Heat! My experience with racing in the heat

I've missed a couple of race updates and a few other things that have been going on.  In the end it's all been 100% dominated by the weather.  At this point, with temperatures sitting well into the 90s every day, it's been dictating virtually every decision I make other than when I'm at work.

Heat is a problem for everyone but it's something I never remember having particular trouble with until my heat exhaustion experience at Dirty Kanza two years ago.  At the time I didn't think I'd really suffered any more or done any 'damage' beyond what the others around me were experiencing, maybe I didn't?  However, after returning to MN I found that I had major trouble riding in the heat.  Over the rest of that summer I dropped out of various hot weather mountain bike races and struggled on hot days on road group rides.  I also researched quite a bit how to deal with the heat and the best solutions for the specific problems.  

After the winter I returned to Dirty Kanza and again the weather was record high (so higher even than the year before).  This time I was smart enough to drop out "early" before suffering unduly.  I had ridden fast early in the day when the temperatures were low but had basically hit a giant wall somewhere around 90 degrees and just about stopped moving after overheating.  The rest of the summer of 2011 was even worse than 2010.  I completely blew my motor early in two mountain bike races etc. etc..  At this point I didn't even feel like I had a chance of finishing anything where the temperature was over about 85 with high humidity.

I would start out feeling ok and no matter what my pace, what I ate/drank, what I wore there would be a point where things just shut down.  I've spoken to a few people who had similar experiences after heat trouble and discussed it with some doctor friends.  No one is really sure the mechanism but apparently my experience wasn't anything entirely unexpected.

The best I could do was avoid pushing myself too far such that I didn't make the problem worse, wait and hope things improved over time, and train hard with the hope that being stronger would make things better.  I also continued to try different feeding/drinking schemes as well as using ice to keep myself cool.

I never had any break through or anything but near the end of last summer I did have some OK rides on fairly hot days.  More than anything else I think slow acclimation and distance/time from going over the edge were the reasons.  I was still very happy to see fall!  Cyclocross weather, or 2011 Almanzo/royal type weather, has never done me wrong.

This year I skipped Dirty Kanza.  I also greatly adjusted my race/riding schedule in order to avoid heat issues.  I would forgo mountain biking during the hottest months and instead focus on the road a bit more (and I would take a large part of that time as a bit of an off-season before the push into cycolcross and fall gravel).

My plans haven't quite worked out 'ideally'. Maybe it's been global warming, who knows....    Anyways almanzo/royal was hotter than dirty kanza and I had trouble there with the heat, but only after well over 100 miles (and there may have been an external culprit with regards to my issues that has since been fixed).  Since then it seems that almost every road event has been hot and each one just keeps getting hotter than the last culminating, hopefully, with the last couple of days.  Luckily we had rain and nice temperatures for the Chequamegon stuff!

With temperatures in the high 90s at the State Championship Crit on Sunday and in today's Northfield Crit dealing with that heat dominated my day.  In the end in both cases I felt "ok" riding and made it to the finish lines without totally overheating and dying.  Also in both cases I rode too conservatively and didn't really give myself the chance to win.  The heat weighed on my mind during Sundays race and I basically sat back and watched the race go away from me, too worried about the heat to do what I needed to do to compete.  Today I avoided that but didn't have the nerves to capitalize on a couple of opportunities to get into breaks...  then got out of position 2 turns from the finish due to a pothole and had to start my sprint in about 12th.  Going in one of those breaks could have taken those variables out of the finish.

Looking back at both races and my GPS data from them I feel good about dealing with the heat moving forward, at least when it comes to crits.  My mediocre race performances were not due to the heat and I really have nothing to "fear" moving forward at least in that discipline.  Here is what is working for me-

1.  Drink a ton all morning
2.  Keep warmup to a minimum
3.  Skip the inhaler (asthma)
4.  fill back pockets with ice or ice packs
5.  spend as much time as possible in air conditioning

Nothing there is exactly genius eh?

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