It was just a couple of weeks ago that we lost yet another fellow racer in our sport, Josh Lichtle. Not from a horrific crash or bike failure but to heat stroke. This issue needs to be addressed and I couldn’t think of a better time since Ponca City and Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals are right around the corner. These two races could very well be the most physically taxing of all of the amateur nationals of the year. Even though most motos at these races are considerably shorter than most, they can still spell disaster. This is especially true with the disgusting heat wave that has been plaguing the Midwest. Hydration, rest, supplementation, nutrition and most importantly preparation could not be more important over these next few weeks. If you haven’t been advised in these areas, than let this be a crash course.
First of all, let’s start with the preparation for these races.
If you are entering any of the three qualifying amateur nationals, (mammoth being the 3rd) you still have plenty of time to know if you will be attending one if not both of these events. The long moto’s and hard training days have gotten you into these races but how do you train for the heat? I suggest doing a "sweat rate test". Knowing just how much fluid you will be losing during exercise can make or break you at times. This can be done by first weighing yourself nude and than going for either a cycle run or row session. The duration should be either 30 minutes or preferably 1 hour with no fluids. After you finish this, than weighing yourself nude immediately after and determine how much weight you have lost. This translates into ounces of fluids lost and will give you a rough estimate of what you need to consume in order to stay hydrated. This will also be affected by pace, elevation, temperature and humidity. Since you wont be able to consume while on the bike, consuming enough fluids pre-race and post race is crucial.
Some people acclimate much easier to the scorching heat and humidity then others. If you have the luxury to show up a few days early, I highly recommend it. Whether you go out and spin some laps at a local mx track or just acclimate by going for a run or cycle, it is well worth it. It will give you peace of mind and give your body a chance to adjust to the new climate. I stress to not physically exert yourself in any of these workouts or moto’s. If you aren’t prepared at this point you won’t be, and should conserve your energy. These workouts are strictly to get yourself used to the climate and to give you a mental boost for the race week.
Hydration begins the morning before your first day or practice. Go to the local convenience store and buy a gallon jug of water. By the end of the day, it should be gone along with some type of electrolyte replacement I.E. (Gatorade, Pedialyte, Powerade, etc). You can also use a higher quality electrolyte supplement such as First Endurance’s EFS which is used by many of the top endurance athletes and many top AMA pro’s. Drinking water alone will help but it can also flush you out so it is key to include the electrolyte supplement. If your urine isn’t clear, than you haven’t been drinking enough. Try to stay away from soda energy drinks and tea’s. These are diuretics and will only dehydrate you. During race days, try to sip on fluids throughout the entire day preferably a water/electrolyte replacement mix. Dehydration is the easiest way to see your performance diminish. Also, being dehydrated is the first step towards heat stroke so stay hydrated and look for signs of dehydration.
Nutrition is vital during these races. Not only for race performance but most of all for recovery from the grueling heat and racing. The day before the race week starts, there should be lots of snacking along with three solid meals. And when I say snacking, I don’t mean grab a bag of Doritos then a bag of Oreos. Try to eat wholesome snacks that will work with your body and not against it. Lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains. One of my favorites is whole wheat bread with "Nutella", banana’s and a splash of organic honey. Great snacks are super easy to make. Snacking through race days is very important. Snacking is important not only to have energy for the moto’s but also because a huge amount of energy is exerted to keep the body at a core temperature of 98.6. If you don’t have the "body fuel" to do so, than it is a fast track to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The key to remember is "try to eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty".
The night before the first day of racing is always a sleepless night with every emotion, race scenario and checklist going through your head. It is very important to top off the batteries and get a long night of sleep at least two nights before the first race day. And when I say top off the batteries, I mean try to get at least ten hour’s of sleep and even a mid day nap if possible. This may sound like over-kill but your body will thank when you have to dig deep for some extra energy. Same with race nights, try to get as much rest as possible. The body needs plenty of rest to recover from the heat and long days at the track.
Staying cool in-between moto’s and heading to the line is critical. Try everything you can to stay cool for as long as you can. Hide out in the air conditioning with wet rags on your neck and head to keep the core temperature as low as possible. There is no advantage to acclimation through a day of racing such as suffering in the heat all day. The only thing that may come with it is a mental edge. But if you’ve made it this far, than my guess is that you are extremely "mentally tough". A study was done recently on pre-cooling in Australia. The study showed that athletes that consumed a slushie before a run were able to hold their pace for up to fifteen minutes longer then those that didn’t. This is due to the fact that once the body hits a certain temperature it starts to shut down your physical ability to exercise. Don’t worry about the sugar in your slushie as your body will convert this to energy while racing. This technique along with umbrellas, wet vented jerseys and great hydration should build you up for the battle ahead.
Well, that was my quick crash course on how to survive the heat at the two most physically demanding amateur nationals of the year. As with anything you have to do, what works for you and these tips wont work for everyone but they should be tried. The big picture is to keep everyone healthy and racing for a long time. So remember to acclimate if possible, snack healthy, drink plenty of fluids, rest excessively and last but not least pre-cool! Good luck to everyone and bring home those championship plates.