As temperatures in Texas and around the world are heating up — Central Texas had the hottest May on record — dealing with it becomes even more important. For cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts, there are precautions that can be taken and practices implemented to mitigate the effects. But as global warming increases (and I side with the 97% of scientists who use, well, SCIENCE, to prove that it’s real), there may come a day where cycling at any time of day and season will no longer be possible. We have plenty of blistering hot days as it is that make biking untenable for many people. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are real risks, and you should learn the difference and seek help if you are suffering from either. This is not an exhaustive scientific post, but below I will share a few of my approaches that may be good reminders or news to you.
The H.E.A.T. Is On
A snappy acronym seemed like the way to go, at least until I got stuck on a letter. But I figured it out, so here goes:
Hydration — This is obvious: you must drink water. More than you think you need to. Did you know that professionals start pre-hydrating days before a race? And while racing on a hot day, they may go through more than a dozen biddens aka water bottles. I don’t know all the statistics and science behind it, but as they say, “Once you become thirsty, it’s too late.” It’s important to drink water, but not in huge quantities all at once. A steady intake in small amounts works best. As for electrolytes, sodium and the rest, these are also key. I use one water bottle with water and the other with Nuun or Gu hydration tabs. At rest stops I’ll also indulge in a Gatorade (G2 has less sugar), sugar-free PowerAde or Vitamin Water, although coconut water is probably the best natural solution. Another liquid I’ll ingest is Pickle Juice, for the muscle relaxing qualities. Don’t forget fresh fruit as a source of hydration as well, namely oranges.
External care — Good sunscreen, boater’s hat with a long brim that fits under your helmet, arm and leg covers are also de rigeur. As for what kind of sunscreen, there is debate. My dermatologist said the studies are often unclear. A previous doctor like Nutrogena Pure Screen Baby Sunscreen. Watch out for the sprays since the smell is toxic in large quantities. I do use the Nutrogena version of that sometimes. Many natural varieties exist, so try them until you find one that works for you. Keep in mind that any SPF rating over 50 is nonsense. And although it’s taken internally, a product called Heliocare helps the skin from cancer. You can buy the primary ingredient from a plant on Amazon.
Acclimation / Avoidance — There are two other ways to beat the heat. One is to get used to it, ideally in slowly adding more time to being in it. If you’re used to being inside in the chilly air conditioning most of the time, when you step outdoors, it will feel like a blast furnace initially. But once your body starts sweating, and you hop on your bike, therefore generating your own air conditioning, over time you will get used to it. The key is gradual exposure. The other side of that equation is avoiding the hottest parts of the day, if at all possible. I do alot of riding at night, and it’s not only cooler but obviously there’s no damaging sun rays to worry with. If you have the option to drive, bus, train, carpool, etc. when it’s super hot, of course do that when you can. If there are routes that are more shaded than others, by all means learn and choose those.
Toughness / Temperance — At some point, you may be riding in the sun and need to get somewhere, and you’ll feel overheated. Unless you can phone a friend to come pick you up, hitchhike or get on a bus with a bike rack, toughing it out may be your only choice. I had to do that today en route to an event. It didn’t help that I took a wrong turn and zigged when I should have zagged. But I knew that I was getting close and chilly beverages and air conditioning awaited. So I stopped to look up directions, made sure that I was really was going to be able to make it, and slowly pedaled to my destination. I also rode home but as it was cooler, mostly downhill, and I had hydrated well, it was not a problem. The word temperance is included because sometimes, you just have to cut bait and stop. Get that ride, or put your bike on the bus rack, or otherwise avoid further riding until you’re well and/or it’s cooler.
So combining all these approaches I’ve been able to continue riding. Maybe not as fast or all the times I want to. And I did have a couple of days after my 185-mile week where I felt I may have been suffering from the delayed effects of heat exhaustion. But I took it easy and in the end, that’s the best thing to do. Don’t kill yourself over a bike ride when the real feel temperature is 105. Take care of yourselves out there!
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