When competing in triathlon, there are so many factors to consider as part of your training just to get to the start line. You can diligently put in that hard training year-round, only to be tripped up by one “minor” detail on race day—heat.
Have you ever been on holiday somewhere very hot and humid, so hot that when you come off the plane it feels like you’ve walked into a sauna? Imagine having to race in that very same sauna a few days after your arrival. Many of us from Northern climates are unprepared for the heat at popular IRONMAN events in either subtropical or even Central European regions.
Heat is one race factor that is often underestimated, but it’s also one you can plan and train for.
HEAT, HUMIDITY AND HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR BODY
Not everyone needs heat acclimation—like those pro triathletes who seem to be continually globetrotting—but most of us do. Heat not only impairs performance, but it could lead to heat stroke or worse. In an IRONMAN you will start your swim in the cooler hours of the morning, but you will be running in the afternoon and there is no escaping the temperatures and humidity levels at that time of day.
So, what does heat do to the human body? Have you ever wondered why you turn red in the heat? That’s your blood being drawn away from your muscles in order to cool off your skin. It takes a lot of energy to cool your body down, so more glycogen as an energy source will need to be consumed. The larger the athlete, the more glycogen is required.
In warm weather you will get a higher increase in lactate concentration because you will likely reach higher heart rate zones at much lower speeds. So those heart rate zones that you stuck to all season simply become invalidated, due to an increase in heart rate caused by decreased blood flow.
THREE STRATEGIES FOR YOUR HEAT ACCLIMATION TRAINING
Heat acclimation training improves the body’s ability to exercise in higher temperatures. For most triathletes, training for an IRONMAN starts early in the year and never in subtropical temperatures. This does not simulate anything close to race day conditions. Here are some training strategies to consider:
- The DIY approach: Simulate heat by training for at least an hour in the afternoons with a few extra layers of clothing on, aiming for about five to 10 sessions over a period of two weeks preceding a race. This is a very basic approach that may work for you if outdoor temperatures are high enough. In winter, you could also set up your turbo trainer in your laundry room with the dryer running for heat AND humidity. When starting out, you should reduce your intensity slightly for the first few sessions to avoid any negative heat-related effects.
- Hyperthermic Conditioning: This is heat acclimation using an artificial source such as a sauna. The protocol is simple in that you train for up to an hour prior to using the sauna. The reason is that your core body temperature is already increased, which will allow for greater heat adaptation. You should start this approach three weeks out from your event for 15 minutes a session, three times a week. Closer to the event, you can increase the duration to 30 minutes, four times a week.
- Heat Chambers: If you’re lucky enough to live close to a university with a well-equipped sports physiology department, you could potentially use one of their heat chambers. This is the gold standard for heat training, as you can control all variables for specific environmental conditions and it is completely customizable. General recommendations for a full acclimation program would consist of seven to 14 sessions, two weeks out from your event. You would be in a monitored environment, have use of a treadmill or exercise bike in the chamber and would have feedback from seasoned professionals.
In addition to all of these above heat adaptation strategies, you should also plan a hydration/electrolyte supplementation strategy that’s specific to your needs. This should be based on your sweat rate and is best done with the help of a coach.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HEAT ACCLIMATION TRAINING?
Many studies have been done on this topic, but in a nutshell you will see:
- Increased blood flow to muscles, heart and skin
- Improvements in fluid balance and cardiovascular stability
- Enhanced sweat capacity and vasomotor responses
- Less glycogen use
- Lower rate of lactate buildup
WHEN SHOULD YOU START TRAINING FOR THE HEAT?
Your heat acclimation protocol should generally start two to three weeks out from your race. You will want to stop your heat acclimation seven days before your race to mitigate any negative impact of the heat on site. The effects of heat acclimation training can last for upward of 10 days.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU PLAN FOR?
