Racing in the heat

BC Bike Race hike-a-bike traffic jam in 100-degree heat.  

BC Bike Race hike-a-bike traffic jam in 100-degree heat.  

Just as athletes around the Puget Sound are peaking for Masters Rowing Regionals and key cycling events, Mother Nature is cooking up an added challenge for the weekend: 90-plus-degree heat.   For athletes who train during the cool, early morning hours, this can mean racing in temperatures up to 50-degrees warmer than what they are acclimated to.  So how do we adjust our game plan?  Here are a few tips for performing your best in the heat.

1.  Stay hydrated, but don’t overdo it.

Dehydration forces our heart to work extra hard to pump blood to working muscles—no good for an athlete who’s already pushing their cardiovascular system to the limit.   On the flip side, ingesting too much water (a condition known as hyponatremia) is problematic as well, as it negatively impacts the natural salt balance within our cells. 

Drink to thirst in hot conditions.  Consider using a drink mix that includes sodium and potassium—the two electrolytes that enable our small intestine to absorb the water we need to stay hydrated.  For longer distance events, you'll need salt in addition to a lot of water.  

2. Adjust the numbers. 

In extreme heat, don't expect to see the same power or heart rate numbers you are used to.  Always use RPE in conjunction with heart rate on hot days.  When training with power, drop your corresponding watt output by 15-30 watts for each training zone—more if you are especially susceptible to the effects of heat.  

3. Eat foods that are easy to digest.

When it’s hot, more blood is sent to the skin for cooling, which means less blood available for digestion.  Eat foods that are palatable and composed of easily digestible, simple sugars.  Save high fiber foods for after racing.   

4. Mitigate the effects of stored heat.

Stay out of the heat prior to your event.  This one seems like a no-brainer, yet it can be one of the hardest rules to abide by when we’re caught up in the race-day action. 

Plan ahead for race-day needs; be efficient with equipment set-up and pre-race routines; and leave time to relax and cool down in the hours before your race. 

5. Shorten the warm-up.

Training and racing in the Pacific Northwest often presents the opposite challenge— ensuring that we warm-up enough.  On hot days, when our body temperature is already elevated, the warm-up is more about finding sharpness and race focus than it is about getting warm.  Tweak your warm-up in extreme heat, emphasizing the elements of your pre-race routine centered around feel, rhythm, and confidence.  When forced to omit parts of your warm-up routine, use that time to visualize your race instead.  You’ll feel more calm, focused, and primed for competition once you roll to the start line. 


Every athlete will face the same weather conditions this weekend. Plan ahead for the heat and give yourself and your team the competitive edge!