Friday, July 2, 2010

Heat adaptation

While living in Ottawa I've found that the temperature rises to uncomfortable levels on only a dozen or so days a year. I've also found that regardless of living in Toronto or Ottawa, I seem to have a great inability to tolerate heat very much and I generally overheat in typical fashion - by sweating profusely, a drop in blood pressure and eventually keeling over at the side of a road. Somewhere.

When I was seventeen, I wore a long, art-inspired ponytail. My hair was so thick that I had to use a helmet one size larger than when I have short hair. Seventeen was also the year that I significantly increased my coffee intake, not just because a Starbucks opened across the street from where I worked, but because the cute girl there gave me free coffee...and she was cute so I consumed more coffee than was probably healthy.

In any case, on one Saturday July morning, the donut ride wasn't moving particularly fast and the heat was pretty bearable. By the time we hit Keele just north of Major MacKenzie though, I had already drunk the two waterbottles I was carrying. I was pulling the front group at a comfortable pace (32 kph) when suddenly I felt pretty weak. I didn't have a complete feeling of bonking though, just a feeling like I should take it easy and chill at the back of the small group (we were only six guys at this point) and try to survive to the bakery at the turnaround. Fairly soon after that I found myself wondering which curb was the real curb and which one was the fake curb, since my eyes started to cross. I opted for the curb on the right, and found myself looking at the sky a few minutes later. So far I could see it seemed like I landed on the front lawn of an abandoned, boarded up house, near a quarry of some sort. I got back on my feet and tried to stand upright but found that I could only teeter "Night of the Living Dead" zombie like to the house (if you can place a zombie in spandex)... I got to the faucet, turned it on and just like you would expect, a gasp of dust hissed from the tap. I started to wonder if this experience was actually a mirage and I was still lying on the ground or something so I looked back at my bike half-expecting to see my body still there.


By this point I could feel my mouth and tongue gluing together in a dry, dusty, seizing, rusty-seatpost-to-steel-frame kind of way. I staggered to the condemned house next door, and figured maybe if the first house had its water turned off from inside, and not from some main, I might be in luck. IFs. I can't stand if statements. But you hang on to them. You hang on to them like what if the girl at Starbucks didn't smoke, would you have the balls to ask her out then?

If that tap didn't have water in it, I was going to try to make it to the office I could make out in the quarry. I remember looking at that quarry, through the heat, the white of pit, the black windows of the office, the chain-link fence. Heat waves rising out from it. I turned the tap. It squeaked, sputtered and horked out a shot of brown water. Then out gushed water! Clear water - I filled up my bottle to see what color it was and it was clear! I worried a bit about what else could be in it, but I couldn't give a shit anymore. Clear was clean and I drenched myself with it filled my bottles up and drank as much as I could fill my stomach with. Hey look at that guy hahaha! Seriously? The pack?

I made it to the bakery and stuffed as much food and drink into me and my jersey as I could. It wasn't until a few years later that I realized just how much caffeine, ephedrine, alcohol and long hair can impact high performance athleticism. Some guys can take it all in and that stuff has no ill effects but for those of us that can't handle the heat, do absolutely everything possible to limit overheating.

1) Stop drinking anything with caffeine. Seriously.
2) Stop drinking alcohol.
3) Take something other than ephedrine if you need stimulants.

In addition, other than keeping fat off your body, heat adaptation training is a must. Do it in an area that is populated so you won't die on the side of the road somewhere.

1) Overdress. Not a lot, just enough to bring your temperature up 1 or 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Aim for the hottest time of day on the hottest street. For me it was the industrial park loop.
3) Focus on a time goal and work up to it. If you often race at two o'clock in the afternoon, then you're going to have to aim to do 4 hours of heat training. Work your way up from 30 minutes.
4) Don't forget some emergency supplies - a gel shot with some caffeine in it can help stimulate enough adrenaline to get you home if you feel like you're about to faint.
5) Figure out what facilities are on your route: Bars, office buildings, recycling centers, parks - anywhere that might have a phone and water in an emergency.
6) "And Then the Vulture Eats You" is a good book on understanding not just what you're up against, but for creating a focal point on the task at hand at what kind of determination it requires to get you there.

Training to be a pro requires professional focus and a certain, well, respect for what precisely is required of you to get there. Don't short change yourself and when you size up a task to complete, consider that it will take 30% more mental fortitude to get you there then you think it would. The biggest egos in sport never get this but the best do. It's not that the best are more humble, it's just that they know better.

A couple of other things: Supplementing with glycerine (adding 1 ml/kilogram to the 1 liter of water you drink in the hour before competition) can help in water retention. The drawback? A pretty bad headache if you're a caffeine drinker, a not so bad one if you are not. While it doesn't increase performance through some stimulating effect, it does stave off heatstroke for those of us that sweat profusely. If you want info on this, google: glycerine or glycerol +hypohydration +filetype:pdf.

Heatstroke. If you have heatstroke treat it like a bad fever. Drink a ton of Gatorade/Cytomax/Powerade, whatev, (or homemade concoction). Take a couple of extra strength acetaminophen. Get in the tub and fill it slowly with cool water (don't jump into a full tub of cold water unless you like shocking the shit out of yourself).

If you don't have heatstroke, cool down like you would normally. The point of heat adaptation training is to get your body used to dealing with heat on its own.

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