Getting Hot

We’ve had a real break so far this summer. It wasn’t until last week that we had our first 100 degree (38C) days of the season. We had enough rain in June that the grass in my yard is uniformly green.

These conditions are markedly different from the summers we’ve had around here in recent years. The worst was the summer of 2011, when we hit 100 nearly every day for three months straight.

The problem is, the severe drought conditions that began that year have never abated. We’re still in extreme to exceptional drought conditions. But riding has been great.

We decided to add some miles to our usual B ride, and go south to 5-Mile Dam. That’s a county park on the north edge of San Marcos, about 28 miles south of Austin. We knew the heat would be a challenge, although we weren’t expecting another 100 degree day, but things looked promising as we started off at about 8 a.m. The sky was overcast. A slight breeze cooled things a bit.

I set an easy pace, figuring we’d need to save something for the trip back. But by the time we reached 5-Mile Dam park, things were heating up. I wanted to get a picture of the dam on the Blanco River. We rode up to the spot in the road where we could see the dam, and I was shocked.

While Austin had some decent rains the previous week, the Hill Country got nearly nothing. The Blanco was dry. I’ve never seen the dam in this situation before.

Five-Mile Dam. I'm used to seeing water here, if not pouring over the dam, at least flowing. Dry is an understatement. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Five-Mile Dam. I’m used to seeing water here, if not pouring over the dam, at least flowing. Dry is an understatement. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Looking back upstream. Water is ponding in some spots, and a few people are even trying for fish. Still quite picturesque.

Looking back upstream. Water is ponding in some spots, and a few people are even trying for fish. Still quite picturesque.

But the pavilion at the park was still serving up cold, cold water from its fountains, and we refilled our water bottles, grateful for the break.

I figured to take an easy pace on the return, since the day was warming rapidly. What I hadn’t considered was that the pavement radiated the heat back in our faces — and with a tailwind coming back, we were much warmer than we would normally be.

The heat took all the starch out of me. I trailed by an increasing margin, and only stop lights and passing trains were able to let me catch up. Our rest stops became more frequent — every five miles or so — always under the shade of a spreading tree. It was slow going.

Clearly, our mild summer has been great for biking, but not so great for conditioning. It looks like our mild weather is over for the time being, and our typical summertime heat is settling in for the long haul. I can see I’ve got some hot riding ahead.

It’s Too Hot to Bike

My teaching schedule during this second summer session has been to my liking. I teach two courses, at 8 and 10 a.m. Most of the time, I’m back in my car and on the road for home around noon. That leaves plenty of time to grab a quick lunch and get in some biking.

But lately, that plan has had to be scrapped.

sweaty-cyclist-cartoonWhen I got home today, the temperature was in the upper 90s (36C), and the heat index was already over 100. I had my lunch as usual, but instead of riding, I settled in for some reading, and later got a haircut. Yeah, I’m an exciting guy.

But the thermometer in the car read 101 on the way to the barber shop. Yech. Since moving to Central Texas in 2000, I’ve adjusted to the extreme conditions we have to put up with during the summer. Teeing off at 2 p.m. for a golf tournament in 102 degree heat was nonsense, but I did it. And since taking up biking, I’ve ridden many times in 100 degree weather.

It’s just that now, the prospect doesn’t much interest me any more. When I do ride in super-hot conditions, I spend a lot less time than I like on the bike. My rides are seldom more than an hour. That’s when I normally start to feel normal on the bike. The shorter rides are just unsatisfying.

I suppose I could use what I know will be a shorter ride to work on intervals — but that would just make me hotter, faster. I think I’ll be treating the remaining summer days the way my Northern friends treat their winters: As a time to do something other than ride. Hm, maybe I could set up a trainer indoors and ride that whenever the heat index passes 100. After all, I have no use for an indoor trainer in January — I’m too busy riding outside.

Meanwhile, the forecast for the next 10 days shows no chance of rain, and a high of at least 100 degrees every day.

