Tips for Racing in the Heat

As race season "heats" up so do the temperatures. Our local 70.3 is in two days and the forecast calls for 94 degrees. Since many athletes have not had an opportunity to acclimate to the heat, the race will be more challenging. Here are some tips to improve your race experience and safety when racing in the heat.

  • Load up on electrolytes in the days leading up to the race. Use unrefined sea salt liberally on your food. You can even add to your water. You will also want to hydrate more, but be careful not to over-hydrate, particularly without electrolytes. I like to add a few Nuun tablets to my water in the days leading up to the race. If you are a heavy sweater you may want to hyperload with electrolytes the night before the race. There are various products made for this purpose by Skratch, Osmo or you can use electrolyte capsules, such as Salt Stick.
  • In the weeks prior to the race help your body acclimate to higher heat by spending time in a sauna (dry heat) or steam room (heat with humidity). You can also make your own sauna by keeping the AC turned off in your home or car for as long as you can stand it.
  • Watch your intake of alcohol, caffeine and antihistamines as they can increase dehydration.

During the race you will need to take extra care and listen to your body. Many athletes have had trouble finishing in races at higher temperatures. The following can help you have a successful race day.

  • You don't want to change your pre-race breakfast but a smoothie with ice will help keep your body cool. 
  • If you are in a later start wave, wait to put on your wetsuit and spend extra time in the water to keep yourself cool. You also may want to consider reducing the time spent warming up running as this will increase your core temperature.
  • Adjust your expectations as warmer temperatures will impact your finishing time, but also remember that your competitors will also be affected. In a runtri.com analysis of Boston Marathon finishing times in different temperatures, the times increased by 20 minutes in hotter conditions. Interestingly, the men's finishing times were impacted more greatly but women had more DNFs.
  • Keep your core cool. You can use a cooling vest or put ice down your shirt. Women have the advantage here since ice works well in the sports bra. Keeping something cold in your hands will also help to cool the body. This is more effective than dumping cold water over your head.
  • Choose a visor over a hat as it will allow for more heat to dissipate from the head.
  • Drink often and consume electrolytes with your water. If you don't know your sweat rate you can estimate by weighing yourself before and after a workout. Look to increase your intake if the temperature is hotter than your typical training session.
  • If you experience cramps, it may be an electrolyte imbalance but it's more likely to be fatigued nerves. This can lock a muscle into a contracted state. Putting something salty or spicy on the tongue can help relieve the contraction. This is why pickle juice works. You can also place loose salt under the tongue.
  • As your body moves blood away from the GI tract and towards the skin for cooling, it becomes more difficult to digest so you may need to reduce your hourly calorie intake. If you do start to experience GI distress you can take a sip from a carbohydrate drink, swish it around in your mouth and spit out. You will get a boost in energy without having to digest anything.
  • If you do start to suffer during the race, take regular walk breaks. Watch for cues for the following conditions. Many symptoms are similar, but if you experience any of these symptoms, stop at an aid station or seek medical help.
    • Hyponatremia (blood sodium is too low, due to over-consumption of plain water, under-consumption of electrolytes or hormonal imbalances) - nausea, vomiting, swelling, weight gain, muscle cramps, headache, confusion and fatigue. 
    • Dehydration (low fluid in the body from under-consumption of fluids and excessive water loss) - dry mouth, thirst, muscle weakness, decreased urine output, dark yellow urine, decreased sweating, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, rapid heart rate.
    • Heat exhaustion (body is unable to cool itself, which is more common in higher humidity) - heavy sweating, weakness, confusion, dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heart rate.
    • Heat stroke (body is unable to cool itself, leading to an internal temperature higher than 104 degrees) - high fever, severe headache, dizziness, lack of sweating, muscle cramps or weakness, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion, seizures.

When you finish, continue to consume water with electrolytes and delay the celebratory drink for a bit, to allow your body to rehydrate. Most importantly, listen to your body as it will give you cues on what it needs.