Friday, July 29, 2011

Beating the Heat

Remember Snowmageddon? *sigh*

Last week the heat index managed to make it up to a staggering 121F.  Today it's at a "mere" 108F. Was I on my bike? You betcha.

How do you survive when it feels like your eyeballs might melt?

-Stay out of the heat if you can. Seriously. Whenever the heat index reaches 110, I opt to stay in air-conditioning as much as possible. Of course there are times when I have to ride my bike (commuting, work), but I keep it short, and I leave myself plenty of time to take frequent breaks. Heat exhaustion/stroke is no joke, and it can creep on you before you know it. I'm usually okay with anything below 110.

-Know where your cooling center/locations are. Whether its an "official" cooling center (like the Reeves Center at 14th & U), or that Starbucks with the amazing air-conditioning, keep in mind places that you can duck into if you get overwhelmed with the heat. Spray parks are good for this too (in my neighborhood there is a spray fountain at 15th & Girard, 14th & Girard and Tivoli Plaza). PLEASE DO NOT OPEN FIRE HYDRANTS! I haven't seen this yet this summer, so that's a good thing.

-Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion/stroke. If you experience nausea, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, get inside ASAP and get cool.  If you have stopped sweating, get chills, or feel confusion, call 911. Folks, please don't play around with these symptoms.

-Wear appropriate clothing. Light, moisture-wicking material is best. There's a reason why cyclists wear lycra. It's not just to show off their sponsors. Anything that will let air circulate on your skin is great. Keep a hand towel in your bag so you can wipe away sweat, and consider wearing a bandana of some kind under your helmet to keep the sweat from dripping in your eyes. Carrying an icepack isn't a bad idea either, although it probably won't last long.

-Hydration. I know everyone keeps saying "hydrate, hydrate & hydrate"--and that's always good advice. I like to keep a bottle of water on my bike, as well as a frozen bottle of homemade vegetable/fruit juice. (I make the juice the night before and stick in the freezer overnight. It thaws throughout the day.) You could also do that with your water bottle as well. And remember--SIP your water, don't gulp it. For longer rides or on days where I am sweating a ton, I will mix up a bottle of half gatorade/half water. Get those electrolytes in! (Coconut water is also good for that, and it doesn't have all that sugar that gatorade has).

If you have a smartphone, you can download the TapIt app that will show you businesses that will allow you to refill your water bottle for free.

However, be mindful of how much water you are drinking. Stay with me while I tell you this story:

Just over 7 years ago, I was still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was out of college and completely lost as to what my life should be. I thought I knew what I wanted to do (criminal policy wonk), but my experience with actually working in that environment quickly disabused me of that notion (NO MOAR CUBICLES EVERRRRR). I had a good circle of friends at that time, and it was through them that I met someone that would set me on the path I am now.

His name was Jim, and he was a brand new recruit with the Metropolitan Police Department. I didn't know him very well; he was more of a friend of a friend but we corresponded semi-regularly through group emails. Jim was a very good story-teller, and it was through his stories of adventures with MPD that I figured out what I wanted to do. Jim very kindly offered to walk me through the process of joining, and even offered a referral. About a year later, I too was a recruit with MPD--although by this time Jim had long since graduated and went on to become Rookie of the Year at the 1st District.

Did I mention he was amazing? Not only did he manage to make Rookie of the Year, but he was going through law school AT THE SAME TIME. If you know how insanely time-consuming being a rookie on the Metropolitan Police Department at that time was, you would realize what an impossible feat he was accomplishing.

One of the things that Jim really wanted was to become a Mountain Bike Patrol Officer.  At that time, being a Mountain Bike Patrol Officer was a coveted position. Demand was so high that training was very difficult to receive (the training class is only offered so often). Jim begged and begged and begged to get into that training, and finally got in the class.

The class is 40 hours (5 days, 8 hours each) of a variety of classroom & practical exercises including endurance & technical training. It was a training that was well-known for being very tough (the only thing tougher was ERT (aka SWAT) training, really). Not everyone that took the class was able to pass it. Jim really wanted to pass it.

It was a super hot August in 2005. I was nearing the end of my time as a recruit in the academy. Jim was starting his training class for Mountain Bike certification.

Jim posted this entry in his blog:

So today was my first of five days in mountain bike school.

It hurt.

It was hard.

It was full of rain, mud, scapes, crashes, bumps, brusies, sun burn, and pain.

And it was a damn lot of fun.

The first thing we did was the usual administrative nonsense (sign this, write that, read this, agree to A B and C etc.), then we learned how to work and do basic maintence on our Smith and Wesson bikes. Then we went riding. We tackled small hills (and at the begining, before I figured out how the gears work, I couldnt do even small hills), then long rides, then hills again. Hills suck, but the long rides were fun. I believe I drank over 7 liters of water all told... and I was still wanting for more towards the last half of the ride (Monica you thought the 3 liter camelback was to big!)

