As cyclists, we all have our strengths and weaknesses that we know well. Some of us like the uphill, others much prefer the down. Some enjoy the rain. Some enjoy the heat. To succeed as a competitor, we must play to our strengths. To improve as an athlete, we must work on our weaknesses. If the thought of riding your bike in 90+ degrees makes you want to crawl into a hole and not emerge until it’s at least in the 70’s, I understand your pain. Unfortunately, as a top level criterium racer, the heat is something I cannot avoid. It may be my nemesis, and it has certainly been the cause of my demise more times than I would like to admit, but if I drive several hours to get to a race, I'm not going to turn around and drive several hours home because the conditions aren't to my liking. Like when it’s 105 as we line up to race on a midsummer day, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that help me conquer my foe.
Please keep in mind that these training tips were suggested by a professional coach and were performed with guidance and intensive feedback. If you do want to try anything suggested at home, proceed with caution and consult a professional first!
The first step in conquering the heat is to acclimate! For me, this starts long before the first race of the season. After suffering heat sickness in Boise in 2019 which knocked me out of my race, my coach and I decided to make heat adaptation one of my top training priorities going into my next season. To put it simply, heat adaptation is creating an environment that raises your core temperature for the long term benefit of being able to tolerate the heat better. Read a more scientific definition here. The techniques I practice for heat adaptation include riding at the hottest time of day with lukewarm water in my bottles, riding the trainer without a fan, and hitting the sauna frequently. I only ride endurance or recovery rides in the heat; I save my intensity rides for cooler days. I bring plenty of water and drink as much as I need to - sometimes even two bottles an hour. The goal isn't to annihilate yourself, but to expose yourself to hot conditions in a manner that allows your body to adapt and perform better the next go around.
Step Two: hyper hydration. I’m a big fan of having carbs and electrolytes in my bottles, so I rarely go on a ride with just water. In extreme conditions however, your regular drink solution may not be enough. I sweat a lot. As in, I always win the biggest-puddle-after-a-hot-yoga-class award. I lose a lot of water. Typically, I can make up for this water loss with consistent hydration and electrolytes. Sometimes however, when racing for an hour at full speed in 105 degree weather, I simply cannot drink enough. My solution? Increasing my body’s water retention with sodium. I’ve started drinking a bottle of Skratch’s Hyper Hydration within the hour leading up to my race. One bottle contains 75% of your daily sodium intake. Salt, salt, baby. As they mention on their website, this is for extreme situations only. I’ll repeat: I only do this when I am racing a professional level criterium in 90+ degree weather, but it has made all the difference in the world for me. I no longer finish a race feeling incredibly dehydrated, dizzy, and depleted, having been unable to make up for all of the water my body has lost.
The third and final step occurs on race day. The days of heat adaptation are over. It is now time to stay as cool as possible for as long as possible. Other than a morning spin, I will stay in the air conditioned hotel room until it is time to warm up. By spending the day inside, I avoid exposing myself to the heat for longer than necessary. Why deplete my hydration and energies prematurely? I stay out of the sun as much as possible until it's time to race. I take a cold pre race shower and drink refrigerated bottles throughout the day. The point is to keep my core temperature as low as possible. Heat creates stress on the body. When training in the heat, the point of this stress is to promote adaptation. On race day, however, the stress is just wasted energy. When it is time to get out in the sun, I make sure my bottles are icy cold, I stuff an ice sock (or two) down my jersey, and I soak my hair and skinsuit in cold water. In humidity, the cold water is a nice contrast to the sticky hot air. In dry climates, it begins the process of evaporative cooling before I begin sweating.
These three steps have transformed me from a DNF in almost every +100 degree race to being an active player in the race until the very end. While I’d love every race to be a pleasant 70 degrees, the majority of my summer races are close to triple digit temps. After realizing how badly the heat hampered my performances, I embraced this new addition to my training wholeheartedly. Try some of these tips out, see what works for you, and please remember to be smart about it.