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Chasing Potential - Preparing for a Warm Race in the Winter

 Friday, January 06, 2017

It is COLD in Minnesota. Like "my face hurts" cold. To be specific, the currently temp is -10F, with a wind-chill of -25F. I grew up on Northern Minnesota and competed in Nordic Skiing at Bemidji High School so I understand how to dress for the cold, but I still don't like it! My personal cold threshold on a long run is as low as -20F (temp or wind-chill), though I move indoors at less frigid temps for shorter weekday runs and quality workouts. However, since I'm getting ready for a tropical race at the Miami Half Marathon later this month, I'm running inside more to prepare for the heat. 

It takes a good two weeks (maybe more) to acclimate to the heat. I'm assuming that being cold most of the day isn't helping matters, so I started my heat acclimation workouts more than 2 weeks before race-day. I've moved most of my workouts inside, and when I run on the treadmill in my basement, I no longer crack open the window or turn on the fan. When training at Life Time, I do my post-run stretching in the steam room. That really gets my sweat rate up, as I haven't acclimated enough yet to sweat much on my runs. Yes, sweating is a GOOD thing.

The main goal of heat acclimation is to increase your sweat rate. In the winter months our sweat rate diminishes, as the body's focus is on maintaining core temperature, while it shuttles more blood to the core and less to the extremities. With regular training in hot conditions, plasma volume and blood flow increase. That all pays off on race-day, as acclimated runners don't have to slow as much in the heat as runners who haven't taken the time to acclimate. 

Here are some ways to crank up the heat acclimation process if you are preparing to travel from a cold climate to a warm race:

  • Run indoors at least 3x/week for an hour or more
  • Wear more clothing on your indoor runs if you are in a cool room
  • Hit the steam room to sweat and get used to breathing humid air (do this after a run for extra benefits)
  • Pull on an extra layer for outdoor runs so you sweat more (not recommended in frigid weather, as excessive sweat could chill you later in the run)

With any of the tactics above, hydration becomes even more important, as does watching for any signs of heat distress. A few words of caution: you shouldn't feel dizzy or light-headed from normal heat training. You will need to take in additional fluids to compensate for your increased sweating. If you have any history of cardiovascular disease or other reasons to avoid excessive heat, you should work with your doctor to find the best approach to a warm-weather race. Pregnant women should avoid increasing their core temperature, so heat acclimation is out if you're currently running for two. In that case, if you still plan to do a destination race, you should take extra precautions to stay cool on race day, including slowing your pace and taking planned walk-breaks.

In the week leading up to a warm-weather race, focusing on hydration is key. Add some electrolytes to your diet, in the form of salt from broth or other salty foods, and potassium from bananas, avocados or coconut water. I typically start my week with a focus on adding electrolytes to my diet, and then I add an electrolyte mix to my water a couple of times a day in the final 2-3 days. 

It's hard to prepare for a warm race when training in these conditions, so the treadmill had to become my friend! Coach MK wants me to spend most of January preparing for my upcoming tropical race, so I haven't been outdoors much lately. Considering the Arctic Blast we're currently enduring in Minnesota, I am OK with that!

I look forward to sharing my #ChasingPotential journey with you this year. Feel free to comment on our social media pages below if you have training questions that I could help answer. Happy New Year!

Last blog post: "Up Next - Miami!" 

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Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager at Life Time Fitness. Follow me on Instagram at rebekah800, on Twitter at @rebekah_mayer and our team at @lifetimerun. Find us on Facebook at