Wednesday, August 3

Rediscovering Summer in the South

Last summer, I almost died. June 2010. I talked about it here. If I believe the medical types and the literature, the incident was exacerbated by cycle commuting in the hot Texas sun. You see, doctors think I experienced a pulmonary embolism due to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). For all I know, they were right. DVT, as it turns out, seems particularly likely in people that exercise hard in the heat, get themselves dehydrated and then sit. Like a commute cyclist in Texas with an office job.

Well, that could have prompted me to stop commuting in hot weather, but strangely it may have had just the opposite effect. I'm not really exactly sure why, but it started with a more organized approach to hydration. Soon, I concluded that the heat wasn't the enemy, at least not all by itself, and by August 2010 I rode to work 18 work days; at that time a new monthly high.

Just Beyond the Coffee is Free, Triple Filtered Ice Water!
This year saw an unseasonably hot June. July was worse. I would not be surprised if we broke records - including the all-time record for consecutive days over 100F. Still, this heat hasn't seemed bad at all, other than a couple of days, such as when I rediscovered the heating wind. What's happened to this Seattle boy?

Well, actually, it is pretty simple. The first thing you have to do is get past the "fair weather cycling" thing. The first step to riding in the summer Texas heat is to simply get acclimated. Doing this, August 2010 was my most active cycling month of 2010, with 720 bike commute miles and the HH100, despite it being in the number 6 position for number of 100F days in August. You get riding in the heat regularly and it gets easier, assuming you take care of yourself. Compared to that, my new commute has been a snap, despite it being even hotter this year than it was in 2010.

The second thing you have to do is hydrate. As Gail of LAB says, "hydrate, hydrate, hydrate." It is actually not hard to figure out how much you have to drink. First, simply weigh yourself on a good scale. Then go out and ride in the kind of hot conditions that prevail. Do NOT drink any fluids or take a potty break. Ride far enough to sweat a lot, but not so far that you are in any danger of heat exhaustion. Weigh yourself again in dry clothes that weigh the same as the ones you were in before the ride. The difference is how much fluid you are losing due to perspiration. I lose roughly a water bottle's worth per ten miles when it is really hot out. I think that when you are properly acclimated, you sweat easier and more, but I don't recall where I read that so don't quote me on it.

Gail Says "Hydrate Or I'll Punch Ya in the Nose!" Well, Actually, She's Much Nicer  Than That

Hydration means more than simply drinking water. In addition to the water you lose, you are also losing electrolytes; mostly salt. If you merely drink water, you can actually dehydrate yourself more, at least in the short run, because your body wants to keep your salts and water in balance in your blood. Sports drinks brag about their electrolytes and such has made the Gatorade Empire. Unfortunately, most of these drinks are loaded with sugar and are NOT approved by Dr Atkins. What's more, you either mix on the go or you are limited to what you can easily carry - like one or two water bottles full. Fortunately, I have found a solution, thanks to Apertome, that seems to work well. They're sold in running stores, but I'm sure the manufacturer would not mind an occasional sale to a Texas commute cyclist and they didn't quiz me too much about my running when I snuck in to buy a bottle. I'm sure there are other solutions. I have seen medical recommendations that you do NOT simply take salt pills (though I usually don't see any valid reason why - perhaps it is because a lot of people get too much salt in their diet. On the other hand, a lot of people are not riding every day in 100F heat), but these electrolyte seem to work. I take one when I leave work or begin my ride, and then take another with each subsequent bottle of water. I found that the best approach is to take the pill and then drink to help it get into the blood as I lose fluid. During the 2010 Hotter 'N Hell 100, I think I took about five over the course of the day. It was a mild year. I'd have taken more if I'd needed more water. Compared to the 2009 event, I finished feeling better and with a lot less need to take potty stops. Perhaps they're placebos. If so, they're darn effective placebos.

The final element is not to overdo the stretch of hot weather riding. Just as it is wise to take periodic breaks when working in the heat, it is wise to do the same when riding in the heat. Personally, though it is a personal foible, I prefer to stop at major coffee places that also serve triple filtered ice water. A drink of the hot coffee in AC comfort and I'm ready for another hour.

Remember, you CAN do this if you don't have some underlying medical condition. Many people enjoy a dry sauna which can often run to 190F. The trick is to limit the continued exposure, keep your core temperature down, and keep your fluids up. North Texas has not gotten anywhere NEAR 190F, though there's still a lot of August left.

Well, a little over a week ago, when I stopped for coffee on the way home, I had a voicemail from my dad asking me to drive to work because it was too hot and he'd had a "premonition." It was 106F that day. Crimeny. Prompted by me, one of my co-workers yesterday timed how long it took his car to cool down to a decent temperature. It took 13 minutes, not counting all the burny burn metal pieces that were still really hot. Heck, I'd be over half way to the coffee shop by then! The REAL problem we've had around here lately is not the afternoon heat. After all, once at work, one has to come home somehow. The REAL problem is the mornings. It has been sapping my enthusiasm when I turn on the morning weather, only to hear all the places that are 90F. 90F at 6AM is somehow not natural...


Big Oak said...

I've got to commend you on commuting in the heat. It sounds like you've figured out how to survive in that oven.

I've been complaining because 90F has been our high temp for the last month. Starting out at 90 and going up from there is outrageous!

John Romeo Alpha said...

We're in it now brother: 105F at 9:45pm also starts to put me in an off mood. Regarding electrolytes, I'm all for keeping the economy moving by overpaying for salt, if it doesn't offend your Yankee frugality. But like Gandhi I won't pay extra for NaCl, so I just throw in a pinch of salt, a ground up potassium pill, a little sugar (omit for Atkins), and a squeeze of lime, into some free tap water.

Steve A said...

JRA's comment didn't sound bad UNTIL I absorbed he was saying 105F at 9:45PM.

FWIW, my overpriced electrolyte pills have lasted well over a year so far. Far less than a dime a day and there are still a lot left. Regardless of one's choice of how to replace the electrolytes, it is far cheaper than failing to do so...

Chandra said...

Yes, 90 deg. F, at 6 AM is a problem. 110 deg. F at 6 PM is also a problem.

Make it go away :)

Peace :)

Post a Comment

No Need for Non-Robot proof here!