Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Heat Training "Secrets"

by Gina Kehr

Heat. I love it. The hotter, the better as far as I am concerned. I am not sure why I love the heat so much. Even as a swimmer in college, when the water temp was 81-82 I would swim my best, 78-79 degree water had me in the warm up pool right to the minute of my event.

My fellow athletes would have their hypotheses why heat didn’t affect me as much as others. Reasons like low body fat, having grown up in Bakersfield where the average temperature was about 105 in the summer or maybe I had some heat training secrets that I was not sharing were always the top of the list. While the first two reasons seem likely they are not the case as I have proven both hypotheses wrong by increasing my body fat and I have not lived in Bakersfield since 1987.

The third reason is the most likely answer, however, I am not sure there are any real heat training secrets. They seem more like common sense training tips that I have learned in my years of racing in the heat.

Train in the Heat
The San Francisco Bay area is not known for its heat. But we always have several weeks where we can hit 90-100 that I live for. While training for Kona each year by coincidence one of those few weeks always fell the two weeks before I would leave for the big island of Hawaii. It was at that time I would hit the road riding or running at just the perfect time to become one with the heat. Most of the population of the Bay Area would be indoors and I would be on the road solo, just me and the burning asphalt. It is at this time I would train my brain on what the heat did to my body and how I would deal with it.

Nutrition
Discovering how your body performs during heat training is a big one. From my own experience I learned that my appetite can decrease while my fluid intake can increase. Also, less sweet calories seemed more appealing than when I was racing in more mild temperatures. That discovery allowed me to think about changing calories to more liquids and backing off gels.

Hydrate
Training in the heat really helps you understand what hydration really is. True hydration is something that takes a while to build up to and it does not only include water. You must include electrolytes throughout the day as well. I had myself up to a gallon of fluids a day during my professional career. I felt an actual difference in performance and recovery when I made the commitment to increase my fluid intake.

With heat training it showed twofold. During my runs I would wear a Camelbak which had me taking in 2 liters of fluid during a two-hour run. My recovery from those runs was unbelievable and carrying the liquid had the added bonus of incorporating resistance training into my regimen. I would start out my run a few pounds heavier and as I drank, I continued to run faster. That was great for my confidence.

You may be saying to yourself, “That’s great, but didn’t you have to stop and pee?” I sure did. Don’t you pee during an ironman? If you don’t then you really need to think about your hydration. That is how you recover; by getting rid of all the gross stuff we build up in our bodies.

I can tell you that since I have let that part slip I can really feel what not being hydrated is. I cramp more than I ever have. I can feel my joints being sticky at times. It is a commitment. You can not get hydrated five days before a race.

Wear the right clothing
During my training sessions I always wore a visor or a hat. Keeping that sun off my face was a key piece that helped avoid getting overheated.

Know the signs
This is a tough one because a lot of the signs when the heat is getting to you is also what can come before bonking. A few that I have experienced are leaning sideways, lethargy and not thinking clearly. When you feel any of this coming on in a race, the the first thing to do is stay calm and tell yourself you are okay but you need to slow down. If on the run, direct your running route to where there is shade on the course (assuming you stay with flow of traffic). From there, take in lots of cups at aid stations and cool off your head and neck. If they are giving cold sponges or ice, grab ice for your hands (trust me, this works). You can even put the cold sponges or ice on your person somewhere and then pull pieces out later as you go. You can absolutely cool your temp down and keep going if you act on the signs and do not ignore them.

I hope these tips help as you prepare for your next heat race. Remember, everyone is dealing with the same thing, so while you're complaining to yourself that it is hot say to yourself, “I can deal with this better than anyone here!”


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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