3 Steps to Prepare for a Hot Triathlon

It’s the day of your big race. It’s a hot day, 93 degrees, and it’s very humid. When this day comes, will you thrive or will you melt? Let’s face it—If you will be racing this summer, the chances of this scenario becoming reality are quite high. If you race in the summer, it will be hot. Know this, prepare for this, and thrive in the heat this summer.

Step 1—Win the Mind Game

If you hear yourself saying anything like the following statements, the first step is to change your stinking thinking (unhelpful, limited thinking).

“I just don’t do well in the heat.”
“Some people are good in the heat and I’m not one of them.”
“I hope it’s not hot the day of my race–I’m horrible when it’s hot.”

If you think you simply can’t race well in the heat, then you won’t. You’re done before you’ve even started. The physiological fact is this: When it’s hotter, there is additional stress on your body compared to when it’s cooler. You have the physiological stress of swimming, cycling, and running, along with the physiological stress of the additional heat. This added challenge affects every triathlete in the same way; some of your body’s resources must go to cooling, taking some resources away from locomotion. So everyone deals with this added challenge and must slow down (compared to a cooler day) somewhat. Yes, some are affected by the challenge of heat more than others. But no one is either “good” or “bad” in the heat. And most of how you are affected by the heat is determined by how well-acclimated you are to the heat and how you manage the effects of the heat while racing. The black-and-white thinking that “I just don’t do well in the heat,” is simply false and limits you.

Step 2—Acclimate

Prevention is the best medicine. Go to your races ready to race in the heat and you’re 90 percent of the way there to a strong race in challenging conditions.

1. Workout in the heat. The best way to be ready for a hot race is to workout in the heat. Unless it is unsafe for you, don’t avoid working out in the heat. If you normally workout at noon on weekdays and one day it’s a hot summer day, don’t move your workout inside or to a cooler part of the day. Safety is the first priority. If you feel any danger at all in exercising in a hot part of the day, move your workout inside or to a cooler part of the day. Again, if you are exercising and find you are becoming disoriented, have stopped sweating, or are feeling nauseous, seek medical attention immediately.

  1. If you know you are going to be racing on a hot day or you could be racing on a hot day, and it’s not hot where you live as you train for this race, simulate heat. One way to do this is to overdress a bit. A little goes a long way. On a day you’d normally wear a short-sleeve running shirt, wear a long-sleeve running shirt, for example. Wear just a bit of extra clothing to simulate some heat. Another option is to workout inside. If you are preparing to go do a race in a place where it will be hot, but you are training during the winter or spring, riding or running inside can, relatively speaking, simulate heat a bit. Inside, it may be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and there are no cooling winds. Outside it might only be 30, 40, or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Avoid excessive air conditioning. Consider this daily schedule. You wake up in a home with central air conditioning, you get into your air-conditioned car and drive to the pool and swim. Then you get into your air-conditioned car again and drive to work where you spend eight to 10 hours in your air- conditioned office. Then you ride or run outside at 6:00 p.m. when the day is already cooling off considerably. Then you’re back into your air-conditioned home for the evening and for a whole night’s sleep. You do that most days of the summer. Then you go do a race on hot day. On that day, is your body going to be good at staying cool in the face of real-life heat and humidity? Of course, you will struggle. What’s the solution? When you can, skip the air conditioning. Open the windows and use fans.
  3. Do interval workouts and do them well. High-intensity exercise creates tremendous internal heat stress. Doing intervals helps you learn to dissipate heat and stay cool.
  4. Sit in a sauna or hot tub for 15 minutes two to four days a week for two to four weeks before a hot race.

Step 3—Give Your Body a Cooling Advantage

Your body is equipped with one of the finest cooling systems in the animal world. You can give it a boost with these strategies.

1. Slow down. We know this is not want you want to do, but the reality is you will likely go a bit slower on a day with a heat index of 92 degrees than you will on a day with a heat index of 69 degrees. This is true for everyone. Triathlon times are always faster on cooler days and slower on warmer days. Being well-acclimated and employing good cooling strategies helps, but do not erase the fact that it’s a hot day. When the heat index is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, use heart rate to keep your intensity in check. For cycling, if heart rate is already your primary measure of intensity, simply keep riding based on heart rate. If power output is your primary measure of intensity, use heart rate to keep your intensity in check. For example, if a race calls for you to ride at 175 to 195 watts, consider what your corresponding heart rate normally (when it’s cooler) is at 175 to 195 watts. Let’s say it’s 155 to 161 beats per minute. On hot days, keep your heart rate in that range. Your power output will be lower. This method accounts for the heat stress you are experiencing and keeps your intensity appropriate for you on that day. Use the same method for running. Use heart rate to moderate your pace using this same method.

