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What It Takes To Race In The Heat

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |August 5, 2010 8:21 PM

Interview by: Namrita O'Dea/55nine.com

It's pretty hot all over the country right now and that can either make or break your race. In the recent 65-mile Off-road Assault on Mount Mitchell (ORAMM) in North Carolina, only 270-some of the 400 registered racers even finished.  I decided it would be timely and interesting to interview the Men's and Women's overall winners of the ORAMM, Thomas Turner (Jamis/Outspokin' Bikes) and Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store/Specialized), to hear their secrets for doing well in the heat. 

Carey and Thomas, both of you seem to overcome the challenges of extreme conditions very well.  You both excel in races in almost any environment..from the cold and ice of winter to the hot and humid conditions of summer in the South.  Congratulations on your most recent wins at the 65 mile Offroad Assault on Mount Mitchell (ORAMM) where the heat index reached over 100 degrees Farenheit. 

Question: What was your strategy for staying "cool" during the ORAMM race? 

CL: I began the race with a wet jersey and an iced-down hydration pack.  At 3 of the aid stations, I had dropped a bottle of water specifically for pouring on me. 

TT: Well, honestly I started hydrating several days prior to the race because I knew that the race would take its toll.  But my Jamis kit is made of a very lightweight material which might not be the best in the winter but for hot weather it's perfect.  Also my kit is pretty light colored so I am sure that helps too, I saw some folks wearing darker kits and could have just imagined how awful that would be with the sun beating down.  But the thing that made the biggest difference was when I would get to the feedzones I would take a bottle of cold water and pour over me, drink as much as I could out of another bottle and take a fresh bottle with me.  I would do this at every aid station so I went through a minimum of 5-6 bottles, about a bottle an hour.

Question: What does a typical mid-summer training week look like for you?

CL:  5 days of core work outs done in the morning before work.  2 days of interval work, ranging from 1-3 hours, 2 days of 3-5 hour aerobic/tempo rides, and 1 day of spinning out the legs.  I have also been running 1 day per week.  Each night I stretch and/or foam roll my body.

TT: During the summer I usually just get my rides in where I can, which means before and after work as I commute to and from.  My rides aren't terribly long (about 30 miles a day).  It gets to be a challenge to get a lot of miles in during the peak of the season and not get burned out or over-trained with it's so hot out.  When it's this hot out is hard to not overdo it.

Question: What do you do in advance of a race when you know it's going to be hot? 

CL: Most of my training rides are during the hottest part of the day.  It is all about acclimation.

TT: For this race I started hydrating a few days prior because I new it was going to be a real bear.  And when I went out to pre-ride the first 10 miles of the race I really made sure to not overdo it, drink a lot of fluids and try and take it easy.  It would be really easy to dig yourself into a whole just before a race like this and there is just no way to recover quick enough.

Question: What's the biggest mistake you've ever made regarding fueling before or during a race? 

CL: 2009 Ouachita Challenge, 80 miler.  This race was mostly single track and I was so focused on the technical terrain that I forgot to eat.  During the last 1/3 of the race when temperatures plummeted, I began to get cold and then I bonked on the last 5-mile gravel road section to the finish.  Later I calculated that I had only eaten 50% of the calories that I had planned to take in.

TT: Probably the worst experience I have ever had in regards to not being properly fueled was when I was racing as a  junior expert.  It was down in south Georgia and I just absolutely hit the wall.  I had used all the food I had and I could barely continue on and some kind individual gave me their PowerBar and I have to say it was a real life saver.  I have never had a bar since then that tasted  that phenomenal.  My best advice is find a routine and stick with it.  I think my body has learned that if I start eating or hydrating a certain way it knows what to anticipate.  Plus, having a routine helps one stay consistent and not deviate too much from what they are use to.  I try and eat a gel at least once an hour and, depending on intensity and duration, maybe something solid like a bar.  There is definitely something to be say for staying well fueled and hydrated but you don't want to over do it because you could cause other problems and your body can only process so much at any given time 

Question: What do you use in your bottles?

