Cycling When I’m In Heat… and Humidity.

Cooling and Refueling
It is mid-summer in Taiwan, which means the weather is both hot and humid.

I make no secret of my love for long, long, long, endurance rides and in pushing myself to the limits of fatigue. The way this year seems to be shaping up, I should be able to put together several rides over 160km. Lately I have been experimenting with rides in the 200km range with plans for longer as my strength and fitness increase.

The question I get asked a lot by cyclists and non-cyclists alike is how I can possibly put in that type of distance in such extreme temperatures in excess of 35C/95F. My usual response is, “With awesome 70’s tan lines.”

I really don’t mind riding in the heat as much as I mind riding against the wind. Still, hot weather riding requires proper training and preparation to be done safely. The greatest danger to high temperature athletes are the effects of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. If left untreated these conditions could be fatal to an endurance athlete.

It is common to hear people scream heat stroke whenever they feel a little discomfort out in the sun, but actually heat stroke or hyperthermia is a term used to describe the body’s inability to cool itself when the natural temperature controls, such as perspiration, shut down. What a person may be feeling are the minor effects of heat exhaustion.

Heat Exhaustion:

Heat exhaustion is the result of dehydration. The body has exhausted its supply of H2O reserved for sweating and can not allocate any more water for temperature control without affecting the vital organs.

Some typical signs of heat exhaustion include:

excess sweating

Now, as athletes, we have probably all felt these symptoms while training and it does not necessarily mean we are suffering from heat exhaustion. We will, now and again, get a little dehydrated out in the elements. That is natural. Cramping can also be caused by a variety of factors beyond heat as well. Still, these are symptoms to be aware of while on the road.

Heat Stroke:
With heat stroke the body loses its ability to regulate its core temperature through sweat or radial heat and starts to shut down. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention and may lead to cardiac arrest and death.


Extreme Fatigue
Inability to Sweat
Rapid Breathing
Red Skin

Riding in the heat will not necessarily lead to these symptoms if it is done with right with a healthy dose of awareness and caution. I have returned from some very long rides in temperatures exceeding 35º C with a temperature at statistically normal or unchanged (Though I am slightly hypothermic).

For riding in Taiwan’s heat and stifling humidity I deploy a combination of tactics to ensure a long, safe ride at maximum power.

1. Training: My first summer of riding in Taiwan’s heat was an eye opener. I didn’t know what I needed to do it right. I built my bike up and it was ready to ride by the beginning of June, I think. It took all summer to get used to it and I did experience some extreme headaches upon coming home. I would do 40-50k, come home and crash on the couch. My body simply wasn’t used to working in the heat. It takes acclimation time to be ready for the high temperature and a lot of good fitness to resist working too hard. Ease into the temperature with several incrementally longer rides in the heat until you can do several hours comfortably. It takes 7-10 days to build up your blood plasma for the heat.

2. Liquids: Drinking water is a no-brainer. As lame as it sounds to most roadies, a Camelbak might be a good investment for long, summer rides. They can hold more liquids and don’t require too much effort for the occasional sip. I also like to drink water to FIN sport drink at a 2:1 ratio to ensure I can resupply my body with electrolytes. Sport drinks have a higher concentrate of sodium and potassium that help with the body’s natural electrical conduction and replace the electrolytes lost in sweat. The added sodium helps the body retain water better than straight water to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion. I like FIN better as it is not as sugary as Supau or Pocari. If you have two water bottles, one could be water and one sport drink. It is ok to stop for water. Drink before you get thirsty. Maxim: Cash is lighter than water.

Occasionally, I like to use a bottle of water to dump over my head for cooling. This helps bring my temperature down and wash the salt off my face. There have been several times I have come home looking like a margarita glass. The salt on my skin just pulls the moisture right out.

In Taiwan we are lucky to have hydration available nearly everywhere, but it can take a little more planning in some of the more remote mountain areas. Politically I choose Family Mart over 7-11, but I take whatever I can get when I need liquids. Taiwan also has a wonderful network of betel nut stands that sell water, sport drink and other refreshments if you need them in a pinch.

It is also a good thing to start your hydration program a day or two early to ensure the body is saturated with fluids before the ride. That may mean waking up in the middle of the night to pee a couple times, but it mitigates the natural dehydration that occurs through perspiration and respiration during sleep. Don’t over do it and wash out all your electrolytes. Sweating is a good sign, so be sure to keep it up.

3. Ventilation: Always try to wear something that allows airflow over the skin. For men, a full zip jersey can be opened up and allow the maximum benefit from sweating. A helmet with more holes the better. Of course the less helmet you buy… the more money you spend. Proper cycling clothing works best. Some people like to bring a handkerchief to wipe away the salts. Others like to wear full hot weather arm covers and leggings to protect against the UV rays and some people say it is actually cooler.

4. UV Protection: I always bring a bottle of waterproof sunscreen in my jersey pocket and although I get the sexy 70’s tan lines, I don’t get burned. I also need to remember to apply it to my head. There have been days I have felt spots of soreness on my head and found burn marks where the sun penetrated the holes of my helmet. Doh!

5. Nutrition: I try to eat a high carb, high sodium meal the night before a long ride to fill my glycogen and electrolyte stores before I ride. For breakfast I usually have a couple bananas for potassium and tums for magnesium. I take along a few granola bars for nutrition and sodium, but if I need to get water I like to get an occasional bag of Tong Yi Instant Noodles (統一麵). The instant noodles are portable, high carb and extremely high in sodium. They make a perfect snack for the heat. Eat before you get hungry.

