Keeping Cool While Working Out from Tri-Hard Coaching

Tri-Hard Cooling Guidelines
Tri-Hard |

Your body contains one of the most well-designed cooling systems in the animal world!  That said, you can still become overwhelmed by heat in a race.  Nearly 75 percent of the energy you convert during exercise is lost as heat.  Only about 25 percent of the energy you convert is converted into motion.  When environmental conditions are on the cool side, you are able to easily dissipate heat through convection and evaporation.  However, when it gets hotter, in particular when the heat index gets over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, cooling becomes a bigger challenge.  When it’s that hot, your ability to cool via evaporation and convection diminishes substantially.  Heat can then accumulate in your body, putting upward pressure on your core temperature, which can slow you down significantly or can even lead to dangerous medical conditions like heat stress and heat stroke.  (There’s something very important to consider before I move forward with these cooling guidelines.  If you are exercising (in a workout or a race) and find you are becoming disoriented, have stopped sweating, or are feeling nauseous, seek medical attention immediately.)

What’s the best medicine in life?  Preventative medicine, of course!  The best thing you can do to stay cool and perform your best in a hot race is actually accomplished well before your race.  The best thing you can do is to get acclimated to living and exercising in the heat.  The keys to acclimation are:

  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.  Again, 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 days 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.
  4. Do your 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.  A big part of your training as part of the Tri-Hard Top-Down Training System is a system of progressive, interval training.  Executing these workouts well is a key to your improvement, and it will help you do well in hot races.
  5. 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.

During hot races, there are several things that can help keep your core temperature down so that you can race your best:

  1. Execute your high-performance race-nutrition plan very well.  A big, big part of your high-performance race-nutrition plan is about consuming the right amount of water and electrolytes based on your base sweat rate which I determined in the Tri-Hard Sweat-Rate Test.
  2. In your race-nutrition plan, in each option for during-race intake, you will find instructions for the amount of fluid (water/sports drink) you are to drink per hour of cycling/running.  Consider this your minimum amount.  Then you will see instructions to drink more (only water) if you are thirsty for more.  This is key.  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 amount 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 intake, consume 125 milligrams of sodium from salt tablets/capsules.  Do this for every 10 ounces of water intake you accumulate beyond your minimum fluid intake.  If you are feeling thirsty and/or like you are overheating, consume 10 ounces of water and consume 125 milligrams of sodium from salt tablets/capsules.
  3. As you run through an aid station, dump cold water over your head.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Wear arm coolers.  These help to reflect the sun and assist with evaporative cooling.
  7. 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.
  8. Slow down a bit.  I know this is not want you want to do, 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.  Times are always faster on cooler days and slower on warmer days.  Being well-acclimated and employing good cool strategies helps, but do not erase the fact that it’s a hot day.

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