XTERRA Couch to Trail – How to Beat the Heat


By SherriAnne Little

Beat the Heat Tips – Training in the heat

With summer right on the heels of Memorial Day, are you looking forward to training under the sun, or are you dreading the summer heat? With XTERRA Cameron Park in Texas and XTERRA Knoxville in June, it’s important to know how to train in warmer weather. As long as precautions are taken, pushing yourself in the heat may even give you a boost in your next XTERRA event.

Heat Training Can Boost Performance

Heat acclimation training helps you to perform better in cooler environments because of the adaptations that take place. The human body has the ability to cool itself in hot conditions by sweating, but for this to occur, the body must increase blood flow to the surface of the skin.  Blood is the major carrier of heat, and sweat is derived from plasma, the non-cellular part of blood.

Sweat is mostly water with high concentrations of sodium and chloride and low concentrations of potassium.  When we sweat, we are actually losing blood volume as well as electrolytes, which is why proper hydration is vital.  When the blood is pumped to the periphery of the body to cool the surface of the skin, there is less blood available for the heart to pump to the muscles.  This impacts performance because now your heart rate increases to pump enough blood to the muscles to sustain the workload. Because of this you will tire more quickly and max out sooner. For example, an 8-minute pace may feel like a 6-minute pace because the heart is having to work harder to support the workload.

The great news about this is that the body quickly adapts and increases blood volume (as long as it stays hydrated) to support what it needs. When you head to cooler environments after your body has adapted, you will be pumping more oxygenated blood to the muscles than you were previously. This can help boost your performance. So, lace up those shoes, grab your hydration pack, and hit the trails.

Tips to manage the Heat

1    Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Be sure to drink throughout your day to stay hydrated and once you start exercising, consume about 24 ounces of fluids per hour of exercise.  If you are exercising for about an hour, water should be fine.  But if you are going longer than an hour, be sure to get in some electrolytes, especially sodium.

2    Pre-cool your body by wetting it down with water or by sitting in an air-conditioned car.  Getting your core temperature down before you even start has not shown to change performance but can mentally make you feel better.  And since so much of how you train for XTERRA is mental, I say take any edge you can get.

3     Wear breathable clothing. Avoid cotton fabrics as they trap sweat and heat against the body.  Yes, your body sweats to cool itself, but it is the evaporation of the sweat that actually cools the surface of your skin. Wear synthetics or moisture-wicking fabrics to transfer the sweat from your skin to an outer layer for evaporation.  Also, lighter colors reflect the sun and help make a bit of difference.

4    Give yourself time.  The fitter you are the faster you will adapt.  If you are new to training in the heat start slow and go short. Each subsequent day try pushing yourself a little farther and a little harder.  It will take about 10 days for your body to acclimatize to the heat.  Once you have adapted you can train normally. Just understand that when you are training in heat, especially when just starting out, you will probably feel slower.  This is normal!

5    Run early or late.  No sense in torturing yourself with midday scorching temps.  The early mornings and evenings are hot enough to help acclimate and still get in a decent workout in the light.

6    Listen to your body.  Early signs of heat illness include fatigue, lightheadedness, cessation of sweating, nausea, and disorientation.  If you begin to experience any of these symptoms you must stop working out and seek a cooler environment.

7    You will become a tortoise during the summer months.  You must slow down.  Research has shown that the brain will protect the body during physical exertion and will limit muscle activity to keep the core temperature from rising too high.  It is the environmental heat that prevents the heat from dissipating and causes possible heat illness.  So, do not expect to perform at the same level on hot days.  Instead, maintain your normal level of exertion and let the chips fall where they may.

Training through the hot months and creating the subsequent adaptations will allow you to reap the rewards come fall and the cooler temperatures.  You will go from feeling like a slug to a superhero overnight when the temps cool off.  Another benefit is simple allostasis, the process by which the body responds to stressors in order to regain homeostasis.  In other words, our bodies like to be challenged and will adapt by getting fitter–that is what they are designed to do.

So while running on hot days may not be as enjoyable as running on cooler days, there are many benefits.  Plan accordingly, be safe, and get out there!  Get your training in and see what superhero you can turn into at your next event.

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by Sheri Anne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA. Check out their upcoming training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona set for April 26-29 at https://nextlevelendurance.net/camps or email them at info@nextlevelendurance.net.