cycling · fitness

Bike rally reflections: Heat exhaustion and global warming

The first two days of the Friends for Life Bike Rally this year (see here and here) were ridden during heat alerts. Increasingly I’m worried about spending time on the bike in July and August in Ontario. It’s hot. It’s often the kind of hot that prompts the weather alert to remind you to “avoid outdoor exercise.”

I trained on one of those days in the month leading up to the rally and discovered heat cramps.

There are also scary thunderstorms. See Dodging thunderstorms: It’s getting harder and Sam’s stormy scary bike ride

I know it’s a small thing in the scheme of changing climate and ecological disaster. I know lives and entire ecosystems are at stake and it’s trivial to complain that global warming might be making my favorite athletic activity a lot less fun.

Still, it’s a loss. And it’s a reminder of the changes ahead of us.

Did you watch the Tour de France in the heat waves this summer?

See As Europe’s heat wave melts roads, Tour de France races into an uncertain future and Tour de France: future heatwaves may make it untenable to hold the race in July.

The bike rally needs to be at the end of summer so people have time to train and get ready but I do wonder about the sustainability of July/August cycling events whether it’s the Tour or the Bike Rally.

How is the changing climate affecting your summer activities?

How to survive the global heatwave
cycling · fitness · health

Heat cramps and aging? Really?

In this morning’s blog post on training for the bike rally during a heat advisory I mentioned that I “might have learned a lesson about electrolytes, cramping, and barfing.”

What happened after our very long, very hot ride?

Well, I was sitting in a chair in the backyard, having a drink and cooling off in the shade, as one does after a long ride, when all of a sudden I got incredibly intense painful cramps in my legs, starting with gracilis cramps. They were so painful I thought I might pass out and instead I ended up laying in the grass trying to stretch.

I ended up throwing up and having cramps in pretty much every muscle group of my legs. I don’t know how long it lasted. It felt like a very long time. I sipped on a gatorade and eventually the cramps eased up enough so that I could walk around. Thanks Sarah for helping to stretch the cramps away.

Later, after dinner and lots of stretching, I turned to Google to read up up on muscle cramps after exercising in the heat and I learned they were called heat cramps. See Healthline on the causes of heat cramps.

They weren’t like regular muscle cramps. They were very painful muscle spasms that were really difficult to get to go away. These are new to me. I’ve never had them before.

What’s changed?

Age, obviously. The Healthline articles says, “As people age, their bodies become less efficient at temperature regulation. This may be caused, at least in part, by the shrinkage of sweat glands. Sweat glands become diminished in size as part of the natural aging process. Less sweat equals less perspiration and a diminished ability to cool the body down.” Great.

Also, the heat where I live. With global warming our summers are getting hotter. That’s true all over. It’s scary reading about the Tour de France conditions with riders racing over melting pavement.

Finally, electrolytes. I used to be pretty religious about riding with one bottle of water and one bottle of electrolyte replacement, usually lemon-lime skratch, but that habit kind of dropped off. I’m not sure why.

Looking at the things I can change and the things I can’t, it seems pretty obvious that I’m returning to drinking skratch while riding. I drink a lot of water on my bike so it’s not just dehydration. In fact, drinking too much water can also throw off your electrolyte imbalance, I read. So yeah, back to skratch. Aging is out of my hands and global warming is a collective problem. The one thing I will do is try to avoid leaving for long rides in the middle of the day. I’m going back to early mornings.

Anyway, that was a terrifying experience, super intense and painful and associated with one of my fave activities–cycling. I’m scared now it will happen again. I drank a ton on Sunday’s ride, including lots of skratch and gatorade, and it didn’t happen on Sunday. Here’s hoping that’s enough to keep them away.

Have you ever had heat cramps? What do you do to prevent them?


Air conditioning and exercise: Sweaty Sam has some thoughts

There’s a back to school heat alert in my neck of the woods. Environment Canada says, “Humidex values reaching 40 are expected. Hot and humid conditions will continue today. A hot and humid airmass is expected to remain in place today. Maximum afternoon temperatures are expected to be near 30 degrees with humidex values near 40. ” They go to to list the usual tips: drink lots of water, stay indoors during periods of peak heat. Also, they say the risks are greater for young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic illnesses and people working or exercising outdoors.

It’s the exercising outdoors part that gets me. And I do that even during heat alerts. First though, some years ago, I had to get over a dislike of sweating. See my blog post on that theme, Gonna Make You Sweat.

I actually think that for many women dislike of sweating is a significant barrier to exercise.

This year we also moved houses and it’s my first time in a very long while living in a place with air conditioning. That was terrific during the move but now I have mixed feelings about it. And I know. I don’t have to use it. But use it we do. I don’t live alone, so there’s that.

