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You are harder than you think: Racing in extreme weather

      By Jason Davidson
          Posted June 2017

Just as transition area was about to close before a recent cold and rainy local race a teammate who shall remain nameless asked "Should I wear a rain jacket?" and proceeded to moan about the ominous clouds and wind. The response from a veteran racer: "Harden the f*** up!" The teammate who asked the question raced without a jacket and not only survived but went on to win his age group. The exchange and the outcome got me thinking....

When it comes to training and racing in extreme cold and heat, most of us are harder than we give ourselves credit for being. In this article I'm going to offer some general thoughts and some specific tips that have worked for me. I don't pretend that any of this is definitive, rather, it is designed to get people thinking and talking.

Practice makes perfect

Jason Davidson I'm going to put the single most important piece of advice in this article right up front. Unless you are willing to lose your entrance fee, you should be prepared to race in all conditions and being prepared means repeated training in those conditions. Wait, you say, I'll just pick a race that is always cool (or dry, or whatever). Right. Like IM Coeur d'Alene that has a history of cool temperatures--except in 2015 when the high was 104F. There's this thing called global warming, so extreme weather is more likely everywhere.

Why can't you just do one ride or run in extreme conditions? One reason is that extremes vary--cold with rain, cold with light rain, cold with torrential rain, and so on. Another reason is that more training equals more opportunities for trial and error--with clothing, nutrition, hydration, etc. The more you train in extreme weather the better you will cope when you have extreme weather on race day. Finally, everyone varies in terms of their heat and cold tolerance, so do not take my advice (or anyone else's) about what to do without testing it yourself.

Now, I've got two important caveats to offer. First, I understand that many people are limited by work and family in terms of how much they can get outside and I will--grudgingly--accept that some workouts (e.g., bike intervals) may be better suited to indoors. Second, don't do anything unsafe, like riding on icy roads or during a tornado! All I'm saying is don't avoid outside rides and runs just because the weather is bad, especially if it is weather that a race director would deem safe.


Make a habit of trying to find out the water temperature a few days before the race, especially for early season races. This can tell you whether to pack (or rent) a long-sleeved wetsuit, short-sleeved wetsuit one or none. Early in my racing career I showed up to a 60F water temperature race with only a sleeveless wetsuit. It was a very painful mistake that still brings a shiver down my spine.

If temps are in the low 60s and below, there are some steps you can take to make the swim better. An extra swim cap and ear plugs insulate you from the cold. If well below 60 you may wear a neoprene cap or try to wear neoprene booties (if allowed). Don't worry if your teammates make fun of you for talking about wearing booties--or even just owning them. You'll have the last laugh when you eventually race Norseman and actually need them. The single most important thing you can do before a cold swim, however, is acclimate to the water temperature. Even if you don't normally get in the water before the start of a race, you should do so when the water is cold (which is the last thing you want to do--am I right?). Getting in the cold water before the race will allow your body to acclimate before the added shock of the start. You can even acclimate first and then get out and do a quick set of sprints on the beach to add some extra warmth inside the wetsuit.

We often forget about the swim in hot races. However, if the race is wetsuit legal but the bike and run will be very hot, it may make sense to wear a sleeveless wetsuit--even though it may be slower--in order to keep the body's core temperature down as long as possible (this is especially important in an IM distance race). In very hot water you can wear your swim cap above your ears, which can keep you from overheating.


Jason Davidson Bike When it is cold and rainy on the bike you are probably not going to be as comfortable as you would like. Nothing you can do about that except to ride harder! Clothing that you add to what you would wear in perfect weather is probably going to slow you down in transition and may make you less aerodynamic, so you want to add as little as possible in order to race well.

For example, putting on a rain jacket would slow down your T1 time and be less aerodynamic so I would only wear one in pouring rain if the temperatures were 60 or below (maybe 65 in an IM). One item that I've found works very well is a wicking base layer worn under a speedsuit before the start. It doesn't really affect drag and doesn't slow you down in transition. Putting on wool socks in T1 takes time but can make sense if you can ride/run faster with feet you can feel. Gloves are tricky. It takes a long time to put them on but if your hands are functional in T2 you don't lose time struggling to get your helmet and shoes off.

For steady rain I wear a cycling cap under a road helmet and clear, vented glasses under the hat. I find that unless the rain is torrential that combination allows me to see as well as is possible.

Perhaps even more than on the swim, some athletes would forget about the bike for hot races because of the cooling effect of riding. Body temperature on the bike can affect the run, however, and the hotter you are on the bike the more hydration and salt issues you are likely to have. The tradeoff is aerodynamics v. cooling. Helmets that don't cover the ears and are ventilated, like the Rudy Project Boost, are cooler than helmets that cover the ears. Some speedsuits are warmer than others but I find a massive difference in my core temperature wearing a sleeveless top in hot conditions. Some people swear by arm coolers as an aero way to keep the core temperature down. As we all know the race doesn't end with the bike, so you may throw down a killer bike split in full aero gear but blow up on the run because you were already hotter than you needed to be.


Jason Davidson Run With few exceptions (IMs that are very cold and wet) you don't need to worry about being cold on the run because the exertion level will get you warmed up. My advice is to shed anything you added for warmth in T1.

Hot runs can derail a race and should be taken very seriously. First, everyone runs slower in hot and humid conditions. While I have not seen a good metric for exactly how much slower you get with each degree or percentage point of humidity, you should not expect to run the same pace in 95 and 80% humidity as you do in 60 and 50%. The more you practice it, the better your sense will be of how the heat affects your ability to race and where your limits are.

Everyone has a different sweat rate and, thus, electrolyte loss rate. Learn yours and hydrate and take in salt appropriately. You'll also want to adjust accordingly if you plan on getting most of your calories through a drink and plan on drinking more (or in the cold, drinking less). Finally, if getting your fluids in requires walking aid stations (especially in an IM), so be it. As Coach Shelly reminded me before the aforementioned 104F IMCDA, race-winning Kona pros have been known to walk aid stations.

Jason Davidson Finish I'm a big fan of ice in hot races. At every opportunity I dunk ice down my trishorts (which is a good cooling spot and also keeps it around longer than any other place). I also run with a Ziploc bag that I fill with ice at every station and move from hand to hand. This has the added advantage of giving you something to do to keep you focused on something other than the pain and suffering of running in extreme heat!

Be a badass!

The final ingredient to a great race in extreme weather is a positive attitude. To paraphrase the great Tim Kelley "We don't have to race in extreme weather, we get to race in extreme weather." Part of triathlon is that there are always things outside your control. The good news is that there is a really good reason for having a positive attitude about racing in extreme weather. An important reason most of us race and train is to push ourselves and learn something new about ourselves. We finish our first triathlon or our first IM or a particularly hard work out and take pride and strength from it. Training and racing in extreme weather is the same way. It is mental toughness points in bank for when you really need them in racing or in life.

Velominati's rule #9 says "If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass; period." My point is that you already are a badass. You just need to convince yourself of it and get out there.

Thanks to the coaches, friends, and teammates who have shared their tips on training and racing in extreme weather with me--let's all keep the conversation going!

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