After my intial gear working issues I def kept pace with the group. They tell you when you start the class that its all mental... and it is. I refuse to fail, and so far I've been doing well. Will power and gel pads. I'm not sure when gel pads became the rage, but I found shorts with gel pads and gloves with gel pads, both of which def helped with my overall post-class comfort.

Tommorrow: Big hills.
(bold emphasis is mine)

The next day I was in the middle of learning Defensive Tactics when an instructor came into the gym and informed us that an officer had fallen ill during a training class and was in ICU. He had fallen into a coma. I didn't know at the time that it was Jim.

According to people in the class, Jim had started feeling ill half-way through a ride. Jim being Jim, he decided to tough it out. Figuring he was dehydrated, he kept drinking more water.

Another officer in the class had an accident and blew out his knee. An ambulance had been called to take him to the hospital. While the paramedics were dealing with him, Jim started to have convulsions. The paramedics acted quickly and got him to the hospital, but it was too late. Jim had already slipped into a coma. A few days later he was gone.

What happened? Jim had suffered from hyponatremia. You can read the specifics about it by following the link, but basically it is a condition where the sodium levels are too low in the blood stream causing the cells of the body (including the brain) to swell.  This can occur where a person drinks too much water and dilutes the sodium in their body. This is what happened to Jim.

Why am I telling you this story? Jim was a pretty tough guy. But once this condition set in, it got him. It can happen *so quickly*. Please, please don't play around with heat illness, guys. No one is going to think you are wimp for not doing that 25 mile bike ride on a day with a 120 heat index. You are not going to gain 15lbs because you didn't run 5K during your lunch hour. Be smart. Use common sense. If you start to feel ill, STOP.

If you want to hear how Jim's death had a positive aspect, read this story. Fate is sometimes kind. I take comfort in the fact that Jim died doing something he was passionate about; an opportunity very few of us will ever have.

On a side note: Jim's was the very first line-of-duty death where I knew the fallen officer personally. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last. His funeral was amazing & devastating at the same time. I know deep in my heart that he would have done amazing things for this city. He may be gone, but he's never forgotten.

If you must ride/run, do it in the early hours while it is still (relatively) cool. That's what I did last week. It was great.

Do you guys have any tips for beating the heat? Don't forget about your bikes---the heat gets to them too. Poor Betty's tassles were melting a bit after being left outside all day last week. Oops.

**** I managed to participate in BicycleSPACE's I Street Social Ride last Thursday and it was awesome! They do it every Thursday night, so join in!

****I have a blog on the 15th St. cycletrack brewing, but I haven't been able to finish it.

***** I'm trying to incorporate more early-morning rides. I've been mostly focusing on Hains Point, but I think I might try some trails as well.

***I visited some friends at their house on Kent Island last weekend. Their house is literally on the bike/ped trail that goes all around the island. How lucky is that?

***As always, twitter is usually the best place to get updates as to what I'm doing/where I'm riding. Follow me! girlonabikedc

***Also, keep in mind that the sentencing hearing has been moved to September!


  1. It still pisses me off that I TOLD HIM to cut his water with gatorade/pedialyte (via IM conversation) and he didn't do it.

    what a dumbass.

    I miss him so much.

  2. What a sad story. I have a couple related tales.

    At the encouragement of a friend I went on a water diet during freshman year in college. After a day and a half of forcing water down and eating next to nothing, I became violently ill. I shook like a leaf and couldn't stand without wobbling for two days. I had no idea how seriously ill I was.

    Fast forward 7 years. I moved from New England to DC for the summer of 1980, the hottest summer on record at the time. I never bothered to carry a water bottle up north. I went on a 60 mile ride on a hot and humid day without drinking. At 45 miles I was a mess. I stopped and drank bottle after bottle. It took me days to recover.

    I learned my lesson. Hot DC days are for going to the movies!

  3. Oh dear! I did that with the 50 States Ride last year. I underestimated how hot it was going to be, and I definitely didn't bring enough water. By the end I was suffering classic symptoms of heat exhaustion: nausea, dizziness & confusion. I kept getting lost and taking wrong turns at the end. That's why I finally gave up 5 miles before the end. It would have been foolish to keep going.

    I agree, hot days are the best days for going to the movies!

  4. K. C., for me heat exhaustion begins as drowsiness. I start yawning and my head starts to hand down. That long ago ride was fortunately on the C&O Canal. I was sleep-riding. I stopped at a grocery store on the way home and bought as much Gatorade as I could carry. When I got home I sat on my bed in my air conditioned dorm room and drank a couple of bottles and then fell fast asleep until the next morning. I staggered off to work and made it until 1 pm when I gave up and headed for home. I wasn't back to normal for several days. I was a 25-year old marathon runner but I was no match for the heat in DC.

  5. That's such a scary/sad story! Thanks for sharing. Its so easy to forget that water isn't the only thing you need in this kind of weather and its not worth over-doing it.

  6. Awful. And no one ever thinks it can happen to them, but you go from hot and bothered to confused and unable to think so quickly.
    NUUN is my go to - toss a fizzing tablet in your water bottle and it dissolves. Nice, mild almost Pez-like flavors, and ELECTROLYTES without the sugar.