This may seem like a strange topic as the southern states of Australia head towards winter, but with Vietnam 70.3 being on last weekend and Ironman Subic Bay being just around the corner it got me thinking about some of the hot races in the area, particularly tropical ones. We are quite lucky to have a number of races in very nice tropical locations in the Asia Pacific region, races such as Vietnam and Subic Bay like I have mentioned, but also races like Cebu, Bintan, Phuket, Langkawi and Malaysia to name a few.
I have done quite a few of these races and they all have their pluses and minuses, but one thing they all have in common is that they are very hot and very humid. Over the years I did a lot of races in the tropics and developed a few tricks and techniques that I thought helped, so I thought it might be handy to write a couple of blogs about how to race is such difficult conditions.
So in no particular order, here are some tips I have found useful for racing in the tropics.
Tip 1: You can acclimatize.
This might sound silly, but it doesn't actually take that long to acclimatize, usually between one and two weeks. If you have the luxury of time it can actually help to get to a place early and spend a couple of weeks getting used to the weather. This exactly what a lot of people do with Kona, getting there a couple of weeks before the race. Acclimatizing won't make the hot weather feel less hot, but it will mean that the hot weather hurts you less and won't slow you down so much. Nifty
It is also worth keeping the flip side of this in mind. I have been to races and seen people arrive two days before race day and spend all day in the heat in an effort to acclimatize. This isn't a great idea as there simply isn't enough time for your body to adapt. Instead all people are doing by hanging around in the heat is fatiguing themselves. They would be better off keeping cool, saving themselves for race day and then taking appropriate mitigative steps there.
Tip 2: Stay Cool
Okay, this maybe sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often this eludes people. How I usually explain it to people is that racing in the tropics is a race between you keeping your body cool and it heating up because of the weather and the exercise. The longer you can keep it cool the quicker you will go. If you can successfully keep your body cool the entire race then you will have a better day.
So how do you keep your cool? Well unfortunately in the tropics your body's major cooling system doesn't really work. Normally when you get hot you sweat, the sweat evaporates in the heat which cools you down. However, in the tropics it is so humid that your sweat doesn't really evaporate. This means that in the tropics you get hot, you sweat, you are still hot, you sweat more, you are still hot etc. This is why it is so easy to dehydrate in the tropics, you just keep on sweating.
In order to stay cool you need to give your sweat a helping hand, this means cooling your body down by all and any means available. If they give out ice sponges on the run course cram those suckers in. Water on course, get it over your head (and in your body of course). Whatever cooling they give you, you use, perhaps more than once. Whatever it takes.
Obviously you need to keep your hydration up too since it plays a major part in your temperature regulation.
Which brings me to Tip 3 and my last tip of today's blog which is:
Tip 3: Stay hydrated
Once again a tip that seems like a no-brainer, but go to any tropical race and it will be full of people who get this wrong. Sure people will be drinking in the race, but lots of people don't drink nearly enough.
It my experience, when it comes to hydration in a tropical race you almost can't drink too much and certainly I would usually err on the side of too much over too little. Sure you don't want to hit the run course all gluggy and full of water, but that is actually pretty tough in the tropics. From what I have seen you can take in several litres of water on the bike course and still have room for more, I think my record was about 6 litres in Bintan one year.
Along with that water you also need electrolytes. In many cooler races you can often get away with not consuming salts and not have any problems. In tropical races having electrolytes is that much more critical since you are going to be losing a whole lot through sweat, this is doubly important if you know you are susceptible to cramping. Even if you don't cramp often, replacing the salts that you are rapidly depleting is going to help you perform better.
Having enough water and electrolytes will allow your body to function as it is designed to with regard to digestion, cooling, blood flow etc. When you see people really struggling in the late stages of a run in a tropical race it is often dehydration which has got them. It is an easy problem to avoid, but one that many people struggle with.
And so, there you go. There are three rather obvious tips for racing in the tropics. Despite being obvious, they are mistakes that many people make. Tomorrow I will be writing more of the same, but with a focus on how you actually execute the race part, ie pacing etc.