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Coach Steve being aero!

home » feel the heat

I see runners out in shorts on days when the temperature is right about 32f/0c and want to go right up to them and say, WTF are you doing? But of course I count to 10 and keep my thoughts to myself. Worse, I see cyclists with bare legs in 40-50 degree temps. Cold legs on the bike happen quickly because of the wind chill factor; I want to tell them about my recurring cold-induced tendonitis as a young bike racer and how it left me as a spectator on a National Team trip to Italy.

Following teammates during early spring training for the trip, feeling macho, pushing big gears up climbs, all in shorts when it was too cold to be, exposed patellar tendons rebelled. Vascular constriction from cold exposed knees caused tendonitis and was a problem for years after. Lesson learned. Riding in cold I would wear two pair of tights and had to limit ride time outdoors when it was below 50 degrees. Twenty-five years later I have cold weather issues with my hands, no doubt damage from too many days finishing rides with frozen fingers.

Bike racing in Europe taught us some new rules. The coaches wouldn't let us train without tights if the temperature was below 20c (68 degrees Fahrenheit). On race days the tights were off at the last moment pre-race, then various heat balms were used directly on the skin just before the start.

Heat is essentially a measure of how fast electrons are moving; the more heat, the more active a molecule. As the temp drops everything slows down, muscles get stiff. Few athletes can go without warm up before events unless the event is so long that easy pacing is key from the start. Muscles work best within a certain thermal range, as does the engine of your car which runs most efficiently once it's up to normal operating temperature. During warm up on a cold day your engine is using more fuel. Your body uses additional calories on a cold day at a given level of activity.

Perhaps I'm just a fair weather athlete, but during an early season buildup I don't find peak fitness until I've done some training in warm to hot weather. Training in the heat may not be the most comfortable situation, but for me it tends to 'open up the pipes.' Circulation to muscles can go to max levels for hard efforts with less risk of injury than in the cold.

I recommend cycling in tights if it's below 68 degrees, and running in tights if it's below 60 degrees. And I'm not shy about showing up at an outdoor pool in a wetsuit if it's not heated and off-season.

One more way to use heat to your advantage is thermal training. Ever go to a race where you know heat will be a factor? Perhaps you'll be traveling from a cold training environment to a hot race site during the off-season (lucky you). It's possible to prepare for races in hot weather by over-compensating; training indoors in a hot room; wearing extra clothes you normally wouldn't indoors or out. It works.

And one more thing...get warm immediately after workouts on cold days! Don't do a workout then stand there shivering, talking with friends, and don't jump in you car soaking wet. Change into dry clothes ASAP. Your immune system is low-functioning after hard workouts, add-in the stress of cold post-workout body temps and the risk of getting sick is even greater.

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