It’s a record hot summer in Italy. The perceived heat hit 49 C in Naples, 48 C in Ferrara and 47 C in Rimini. In Sardinia it reached 50 C, that is 122 F! Humidity is up and down and depending on where you happen to be on the Italian peninsula; it can be mitigated by the Mediterranean breeze. Do you know how to safely ride in such weather?
In recent weeks I've done some of the hottest rides I can remember. I felt that it was a good time to write about heat-related injuries and the danger of overheating on a ride. Excess heat can sabotage your cycling performance, but with this kind of heat it’s also a safety issue.
What happens to an overheated body?
We produce heat constantly, when heat production exceeds heat loss body temperature rises. There is a range of stages for an overheated body (source: ITC Outdoor First Aid Manual):
- Heat Syncope (faint): Shunting of blood to the skin and pooling of blood in the veins of the legs lead to decreased blood flow to the brain. Fainting occurs, blood returns to the brain and the casualty regains consciousness.
What you see: May feel weak, nauseous, with vertigo, tunnel vision or heavy sweating. A sudden faint.
- Heat Cramps: Painful muscle contractions that can follow exercise in hot conditions caused by lack of salt in fatigued muscles.
What you see: Painful muscle spasms.
- Heat Exhaustion: Is excessive water and salt loss. Not in itself a serious condition but it can progress to heat stroke if casualty is not removed from heat source.
What you see: Feels unwell, may be complaining of headache, dizziness, nausea, thirst, muscle weakness, muscle cramps. Breathing may be elevated. Pulse may be elevated.
- Heat Stroke: When the body mechanism designed to conduct heat out of the body fails, then the temperature will rise and hyperthermia or heat stroke occurs, temperature regulation has failed and life is threatened.
What you see: Headache/confusion/delirium or unconsciousness. Intense thirst. Rapid breathing, Rapid pulse. Skin hot and dry, high core temperature. Leading to convulsion and coma.
Here are five things to keep in mind about cycling in very hot weather.
Protect Your Skin
Overheated – or worse burned - skin contributes to fatigue and increases your metabolism (you heart has to pump at a faster rate), which increases fluid needs. That can be a problem on a hot day when you're already struggling to stay hydrated. Always wear sunscreen; better if it’s the sport kind that does not sweat off. Wear a cap under your helmet to shield your head. Federica (our senior guide) soaks the cap several times on an all-day ride. It works!
Freeze your water bottles at half full before topping them off. For longer rides, figure out in advance where you can restock with cold beverages.
Stop and Get Wet
Take frequent stops in the shade – even just short stops to look around - pour cool water over your neck and forearms. If you are comfortable riding one-handed while jiggling with a water bottle do it while riding too.
Ride Shorter Rides
Recently I was riding with Clive from Peloton Magazine, a good and experience rider, in the Piedmont wine region during a period of record heat. I called the last climb off – which I knew it was 4 miles with no shade. Of course, we could have done it. How safe would it have been? I had no interest in finding out. At night, we were glad that I made that call and that we had energy left for the long days ahead. Of course, we had a Tourissimo van following us. But you can plan your rides so that they are 30 to 50% shorter than what you would ride in ideal weather. Here’s a mistake riders make: they don’t maintain the same pace in warm weather – they ride conservatively - and they ride the same distance. That is going to hurt because you spend more hours under the burning sun. It’s simple: ride less.
It’s common knowledge that 55-60% of human body weight is water. It is so important to stay hydrated. Drink ahead of your rides starting the day before if you have a morning ride. Filling your bladder just before a ride is not a good idea. On longer rides, you want to try mixing some electrolytes with water. Also, increase your consumption of watery fruits and vegetables such as watermelon and grapes. Use your urine color as a visual clue: a pale-transparent color is what you want to see.
I hope you enjoyed my article about riding in very hot weather. Have fun and be safe! If you enjoyed this blog article read also Italian Summer: Survive or Avoid?