A Guide To Hot Races for Cold Climate Competitors

image Yesterday I called my Huatulco race report the “short version”, which is a bit of a lie. I did not leave out many details about the race itself. After the race I tried my best to rehydrate, so that I could enjoy myself at the athlete reception (read: “after-party”). It seemed to work. After a week of forcing copious amounts of salt into my system, it was pretty hard to drink anything but straight water.

Speaking of electrolytes, I brushed over the heat issue at this race, but it’s worth mentioning, because my performance in Mexico shows an evolution in my ability to race well in the heat (my last trip to Mexico resulted in me DNFing and waking up after a serious bought of heat stroke in a Mazatlan hospital). This newfound heat tolerance has not come through passive acclimation, but through active pursuit of research and methods to improve my body’s temperature regulation, pre-race hydration levels, and to help keep myself cool when it’s simply too hot for sweat alone to do the job. Electrolyte and Carbohydrate Drink, Nuun, sea salt, and carbohydrate loading were the key to hyper-hydration in the week prior to the race, but while training in Seattle I also had to create an artificially warm environment to allow myself to acclimate to uncomfortably hot exercise.

About two months ago I stopped using a fan while riding the indoor trainer (with Seattle’s fall rain and a broken wrist, I had only ridden outside three times since August), and I gradually added more and more layers to my running uniform (for my last track workout I was wearing four layers of K-Swiss long sleeves, tights, run pants, and a hoodie). Along with this heat simulation I had to force myself to drink way more fluid than my natural thirst demanded. When it’s cold out I am simply not as thirsty as I should be. For instance, one day I did a long run in full layering, but because it was cold out I forgot to drink and stop to refill my bottle. I ended up losing 4% of my bodyweight in sweat, which means I was very dehydrated. Luckily I only made that mistake once, and by the time my training block was finished I was used to drinking plenty during workouts.

In order to promote water retention and to keep my body’s electrolyte levels high I used grey sea salt, which is my favorite type of salt (I get it in bulk at Whole Foods). I passed up water during meals in favor of fruit juice, and made sure to have complex carbohydrates with every meal. When I was sitting around and didn’t want a sugary drink I used Nuun tablets to make sure I was still pushing fluids and electrolytes. I had enough salt to increase my thirst, and grams (seriously, grams – it caused more than a few shocked looks at the dinner table these past two months) more than I normally would consume during the day. So by the time I got to Mexico last week I was already used to high fluid consumption and high salt content in my diet.

Once in Mexico, I averaged over six liters of water each day of the trip, and almost all of that was mixed with either carbohydrate/electrolyte mix or Nuun, and it was in addition to the juices I had with breakfast. I drank a lot more than I imagined possible.

For the race I also prepared my body externally. I shaved my head (I hate not having my afro), and purchased disposable instant-ice packs from the first aid section of the drug store. I put one of them into my bike helmet, which kept my head cool for the first 20 kilometers.

Before the race I used an ice vest (basically a neoprene vest that you can put water into and freeze) to keep cool while I waited for the start. This actually made me nervous because I didn’t have a chance to try it in training, and I wasn’t sure how it would effect me in the swim. It was remarkable! I warmed up like normal, then sat in the athlete lounge with the vest on. My legs and arms stayed warmed up, but my core had a nice cool layer to keep me from sweating profusely like my competitors. I took it off about five minutes before we were called out, and by the time we started I had no trouble surging to the front of the swim.

Lastly, on the run I didn’t waste an once of the water given at the aid stations (4 bottles per lap for a total of 16 bottles during the 10km run). I either drank or poured every bit over my head. Amazingly, my K-Swiss K-Ruuz racing flats drained quickly and at no point did my feet feel heavy from all the water I had poured over them. It was high noon while we were running, but we did our best to stay in the shadows. The heat was seriously intense.

Sunblock is another thing to consider because the wrong stuff can trap your sweat and increase body temperature. I used my Hawaiian Island Creations 2x Sunblock (excellent product) in the morning before the race, but parts of my back are still tender today (more a testament to my pasty complexion and the strength of the Huatulco sun – and possibly to my self application technique – than to the quality of the sunscreen).

Still, I do not consider myself an expert in preparations, and I may change a few things for next time (different types of salt, different race uniform material…). Hopefully this account of my hydration and cooling methods helps you reach your potential the next time the mercury rises on race day. I would also encourage you to do your own research, and realize that dietary preparation is very individual. I was consuming >5g of salt a day, but someone else may need much more or much less to avoid cramps. Just remember not to try anything new on race day!

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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