Excuses, most of us hear them all the time. This past week I heard a barrage of them for why a race or a training session was not finished. The common denominator it was too hot was what I was hearing constantly. There is very often a lot of blame on weather conditions when it comes to personal failures in endurance sport and to be completely blunt you should not blame the weather you need to blame yourself.
It is called lack of preparation and failure to understand what the body requires when the temperatures are soaring. When you decide to participate in any event you need to have in mind that you have no control over the weather conditions. The only control you have is over your body and how to help it cope under all conditions. The problem with most athletes is they train and train, but mostly they neglect the most important elements of proper sports nutrition being hydration and fuelling under various conditions. So early mornings of training under usually mild to pleasant temperatures suddenly leave them grasping at straws when placed into an event under severely hot conditions because they have absolutely no idea how to cope with it. Fuelling and hydration strategies are so crucial to any type of training or racing session to empower performance and lower the health risks associated with conditions such as hyponatremia, severe dehydration or heat exhaustion.
In the 2014 Comrades Marathon, I was on route in a follow vehicle feeding the elite athletes we worked with. In that year with about 30km to go there was a small break of around eight great ultra runners. Eventually Bongmusa Mthembu ran off the front and for the next 25km’s he became our focus. The weather conditions at the time were very hot and humid and after running 65km’s you can only imagine what the body is going through. His pace through those last 25km’s was stellar it was incredible to watch him running so strong. The interesting part was that we fed him around 30 water sachets over that last part of the course of which he probably only drank 2 of them and the balance he threw over his head and core area. Bongmusa new exactly what he was doing, he was trying to cool his core temperature from the outside to try to keep his heart rate down to allow him to perform at his best. We know with heat comes elevated heart rate and perceived effort. The way he managed it was totally professional and showed his experience. Bongmusa went on to win comfortably and it was a pure demonstration of the understanding of his personal requirements of nutrition and hydration to be able to perform at his best.
In 2016 I was invited to participate in a tough multi-stage trail race in Israel. The trail run was a 204km course over around 18 to 19 hours. Our race was destined to start at 1:30PM in the month of September when the temperatures were still very much reaching peak summer highs. I had six weeks of preparation ahead of me and due to the very nature of the course and race structure I put a plan of action into place. This consisted of later morning training sessions to acclimatize to the heat as well as doing the occasional triple training sessions a day being morning, noon and night. I needed to ensure that my body would be able to cope over the various temperatures the race had to offer as well as experiment with my hydration and fuelling strategies to ensure I could perform at my best.
The point I am trying to get to with the examples above is that when you prepare you prepare properly and that includes the hydration and fuelling strategies along with the training otherwise you will set yourself up for failure. So often I see cycling groups being broken down to non-pitchers purely because it was too windy, too cold, too hot. If you don’t experience these conditions how can you expect to race in them. You have no control over the weather you only have control over your conditioning, experiences and fuelling.
So in short my advice to you all is train as you will race. If it is a course with loads of climbing then embrace the mountainous training routes. Understand how the body will perform in wind, heat and cold. Make sure you understand your hydration and nutrition requirements because it will differ under various conditions. Always separate out your nutrition and hydration requirements and make sure the formula you put together works for both.
More fluid loss in the heat means understanding your hydration requirements perfectly and water alone will not be sufficient due to minimal absorption rates and the introduction of minerals, isotonic or hypotonic mixes might be required. Check out my previous blog Simply Hydrate for more in-depth information on hydration. On the fuelling side of things understand your energy requirements and make sure you nail it. I did a previous blog touching on training and race fuelling called Fortuitous Fuelling just click on the link for a deep dive.
The next time you are planning a training or racing session make sure you cover all your bases. Work the racing terrain in training and understanding exactly what will work for your body from a hydration and energy perspective under any varying weather conditions. As the great Benjamin Franklin once said “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”
all the best
Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focussed on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery and health.