Once you arrive at your race destination, you will want to make the most of the pre-event activities and the weather, but keep a few things in mind:
- Avoid high use of air conditioning, as this can negate the effects of heat acclimation
- Increase your fluid, salt and magnesium uptake
- Drive the race course to check the conditions for wind, shade or heat reflection on asphalted roads.
On race day:
- Use plenty of sunblock and wear appropriate clothing before, during and after your event
- Wear sleeved speedsuits, long-sleeved cooling tops, and/or arm coolers as further sun protection
- Wear a run cap to protect your dome. Sun visors are fine, but a full cap can offer further sun protection.
- Make use of the event’s drink stations as often as possible
HAVE A SAFE AND SUCCESSFUL EVENT
The performance impact of heat on an athlete cannot be fully removed, but can be mitigated to a point. Heat acclimation training in your final weeks before your big event is scientifically proven to help your body respond better to the stresses of heat on race day. Combine your training with a hydration plan, check the race course and most importantly, be sensible on the day. Enjoy your race!
Did that grab your attention? Good!
There are truly hundreds of reasons, as each triathlete has different needs. However, there are 5 good reasons that I believe are universal.
I have been a triathlete for 35 years and have been coaching my peers for over a decade. One thing I come across a lot is having to explain what VALUE coaching really provides.
Some of the questions I tend to get as a coach are:
How do you add value to what I am already doing? Is it simply about improving performance, technique or just getting a programme? What can I expect from my investment? What coaching certifications do you have and why do they matter?
Here are my top 5 reasons to get a coach:
- When you want to learn to play an instrument, you go to a music teacher. When you are ill, you see a doctor. When you are serious about your sport, go see a coach! Top endurance coaches will have important knowledge about physiology, nutrition, sport psychology, sport-specific skills, race tactics, athletic injuries, age and goal-appropriate training, plan individualisation, and much more! Also, they will know about the latest techniques, as that is their job. Certifications matter. Ask your future coach which ones they have.
- Self-coaching via canned programmes can be useful to build base fitness, but they will not be specific to you. One size doesn’t fit all! A bespoke coached programme is tailoured to your individual needs, goals and lifestyle. This should include long easy runs, hard hill climbs, strength training, recovery days. Your coach can also advise on race nutrition and hydration. A good coach will work with you in partnership and fit a programme around your work/life/training time.
- Corrective action:
- No matter what level of experience you have as an athlete, coaching helps you to adopt good technique and proper training practices from the beginning. A coach will provide objective feedback on a regular basis and offer corrective action, either in person or via online coaching. They will keep you on track, so that you’re not doing too much or too little. Use your coach as sounding board for questions along the way.
- A coaching relationship is a partnership! Coaches are used to working with different personality types. Some athletes need a coach to be their cheerleader, some want the coach to add variety to a training plan, some prefer the hands off approach and are motivated by receiving their weekly training plan. Whatever makes you tick, your coach will support you. It’s also more difficult to slack off, when someone is watching over your shoulder. Your success is your coach’s success!
- Maximise your investment in the sport:
- Investing in a coach saves time and money in the long run. This may seem counterintuitive, but you may be spending 10-20 hours per week on your training and you may just have spent a lot on a big race entry, plus travel and gear! That’s a lot of time and money wasted, if you train incorrectly or inefficiently. You will want to have your best possible performance at every race.
A good coach will do more for you than just providing a training programme. They will be a mentor, teacher and motivator.
Why Aloha Tri?
At Aloha Tri, we have decades of experience and the right coaching certifications from Ironman University, British Triathlon (Level 2) and TrainingPeaks. We offer bespoke coached programmes via the Premium TrainingPeaks platform, giving you structure and visibility into your training plan. You can choose from weekly or daily progress reviews, which provides corrective action. We have worked with hundreds of athletes of all ages and abilities and improved their performance, skills and mindset. What motivates us is the “Aloha spirit”, a powerful way to achieve a desired state of mind and body, which we translate into how we coach you. Contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to maximise your investment in your sport!