Heat Training Analyzed for the Badwater Ultramarathon

1999 Finisher

After over a month of heat training preparation, I was fortunate to have had a successful run from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney in the July 99 Hi-Tec Badwater race. I had no real knowledge of heat training before I began heat training, but I posted questions about it to the ultra list and got responses from others who had experience with, or were at least knowledgeable about, heat training.

Many of the ideas expressed were scientific; I did my best to interpret them. Some were more simplified, and out of all of them, I tailored a regimen to suit me personally, as anyone should do. Regardless of the different approaches there are some ideas and beliefs about training for and performing in extreme heat that are common, and as a conclusion to my experience with heat, I will write some of the more basic and simple ideas that I think are sound advice and good knowledge for dealing with it. These are only my opinions, and this is what worked for me.

  1. Your body is a machine that cannot be thrown into a very foreign and hostile environment such as extreme heat and be expected to perform at its usual high caliber. No matter how tough you perceive yourself to be, simply dealing with heat and accepting it won’t be enough; you must physically adapt to the rigors of heat beforehand.
  2. Simplified, sources of heat are,
    1. External, from the environment, real ( sun, humidity, air temps, ) or simulated ( heavy layers of clothes that trap heat, blankets, ect…).
    2. Internal, generated from physical exertion and output
    3. Both
  3. When enduring extreme heat it is most important to stay cool internally.
    1. By adding coolant. Drinking lots and lots of cold water and ice, the colder the better.
    2. By keeping physical effort to a minimum.
  4. External cooling.
    People naturally sweat to cool off. In extreme heat however, your body might not sweat enough to cool you off, or, the outside environment might be so hot and dry that any perspiration evaporates off your body before it can have any cooling effect on it. Either way, sweat can be simulated by wearing very lightweight or cotton material clothing, long sleeve and preferably covering the legs also, and “continuously” soaking, spraying or saturating the clothing with cold water. The wet clothes against the skin will have the same cooling effect as sweat
  5. The combination of keeping cool internally by:
    1. drinking lots of cold water,
    2. generating as little internal heat as possible by keeping physically exertion to a minimum,
    3. and cooling externally by producing outside coolant in the form of artificial sweat should keep most people cool in the hottest environments if a person has these resources available.
  6. Humidity.
    When considering the temperature performing in, take humidity into consideration. From experience I know humidity is a silent killer. It is rare in the West, common in the East. Humidity zaps strength, dehydrates a person very quickly, and does these things suddenly without warning. A warm humid day is probably more dangerous than a very hot dry day.In my opinion, the best way to deal with humidity is respect it. Even if it doesn’t feel that hot, prepare for it by taking it easy and drinking lots and lots. Basically the same as for dry heat; that’s why I say, above all else, respect it.
  7. Regardless, to perform in a hot environment at a race like Badwater some heat must be generated internally, and heat must be endured. To do so you must teach your body to adapt to the heat by teaching your body to sweat more, and locate a tolerable medium between physically pushing yourself and yet not overheating internally.
  8. Over-dressed heat training.
    1. Can be dangerous. Use good judgment and train in a safe environment, particularly one that is safe from traffic
    2. In the heat of the day, either go the whole nine yards and train in many heavy layers right from the start and run very limited mileage to understand how you will personally react to it, or, start with more routine mileage with perhaps just a sweatshirt and cold weather cap and add more layers and increase mileage as you adapt.
    3. Drink lots and lots of water. Drive to pre-determined spots along your route and put cold water and ice out, or always be close to a source of cold water.
    4. Pace yourself. It’s easy to feel just as strong at the start, aside from feeling heavy, than normal. It “won’t” last. Remember to generate as little internal heat as possible and plan on lots of walking.
    5. Be prepared for nausea. In my opinion this results from the large amount of water in your stomach. Consider salt, rock salt, and E-Caps supplements to assist with this.
    6. Keep up your energy. Just like in normal training, if you run for x amount of time, energy is needed, and even though you might not feel like eating, you must. You might require less energy intake than normal however. Liquid energy is one of the better or “easier” ways to supplement energy in the heat.
    7. Keep your wits. The heat is something that can be very overwhelming mentally. If you start to panic or get the slightest bit confused or dizzy, slow down, sit in the shade, recover and cool down. You won’t be able to escape the heat in the actual environment, however, so if at all possible, cool down by resting and minimizing your effort rather than by taking off any clothing. Tolerating the overwhelming heat can be a big moral victory, but when it comes down to it, safety is your main concern.
    8. Make sure others know what your doing, where your training, when to expect you.
    9. Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Prevention is easier than treatment.
    10. The frequency of over-dressed training sessions is up to an individual. For me, I opted for about 2 extreme heat sessions a week, and then added one lesser element of heat to each regular training session, by running normally but in the heat of the day, or in the evening wearing a sweatshirt and hat, just always enduring a little more heat than I normally would in order to build an overall tolerance and acceptance for heat. My most extreme heat sessions consisted of wearing a Coolmax t shirt, a sweatshirt, a thick, insulated navy working jacket topped with a rubber, non-breathable, dark green raincoat and cold weather hat. Plus sweatpants off and on, and towards the end of my preparation gloves as well.
    11. Run / Walks with climb from 1-2 hours average. Maximum heat endured dressed like so, 90 degrees + 100 % humidity for 4 hours, 9 miles with climb. Overall 10-11 “extreme overdressed sessions” over 5-6 week period before Badwater.

Important advice. Have a good crew who has knowledge of what it takes to keep you going in the heat. My crew was very experienced and kept handing me another water bottle of ice water even before I could finish the one I already had. I probably wouldn’t have drunk quite as much had it not been handed to me so often. Have your crew think for you and keep you hydrated.

Personal Race Notes
Temps at Badwater were lower than normal in 1999 but humidity was high. I stayed well hydrated throughout the race, wore Solar Eclipse sun hat, long sleeved Sun Precautions shirt, shorts. Wore cotton pajama pants some. Very dependable crew misted me down often and I stayed cool and never once suffered with the heat. Successful finish.

Heat-wise, I suffered much more enduring the heat during my over-dressed training than I did during the actual race. In my opinion I was able to perform well because I had physically adapted to heat and had mentally learned to accept heat, in addition to the cooling methods we used during the race.