2. Know your base sweat rate (by doing the Tri-Hard Sweat-Rate Test) and drink fluid accordingly (see below).

Tri-Hard Sweat-Rate Test

1. Empty your bladder if necessary. Weigh yourself naked and dry. Record your weight in pounds.

2. Ride for one hour at moderate intensity on your indoor trainer. Do this in a room with the temperature set to 70 degrees (or as close to this as is logistically possible). You’re riding at moderate intensity if you can speak in short sentences with someone next to you. If you can talk and talk and talk, you’re going too easy. If you can hardly talk, you’re going too hard.

3. While riding, drink at least 10 ounces of water. Drink more if you like. Accurately note how much you drink (in ounces) while riding.

4. Empty your bladder if necessary. Weigh yourself naked and dry. Record your weight in pounds.

5. Take the difference in your weight (in pounds) from before and after riding. Convert this amount of weight from pounds to ounces (one pound equals 16 ounces). Take this amount and add to it the amount of water you drank while riding. This total amount is how much you sweat, per hour, in pounds of sweat lost. This is your base sweat rate in ounces per hour.

6. For example, if you lost 1.25 pounds (20ounces) from before to after riding and drank 12 ounces while riding, then your base sweat rate would be 32 ounces per hour.

Base Sweat Rate (Ounces)

Cycling Fluid Intake (Ounces per Hour)

Running Fluid Intake (Ounces per Hour)

< 21

10

10

21-25

15

10

26-30

20

15

31-35

25

20

36-40

30

25

41-45

35

30

> 45

40

35

 

3. Consider the above fluid recommendations your minimum amounts. Your thirst mechanism is very helpful and will tell you to drink more when you are sweating more. If you are thirsty, even when meeting your minimum amounts of fluid intake, drink more. Make the additional fluid water (not sports drink). Drink to satisfy your thirst. If you accumulate 10 ounces of water intake beyond your minimum fluid intakes, consume 125 milligrams of sodium from salt tablets/capsules. Do this for every 10 ounces of water intake you accumulate beyond your minimum fluid intakes. If you are feeling thirsty and/or like you are overheating, immediately consume 10 ounces of water and consume 125 milligrams of sodium from salt tablets/capsules.

  1. As you run through an aid station, dump cold water over your head.
  2. As you run through an aid station, grab a handful of ice, put it in your hat, then put your hat on your head. If you have short hair, you may risk frostbite by pinning ice against your scalp, so this is best done by if you have longer hair or by placing a thin cloth between your head and the ice. Another option (if you are wearing a triathlon suit), is to pull the neck of the suit out a bit and put some ice on your chest/abdomen. Another option (if you are wearing triathlon shorts) is to put ice in your shorts.
  3. As you run through an aid station, grab an ice-water-soaked towel and wrap it around your neck. Wear it until it no longer feels cold, then toss it aside.
  4. Wear arm coolers. These help to reflect the sun and assist with evaporative cooling.
  5. Make an ice slurry and drink it at the beginning of the bike segment. To make an ice slurry, use a blender. Add ice to water or sports drink and blend it to a consistency that feels good to you. Load your ice slurry into an insulated water bottle (this will keep it colder) or a normal water bottle. Make it as late as you can and put it into a small insulated bag or cooler to keep it as cold as possible before the race and while you swim. During your race, start with your normal drink for the first 15 minutes of the bike leg. Drink your ice slurry after that (in 30 minutes or less). Then go back to your normal drink.
  6. Freeze a water bottle with water or sports drink in it. When you head to the race course in the morning, place this frozen water bottle in a small insulated bag or cooler. Take this with you and put it in your transition area. As you start the run, carry this water bottle with you, swapping hands every few minutes. It will be about 50 to 75 percent thawed out when you start with it. Carrying the cold bottle and drinking the cold fluid at the start of the run will help you stay cool.
Jason & Will

Jason & Will

Jason Gootman, MS, CSCS and Will Kirousis, BS, CSCS are coaches at Tri-Hard Endurance Sports Coaching. Jason and Will both hold degrees in the exercise & sport sciences and are highly skilled and experienced in the areas of exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition/sports nutrition, and sports psychology. Jason and Will are recognized industry experts in endurance sports training and in coaching endurance athletes.
Jason & Will
About The Author

Jason & Will

Jason Gootman, MS, CSCS and Will Kirousis, BS, CSCS are coaches at Tri-Hard Endurance Sports Coaching. Jason and Will both hold degrees in the exercise & sport sciences and are highly skilled and experienced in the areas of exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition/sports nutrition, and sports psychology. Jason and Will are recognized industry experts in endurance sports training and in coaching endurance athletes.

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