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Mark Allen “THE GRIP” on Heat, Wind, and Other Fun Things

I got this in my inbox and since I can’t find it on their website at markallenonline.com , I have decided to reproduce the entire article here. The Grip is my all time best triathlete ever (yes Dave Scott is up there, but the edge goes to MA in my opinion) and he has a nice online coaching business. He probably sends more people to Kona podiums than any other coach in the world (including the Multisports.com crew), so while I have never been coached by him it sure seems like he has something working for him.

The Grip By Mark Allen
Heat, Wind and Other Fun Things

As if a triathlon is not challenging enough in and of itself, often there are other natural obstacles thrown in the mix just to spice up your race day. In summer, most of those come in the form of heat and wind. There are strategies you can have in your bag of trick that can help you slip through these fairly unscathed, however. Let me give you a few of them.

First, let’s talk about heat. There are two kinds: dry and humid. Of these two the most deceptively difficult to deal with is the dry heat. The reason for this is simple: sweat can dry as quickly as it hits the skin. The aids in cooling, but it also gives the illusion of not really sweating that much. In humidity, just thinking about moving can cause one to sweat and the moisture will stick around for your viewing pleasure much longer than in dry heat. So if you are doing a race in a hot, humid climate the visual cues will be there that you are sweating and you are likely to drink accordingly. Not so in dry heat. The skin can remain fairly dry, even though you have reached your maximum sweat rate. This is one reason why many people fade badly in races with hot dry air.

The solution doesn’t take a genius to figure out. Have a rehydration plan and try to keep on it throughout the day. What that plan will be should be developed based on how much water you find you lose in training. Weigh yourself before and after long bike rides, especially if you can do them in the heat of the day. Any measurable loss in weight will be from sweating. Sorry, but you didn’t burn five pounds of fat in that three hour bike ride! So add this amount to the total volume of liquid you drank during the workout and you will start to have an idea of how much fluid you go through per hour.

This will be a starting point for coming up with a plan to hydrate in the race. There is a catch here. A person can sweat out fluids much faster than the gut can absorb them. In general, people have a maximum absorption rate of about 30-40 ounces per hour (about a liter to a liter and a half). Your sweat rate can exceed that by quite a bit. However, pouring more down your gullet will not get it to the tissues. The excess will sit in your stomach. Once you have reached your max absorption capacity that is it, plain and simple. And the biggest mistake triathletes make at this point is to continue to shove more into a backed up system, which can lead to nausea (a handy but less than pretty little mechanism that helps deal with too much stuff in the stomach). So figure out about how much liquid your body seems to be able to handle per hour through trial and error in training, and then use that as a good guide for race day.

Another factor that will influence your race in both types of heat is sodium intake. Basically everyone’s performance will start to drop off after about three hours of high sweat rates if sodium is not replaced. A good rule of thumb is that the average person sweats out about 350 mg/hour of sodium, which is a starting point for the amount that should be replaced per hour in a hot event. This is very individual, however. Some people can lose over 1,000 mg/hour. You might be one of these people, and will likely know it if you are the one with the salt caked on your cycling shorts at the end of most rides. In a race you can often pinpoint when sodium in needed by doing the following: first drink, then eat and then if your energy levels do not come back up or you feel like it is tough to concentrate and your body feels heavy it is often a sign that sodium is getting low.

To replace sodium, make sure there is a good amount in your sports drink. On top of that if you need more, buffered salt tablets are the best. These can be put on the tongue, tasted and sucked on until your body says “enough”. Swallowing a pill with sodium is NOT a good way to do this as you will never know if you took in enough or too much. Tasting the salt is really the only way to get the correct amount based on what your body is telling you. Now onto the wind.

The biggest mistake people make when cycling into wind is to let their cadence rate drop too low. This is natural, unfortunately, simply because a lower cadence feels like you are pushing with more power as you cycling into a wind. However, the lower you let your cadence drop the more precious carbohydrate you are burning and the heavier your legs will be when you start your run. Make it your mantra if you have to race in windy conditions to maintain a cadence that is appropriately high. What does this mean? It depends on the race distance. In general the shorter the race the higher the cadence rate that is ideal. So for a sprint or Olympic distance event around 90-95 rpm will be best. For a half Ironman closer to 85-90 rpm will do the trick. Then for a full Ironman shoot for around 80-85 rpm.

If you look at racers going into wind, many will be 10-15 rpms below what their ideal race cadence would be. Again this is because the perception is that you are actually creating power into the wind. But the reality is that you are slowly building up lactate, you will not be flushing the muscles of metabolic byproducts very well and will be using a higher percentage of carbohydrate. None of these are ideal.

There you have it with tips for wind and heat. Remember in heat reach for your maximum absorbable amount of fluids, but don’t exceed it. In dry heat, make sure to drink even though you will not see the sweat on your skin like you would in humidity. Attend to salt. And of course make sure you are getting enough calories to sustain your effort. Generally 300-400 per hour is what most people can tolerate without getting the stomach backed up because of too many calories hitting the stomach and once.

Then in windy conditions, think cadence rate. You may feel like a mouse on a treadmill, but when you are passing your other competitors like a world-class runner in the final leg, you will be happy that you did!

Best of luck with your training.

Mark Allen at markallenonline.com

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June 19, 2008 at 2:30 pm
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