Riding in the Heat
I’m originally from Utah where the temperatures swing to more extremes than they do in either Northern California or the Pacific Northwest where I live now. Northern California does get very hot in the summer but not for as long nor as sustained as in Southern Utah and there are only about 2-3 weeks here in Seattle where everyone wishes they had air conditioning. However, racing in higher temperatures than what you are used to can cause anyone to experience negative heat related consequences with a concurrent decrease in performance depending on how acclimated you are. In other words, it doesn’t have to reach 100 degrees while doing an outdoor activity for you to experience heat related illness. You become acclimated to whatever climate you are living and riding in over a fairly short period of time; and you may find that you struggle riding in temperatures than you previously had very little trouble tolerating.
Photo compliments Erik Cho
The time it will take to acclimate to the heat is individual and you will need to pay attention to your body to decide how to ride that line. As a guide however, there was a study performed by human physiology researchers at the University of Oregon wherein it was discovered that large physiological gains can be achieved in trained cyclists by doing 90 minute easy rides in high heat for 10 days.* It’s not necessary to ride in the heat every day. The main idea is to acclimate slowly over time in either temperature extreme and learn to listen to your body. So very much like the rest of training, listening to your body is an absolutely necessary skill to have.
Shorten the warm-up
When the temperatures are at or above 80-90 degrees, there’s really no reason to put in a ‘long’ warm up. You’ll probably find that it won’t take long for your muscles to warm up and after a few short jumps, I would recommend trying to stay cool. Stay in the shade, pour cold water over your head and onto your shorts and jersey. In even more extreme temperatures, I have used ice in my jersey as well as in stockings stuffed down the back of my jersey.
When you’re racing in temperatures over 90 degrees, heat exhaustion is a real health concern that I’ve personally experienced and is not to be taken lightly. If you start to get nauseous, dizzy or foggy/start to black out, then you are past ‘the point of no return’ so to speak and should stop riding immediately and get cooled off as soon as possible. No matter how acclimated one is to the temperature, there is a maximum amount of time in those temperatures one can exhaust themselves in so don’t take temperature extremes for granted under any circumstance.
Part of staying hydrated also has to do with the proper amount of electrolytes in the liquids that you’re ingesting. The hotter it is, the more sweat and electrolytes will be drawn from your body. If you start a ride, whether it’s hot or not, already dehydrated, there is no physically possible way for you to make that up during the ride. Always start any physical activity properly hydrated and again, listen to your body for how often you need to drink. Sipping more frequently is better than gulping infrequently for several reasons: it’s easier on your system to absorb water and electrolytes if taken in smaller and more spaced out amounts and also if you’re already taxing your body in extreme temperatures, adding another ‘pressure’ of having to deal with GI distress is only going to make your body’s ability to sustain the endurance &/or effort that much harder.
For a complete description of signs, symptoms and preventive measures to take for heat exhaustion, heat stroke and other heat stress conditions the Center for Disease Control has a complete list here.
*”Heat Acclimation improves exercises performance” published in the October issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology
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