Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Cycling (or, dealing with the heat without getting burned.)

Disclaimer: I make no claims to expertise, nor make claims to safety, on these topics.  Exposure to the elements, hot or cold, can be harmful on their own, let alone when mixed with exercise.  If you have questions or medical concerns, your first stop should be your primary care physician and not Google (or this blog) for your answers.

The days are longer, and the temperatures are warmer, means that it's a time when people start looking to get in bigger rides.  It's also important to know about how to deal with the issues that the warmer temperatures bring.  I cannot think of a single person that wants to end their riding season because of injury - this should include issues such as dehydration and heat stress.   Since my background is not medical, my focus is not as much to inform you of the actions you should take, but rather to hopefully get you thinking about the various things that you need to do individual research on and make thoughtful decisions.   

Acclimation -

 Here in South Carolina, the temperatures can change rather rapidly during the early summer months.  It was just 2 weeks ago that I was participating in the Ride 4 Animal care, and my Garmin recorded a cool 70°F during the climb up Green River Cove.  Just last weekend on another training ride, that same device recorded a sweltering 100°F peak temperature.  That extreme of a difference in temperature in just a week is highly uncommon, but as the Summer months get into full swing, it takes our bodies time to acclimate to the new weather patterns.  According to the Encyclopedia of Sport Science, it can take up to 14 days for your body to acclimate to warmer temperatures.  Mackenzie Madision wrote for  US Triathlon with several suggestions and guidelines for heat acclimation.

Sun Exposure -

While Sun exposure is something to think about during all times of the year, the summer months is when the Sun hits folks in the Northern Hemisphere more directly.  Thus if you are planning big rides, taking care of your skin should be vitally important.  While crisp tan lines are often lauded, crisp burn lines are painful and hazardous.  Make sure to read the instructions on your sunscreen, and follow them correctly.  Just because the SPF rating is 35 doesn't mean you have all day protection if you put it on at 6 in the morning;  some sunscreens may not let your skin properly breathe, and may make your warmer during exercise. Many of the modern sunscreens soak in after just 2 hours, leaving the protection under your skin (instead of on it). If you are looking for resources on which sunscreens work the best,  there are plenty of websites that spend hours digesting all of the data out there.  The Environmental Working Group has plenty of resources on sunscreen and its effectiveness, for example.  Kitchen Stewardship even goes so far as to review various sunscreens and offer up home made alternatives to the chemical soups sold in stores.  

I have also increased my intake of Omega 3 fatty acids (Fish Oil) and Vitamin C during the Summer months to help stave off sunburns.  While no supplement regimen can claim medical advice, I've gone from perennially red to being able to handle long bike rides in the sun. 

Hydration -

I've saved the most talked about of the 3 until last.  From expensive sports drink commercials to every website dealing with exercise, hydration is almost always at the top of the list of things that folks concentrate on.  During the warm Summer months, the facts are that you are going to sweat more.  After you are acclimated to the heat your body is going to sweat sooner, and harder, although your sweat may have a lower electrolyte (salt) count.  Waiting until you are thirsty to try to fill back up your reserves is not going to be effective over any length of workout.  Getting (and staying) hydrated before and during an effort is critical not only for a good workout, but for staying out of trouble.  Losing just 2% of your body weight from sweat loss can greatly impact your results.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following guidelines for staying hydrated:

Before exercise
  • Goal: Start exercise properly hydrated
  • Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before exercise
  • Drink another 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise
During exercise
  • Goal: Prevent a >2% loss in body weight
  • Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes when exercising greater than 60 mins
  • Do not drink more than one quart/hour during exercise (32 fluid ounces)
After exercise
  • Goal: Fully replace fluid and electrolyte deficits
  • Drink 20-24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every one pound lost

While there is no guaranteed solution for how to handle being out in the elements, making wise informed decisions is the key to success.  Spend the time to inform yourself of the conditions that you are going to be exposed to during your event, and make sure to account for them in your plan.  Just like in fueling in general, waiting until you "need it" will put yourself into a hole that is nearly impossible to dig yourself out of.   

