Essential Sports Nutrition

10/20/17

Racing in unfavorable weather conditions


Every athlete is bound to experience at least one race per season that gives you unfavorable weather-related conditions.

I still remember my first Ironman (IMFL) in 2006 (picture above). It was around 38 degrees on race day morning and after the 2.4 mile wetsuit legal swim, I spent several extra minuets in the swim-to-bike changing tent in an effort to completely dry off my body (and stop my chills) before getting on to the bike. I ended up having a great first IM experience and although I was less than a minute away from breaking 11 hours in my first Ironman, I don't regret spending that extra time in the changing tent to warm-up my body.

I also remember racing IM 70.3 Branson in 2012, which happened to be Karel's very first half IM (the event got cancelled because of the difficulty of the bike course). Race morning was around 43 degrees and I remember the sand at the beach being so incredibly cold that I felt like my feet were standing on needles. Although the water was so warm compared to the air, I made the (smart) decision to only wear my sport bra and tri shorts under my wetsuit so that when I arrived to the transition area, I could put on a dry jersey and arm warmers. Although this required a little extra time in T1, I was comfortable at the start of the bike. Being comfortable allowed me to perform to my abilities on the tough bike course and I ended up running my fastest ever half marathon (1:36) off the bike, which helped me secure my first overall amateur female 70.3 win.

Knowing that there will be a race where the weather is not to your liking, it's important to equip yourself with the right clothing, gear, mental state and nutrition/pacing strategy for how you will handle the race day conditions.

A few things that I have learned over the years as it relates to racing a triathlon on a "cold" morning:
  • I get cold very easily and I am not comfortable when I am cold. Therefore, I will dress myself with a hat, gloves, pants, jacket and anything else to keep myself toasty warm before the race day.
  • I have learned that sand and cement can be very cold on race day morning. Wearing an old pair of socks to the swim start (to toss before getting in the water), while waiting for my wave, has helped to keep my feet warm before the swim start.
  • If I am shivering before a race, I have difficulty swimming to my potential and when I am cold, I don't feel strong but rather I feel weak. Therefore, if I find that a pre-race swim warm-up will not warm me up, I instead stick to the dry land to increase my body temperature and to loosen my muscles. However, I never ever skip a pre-race warm-up.
  • I don't mind spending a little extra time in transition to put on a dry jersey, arm warmers or gloves before I get on the bike, if needed. Also, if I am unsure about weather conditions, I at least have those extra gear items available in my transition area/bag, just in case. I make sure never to overdress as I know that after 20-30 minutes, I will warm-up so everything that I do put on in the transition area has the chance to be tossed at an aid station to avoid overheating.
  • I stay up on my nutrition. It's so easy to not fuel and hydrate on a schedule in cold weather races as your thirst mechanism doesn't kick in. Also, when it's cold, it can be difficult to grab bottles. I have recognized that sticking to my fueling/hydration strategy on the bike (and run) gives me the competitive edge over those who may be fitter than me, but nutritionally underfueled/hydrated.
  • I always respect my body. It's very easy to get caught-up in what other athletes are doing (regardless if that strategy works or not). Knowing how my body handles certain conditions (rain, wind, heat, etc.) brings me confidence as I can prepare myself with the necessary gear, equipment and strategies to ensure race day success, with the conditions I am given. 

If you are planning to participate in an upcoming cold, rainy or windy race, it's important to be equipped to manage any and all race day conditions. It's not about being mentally strong or feeling like you just need to "harden it up" before the race but instead, have a plan so that you don't give up on yourself, as this will allow you to reach athletic excellence at the finish line.

Here's an old Ironman article that I wrote with Gloria (Dr. G) to help you dodge those unfavorable race day curveballs.