On the plus side, when there’s ac waiting at home I find I worry less about getting really hot and sweaty because I know I can count on cooling off later. So I can sprint that last Strava segment on my bike without worrying about being too warm for the rest of the evening. Also on the plus side, I sleep better. That’s a definite benefit.

I can also cook without fear of creating extra heat. I like that too.

All good right? But not so fast. There’s a thing I don’t like. If I’m in the cool indoors I find it harder to go out. Sometimes I don’t want to go on a dog walk or take my bike out for a spin because it’s nice and dry cool in here and hot and humid out there. This summer has felt worse to me heat wise. Between work ac and home ac, I have’t really adjusted. When my house and sticky too I used to think, at least there’ll be a breeze out on my bike.

I also worry about controlled environments and their affect on our resilience. I have friends who say they’re not outdoors people. What does that even mean? Well, they say it’s always the wrong temperature, either too hot or too cold. They love 20 degrees Celsius but can’t stand much warmer or cooler. They like it best inside. But if we push ourselves we can adjust to the cold and to the heat. We don’t need to be that fragile. It’s good for us to train for resiliency.

I’m not giving up my home ac but I am going to try to keep it pretty moderate.

Given the weather, I AM glad I have it. See It’s not your imagination, humidity really is killing you.

And I’m also especially grateful I’m not in one of the countries where the heat is now deadly.

What are your thoughts about exercise and air conditioning? Love it or hate it?

Image description: Bright yellow sun


Heat, hills, and happy birthday Susan!



Or why we decided to ride 80 km in a heat advisory!

Yesterday was Susan’s birthday and we celebrated on Sunday with a bike ride. Not just any bike ride. Nope. We celebrated with a plan for a 90 km bike ride up and down the escarpment on heat alert day. Why? We have our reasons.

Me, I’m just back from almost two weeks without my bike attending academic conferences in Sweden and Scotland. Great for walking, not so good for cycling. (Or running. But that’s another matter.) So I was anxious to get back on my bike and ride. I also like riding with these wonderful people: David, Natalie, Susan, Sarah, and Cate. And it’s a birthday bike ride. My favourite. So hot or not, hills or not, I was in.

How was it? Well, hard. Really hard. Our Sunday ride actually reminded me of the bike rally last year which didn’t have those hills but did have the heat alert days. (Read about that here.) But we did the worst of the hills in the morning, then we had a lovely lunch break (with french fries and a strawberry milkshake!) and noodled around on the flats for awhile. By the end, we were all pretty beat. We ran out of water a few times and it began to feel like it didn’t matter how much you drank, you were still hot and thirsty. I had dried salt on my face–despite a shower and washing my face–into the evening. Ending at Susan’s house we were treated like royalty by Susan’s partner Tim. There was an optional hose down with cold water, pitchers of gatorade, cold beer, and lots of snacks. Also, a hot tub with the temperature turned down and an ice cream cake.

Happy Birthday Susan! That was a very hard thing with an amazing group of people.

Sarah’s story:

I rode first and foremost to celebrate the birthday of the awesome Susan. Also, after following Sam around Europe for two weeks of conferences, I definitely needed a long ride to get back in the groove before losing the next couple of weekends of Pride festivities.

But even more importantly, Susan’s birthday slog, I mean ride, I ended up learning some things!

First, I put a big fear to rest : I don’t do well in the hot weather. Heat alerts for me usually involve getting heat stroke while sitting in the shade. But riding in the heat is surprisingly okay. As long as you don’t stop (what red lights?) you make your own breeze. Reassuring for me as I was worried about surviving the six days of the rally at the end of July!

This was also a first ride for me to try wearing both sleeves and leggings for sun protection and cooling. I’m thrilled to report that they feel cooler than bare skin with sunscreen. Definitely a wise addition to my cycling wardrobe and best of all – no funny tan lines!

Because I have often ridden with Susan, Sunday’s ride was on familiar, tough terrain, so it was a pretty good yardstick for my progress on the bike. Even in the heat, I was able to just ride (in “granny gear” mind you, but still!) up hills that last year left me with burning thighs and gasping for breath. I was really happy to be able to ride with Nat and share every strategy I had learned to make those hellish hills less horrible (Answer? There is nothing you can do to make the second trip up the escarpment suck less.).

And because I’d completed the back-to-back 90km ride requirement at the end of May (fighting wind instead of heat!), I was perfectly happy to take a shortcut back to the garden hose, Gatorade, and beer waiting for us back on Susan and Tim’s lawn. Heavenly! Happy birthday, Susan!

