It’s hot here in San Diego. I live at the coast and homes here don’t come with A/C. In fact, most people who have A/C don’t run it (or the heat in the winter). We’re blessed to enjoy wonderful weather for 99.9% of the year. I truly can’t complain. So I won’t. Instead I’ll focus on all the GOOD that surrounds living in 80-90 degree weather streak without reprieve. (if you’re already snarking about me complaining about San Diego heat which I know pales in comparison to a lot of the US- in my defense, they are sending kids home from school early to get out of the heat and Target is SOLD OUT of fans!).
Just like pro-triathletes go to higher altitudes to train in tougher conditions in order to get faster, training in uncomfortable heat can also have benefits. I’m not saying go out and run at high noon in the middle of the desert with no water in order to get more fit. I’m simply saying, that with the proper precautions, training in this crazy heat might actually give me a boost come marathon race day.
A study was done by Santiago Lorenzo at the University of Oregon to prove the effectiveness of heat training on cyclists. He split a group of cyclists and had half of the group perform training in a 55 degree room and the other half in a 100 degree room. He put them through performance tests at the beginning and the end of the study (both in 55 degree rooms) and compared their improvements. The group who trained in the hot room’s performance improved by 6% and their VO2max improved 5%. The group who trained in the 55 degree room showed no improvements at all over the 10 day period.
Just like training in altitude, heat training can:
1) Increase your blood plasma levels. The result is a greater cardiac output, and higher VO2 at a given effort level.
2) Help you acclimate to dehydration.
3) Change muscle cell enzymes to make an endurance athlete more efficient.
In addition to the takeaways from the study mentioned in 1-3, I think there are two more benefits to heat training:
4) It builds mental toughness. Pushing away excuses to skip a run because of the heat and tackling it (responsibly by taking water, taking it easier if needed, etc) can be a great mental boost during tough moments in a race or even a future workout.
5) Help prepare you for undesirable race conditions. If you’ve already trained in tough conditions, you are going to be less likely to let a bad weather forecast freak you out.
One thing to keep in mind is that even though heat training might help make improvements in future performance, while you are training in high temperatures, you need to adjust your pace goals. It is totally fine to run a long run a minute or even more per mile slower in the heat and if you have a tempo or track workout planned, it’s smart to base your pace on perceived effort and/or heart rate. Also keep in mind that even if you’ve been training in the heat, you still aren’t going to perform as well at a race that is hot. You’ll still need to adjust your expectations but you will have a leg up on any competition who has not trained in the heat.
I definitely have noticed that I’ve acclimated to the heat over the last month or so of hard training in it. I always remind myself when I’m doing a key workout in the heat that I should not beat myself up about not going quite as fast as I would like, but instead focus on the effort. I’ve found that I’m not as bothered by running in the heat as I was when it first started to get so hot. I just carry extra water, electrolyte tabs and soak up the sweat!
Have you ever found that training in the heat helped you? Do you avoid running in the heat?