Training Tip – Riding In the Heat

It’s getting to the hot time of year, which adds another tactical dimension to your training and racing. Since I’d like to see you all beating the competition, here’s the scoop on how to turn the heat into an advantage:

Training/preparation for racing in the heat: Have you noticed how some racers thrive in the heat while others wilt? That’s partly genetic but partly a matter or proper preparation. When you exercise on a cool day, blood mostly goes to your working muscles, with a bit to your gut and a bit to your brain. As the weather warms up, your body begins to send blood to your skin to carry heat from your core out to where it can be removed by breezes and evaporation of sweat. The more blood is redirected for cooling, the less is available to deliver oxygen and fuel to your muscles or to carry away CO2 and other wastes. That means that power at LT drops and that means that performance is impaired. There are several ways to fight back however, one of which is to increase your blood volume, which you can do by acclimatizing to heat. Alan Lim, a scientist who has studied cyclists and performance for many years, has recommended a 1/2 hour sit in a hot sauna after rides to maximize heat acclimatization. If you don’t have a sauna available or the time to sit in it, keeping yourself just a bit uncomfortably warm OFF THE BIKE works too. You don’t want to get hot on the bike as that impairs training, but staying hot off the bike convinces your body that it lives somewhere hot and needs to adjust. That’s part of why you see pros wearing wool hats and jackets on days when spectators are wearing shorts and tank tops. This adjustment takes about three weeks, so if you are racing in the summer and you live in the Bay Area where it is not as hot as the venues, bundle up. If your house or office is air conditioned, bundle up. You don’t need to give yourself heat stroke. Just dress enough to sweat mildly all the time 

Hydration for hot racing:Everyone has their own, temperature and work dependent sweat rate. Losing more than a pound or two of water during a ride or race impairs performance, so get weighed before and after rides to get a sense of how much water you need to drink depending on the weather and how hard you are working to keep up with sweat losses and keep weight loss below 1 pound. Everyone also has their own unique saltiness to their sweat, but generally each pint (small water bottle) of sweat you lose carries about 1/2 teaspoon equivalent of salt with it. In the sweaty season, athletes need to eat salt. (If you have diagnosed high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about this before starting to add salt.) For races and training rides up to a couple of hours, the salt you’ve consumed beforehand with your food should tide you over. On longer rides you need salt in your drink or ride food.

Dilute your Drink Mix: You’ll figure this out soon enough if you haven’t already, but you can’t mix your drinks as concentrated on very hot days as on cooler days because you won’t be able to absorb all the sugar that will come with the amount of water you need. Drinking your exercise drinks full strength on very hot days often leads to a sloshy, uncomfortable tummy. If you are having any tummy trouble, or are having trouble drinking enough to maintain weight, mix your drink about half strength on hot days.

Evaporation is where it’s at: You need water inside your body to keep it functioning normally, but most of the extra water you are drinking on hot days is turning into sweat. There’s no reason to run that water through your internal plumbing before evaporating it. On hot days, unless it is so humid that nothing is evaporating anyway, pour water through your helmet, on your jersey and on your shorts. Keep wet to keep cool. (Be sure to have a system that will remind you which bottle is plain water and which is sugar drink. Sugar drink in eyes or shorts is a bummer.) When setting up feeds, organize two or three bottles at a time so you have enough to keep you wet as well as hydrated.

Garments: If you have a choice, wear light colored, reflective stuff on hot days to avoid absorbing more heat from the sun.

Tactics: Extreme heat limits power output. On 100 degree plus days, riding harder often brings overheating. You’ll notice breakaways weakening more quickly than they would in more pleasant temperatures. Consider that both as you consider chasing and as you consider breaking away yourself. (I once won a crit from the tail-gunner position on a 113 degree day simply by spending the whole race dousing myself and waiting for the sprint.).

Psychology of Suffering: Racing in the heat sucks for everyone. If you can convince yourself that you are better prepared, better hydrated and using better tactics, you get a leg up on the guys who are just thinking about how much it sucks.