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Coaches Blog

Know your response to heat

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

It's one year out from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games and it's widely acknowledged that it’s going to be hot and humid at the games. In fact, the “Real Feel” will likely be well over 100F when we race. The heat affects everyone, but the rate and way in which it affects us and how our body responds to heat is probably not known to most.

I always thought that I dealt with heat fairly well and have performed respectably in the hot weather races. The data showed something much different when I was recently in the lab at the Olympic/Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. There I ingested a small pill sized sensor that monitored my core body temperature. Then I went into the High Altitude Testing Chamber that had been set to sea level altitude and 90F with 85% humidity. This would simulate the conditions in Tokyo. The protocol was then to ride at race pace 2X10 minutes with 1minute rest between. Then get off the bike and run 3X1 miles at races pace with 1 minute in between. I knew this was not going to be easy, but man was I in for a surprise!

During the test I was given water but no ice and no fan as this first test was meant to see how I responded without any cooling strategies. The first 10 minutes went by slowly but I was able to maintain about 340W fairly well until the last minute or so when it became very difficult. I stopped for my 1 minute rest and then started back up, but this time producing 270W like it was a 400W effort. I finished the second 10 minutes and I was roasting like a pig on a skewer. I got off the bike and was dizzy and unsteady as I made my way to the treadmill.

check out the puddle of sweat!

The physiologist looked at the monitor and said, “I got the data I needed, you don’t even need to run.” I said, I at least want to try.” He turned on the treadmill and set it to an 8 minutes-per-mile pace. I could tell very quickly that I was not going to be able to maintain that pace for long. After only a quarter of a mile I had to walk. I was not in a good place and I could hardly walk on the treadmill, let alone keep race pace.

Following the test, when the physiologist looked at the data it showed that my body tends to heat up very fast, but because I am very lean and have long limbs to create a large surface area, I am also able to cool very quickly. He also found that I sweat at a high rate. This is a good thing as it shows my cooling systems are working. The bigger takeaway is that it is very important to stay ahead of my cooling because I heat up quickly. No matter who you are, once your body overheats the only way to cool yourself is to stop.

Fast forward a four days from the test and I was in Okinawa at Kadena Air Force base for a training camp prior to the Tokyo Paralympic Test event. My guide Ben Collins and I completed a training ride on the base in which we were working aerobic to tempo effort. It was late morning and starting to heat up. The sun came out which amplified the heat. We got off the bike and went out for a three mile run. A mile into the run we were both feeling horrible. I asked Ben our pace and he said 7minutes per mile. The effort was comparable to running sub-6 minute miles and it was only getting harder. I was again overheated and my body was unable to cool itself on its own.

Two days later we met at the track with the physiologist and he had made ice stockings. We both put one around the back of our neck and I also put one down my tri suit. It was right in the hottest part of the day and we were warming up at 6:20 pace and did our 100-200m efforts at 5minute pace. The experience was completely opposite of the experience in the lab and the two days prior. By applying ice to two critical cooling areas of the body, behind the neck and in the groin area, I could keep my core temperature cool. I then continually replaced the ice. I had a plan and I was proactive with my cooling strategies, with the knowledge of how my body responds to heat.

Moving forward I will also incorporate acclimatization strategies to maintain my body’s adaptations to these conditions. There are many different ways to maintain this adaptation even if I don’t live in the conditions.

Even without the resources of the laboratory type research that was used in my case, once can always attempt to simulate the terrain or climate that we will be competing in. We can test out how our body reacts and feels so that we can make adjustments to be prepared when race day arrives. The ice cooling is one example of many ways to address heat. Find the strategies that will work best for your body's response to heat!

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