Torbjørn Sindballe has agreed to share some perspectives and tips for race day in a series of articles. In this article, Sindballe provides advice on how to use acclimatization to assist in managing the heat in a hot race.
Racing in the heat poses additional challenges other than just completing the distance. Racing in Kona is in many ways like starting all over. All the experience and feelings you have from other races becomes twisted and often useless in Kona. Your usual pace plans and strategies must be reworked. This can take years and years of experience as we have seen with Chris McCormack, Mark Allen and myself.
As an athlete, I have always tried to understand as much as I could in hopes of eliminating years of trial and error through a methodic scientific approach. My background in sports sciences has helped in this approach and in this first of three articles I will cover how you acclimatize yourself to the heat and humidity even if you do not have the luxury of three or more weeks at the race site leading up to your big day. I will cover how prober hydration and fueling as well as optimized pacing and cooling strategies will further increase your chances of success.
Acclimatization happens when we are exposed to exercise in a hot and humid environment on a daily basis. Our body adapts to this with an increased sweat rate, a higher blood volume and a lower salt content in our sweat which makes it possible for us to perform at a higher level when it is hot. Danish heat scientist Bodil Nielsen showed that 9-12 days of acclimatization almost doubled the workload you can endure in dry heat. The effect will be less, but still very important, in more humid climates. Acclimatizing to the heat is your number one priority in the weeks leading up to the race.
Training in the tropics can make this easy, but if you can’t travel to the race site before race week you will have to look other ways to get ready. The determining factor for adaptations to take place is that your core temperature must go above your normal exercise baseline. This can be done indoors by turning up the heat and hopping on a treadmill or trainer and wearing extra clothes. A hat, gloves and, if you dare, a rain suit and swim cap will replicate the humid environment.
The Hot Hurt Session
Bringing up the core temperature takes time and you will have to look at a total of 75-90 minutes of exercise. Start out at a low to steady pace the first days and then up it to moderate later on. If you are heat-stressed your heart rate will go up a lot higher than normal, 15-20 beats is not unusual, and you will feel pretty fatigued towards the end of the session. Experienced athletes can add a small block of intensity early in the session and then coast of this at a steady to moderate pace for the last 45 minutes or so.
You will need to do this at least 5 days in a row and then maintain it every other day until you are at the race site. This is a challenging program which needs some work to fit into your overall plan, but it is probably the single most important thing to do before tackling races in the heat.