Slick Streets – And Not From Rain

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I got home from work early Wednesday, and made ready to knock out some quick miles on the bike. It was a hot one — 98 degrees (37C) at 3:30. I dressed in my loosest, lightest weight jersey, some old lightweight bike shorts, and filled my water bottle with ice.

When I reached the Veloway, I was the only one on the three-mile track. Not a car in the parking lot. Not another bike to be seen.

I decided this was not a day to do fast laps. Just maintaining a steady cruising speed would be a challenge this day.

After three laps, I decided to head home. That would give me a 15-mile ride — just about one hour on the bike. Plenty for these conditions. I crossed the gravel parking lot and pointed the bike up LaCrosse.

About a mile from the Veloway, I turn off LaCrosse onto Escarpment to make the last stretch home. Would the stoplight be green or red today? It’s usually red. Today, it was red again, but the cross traffic had a left turn arrow, and that meant I could go ahead and make my right turn without interfering with any cars.

I turned — slid — and the next thing I knew, I was on my stomach in the intersection, with my bike clattering over me. WTF?

The drivers around me just kept going. I got to my feet quickly, and picked up my bike and carried it to the curb. I had some road rash on my right shin, and blood trickled down into my sock. I felt a tingle on my right hip where it had hit the pavement. The shorts were still in one piece.

A glance at the intersection showed me the problem. Some oil had thinned out under the bright, hot sun, and spread a small slick right in the intersection. I must have hit that slick just as I applied power to the pedals to turn the corner. Although I could see the slick clearly now, when I walked over to where I had been when I slid, it wasn’t obvious at all. The sun didn’t reflect off its surface from this angle.

My right shifter was bent inwards, and I couldn’t pull it back to its normal position on the handlebar. I would have to ride the last two miles home with my right hand at a funny angle. I could get out an Allen wrench and adjust it later.

And as I was preparing to get back on the bike, I noticed one other casualty. My bike computer, lying in the intersection. I would have to get it, but now cars were turning across my path. I had to wait. I did — and I watched as one car made its right turn, right over the computer. On my way home from work Friday, I’ll stop at Wal-Mart and get a replacement. It’s only $12.

Now that we’re in the hot part of summer, take care on the roads. Rain won’t be a problem, but oil slicks can be.

My Get Up And Go…

…has got up and went.

It’s been a good week for riding, but today reminded me of what happens when I try to go too far beyond my typical training regimen.

The B’s were looking forward to a run to Creedmoor. That’s  36-mile round trip, and would have been just right for most of us. It would be a long enough ride, but not too long. That’s important when you consider that the temperatures will rise into the 90s (32-35C) quickly after the overnight low only got down to about 75 (24C).

We sort of stayed with the A’s until about three miles into the ride, when they veered off onto a road we haven’t taken before on club rides. The B’s didn’t follow, but continued on our route. At the next light, we caught up to several A’s who had jumped out ahead of the pack, and missed the turn. They had to scramble to try to intercept or catch up to the main body.

Meanwhile, we had an uneventful run, with only one minor incident: An oncoming car laid on his horn. Why, no one could figure out. We were two abreast in our lane with no cars behind us. This guy had the road all to himself. Asshat.

As we approached Creedmoor, I could feel myself flagging. I had done that Fourth of July ride the other day, and then Saturday I did a route of about 20 miles, but with lots of hills — some of them pretty tough. Now, I watched as the rest of the B’s became little dots on the horizon, and I didn’t feel particularly interested in trying to catch them.

At the convenience store in Creedmoor, I joked that Buddy had used the facilities, bought some Gatorade, and almost finished the bottle by the time I got there. But I think everyone was happy for a break. The heat had moved in already, and we were all drenched in sweat.

When it was time to leave, I made sure everyone knew the turn we needed to take. “The road turns right 90 degrees,” I said, “and then you bear right almost immediately. I want to make sure you know that, because you’ll be way ahead of me.”