Here’s some words from the birthday girl herself:

Last August, Sam introduced me to the idea of the birthday bike ride. I don’t know what is so much fun about doing REALLY HARD THINGS with good friends but I love it and I decided to copy her. . .again. My birthday bike ride was supposed to be a fun casual ride but given our training requirements and the heat, it was not very casual. It was a hard core experience with a bunch of invested people. From this vantage point, I romanticize it but when I wanted to throw up at Tremaine and Main Street, it was not romantic in the least. Hell is 6 lanes of fresh pavement, suburbia on one side and a corn field on the other, no trees at 33C. Luckily there was a man with a hose waiting for me at home. Think what you will of that. . .it was a great birthday.

Here’s Cate’s reasons for riding in a heat wave:

I was riding for a lot of reasons on Sunday. The “required” Bike Rally back-to-back 90km training rides, which Susan and I had planned weeks ago — I’m stubborn about that kind of goal. Celebrating Susan’s birthday. Celebrating life. And because the simplest way I know how to see the world is from the saddle of my bike. There was a terrible death in my family on Friday, and there was nothing I could do to be helpful until Monday. So I joined my gang and rode, feeling the hills in my every cell. The otherworldly light-headedness of riding in that kind of heat matched what was happening in my soul. I rode strong and hard. The heat cauterized some of the grief, the sadness that I wasn’t ready to let in. And being with alive, struggling, joyful people reminded me to be right where I was, be in my life.
Next, Nat chimes in:
I was going into Sunday mindful I was the slowest rider and least experienced. The day before I had done 120 km (my longest ride ever) with David & my partner Michel. I needed to get my back to back rides. I would get to ride with awesome humans. I needed some hills training. Sarah designated herself my sweeps pal and coached me along, preparing me for a coming hill or sharing gearing strategies. It was a very challenging ride for me. Being round I heat up quickly and because I’m not as skilled a rider it takes a lot for me to sustain even a modest 20 km/HR pace. I hit my first wall just before we stopped for lunch. My tired right calf started cramping as we passed Milton towards Campbellville. I started crying from the heat and fatigue. Sarah dosed me with some awesome maple syrup gel that calmed the cramps down. We ate lunch and I wondered if I had over committed. The wind was so hot it burned inside my nostrils. I took odd comfort when everyone admitted they were surprised how hard the ride was. After lunch we flew down the escarpment for what seemed days. It was glorious.
I hit the second wall around 70 km. I was feeling like I was crawling along and my glutes were on fire. The tears started again and I couldn’t stop. Everything hurt and I was just sick of the heat. I said I might need to end the ride and get picked up. After some chatting Sarah offered to take me a shorter route back to Susan’s and Sam came with us. We tootled back hitting about 80 km in total.
Afterwards we debriefed in the hot tub. I was pretty embarrassed about my snot bubble sobbing. I also knew that these were exactly the kind of humans I trusted not to mock or shame me. I felt safe to push past my limits and I’m glad I did. I got help all along the way. David updated me on my pace regularly, stressing how great I was doing for a back to back ride. Susan made sure the group waited for me to catch up at regular intervals. Cate has this amazing lightness about her when she’s on her bike as she calmly asserted it was ok for me to stop riding if I needed to. Sarah topped up my water, nodded emphatically when I muttered my self-soothing stuff out loud and affirmed that yes, these were cuss worthy hills. I’m so thankful to Sam for introducing me to this lovely group of people who are really into their physicality. It was an uphill ride through hellfire and it was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again.
Our lunch break!



We survived! After the ride, we relax

David said (on Facebook) “I realized in the middle of the night that we should have taken a photo of all of our bikes scattered across Susan‘s front lawn like we were 14 and hanging out.”

No bikes on the lawn photos but these capture the feeling





Also, if you want to encourage us you can of course sponsor our team in the bike rally.

And buy our t-shirt and mug, all proceeds to the rally!


health · weight loss

Does heat make you fat? No wait, it’s cold…

Upfront confession: I have a high tolerance for headlines of the form “X makes you fat!” Posting these stories to social media. I’m often misunderstood. I’m never doing it to suggest that people stop doing X, for any value of X. Instead, I do because I like seeing that medical researchers agree that whatever causes fat, it’s more complicated, much more complicated than “calories in/calories out” or the simple formula for ending obesity that overweight people always get, “eat less and move more.”

Oh, I also hate sharing these stories because inevitably they are accompanied by a photo of a headless fat person. Oh, the shame! I lost my head. See No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people complete with heads instead? for my beef on that front.

Now, there are lots of proposed values of X, the list of things that cause obesity. In additional to the usual suspects (eating too much and moving too little) the list has included such things as street lighting (too much light at night disrupts our sleep rhythms), chemicals in plastics,  hanging out with fat friends, and my favourite, comfortable kitchens where people want to spend time. I just had my kitchen redone and now I think maybe I should go back to our one person-at-a-time galley thing that was falling off the back of the house.

