Sprocket Talk 4
The 2012 Courage Classic is now just days away! For those of you who have ridden this fine event before, I’m sure you are anxiously awaiting the time you can hit the road on August 4. Those of you who are getting ready for the Courage Classic for the first time will soon be in for the ride of your life. All of that hard work training for the event is paying off, beautiful weather is here, and we will all hit the road for an amazing cause.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, it is not often that we need to think about the effects of heat and exercise. Hopefully we will enjoy perfect mild weather, although the potential for some very warm August days is certainly a possibility! Before we get going, let’s take a minute and review some of the serious and potentially deadly effects of riding in extreme heat. This year seems to have been on the cooler side so far, but it never hurts to consider how heat may contribute to problems on the bike.
Our blood has a very high heat capacity, or ability to carry warm blood away from working muscles toward the heart. On a hot day, warm blood is then pumped to the smaller blood vessels of the skin for heat dissipation. Early in exercise, the production of heat exceeds what is lost, leading to an elevation of core body temperature. A rise in the core body temperature triggers sensors in the brain that increase sweating and even more blood flow to the skin in order to keep the body’s temperature in check. If the heat-dissipating mechanisms fail or if there is overwhelming heat stress, core temperatures may continue to rise to very dangerous and life-threatening levels.
Some athletes may exhibit signs of heat edema, where the limbs (particularly the hands and feet) feel puffy and swollen while riding in the heat. While this may resolve after riding is done for the day, these symptoms are a sign of a potential problem if noticed while you’re riding.
Heat cramps are another problem that can occur on very hot riding days, where muscular tightness and cramping develops during or after prolonged exercise in the heat, particularly in the lower limb muscles. This can affect those who are not used to riding in the heat, especially if you are not paying attention to electrolyte fluid replacement while riding. While this will usually resolve with rest and cooling down, this may be a sign of impending heat exhaustion, so don’t hesitate to ask event staff for help if you need it.
When a body can no longer tolerate exercising in the heat, heat exhaustion has occurred. While the core body temperature is usually no higher than 104 degrees, symptoms of mild confusion, agitation, and poor coordination may be present. Profound fatigue and weakness, lightheadedness, sweating, and muscle cramps may also be present. While this level of heat injury may also resolve after resting in a cool environment, it is important that you tell someone if you feel any of these symptoms as close monitoring and potential transportation to the hospital may be necessary.
Finally, heat stroke represents a true medical emergency as the body’s ability to regulate heat has completely failed, causing a severely elevated core body temperature and central nervous system dysfunction. Core body temperature is usually above 105 degrees, and profound levels of cognitive dysfunction are often present. While in many cases athletes with heat stroke have lost the ability to sweat, don’t let the continued presence of sweat fool you. Should you feel confused or come upon anyone who is acting strangely on the road, immediately call 911 or flag event staff as this may represent a life-threatening problem that needs continued care at a hospital.
Finally, as we get ready to depart on this adventure, it’s important to take a minute and remember some key safety guidelines.
· Remember, this event is not a race. There is no need to speed through large groups of riders on the climbs. If you are interested in riding fast and pushing yourself, consider waking up early to start riding before most other people are on the road.
· Ride single file. There will be other cars on the road, and we need to make sure that we do not interfere with regular automobile traffic on these beautiful roads. If you need to pass a rider in front of you, a polite “on your left” is a great way to let other cyclists know you are coming around.
· Do not ride with earbuds. This is one of the most important rules for the event. You need to be able to hear other riders coming up behind you, as well as any vehicle traffic that may be coming near you.
Remember this is a fun ride for an amazing cause. Remember to bring a variety of layered clothing that will be comfortable while riding. As we all know, conditions can change quickly, and we want you to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature brings. Take your time, enjoy the amazing views, and stop now and then to cool off if the weather is getting hot!