Thursday, June 19, 2014

2014 Ride 4 Animal Care

For the second year, TeamFS has sponsored a charity ride to benefit Animal Care, a Greenville County rescue organization that helps find pets new forever homes.  Several friends and I learned last year that this is a very challenging ride, even on the shorter 40 mile route, but a chance to ride up one of my favorite climbs in the upstate gives me reason to come back each year.

The Ride 4 Animal Care has several good climbing sections, but the main feature is a chance to climb Green River Cove. describes Green River Cove as "[o]ne of the toughest climbs of the area is covered by trees and has 17 tight switchbacks. "   While the climb is much shorter than some of the other local riding attractions, this one is quite well known for those 17 switchbacks.  During the summer months it can be even more challenging because the Green River is a popular tubing and kayaking spot in the upstate as well.

rendering of Green River Cove from

Before you can experience Green River Cove, you have to get there.  The ride started at the North Greenville University stadium in Tigerville, SC.  Last year we had an early climb up Callahan Mountain, but because of construction work earlier in the week, the route was changed to bypass that climb and go out Dividng Waters road toward the Greenville Watershed. Most of the riders doing the 40 and 60 mile routes were not upset over this change, as we had plenty of climbing to experience without the extra from Callahan.
At the start time the temperatures were in the mid-60's, although we all knew that this wouldn't last through the day.  As we climbed up the Greenville watershed, the sun was just starting to peek through the treelines, making for some terrific views.

views on the watershed in the morning
Once through Saluda the group I was with worked up to the rest stop where the 40 mile route split from the 60 mile route, and took a break.  One of the big things that I'm still working on with these bigger rides is taking enough of a break to recover before attempting to move on.  Once I get on the bike, I get into a zone where I really don't want to stop.  Getting a rest and recovery is vital, though.  Once I had a banana and some rest time, it was off to head down Holbert's Cove.

Holbert's cove is probably one of the most technical and challenging long stretches of road that I have ridden.  The terrain mixes in hard rollers, with gradients over 15% and hard turns.  It also affords some picturesque views that are sometimes hard to take in an enjoy.

The most technical area of Holbert's Cove is about 3/4 of the way down from Saluda, and is a rather sharp right hand turn.  I've only encountered this turn twice, the first time being during a training ride for the Assault on Mt Mitchell in 2013.  I was already aware of how technical this turn is, and that you have to be careful of your speed as you approach it.  I got myself overly concerned about speed, and didn't get prepared for making the turn, so I overshot it, but was able to correct before heading off into the trees.  I felt very lucky that there were no oncoming cars as I got myself back onto my side of the road as quickly as possible.

Once past Holbert's Cove, you get into the long stretch of mostly flat riding that follows the Green River, knowing that at the end of this stretch is the moster that is known as Green River Cove.  You pass by the river cabins, kayaking locations, and tube rental camps, all set in a rustic setting.  The river looks calm and inviting, and you can see the mountains all around you.  The temperatures in the cove had yet to break 70 degrees, so the wind felt nice.  It leads you into a false sense of security with how serene it is. 

Once you pass over the Green River for the final time, the climbing starts.  With 17 switchbacks, measuring your efforts becomes critical.  The best part for me is that these switchbacks have numbers on each turn, giving me something to focus on during the climb.  Knowing how much of an effort is left allows me to dig deeper to keep going when you really just want to stop and take a long nap.  At the top of the climb is a short ride back to the rest stop in Saluda.  It was a welcome break, and one that I made sure to actually time to make sure I rested well enough before continuing on the route.  With 20 miles left to go, I didn't want to rush through this stop and regret it later in the ride.  After having a banana and refreshing both water bottles, I was on my way.

The last 20 miles of the ride follows the same route as the 40 mile version, going down the Saluda Grade and back up Fork Creek road.  The Saluda Grade is named for the section of road that follows the steepest segment of standard grade railroad line in the United States.  The road has wide sweeping turns, and is a fun section to ride down.  The climb up Fork Creek Road isn't very technical or steep, but with recent road work was a little hazardous in dealing with gravel in the road.  Near the middle of this section there is a fork in the road, and looking at the conditions I chose to take the slightly longer route that had less visible gravel.  I was quite glad that we were traveling up this section, instead of riding down it.  

