Am I unfit or is it just hot?

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I write this blog in Melbourne, where in recent months the weather has been a roller coaster as can be expected. One day it’s high 30’s and the next it’s below 20 degrees. On multiple occasions I have had athletes producing ordinary bike and poor run sessions in the hotter conditions. They leave me concerning feedback that their fitness has all of a sudden declined which is simply untrue. Unfortunately, they do not take into consideration how much of an affect the hotter weather has on their bodies performance. The times and paces they achieve in 20 degree weather, are simply not achievable on a 35 degree day due to the physiological limitations the heat presents. Of course this varies from athlete to athlete depending on factors such as geographic living history, genetic makeup such as body shape and size, sweat/sodium loss etc. Generally speaking, unless you train your body to adapt to hotter conditions (30 degrees+), you can expect your bike power and especially run paces to decline significantly.

If you are lucky enough (or not so lucky some may say) to live in a hotter climate such as South East Asia or Nth QLD, then you may not have the choice to train in ‘cooler weather’. If you do consistently train in the heat, I believe you will perform well in mild/moderate conditions of 20-25 degrees. If it’s cold however, say 10-15 degrees, chances are you will never get going and have a poor performance.

Training in the heat does make you fitter when done correctly and there is certainly research to support this. I personally had this experience after a week in Thailand (October 2015). During this week I trained often, but not overly intense. Early morning sessions certainly took priority over grinding it out in the midday sun, however, I still did expose myself to a little of the very hot conditions. Upon return, I produced a race well and truly above where I thought my fitness were at. I certainly didn’t break any records whilst training in Thailand, but when returning to Melbourne and racing in 20-25 degrees, my bodies performance rose to a new level.

Should I train in the heat? 

Absolutely, I think training in the heat is good for athletes as-long as they are smart about it. For example, completing a 2hr long run in the middle of the day when it’s 35 degrees is not the smartest idea for anyone who is not regularly training in these conditions. Your body will be heavily taxed from the session and chances are you will feel like absolute rubbish for 2-3 days post. This may even occur from a shorter but high intensity session of even 40-50′ if you are easily affected by the heat. The matter of fact is to be smart, look at what your race conditions may present and prepare yourself progressively. It’s no good hiding from the heat and come race day it’s a scorcher.

I recall a personal account 2 years ago when visiting Byron Bay (NSW) in the middle of summer. I did an 18km run with a series of 1km repeats at threshold up a gradual incline about 12pm in very hot and humid conditions. I completed the session ok and was happy with my performance.Growing up in these conditions I do like humid conditions and believe my body adapts quickly. In days to come however, I felt extremely flat and lethargic and even questioned that I may have something more serious so went for a blood test. The reality was that I underestimated how much the session took out of me and my capacity to recover.

My tips for the training in the heat if you’re not adapted:

  1. Head out early before the sun comes beating down for hard sessions. Your body will cope much better without the added heat the sunshine presents.
  2. If you want to complete a high intensity session in the midday heat, go by perceived effort (or use your heart rate if you must) instead of power/paces. Your power/paces will be off and this will lead to frustration and/or you questioning your fitness.
  3. Modify the session and complete an easier aerobic session. If it is hot and you have a harder session to do, you may choose to swap an easier session and complete the harder at a time that’s not so warm.
  4. Hydration goes without saying! Finishing up a session severely dehydrated is likely to leave you feeling very flat for days to come. I recommend stearing clear of sugary drinks and running with electrolyte ‘sugar free’ tabs such as Shotz before, during and after the session.

Ryan Bourke
riathlon Coach | CF Racing

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