Sure enough, I was dropped coming out of the parking lot. They scampered off in the distance, while I pedaled steadily, just putting miles under my wheels, but not trying to catch them. The sun beating down on my back was wearing me out.

Just before reaching I-35, I could see Buddy ahead of me. I held out my arm to signal that I would be pulling into another convenience store lot. He apparently didn’t see me, and kept going. I stopped anyway.

I got not one, but two full bottles of ice water, and went through both of them. I finished a Luna bar that Maggie had given me back at the first rest stop. And I rested. I’d come less than 10 miles since Creedmoor, but I was done.

The route isn’t terribly hilly, but there are some good rollers. And I knew that on the way back, I’d have to climb Davis Hill from the backside. That prospect didn’t appeal to me at all.

So I made an executive decision. Slaughter Lane has a bike lane almost all the way back to the Starbucks. It’s seven miles, and Slaughter is a four-lane divided street with heavy traffic that likes to exceed the speed limit. Just the kind of road I hate to ride on. But it was a straight shot back, and would probably cut about two miles off our regular route.

At one point on that stretch, I could tell just how tuckered out I was, when the front tire went into the gutter, and rubbed against the slightly raised asphalt as I corrected the steering. The asphalt was just high enough about the gutter that the edge grabbed the wheel, and I thought for a terrifying instant that I would fall over, into the traffic lane. Bye-bye Ray.

I recovered, and redoubled my efforts to stay with it. I did get the rest of the way to Starbucks, where everyone was enjoying their drinks on the patio.

It turned out that they did some bonus miles. Buddy was far enough behind them that he couldn’t tell them the correct turn at a certain point, and instead of going south, they went north. By the time they’d figured out where they went wrong, they had to add about four miles to their trip.

For me, this was an annual reminder. I seem to get caught riding too far, too long, without a) enough base mileage, or b) enough rest. Our good riding in Texas happens in the spring and fall anyway. Forget summer. For the next month or two, I’ll ride within myself, and when September comes, think about piling on some more mileage. In the meantime, I’ll make sure I’m as diligent about taking my rest days as I am about my ride days.

A Little Heat Training

A biking buddy I haven’t ridden with for awhile contacted me the other day. He’s been off the bike lately, and wants to get back into it. He suggested we do a few Veloway laps after work. While I knew it would be a hot ride, I readily agreed.

John juggles his young sons, his 29-inch mountain bike and his road bike with his other obligations. He’s ridden rides of decent length before, and last year even did a guest post here about riding the Atlas 4000 kickoff ride under hot conditions.

But he says he’s slowed down quite a bit, and just wanted to turn the cranks in the heat to build up some tolerance for the temperatures he’ll face when he tackles organized rides again next month.

I had my concerns driving home this afternoon. The forecast had called for highs in the 100s most days of this week, and the car thermometer showed 107 at around 3 p.m. After getting my stuff together and setting off to meet John at our agreed-upon ride time of 4:30, I saw that it had dipped — to 106 (41C). One of the official weather stations in Austin recorded a record 109 today. My wife was none too pleased that I was heading out in such conditions.

She forgets, though, that just last weekend she played golf in temperatures almost as high, and had a great round. I slathered on the sunscreen, put lots of ice in the water bottle, and headed out.

The Veloway wasn’t completely deserted, but I saw only a few other bikers rounding the track. While I waited for John, I made sure the bike was parked in the shade, so it wouldn’t be a hot seat when I climbed back on for our laps.

Any shade is good shade.

We set off at an easy pace. John said he’d been averaging about 12 mph lately, and wanted to see if keeping up with me posed any special problems. He monitored his heart rate as we rode, and noted with satisfaction that it was at a reasonable level.

The Veloway is a 3.1-mile circuit, and John said three laps would be plenty for him. Coupled with my ride from home and back again, I would clock about 15 miles. In this weather, I figured that was just right.

The heat wasn’t too bad. Really. Some breeze would have been nice, though. Since we weren’t doing intervals or anything stupid like that, I thought the ride was just the kind of easy day I could always use. I noticed that John was pushing a bit to keep even with me, and once, when I kicked it into high gear, he lagged behind for about half a lap.

