your muscles are getting less oxygen and therefore are less efficient—an important factor in longer races.
2. Instead of avoiding heat during training, help your body adapt to it. Within a short time your system will become more efficient, as it learns to anticipate the rise in core temperature.
3. When heat and humidity start to creep higher, it’s best to slow down. Your performance relative to the competition will often be better (though slower) if you remain conservative.
4. If you are working on acclimating to warm temperatures expected on race day, remember to back off two days prior to the competition to make sure you’re not overstressing your body.
5. Hydrate wisely and don’t create dangerous imbalances by not using the right electrolyte supplements. Train to consume more liquids to build resistance to dehydration.
The hotter it is, the harder it is to excel. In 2007, Kara Goucher became the first American ever to medal in the 10,000m in a world championship. She knew that Japanese summers are notorious for hot, humid conditions, and race day in Osaka was no exception. “[It] was humid and stifling,” she says, remembering 88 degrees with high humidity.
But she’d also prepared for it, doing summer track workouts in tights and long sleeves, as well as easier runs in “sauna suits—jacket and pants that were basically like rubber.” She went to Japan two weeks before the race. “By race day, I knew I could handle it,” she says.
The key to racing in outrageous conditions, adds Badwater 135 veteran Greg Pressler, is thinking about everything that might affect your performance, whether it’s monitoring pace or your choice of clothing. Stints in a sauna can also help with acclimation. Meanwhile, it’s also useful to work on hydration, even for shorter races. “I’m a big proponent of Pedialyte in an effort to top off the electrolytes, while also ensuring maximal hydration,” University of Iowa cross country coach Layne Anderson says. It will pay off with larger blood volume and greater resistance to dehydration.
It’s also possible to train yourself to drink more liquids. (Take the right electrolyte supplements so you don’t create dangerous imbalances.) You won’t be able to exceed one liter per hour, but most people aren’t used to consuming even that much, Pressler says, which means that in training for hot conditions, it’s easy to dehydrate.
The keys to not only surviving a hot race, but doing well, boil down to “hydration, practicing the conditions, and getting there early,” Goucher says.