This February, the Rev 3 race series travels to Costa Rica for first race of the 2011 season. Set at Playa Conchal along the coast of the Pacific Ocean in the northwest province of Guanacaste, the venue promises spectacular vistas of white sandy beachfronts, inviting blue waters, tropical dry rainforests and beautiful mountains.
The climate of Guanacaste is one that makes it a popular destination for tourists seeking a warm escape from the cold winter. February falls right in the middle of the dry season, marked with little rain and consistent, dry heat. During this time, the average maximum daily temperature can reach 95 degrees Farenheit while the average low is around 69. Humidity tends to hover comfortably in the 60 percent range.
With plenty of sunshine, the dry, hot climate will be a challenge for those preparing for Rev 3 Costa Rica. All racers from sprint to half Ironman need to be prepared to consume enough fluids, replace electrolytes and minimize the effects of the heat. Fueling and pacing plans should be developed to minimize fluid loss and heat stress.
Knowing this, why on earth would anyone choose (and pay good money) to race in Costa Rica?
Did I mention the sandy beaches? The majestic ocean? The fact that it’s in February?
Given that it’s in February, many athletes will be training through winter with little opportunity to acclimate to warm conditions. Within two weeks, the body will completely acclimate to heat. However, most athletes will not have the luxury of arriving so early as to allow for these changes. Short of standing in your kitchen in full wetsuit in front of the open door of an oven heated to 450 degrees, there are many things you can do during your indoor winter training that may help your body become better able to handle the heat.
When I trained for my first hot weather race, the best piece of advice I got, aside from standing in my bathroom with the hairdryer on full force pointed directly in front of my face, was to live in the heat. As silly as it still sounds, this prepared me for how it would feel to bike in a very, very hot place (No, the race did not take place in hell. Though I suspect those who raced poorly there might beg to differ). Below, you’ll find some of my best efforts to simulate island hot conditions as the weather outside chilled toward the Midwest winter.
Before trying anything new, consult with your physician. Adding heat stress to your weekly schedule or training can be dangerous. Carefully plan and monitor your hydration and electrolyte replacement throughout the day and workouts. Be familiar with the signs of heat illness and stop immediately if you experience them.
Many gyms have a steam room or sauna. Consider including steam room or dry sauna intervals as part of your weekly training. Build up to 15 minutes in the steam room, one to two times a week. Start with intervals of 5 minutes, then leave the room for a minute before returning for another interval.
Overdressing helps to bring extra heat to your body and gets you used to sweating. Whether indoors or outdoors, consider adding an extra layer (or two), tights and a hat. This also allows you to find your sweat rate in warmer conditions even if you might not be able to travel someplace warm. Check out this online sweat rate calculator to estimate your needs: www.triharder.com/THM_SwRate.aspx
While you may be living through a cold winter, you can live in the heat indoors and even get some training in while at work. Consider putting a space heater under your desk (watch for fire hazards) and spend several 10 to 15 minute intervals throughout the “living” in the heat. If nothing else, it will mentally prepare you for the feeling of heat and being uncomfortable.
When training indoors, the heat can quickly build up without a fan. Keep the fan off when riding your trainer or running on the treadmill. Add an extra layer and you’ll really be feeling it! Whether or not your body makes physiological adaptations, psychologically preparing yourself to tolerate the heat is likely to also be beneficial.
Consider adding Bikram Yoga to your schedule once a week. Known as “hot yoga”, Bikram is a 90-minute class consisting of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises done in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Not only will you get used to the heat, you’ll learn to relax while experiencing it.
With added heat training, you might find yourself better able to perform on race day not only in the heat but in colder conditions. A recent study by from the University of Oregon found that after 10 training sessions in a heated lab, cyclists performed better in both hot and cold conditions. As the body adapts to the heat, the body becomes more efficient at cooling, blood plasma volume increases and the heart becomes better able to pump blood to the skin thus cooling the body even more. These adaptations led to improvements in both in hot and cold weather performances.
If the competition doesn’t heat up the race course enough, the temperature in Guanacaste may make the Rev 3 Costa Rica a roasty, toasty challenge for any competitor. Be prepared! With a few simple additions, you may find your body and mind better acclimated to cope with the heat on race day. When adding heat training to your schedule, do so with moderation and good judgment. And remember, no amount of heat training replaces proper fueling, hydrating and pacing on a hot race day.
But I’m guessing a few minutes in front of the oven in full wetsuit and a neoprene cap can’t hurt…