The upcoming summer months of high temperatures and poor air quality pose a threat to an athlete’s endurance performance. When evaluating an upcoming racecourse, proper assessment of the potential race day environmental conditions is critical to maximizing race day performance. The athlete should consider ambient temperature, humidity, wind velocity, and radiant heat generated from the racecourse surface. These factors can play a significant role in heat stress imposed on the athlete. The athlete’s ability to cope with environmental heat stress on race day is critical for performance.

The athlete’s physiology, hydration levels, and race kit all play an important role in thermoregulation on race day. High levels of aerobic fitness achieved through endurance training improve the athlete’s ability to cope with the heat and enhance the body’s thermoregulation. One key factor that can decrease performance, particularly in the heat, is dehydration. An appropriate hydration strategy that correlates to environmental conditions is imperative to maximize the competitive athlete’s performance. The research indicates that the human body does not adapt to dehydration, so train hydrated, and race hydrated. 

One important race day strategy to improve performance and heat tolerance is a heat acclimatization protocol. Training periods in the heat and humidity to replicate the race day environment is the most effective method for heat acclimatization. Studies have shown that training at or near your threshold for an hour per week, in the temps and humidity in which you will be racing, will increase your ability to acclimate for race day. As such, endurance training needs to be associated with significant increases in core temperature to improve the athlete’s heat tolerance. For both dry and humid heat environments, ideally, your acclimatization should begin 6 to 8 weeks prior to the race. If time is limited, some performance improvements can be seen in as little as four to six days before an event. Your complete heat acclimatization will occur between seven and ten days after you begin.

If your training occurs in a cooler environment, then the race and scheduling limitations prevent heat acclimation from happening at the race location. The heat acclimatization protocols should be established before traveling to the event.  These may include time on the trainer or treadmill with room temperatures and humidity to match the race’s environmental conditions. A standalone heater and a few humidifiers can replicate the environment of a hot and humid racecourse. Overdressing during workouts or training in the midday heat instead of early morning or evening training can help with acclimatization. When you arrive at the race location, make every effort to adapt to your race location’s environmental conditions to maximize your race-day performance.

Good luck this season, and stay healthy.

Coach George Epley has a passion for knowledge and believes it’s the key to maximizing your potential. “I keep abreast of the latest scientific studies, always trying to find more efficient and validated means of coaching my athletes.”

George’s Coaching Credentials Include:

  • USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach
  • USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Elite Certified
  • USA Cycling Elite Level 1 Coach
  • USA Cycling Cyclocross Certified
  • ACSM – Certified Personal Trainer
  • MBSC – Certified Functional Strength Coach
  • Training Peaks University Certified
  • Training Peaks WKO4 Certified

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