Triathlon Training in the Extreme Heat
Todd Jensen, PhD | Tri Faster LLC
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by Todd Jensen, PhD
If you live just about anywhere in the United States, you are experiencing a hot summer. So, I will hop on the bandwagon and provide my two cents on how to manage training in this weather without an extraodinary amount of suffering. I’ll do this by going through some common strategies along with the reasons behind those and why or why not they may be a good idea. Living with someone that has fainted multiple times in the heat, I can tell you it is very scary if you do not continually monitor how you are feeling and respect the conditions.
1) “Train at mid-day when it is hottest to get acclimated.” While one of the best ways to acclimate to the heat is to get out and experience it, this strategy can fail if you do not take into account how the heat effects you. You will sweat more, you will find it harder to digest any calories you intake during long sessions, your core temperature will be higher. Therefore, be prepared to SLOW DOWN! Carry fluids with you and plan routes that allow you to refill before you run dry.
Don’t attempt any speed or high intensity work in the hot conditions until you have at least 7-10 days or more of acclimation. The best way to avoid going to hard is to monitor your heart rate and keep it in zone 1 or 2 (yes, you will be going pitifully slow). Be aware of heart rate drift, your HR will go up as you get hotter and/or dehydrated as you heart tries to pump the blood to your extremities in order to help you cool down.
2) “Live in the heat.” Many athletes keep the A/C off in order to acclimate. While this is also a good way to acclimate to the heat, you may be digging yourself into a bigger and deeper hole of fatigue if you cannot continually stay hydrated and fueled and get quality sleep. Even if you go to bed euhydrated, you might wake up dehydrated from a sweaty night. And the sleep may not be very good if you are hot.
The constant heat cuts our appetites, so while you may acheive a buff and chisled look of a body builder, your energy stores could be severely depleted. As a poor college student without A/C, I found myself drinking high calorie complex carbohydrate drinks to survive two straight weeks of 100F+ weather.
Don’t feel you are not acclimating if you turn on the A/C to get a good night’s rest. You may find yourself handling the heat better the next day!
3) “Train early in the morning or inside to avoid the heat.” This is somewhat the opposite as the prior strategies, but the reason is that you may be able to maintain your target pace and effort before the sun starts baking the environment (as long as the dew point is not too high meaning the heat index may already be elevated). Much like athletes living at high altitude may go lower for high quality workouts, this strategy is very good way to still do some interval work during hot weather. But, unfortunately, most summer races are not held too early (at least not the run portion of most triathlons) nor are they held in air conditioned buildings. In order to adapt to the hot weather, you must do some portion of your workouts in it.
I hope the above helps you train smart in the heat. Remember, if you experience any heat related symptoms especially dizziness, loss of sweating, stop immediately and find a shady or indoor spot to cool off. Learn to pay attention to dew point readings – higher dew points mean higher humidity and this makes your sweat a less efficient mechanism for cooling your body temperature. And last but not least, don’t complain to me about the temperature because winter will be here soon enough!
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