“What a beautiful kitchen!” I hear my neighbour saying but I wonder if she’s also secretly thinking, “Too bad it’s making you fat!” Actually my kitchen isn’t that nice. Maybe just nice enough to make me pleasantly plump.

For the complete ridiculous list, see xojane’s list of 21 Things Making You Fat Right Now!

Here’s one such theory that I hear a lot. It’s central heating that’s to blame. Warm houses are making us fat.

Don’t turn up the heat! Put on a jumper! (That was the story of my youth.)

This story fits in well with my British heritage. “Jumper” should have been your first clue. I’m from the land of virtuous people living in cold houses. My family loves to retell the story of a great aunt who at the insistence of her children had central heating installed but reassured all visitors, with a smile, “I haven’t had it on yet.” I think she likely died without ever turning it on.

And truth be told, I’ve inherited a bit of that. I like cold rooms and lap blankets, warm kitchens with ovens on, and cold bedrooms with warm blankets. I even have a heated mattress pad. (My new fave feature of modern life is the smart phone app that allows me to get into bed and then turn down the heat and shut off lights. Brilliant.) I prefer hot spots in otherwise cold rooms. This makes sense as I also love old houses and these things go together.

Winters in Australia and New Zealand tested my tolerance for cold houses. I guess when the weather isn’t life threatening, you don’t see the same need for regular, reliable indoor heating.

And to add to the moralizing notes in this story, cold houses don’t just promote virtue (I think it’s because you’re not tempted to take off your clothes until after you’re under the blankets and sweaters on top of sweaters aren’t exactly the sexiest look around) they’re also better for the environment.

No surprise then that warm houses make you fat.

See Mark’s Daily Apple, Is central heating related to obesity?

See Readers Digest! 8 things that are making you fat

“Trying to lose weight? Turn down the thermostat. A cozy home could be contributing to making you fat, suggests research in the journal Obesity Reviews. When our bodies are cold, we shiver, causing our muscles to contract to generate heat—and burn calories.”

Even the New York Times weighed in Central Heating May Be Making Us Fat. And Time Magazine too, Why Indoor Heating May Make You Fat.

The authors of the new study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F. Indeed, average temperatures have gone up all throughout the house — and in the wintertime, people tend not to leave their homes much anymore, at least not unless it’s in a heated car.

“Increased time spent indoors, widespread access to central heating and air conditioning, and increased expectations of thermal comfort all contribute to restricting the range of temperatures we experience in daily life and reduce the time our bodies spend under mild thermal stress — meaning we’re burning less energy,” said lead author Fiona Johnson in a statement. “This could have an impact on energy balance and ultimately have an impact on body weight and obesity.”

Although humans are born with significant deposits of brown fat — the primary purpose of which is to regulate body temperature by burning energy for heat — those stores diminish over time. By adulthood our brown-fat stores have shrunk, having been replaced with the more familiar white fat, the stuff that hangs over belt buckles and swings from the backs of arms.

And I’d love to love this story. Yes, get out of your comfort zone, go play outside, stop burning fossil fuels. Live like our ancestors used to, etc etc.

But now, it’s cold, not hot, but cold, that makes you fat. That journal article was published in 2011, but new research published the same journal years two later says it’s cold, not heat, that packs on pounds.

See Study: turn up heating to fight fat this holiday season.

An interesting new study from the UK reveals that people who live in well-heated homes are not as likely to be obese or have a high body mass index, compared with individuals who keep their houses cooler.

The researchers, from the University of Stirling in Scotland, have shown a link between higher temperatures and lower levels of body fat by studying over 100,000 adults who rely on central heating from 1995 to 2007, in the nationally representative Health Survey for England.

Although the researchers note that scientists have recently suggested warmer indoor temperatures could be contributing to rising obesity levels in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, this latest study suggests the opposite is true.

Back and forth, to and fro. This debate ought to be familiar. I’ve heard it before  about swimming in cold water (see here and here). And I’ve been bugging Tracy to blog about it. Swimming in cold water makes you fat! Wait, no, bathing in ice cubes makes you slim. Thank Tim Ferris for that suggestion. Read about his “ice diet” here. Um, no thanks, Tim.

Keep your house at a temperature you like that’s consistent with caring for the environment. Swim in cold water if that’s what you like.

Because we really don’t know what’s responsible for the increase in obesity rates and we’re even less certain when it comes individuals what factors are that make a difference.

If there’s something to be learned here, it’s something I got from Precision Nutrition’s lean eating program, you are your own expert. Try different things and see if they make a difference for you.