One of the least acknowledged challenges a competitor faces in Obstacle Course Racing is the impact of relative race temperature (RRT). This differs from absolute race temperature, in that RRT is a comparison of the climate in which you train versus the climate in which you will race. With the sport still in its infancy and therefore the amount of available races in a specific geographic region still low, and with competitors targeting specific races that meet their own personal preferences for distance, difficulty, terrain, etc., it is not uncommon for an athlete to be traveling across the country or even internationally for a race.
I have experienced both extremes. I trained for the 2012 World's Toughest Mudder during the warm summer/early fall months in New England while the actual race was in New Jersey in November, with temperatures dipping into the 30's overnight. Since WTM is a 24 hour event that involves constant water submersion, a full length wetsuit is practically mandatory to survive through the frigid night temperatures! Ironically, immediately after that race, I began training for the Fuego Y Agua Survival Run in Nicaragua in February. Training in New England forced me to brave single digit temperatures during runs and even 2.5 feet of snow in a blizzard the week before the race, just look at the picture I took! Meanwhile, on Ometepe Island temperatures were in the 90's with severe humidity. Since most of us can't afford to take two weeks off to acclimatize, it is important to incorporate temperature training into your routine to prepare for these extremes.
This blog will focus on training for a warm weather race when you live in a cold climate. Stay tuned for Part 2 if you want to know how to train for a cold weather race when you live in a warm climate.
Training in the Cold for a Warm Weather Race
Those who live in variable climates know that for some reason on the first 60 degree day in spring everyone wears shorts and T Shirts, and on the first 55 degree day in the fall everyone breaks out their winter jackets. Your body adapts to the temperature over time, and this is magnified during physical activity. As you spend more time training in the cold, your body learns to produce more heat faster. While in the early stages your body will take more time to do so, after a month or so just by starting your run your body will anticipate the cold and kick into gear sooner. This is precisely what you DON'T want to happen when you begin your race in 80 degrees weather, as you will overheat, immediately sweat, and lose electrolytes too fast.
The idea is to trick your body into never recognizing that it is, in fact, cold. The first and most obvious solution is to wear warm clothing. The most effective type of clothing is some form of performance, wicking, skin tight fabric. You want to make sure that your sweat does not cause you to cool from the air temperature which would defeat the purpose, so any cotton or loose fitting clothing will expose your sweat to cold air. In extreme cases, like when it was 8 degrees out 2 weeks before a 90 degree race, I ran in a wetsuit in order to severely restrict my skins ability to breathe and expel heat properly. Keep in mind this can be dangerous over long time periods, and you want to slowly ease into this level of training so as not to get too dehydrated.
Beyond choice of clothing, it is important to begin your outdoor workout with an elevated heart rate and temperature, so that you never experience that cold shock. Even just a few minutes of being cold as you begin your training will reduce the overall effectiveness, so try to warm up indoors with jumping jacks, burpees, or any other cardio so that you are already hot when you start training outside. Some might say you will notice the cold much more and that will be a shock, because is a welcome shock back to normal levels you aren’t conditioning your body to produce excessive heat as you exercise. Another trick is to actually drink warm/hot water right before you start training. You don't need much, as the sensation of internal heat will do a lot to trick your body.
When it comes time for race day, remember to drink A LOT of water, using the very simple, albeit crude gauge to judge H2O intake- "If you aren't peeing yet, drink more". You usually don't recognize how dehydrated you are until it's too late. Around 1-2 in the afternoon on a hot dusty trail at Fuego Y Agua, I drank 6 liters of water over a 6 mile stretch without using the bathroom. Another helpful tool is salt tabs to replenish the lost electrolytes from over sweating, and remember the best place to cool down is the back of your neck, as it contains your spinal cord and a lot of blood flowing to and from the brain.
Ultimately the race environment is going to be a shock to your temperature balance. There is just no way to completely mitigate the impact of a 70 or 80 degree temperature variance between 3-6 months of training and spending a day or two at the race location. These techniques can certainly lessen that variance, and give you the experience of feeling a rush of extreme heat or cold that will undoubtedly hit you at a surprise moment during a race. Good luck!
This article and/or product are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult a medical doctor prior to training for or participating in any Obstacle Course Race.
This is a guest post by Brian Lynch. Brian works in Wealth Management at UBS in Boston MA and has been involved in OCR since 2011. Recreation quickly turned to passion and then to obsession, and Brian now focuses his training on Ultra Distance OCR. Brian is a 2 time Worlds Toughest Mudder participant (finishing and completing 50 miles in 2012), a 2 time Spartan Ultra Beast finisher, and one of the 40 inaugural Fuego Y Agua Survival Run competitors. Brian's training focuses on body weight exercises for functional strength, high intensity circuit training for cardio and agility, and long distance trail running for endurance.