John catches and passes me.

After three laps, we pulled into the canopy that offers some shade at the head of the track.  Sweat glistened off both of us, but otherwise, we were fine. That is, until John suggested it was time to head to the parking lot so he could get his bike back on the car rack. I set off to see if any water was left in the coolers at the parking lot entrance (nope), and when I got there, I looked back to see John still under the canopy, staring straight ahead.

“Take the picture already, so I can go refill my water bottle!” The Noob with the borrowed bike.

My average speed for the trip, including the run between the house and the track, was 14.7 mph, just a tad slower than I usually do. If John was adding 2 mph to his typical speeds, and on a day like today, that could really stress him. He’ll be fine if he keeps up his riding this summer, but today was a good reminder to take it easy in extreme conditions. I wonder how some other acquaintances of mine did. They planned a 60-miler late this afternoon!

Bonking on a Hot Day

John T. Cash

Bike Noob is pleased to present a guest post from John T. Cash. John T rides with the Noob occasionally, and he also comments here under the name “johnt.” He just took up biking last year. Over the weekend, he did an organized ride that he’d ridden in last year, and was looking forward to again. But this time, it didn’t turn out so well.

This year’s Atlas ride ( the first leg of the Texas 4000, which is a group of 50 University of Texas students who ride to Alaska to raise money for cancer), the 2nd I have participated in, started just like last year’s. But this year was a little more important to me as I had helped lead the initial training ride for the group back in September. I was riding the 54 mile route. I drove to the start at Cedar Park with my friend Hugo, who usually leads the  Jack and Adams bike shop weekly no drop ride. We hung out and made the usual small talk with those we knew and those we just met until the ride started. Hugo dropped me quickly as I am slow to warm up and usually struggle the first 10 miles until everything falls into place.

This ride though was different. Ten miles passed and the clouds burned off. By the first rest stop it was well over 90 degrees and I was drenched in sweat and still laboring. Lingering longer than I normally do at the rest stop I ate a lot of fruit and dropped a Nuun into my water bottle and drained it. Assured that the fruit and the Nuun would do the trick, I took off and waited for the lift that would renew my energy. At mile 20 and still struggling I had an epiphany. Although I had been riding regularly and had completed 59 miles at the Red Poppy ride six weeks before, I had ridden very little in the heat this year and I was in over my head.

Riding into the second rest stop again just drenched in sweat and feeling very depleted, I wolfed down an energy bar and grabbed several slices of watermelon and oranges and sat on the bridge to contemplate whether to SAG in right then and there. I must have looked pretty bad because a couple of Texas 4000 riders recognized me and asked if I was OK. “Yes, I’m fine,” I muttered — not too convincingly.

As I pondered whether to hang it up I realized I knew most of the SAG volunteers because of my relationship to Hugo. Ugh, how embarrassing. At age 53, the last thing I wanted to do is be another old man bonking in the heat, especially in front of folks I know. With my precious ego in jeopardy I chugged down another bottle of Nuun water, grabbed a couple of energy bars and decided to soldier on. As I slogged along with the sun beating down and the temperature well above 95 I made my plan. I had my heart rate monitor and tried to make sure it stayed around 120-125. I would drink water every two miles and nibble on my energy bars. While not terribly hilly, the route is not flat and I stayed in the lowest gear on any incline and coasted as much as I could. Each pedal stroke had a purpose, each shift a way to save energy. Each sip of water or bite of energy bar was the fuel to pedal up another long roller. A nice lady in her 40s rode up and tried to make small talk but I could only grunt or nod and she pedaled off probably thinking what an assh—. A sag driver driving the opposite way probably noticed how slow and wobbly I was yelled at me as he passed, “You OK?” I weakly waved and plowed on.

