How to Train and Race in the Heat…Without Having a Meltdown

How to train and race in the heat without having a meltdown

Your salty sweat stings your eyes.

It’s hot. Really hot.

The sweat rolls down your face and drips onto the ground.

You look like someone dumped a bucket of water over your head.

You can feel the heat radiating through your head.

For a split second you wonder if perhaps internal combustion is not just an old wives tale….

And then there’s the state of your mind; as messed up as the state of your body.

F’n hell. This was a stupid idea. I hate this. I am never ever racing in the heat again. I just can’t race well in the heat. I never have. Never will. 

We’ve all been there.

At the moment, the weather here in Australia is slowly heating up.

While we’ve had a few super hot days, most of the time the warm sunny days are perfect for training while the nights are cool enough to sleep comfortably. The sticky, hot sleepless nights that come with summer in Australia haven’t arrived yet.

But that long, hot summer is fast approaching. And with it a host of challenges and frustrations.

Here in Penrith, we are only days away from the Western Sydney 70.3 race, the first time a long course triathlon has been held in the area.

The end of November in Penrith generally means one thing.

It’s hot. Damn hot.

The Regatta Centre (where the rowing events during the 2000 Sydney Olympics were held) turns into a cauldron at this time of year.

Sure you can’t control the weather.

But there are a few tips you can use you can do – both before your race and on race day – to help you physically and (perhaps more importantly) mentally deal with the heat so you don’t have a meltdown on race day.

Change your mind(set) 

This is the single most important thing you can do.

Even if you’re about to stop reading, work on this point. It could mean the difference between finishing your goal race and a dreaded DNF…

Your thoughts have an incredibly powerful impact on the physical (chemical) response within your body.

“It’s not rocket science” as a friend of mine would say but….

If you tell yourself you don’t race well in the heat, guess what?
You won’t!

And until your change your mindset about it, you never will. So you may as well start now.

Train in it

Make sure you’ve done a few sessions in warmer conditions in the lead up to your race.

If you run at 5am when it’s cool or only ride on a wind trainer inside an air-conditioned room, race day will come as a shock to your system.

Get used to working hard in difficult conditions.

Think of it as an opportunity to test what you need to do so you can have your best race in spite of the less-than-favourable conditions.

Suck it up princess

It’s easy to say and hard to do.

But you need to accept the fact that it’s hot.

Now there’s a difference between knowing it’s going to be hot and accepting that fact.

You can know it’s going to be hot and still worry, stress and complain about – and dread – it.

Acceptance requires letting go and not worrying about it.

It comes back to the old notion of worrying about the things you can control (your pace, hydration, nutrition, sun protection etc) and letting go of the things you can’t (the heat).

Because – let’s face it – unless you’ve got a hotline to the weather gods, there’s absolutely nothing you can do.

No amount of whinging or checking the weather in the hope the forecasted temperatures will magically drop will change anything.

So any time you spend worrying about it is a waste of mental energy.

It will put you in a negative headspace and on the fast track to have a really crappy day out there.

And remember that everyone has to deal with it. Sure if you’re a bigger guy it might impact you more in terms of your hydration and nutrition requirements. But it really does level the playing field and affect most people in a similar way.

What went wrong? 

If you’ve previously had a bad race in the heat, work out what went wrong.

Perhaps you didn’t nail your nutrition or hydration. Perhaps all your training was done in front of the air-con or early in the morning. Was your pacing spot-on or did you go too hard too early (be honest!)?

Sure you might have made a mistake (or two).

But the only bad mistake is one you don’t learn from.

So work out what the mistake was and learn from it so you don’t repeat it.

Slip, slop, slap..

Consider a hat rather than a visor.

A visor might allow the heat to escape but a hat will protect your head and better retain any water you pour over your head during the race.

If you’ve cursed/blessed with ‘English rose’ skin like mine, look after your skin.

The damage you can get from a long day in the sun is not worth the race result; you’re messing with your long term health.

One neat trick I learnt years ago was apply a coat of sunscreen the night before the race.

Take off your shirt and apply your sunscreen. Don’t forget the back of your neck and on your back near your underarms – even if you think your tri suit covers the area.

If someone is putting it on for you, check they aren’t making any assumptions about what your tri suit may – or may not – cover. I learnt this lesson the hard/painful way many moons ago and it took years until I lost that particular tan line 😮

Once you’ve put your sunscreen on, let it absorb before you go to bed.  Then when you get up on race morning, put a second coat on (again sans clothing) before you get dressed.

This approach gives your skin a chance to absorb the sunscreen rather than doing a rush job on race morning and trying to jam your sunscreen under or around your shirt, half of which will probably rub off when you’re trying to get your suit on anyway.

Sure you’ll have to wash the sheets on the bed but that’s a small price to pay for looking after your skin and your health.

Cool down

If there’s ice or cold water at the aid stations, consider tipping a cup down your shirt and/or shorts.

The fastest way to cool the body is via the armpits and groin.

Remember the finish line photo of Chris McCormack when he won his first title at the Hawaii Ironman back in 2007. He had the sponges from the aid stations still stuffed down this shirt when he crossed the line. Whilst unattractive – and I suspect he probably copped a bit of ribbing for his ‘man boobs’ – it’s a smart strategy for cooling down the body.

Nail it

Stick to your race plan.

(You have one don’t you?)

The fastest way to guarantee a bad race – and leave you once again whinging that you “never race well in the heat” – is to screw up your race plan because you felt good early on the bike and decided to go for it, because you chased after someone in your age group who went past you or you forget to take in your fluids.

Don’t do it!

Check your ego at the entrance to transition and stick to your plan.

With a smart race you’ll overtake a stack of people in the second half of the run leg.

Anyway what would you rather – be the person who has executed their race place and is powering past everyone on the run leg or be left complaining that you “never race well in the heat” because you’ve melted – again – when the heat turned up ?

There are lots of people stepping up to race their first 70.3 at Western Sydney this weekend.

Leave a comment below and share with them what your biggest lesson has been when it comes to racing well in the heat.