IAAF Health & Science Department Director Stéphane Bermon addressed some of the extreme weather challenges that long distance runners and race walkers are expected to face at major championships over the next two years during a presentation at the Endurance Summit in Skanderbog, Denmark, on Sunday (25).
A part of the European Coaching Summit series, the two-day conference, which attracted coaches from the immediate region along with some from as far away as Israel, Portugal and Brazil, focused primarily on endurance, middle and long distance running.
The presentation, 'Training and competing in a hot/humid environment', centred more specifically on the extreme conditions coaches of endurance events should expect at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and addressed how they can best prepare their athletes to compete safely while at the same time optimising their performances at those competitions.
The presentation was adapted from ‘Beat the Heat,’ an informational brochure produced jointly by Bermon, IAAF’s Health and Science Department Manager Paolo Emilio Adami and Sébastien Racinais, a research scientist at the Aspetar Sports Medicine Hospital in Doha, which is now available for download.
Bermon said he was pleased with the feedback and questions he received from the coaches. "They were very concerned with Doha and Tokyo and the conditions to expect," he said.
While hosting a championships in the Middle East for the first time brings many benefits, Bermon pointed out that Doha’s warm environment comes with limitations, impacting most those athletes who will be competing in the marathons and race walks.
"Heat is a limitation, so we had to reduce the risk as much as possible," Bermon said, explaining why he recommended that long duration events --the marathons and race walks-- be contested at night. "What concerns me is the safety of the athletes."
Tokyo 2020 will face similar challenges, with high temperatures and high humidity expected. While the timetable has yet to be finalised, a 6am start time for the road events is being discussed.
While those late night and early morning start times will help mitigate some of the inherent dangers of heat-related stress and illness, Bermon said that there is plenty that coaches and athletes can do to best prepare.
The most important, Bermon said, is acclimatisation to the hot environment, which can occur relatively quickly.
"It's not like altitude training. It doesn't take a lot of time for your athletes to become acclimatised," Bermon said.
While a period of up to two weeks is optimal, Bermon said that the body can be between 70 and 80% adapted after six or seven days.
This is best achieved via repeated exercise-heat exposures that increase body core and skin temperatures, as well as inducing significant sweating.
It's recommended that athletes train in a similar environment to the one in which the competition will take place two weeks prior to competing. Additionally, conducting an initial heat acclimatisation camp several weeks before the target event may increase the speed at which adaptations occurs in a follow-up pre-competition camp.
If it's not possible to train in the same environment, some adaptations can be acquired, at least in part, by artificially simulating heat. Hot water immersions or sauna bathing and training are other options as well.
Additionally, maintaining proper levels of hydration, proper nutrition and electrolyte replacement is especially important when preparing to compete in hotter environments.
Bermon concluded his presentation with a checklist that coaches should use as a reference when preparing their athletes for hot weather training and competition.
You can watch the 45-minute presentation below.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF