Monday, June 8, 2015

Racing in Heat- The Balancing Act of Fluids, Electrolytes and Calories. Beating race day woes.

"I can't run in heat." 

"Every time I run in heat I puke."

"I race better in cold weather."

Summer is upon us. This past weekend runners got their first taste of heat and humidity,unfortunately for some, this was also a weekend that held several large races.

With proper planning and education:

We CAN run in heat.

We CAN run without puking.

There IS a reason why we vomit. There IS a reason we get dizzy and weak. Running in heat and humidity is a challenge for several reasons:
  • We go into race day with a game plan regarding pace. In hot weather we must race for the conditions, NOT for a goal we came up with in ideal conditions. RUN SLOWER, FINISH STRONGER.
  • We must stay hydrated and take in electrolytes. If you feel dizzy or weak, it is because you are most likely deficient in fluids, electrolytes and/or calories. 
  • All races are NOT created equal. Races longer than 8 hours in length are exponentially harder in relation to electrolyte and fluid management. The body will REVOLT if you don't have a great game plan to address all the variables related to strategy on race day regarding heat management and all the variables related to strong race day performance.
  • You must take in enough calories while running in heat. Your stomach will fight you if you are overheated. If your electrolytes and fluids are balanced your stomach will accept fuel better.
Why do we vomit in heat? There are several possible reasons, the most likely culprit is electrolyte imbalance. Hyponatremia in usually to blame. Hyponatremia is a low salt concentration in the blood. Your body is always trying to create homeostasis,the fluid in your body needs to be a certain concentration of salt to fluid. When you run low on salt, your body will begin to purge itself of fluids to reach the concentration it needs to function. You will urinate very frequently and possibly vomit. Peeing frequently might lead you to believe you are hydrated, but you are actually becoming low on fluids AND salt at this point. Not only are you now low on electrolytes but you are now dehydrated AND losing blood volume which your cardiovascular system needs to function.

Running at an intensity too hard for the conditions can also create havoc. If you aren't trained for the heat you are racing in, and you are pushing the pace too hard, your body is too overwhelmed to digest food. If you are overheating and running your body doesn't want to be overloaded with the demands necessary to digest food so it purges anything in your stomach it to focus on cooling down and getting blood to working muscle groups.

Ultramarathons are chess, not checkers!

Ultramarathons are full color in 3D, not one dimensional black and white.

A break down of the needs of a runner in heat:
  1. Calories must be easily digestible. You need several hundred per hour for ultra events.
  2. Fluids and electrolytes must be balanced and replenished. You must know what your specific body needs. Going off of recommendations on bottles is misleading because those instructions are most likely not for ultra distance. A 26 mile marathon runner does not need as many electrolytes per hour as a hundred mile runner in heat. 
  3. Pacing must be adjusted to account for climate.
  4. Staying cool externally with wise clothing options and tricks.
The condition in which a runner shows up to a start line is also a large factor in their ability to perform in heat. A runner who is overly ambitious in their training plan will often falter and succumb to heat intolerance. A lot of runners who are striving to progress in the sport would benefit from added recovery before a race but we must let of anxiety and allow ourselves to recover. It's anxiety that fuels overtraining. We must have faith in our bodies and our training.

There are many variables to consider for running in heat. I highly recommend if possible to train in the hottest part of the day. Don't rely on your innate talents to get you though an event. Work harder AND smarter and reach your maximum potential.