CL: Water.  Even though I use a hydration pack most of the time, I always carry a bottle with water for when I crave just water, empty my hydration pack, or need to cool off or clean off my glasses.

TT: I recommend using a sports drink and not just water to stay hydrated with.  Your body is going to need a lot more put back into it than just water can provide.  I like to use Cytomax during my races.  I doesn't leave your mouth with a syrupy after taste and I have had go luck with it so I stick with it.  When I do have room for more than one bottle I do like to put water in it though.  It's handy for cleaning glasses, cooling off with and just tastes good after a lot of sports drink.

Question: What do you use in your hydration pack?

CL: Dedicated Athlete Rapidade.  More often than not, I race with a hydration pack.  I am a big fluid drinker and with most of my races being on technical terrain, I am able to get a constant flow of fluids in me this way.  If I drink too much at once, I get that "sloshy" feeling in my stomach.  I do "water down" my sports drink a bit as the labeled concentration is just too sweet for me.

TT: If I go out for an epic ride I will use a hydration pack but I don't typically race with one.  I find it to bulky and awkward for when you are really hammering and throwing the bike around.  I usually put a sports drink in it and carry a couple of extra bottles with just plain water in them.  The water can give you options such as cleaning glasses and pouring over oneself that sports drink wouldn't be much good for.

Question: Does this change depending on the type of race or the weather?  

CL: No.

TT: If I am racing I probably wont be caught with a hydration pack on.  The only time I would race with one would be if there were very limited feed zones and I have to go a long distance with out any aid or if it was really cold and bottles could freeze.   Although that's not to say that I haven't had hydration pack hose freeze, it just usually takes a little long if they are under a jacket.

Question: How did you figure out how much you need to drink during a hot race? 

CL: Through trial and error over the years.  I take in 20-30 ounces of fluid per hour and the amount is definitely temperature dependent.

TT: Trial and error, but mostly trial.  If I drink about a bottle an hour I am usually pretty good.  But, during ORAMM I tried to drink as much as possible because I knew I would be sweating out more than I was taking in. 

Question: Do you do anything special for recovery after hot training rides or races?  

CL: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  My recovery drink is soy chocolate milk with added whey protein and glutamine.  Occasionally I will also treat myself to an ice cold Coke.  And of course, I continue to rehydrate with water throughout the remainder of the day.  During the summer I try to do my long training rides in an area where I can cool off afterwards in a river or lake.

TT: I eat lots of watermelon.  That has to be the best reason to race during the summer.  There is nothing better than finishing a hard ride and being greeted with a cold watermelon.  If you have access to a cool stream I would lay down in it and help to drop your core temperature back down to it's usual level.  Also, drinking lots of fluids and rehydrating is key and if you have any kind of recovery drink I would take it.  Also I think the body absorbs cold fluids better..plus they rock!  I have some friends that swear by ice baths but I have never gotten into anything that crazy.  Give me a cold creek and some cold to eat and drink and I'll be happy as a clam! 

Question: Only 270 out of 400+ racers actually finished ORAMM this year, presumably due to the hot and humid weather.  What is one piece of advice you would give to those that experienced heat-related issues, for their next time around?  

CL: Just as you would try to train at altitude in order to race at altitude, so must you train in the heat and humidity to be able to race in it.  Get out in the hottest part of the day and ride!  You must also be vigilant with your fluid intake.  My race day plan includes a nutrition plan, i.e. how many calories I need and how many fluid ounces I need.  At the end of each race, I determine if I met my nutrition goals or not.

TT: Don't over do it!  Ride at your pace, not someone else's pace.  Eat and drink regularly and if you have to take a break.  I think where most people get themselves into trouble is going out too hard at first and just burying themselves.  Once you do that it is really hard to recover.  And, it helps to ride in the same conditions you're going to race in.  If you're one of those people who thinks it's too hot to go out and ride in the middle of the day then you probably aren't going to like racing through the middle of the day.  Racing never makes a ride easier.  Just ride it at your pace.

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