How to race in the Heat: Tips and Tricks
Updated: Aug 29
Pay attention to your fluid intake several days leading up to your race. On the day before the race, try to avoid just sipping on plain water. Instead, try using an electrolyte drink such as the Active Recovery product from Osmo Nutrition. Use this product in the afternoon/evening before a race in hot conditions and then again about three hours before the race starts. It’s important to drink enough to quench your thirst but don't force it, because too much liquid can result in exercise-associated hyponatremia. You're only going to be in trouble if you somehow "forget" to drink due to pre-race excitement.
Bring a small cooler to put in transition filled with “ice bags.” Make these the night before the race by taking four pieces of women’s hosiery which you can buy from Amazon (cut to 8 inches), fill them with crushed ice and then tie it at the ends. In the morning, remember to take them out of the freezer and bring them in your cooler to put in transition. You can stuff these down the front of your triathlon race suit, such as the chest area during the bike and during the run, your upper back, chest, and under your hat. This is to keep your core temperature down which in the number one priority in hot conditions.
Don’t put your wetsuit on too early and stand around as this can raise your body temperature and heart rate. Get into the water 15 minutes before the race starts to do an easy race warmup or just float around to stay cool. Don't be tempted to forsake the wetsuit if the race is wetsuit legal to keep your core temp down. There's too much advantage in wearing a wetsuit. Is it a little uncomfortable to wear a wetsuit in 75 degree water? Yes, but you'll soon have it off and be wet in your race suit, likely still in early morning and you'll have time to cool off before hopping on the bike.
Prior to mounting the bike, put a pre-made crushed “ice bag” down the front of your tri kit. Once on the bike, make sure to drink a sports drink mixed with cold water (and crushed ice). Try to grab whatever cold water bottles they may offer at aid stations and pour them over the front of your thighs, shoulders, and head. Also use the cold water to rinse out your mouth. Again... drink to thirst!
In certain conditions, you may want to choose a traditional, well ventilated helmet (Craig Alexander wore this type of helmet and won the Hawaii Ironman many times). In the heat, this can be a better choice over a completely covered, black aero helmet because you can pour some water down the vents and keep your core temperature down, which is the main challenge to avoid overheating which will affect your performance. As the bike leg is likely in the early mid-morning (and there’s more air flow on the bike), it won't be as challenging to keep cool compared to the run. Still, you'll want to start the run in the best shape possible.
One of the most critical adjustments you should make in hot weather is to hold back on exertion more than you usually would on the bike. Likely, stretching for that extra 3-5 mins in a half ironman on the bike is not going to be worth it as you can blow that in one mile if you're reduced to a walk in the run. You're not going to feel the full force of hot conditions on the bike but the energy costs of running in the heat are much higher than in normal conditions. So, adjust your expectations on the bike and save it for the run. You’ll likely not regret it.
For the run portion of the triathlon, place some of your “ice bags” down the front and upper back of your kit (and under your hat if it fits... try to wear a light colored mesh one). These will usually stay cold for at least the first 5k+ of the run. It will drip cold water onto your skin, providing constant cooling and heat evaporation. Also, make sure to grab a cup of water to drink at every aid station and put one or two cups of water on top of your head or down your race suit. If you're not confident that the aid stations on the course are going to meet your nutrition needs, you can also carry an insulated water bottle and freeze it the night before to keep in your cooler along with the ice bags. Use a sports drink in this bottle and sip on it throughout the run.
After the race, make sure to cool down right away to reduce heat stress and speed your recovery. Get in the shade, go jump in the lake or the ocean if it's convenient and don't forget to rehydrate with cold water or an electrolyte solution and don't refuse an IV if it's offered to you!
Other interesting products:
This headband amplifies the surface area of your skin by 5 times, enhancing its cooling capacity. Used most recently by Olympic athletes in Men’s and Women’s Triathlon.