6. Mental Preparation: Mentally prepare for the heat. Understand it will be hot and get over it. Keep the mind busy and push the heat out of mind.

Other Options:

If you really don’t feel ready to ride in the heat of the day, there is plenty of heat and humidity at night. A good, hard, regular night ride can be a great way to build and maintain endurance while getting used to the heat. I actually love the relative coolness of the night rides. It is a good idea to get eyewear with clear lenses to protect against nighttime insects. There are fewer cars and a good light makes you easier to spot.

Tan lines are sexy


Jure de Force

Jure Robic, the man who logged a 518 mile day to hallucinations of angry wolves and Mujahideen fighters, is back again to compete in the 2010 Ride Across America (RAAM). Robic has set a blistering pace, averaging 18.84mph. Although this may sound like a recovery ride, the average speed is measured by calculating time resting, eating, sleeping and hallucinating on the side of the road. Robic is hoping to break the average speed record of 15.4 mph. The race begins in Oceanside, California and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland, covering over 3000 miles of America… and most places in the USA aren’t all that.

518 Miles in one Day!!!

Life Ain’t Easy For A Boy Named Drew!

Jure Robic
Last night I was just thinking about the possibility of a Taichung to Kenting ride and how great that would be. Then I was sent this old New York Times profile on Jure Robic, from 2006. I totally suck!

‘‘ ‘During race, I am going crazy, definitely,’’ he says, smiling in bemused despair. ‘‘I cannot explain why is that, but it is true.”’

The craziness is methodical, however, and Robic and his crew know its pattern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, his speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback.

‘‘Mujahedeen, shooting at me,’’ he explains. ‘‘So I ride faster.’’

His wife, a nurse, interjects: ‘‘The first time I went to a race, I was not prepared to see what happens to his mind. We nearly split up.’’

I find the mental aspect real interesting. Although I have never done anything near 518 miles, I have had periods where I test my physical endurance. Five centuries in 14 days is a good example of this. People ask me all the time how I can possibly ride for so long and I never have a solid answer. Most, but not all of my very difficult “projects” I do solo and sometimes I just enjoy it that way.

When I am on a long solo ride my mind drifts off into some wild places and my mind fills with an inner dialogue between myself and whomever I wish to talk to. I have had some brilliant papers written and lost on a bike ride. At the same time I am constantly “checking my instruments”. I am monitoring my speed, gearing, energy levels, equipment, comfort, hydration and environment.

Beyond that there is a mental threshold for pain, punishment and fatigue. I have been on some rides where I have mentally pushed myself through cramps and aches to make it back home. The mind can manage discomfort and push it to the background, almost like when the mind wanders off during a boring lecture or staff meeting, the pain stands in the distance and the mind fails to acknowledge it like an accidental encounter after a bad, drunken one night stand.

By my third century in January I had developed a pain in my leg from over use. The pain would disappear after a couple days, but then come back in the middle of my next ride when I was already committed to a day on the bike. At that point my body would continue to operate normally, but my mind would manage the aching and place it elsewhere. I was never totally comfortable, but I could still finish another imperial century.

The best training I had in mind/body management did not come from the saddle of a bike at all, but from the wrestling mat.

Long before I started seriously (and not so seriously) cycling, I was a pretty good wrestler. I started when I was 5 years old and continued training up into college. I won a few medals and made the newspaper a few times as well. Wrestling is one of the most demanding sports a person can train for. A wrestler must keep strength and endurance up while keeping the weight down. I would typically shed 7-lbs for the season (and sometimes in a night). A wrestling match is 6 minutes of full exertion in which one participant tries to force the other to hold his back to the mat… and the other wrestler absolutely does not want to stay there. The training is demanding and forces the wrestler to draw strength from where there is none. Furthermore, with the rigid weight categories it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to resist the urge to eat. I would ask for oranges on my birthday and limit my portions on Thanksgiving and Christmas to “polite” servings. I would sit next to people stuffing themselves with pizza and fries and instead spit into a cup while wearing 10 layers of plastic and wool. A few times I’d falter and beg to chew on fries just to spit them out. I wanted the taste. It sounds kind of sick, but I can not emphasize how greatly it helped me in life, both in the arena of athletics and in living life. Although my coach never told us to drop weight or anything like that, he would call our discipline “mental toughness” and I had always assumed most people had that. Only later in life have I realized how few actually have the ability to mentally “fight” through both physical and emotional obstacles. When I was living in Seattle this training to “fight through” is the only only thing that got me past the worst working environment EVER! I imagined every day as a physical test of endurance and on my way to work I mentally prepared like I would for a competition. I remember walking through the door every day and imagining I was stepping on the mat or walking into the gym. (I think in retrospect it also helped that I had been mercilessly teased as a child and had to learn how to handle bullying. My mom said not to fight, so I didn’t… until the day she turned me loose and I gave QB a few bloody noses and later stacked up a couple suspensions from school.)

A clipping my mom sent me from the 1992 KingCo Tournament.

So today I am at mid-week before a long, hard ride and I am making the same mental preparations. I am imagining how to manage the physical strain… and again I have been nursing an overuse injury from riding when I should have been resting. I am fighting hypothermia. I am getting ready for a battle against myself. On Saturday I am going to step out my front door and fight my way to Kaohsiung against wind, weather, weakness and pain, and I will reach back to my days as a wrestler and push myself to become better and do something I once would have thought was impossible.