The Fourth of July is one of our best rides of the year. I’m on my sixth or seventh and we’ve always had a hot one. This year’s Fourth ride wasn’t the hottest, but it sure was up there. Then there’s One Helluva Ride in Hell, Michigan (yep, seriously). The ride is aptly named – it’s hot as hell on that one, every year… Not literally hot as hell, as in “my heart was literally beating out of my chest”, but you get the idea. It’s freakin’ hot.
For some nutty reason that escapes me, I’m suited to cycling in the heat… if I’m careful about it. Where my friends suffer, I, for the most part, am able to enjoy myself*.
I learned something about hydration about six years ago that had a huge impact on what I drink on those nasty, hot, sticky days. If I had to guess, I darn-near ran myself out of electrolytes over the course of a few weeks, and it wasn’t pretty.
I was on a weight-loss kick so I decided I shouldn’t drink Gatorade anymore. After all, I didn’t need the sugar so I switched to water with a lemon and a lime wedge. On the bike I carried water. Two weeks at 150 miles a week and temps in the upper 80’s to mid 90’s (27-34 C) and I went from strong and 20+ mph for an average to struggling at 17-mph. That went on for a few days before I realized my sweat wasn’t salty anymore. We’ve had it pounded into us for so long that “salt is bad” and “we get enough salt in our normal diet without adding it” that I lived by it. I never added salt to my food (chicken noodle soup excepted). It was at that point I knew what I’d done.
I started reading up on electrolytes and how they worked in the body. To make a long story short, what I’d read suggested that if we run ourselves down on electrolytes, then drink a bunch of water, thinking we’re suffering a hydration problem, we dilute what little electrolytes we have in the body and bad things happen. That’s right where I was.
I bought a bunch of Gatorade (I am fully aware of the others and the sugarless products – I know, I know, but I’m okay with the good old fashioned Gatorade – it’s simple, cheap and it works) and within two days I was back to normal again, crushing out the mileage.
Now, when I’m doing hard, hot miles, I always take care of the electrolytes and I’m not afraid to add a little salt to whatever it is I’m eating… We have to remember that those average guidelines the talking heads put out are for average people. As weekend warrior athletes, average we are not.
*One Helluva Ride was a different story this year. I did everything right and still wanted to quit. I willed through it with the help of a friend, but I was hollerin’ uncle.