The final segement of the ride was a trip back down the watershed, and then riding back to Tigerville.  The route takes you past George Hincapie's new resort, Hotel Domistique, finishing up on Chinquapin Road.  It happens that my family was working the rest station that was located in the parking lot of the Hotel, so I made one final stop to fill up water bottles and say hello before riding back in.  

Totally 67 miles and almost 6000' of climbing, the Ride 4 Animal Care is definitely a challenging route, and one that I look forward to riding again next year.  Each year Vince and the TeamFS folks are learning how to improve the event, and I'm sure it will be even more spectacular next year.  Personally I hope that they decide to add event numbers, as they are great souvenirs, if not having an optional medal that can be given to people that complete the full 67mi event.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Avoiding Derailments

This is going to be a bit of a "double entendre" post, although the message really is the same for me. With just over 6 weeks left before the Ride to Remember, it's important for me to remember that the goal is not to just "go fast", but I'm preparing for a big effort in an event situation. This means being smart about my training and avoid unneeded injury. At this point I'm not going to make any major jumps in fitness before RtR. I have to listen to my body, and not necessarily push through pain. While Jens Voigt is famously known for the saying "Shut up Legs", I need mine to tell me where I am. Last month I took on a large increase in volume, as part of testing where I was fitness-wise for the Ride to Remember. My time in the saddle, as well as my mileage, ballooned well beyond what I had been doing previously this year. While I'm glad that I was able to complete several challenges, a first for me on Strava, it also came with a lot of risks. My knees already are a weak spot for me. By pushing myself above my previous training volume, I risked aggrevating old injuries on my patellar tendons. Typically it just means tendonitis, and being uncomfortable while riding for longer distances, or doing a lot of climbing. As a precaution, I'm following the "R.I.C.E." strategy (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), minus compression. Stretching and quality time with my foam roller to keep everything limber will be on the schedule as well. I have two events this month that I'm intending to do (Ride 4 Animal Care, Bee Buzzin' Bicycle Tour), along with one last super long training ride scheduled for the end of the month.

Approaching SRT tracks

The other side of not derailling my efforts is making smart decisions on the bike. This means not taking unnecessary risks, especially around railroad tracks. I learned the hard way late last year that tracks are not something to toy with. I was lucky that my injuries were minor, and I was able to ride away. If you talk to folks that have been riding for a while, a majority have stories to tell about railroad tracks. Works like "fracture" or "crack" are often used in combination with "clavical or hip". Just this spring I've had multiple friends end up off the bike for extended periods of time while their injuries heal. These are folks with tens of thousands of miles on the bike; I've riden with them on events like the Assault on Mt Mitchell. These aren't novice riders that didn't know how to handle tracks. 

After my encounter, I felt like I had just been body slammed by a professional wrestler. One moment I was crossing the tracks, the next I was picking myself off the ground. There wasn't a moment of "I'm going to fall" or "oh this is going to hurt". Anything that happened between when my wheel caught the rail and I went down was done purely on instinct. I had to have landed on my right arm, as it was tender for several weeks afterwards. If I had more time, I probably would have had worse injuries, as I probably would have attempted to put my arm out to brace myself.

After my tumble I take a lot different attitude towards tracks: unless I'm confident that I have a good angle to cross (close to, if not, perpendicular), and the conditions are good, I'll unclip and cross with one foot on the ground. Folks probably think I'm out of my mind when I reach the tracks on the Swamp Rabbit, but I unclip every time I cross those. The angle is poor, and the spacers are wooden (and thus have a chance to be rotten). The honest truth is this - I've been on an almost constant training routine for almost 3 years now, between just getting into shape and preparing for various rides. I don't need to take the risk that today is the day that the tracks are a little bit slippery, or my judgement is off on what angle is going to get my wheels safely over the gaps. No Strava segment, or draft advantage in a group ride, is worth being sidelined waiting for bones to mend.