At mile 38 I started to really lose it and more than a little dizzy stopped and got off the bike. With only a few miles to the next rest stop I decided to pour the remainder of one of my water bottles over my head and soak my bandana. I dropped another Nuun in my other bottle and chugged the tepid mixture dry. “You OK?” sang the chorus as a peloton of 20 somethings zipped past. After a few more minutes, the dizziness passed and I wobbled to the last rest stop. Inhaling a bunch of watermelon and oranges, I lingered for at least 20 minutes and then took off a bit refreshed. A young couple fell in with me and I chatted with them. They were thinking about having a baby (amazing what people confide to strangers on a bike) and I started to perk up a bit as the terrain ran downhill. Once we hit a couple of long rollers I let them go and went back to struggling.

Somehow the miles went by and as luck would have it the last 4 miles were uphill in a headwind but I somehow made it to the finish at 1:30 p.m., 5 1/2 hours and a full hour over my time the year before. I saw Hugo right off the bat and he quickly pointed out the time, how bad I looked and how he had been worried about me. I brushed past, muttered an obscenity and downed a couple of cold water bottles and demolished a bbq plate with all the fixings.

In the shade my head quit pounding, the dizziness left and I realized that I had just completed my most successful and fulfilling ride. It took all of what little I know about the bike, my body and what I didn’t know about what I was made of to complete this ride. Whether it was some misguided attempt at protecting my ego or a stubbornness or tenacity I didn’t know I had, I don’t know. I do know now why I decided to start riding a bike at age 52.

Before you ask — John T. tells me he was well fueled:  “I had a pasta dinner, I had a good breakfast, and ate a big free bagel at the school before the start,” he said. But he’s been riding only 40-50 miles a week, and that at times of day when the heat isn’t so intense. “In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea,” he told me.

Hot Spots

One of the discouraging aspects of last weekend’s metric century was a recurrence of the hot spot in my foot that bothered me in last fall’s Imperial century. It creeps up on me. At first, I don’t notice it. Then suddenly, the ball of my foot is burning. It hurts to pedal.

My usual remedy for hot spot is to stop, take off my shoe, massage my foot, maybe even take off my sock and let the air cool it. I was lucky Saturday. After I gave it that treatment, I didn’t get a hot spot for the rest of the ride.

Other times, like last fall’s century, I haven’t been so blessed. It plagued me for the rest of the ride, and was one of the reasons I rode slower than I had in that ride in the past.

I’m not alone.

A cursory check of biking online forums (fora?) reveals other cyclists who report much the same symptoms. So now that spring is here and warm weather rides will soon be common, maybe it’s time to talk about hot spots and how to handle them.

The most common advice is to loosen your shoes, move your cleat back — either a little or a lot, depending upon who is giving the advice, and get carbon fiber soles with a wide platform cleat.

In my case, I wear Specialized shoes with carbon soles. My cleats are back as far as they’ll go, and have been for a couple of years. I do keep my shoes fairly loose, because I know from experience that my feet swell up on long rides in warm weather.

But according to cycling coach Fred Matheny, hot spots are a neural problem. The burning sensation is caused by pressure on nerves in the feet, says Matheny. That pressure can eventually cause a neuroma, or swelling of the nerve between two metatarsal bones, as seen in the illustration at right. The coach suggests getting metatarsal buttons. These things are little foam domes that can be attached to insoles just behind the ball of the foot. They cause the metatarsal bones to spread, which keeps the nerves running between them from being pinched by pressure or swelling. You can buy metatarsal buttons in the foot care section of drug stores. Insoles with the buttons already built in are also available.

I’ll have to give them a try. I’m also going to dig around in my dresser drawers and try to find some running shoe insoles that I think I still have.

You might also consider wearing thin cycling-specific socks, and even buying high-end cycling shoes that come in widths. My friend Rick, who doesn’t get hot spots, rubs his feet with Chamois Butt’r before a long ride, and then puts on two pairs of socks — just the opposite of the conventional wisdom.

(Illustration from Synergy Massaging Insoles – www.synergyinsoles.com)