Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pick your Poison. Hills, Heat, or Headwinds

Pick your Poison. Which adverse element causes you the most misery?

Sports scientists actually managed to quantify the degree to which heat and dehydration affects sports performance. Published in the sports journal entitled, Sport nutrition: an introduction to energy production, researchers claim becoming dehydrated by as much as five percent can lead to a reduced physical capacity of up to 30 percent.

If you read about me you know I was a runner before Iwas a cyclist. I am not sure how the chart below translates from running to cycling, but I found this very helpful when training. It just gives a baseline performance reduction as the temperature outside increases.

So what forecast makes you the most reluctant to even start your ride? 

If you know there are hills in today’s ride, or you look at the hill profile and see few hills but they are real doozies, do you just want to ask the SAG vehicle to tote you and your bike past the hills and you’ll take it from there?

What if the newscast was calling for 20 to 25 mile per hour winds out of the west and that is the direction you will be heading? And, oh yeah, the terrain is flat and you are surrounded by …..nothing? You are 100% vulnerable to Mother Nature.

Here’s another scenario. What if you are about to take a nice ride in the Midwest, surrounded by cornfields as far as the eye can see? The temperature in the morning is a nice 75⁰ F, there is not a cloud in the sky, but there is not a shade tree in sight either. And the temperature is rising steadily till it hits about 95⁰ by noon. You are sure someone will eventually find you and your bike morphed into one homogeneous puddle on the pavement.

We’ve all signed up for rides that sounded great at the time. Then the day comes along and we are asking ourselves “what was I thinking?” Do you forego the adventure? Or do you muster the energy to carry-on, shake your fist in the air and say as loud as you can (without looking like a total fool), “IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?!!!”

I have a hard time saying which is worst because I have fallen victim to each 
unforgiving element.

When I was somewhat new to cycling Velo Junkie signed us both up for the Hancock Horizontal Hundred, the flattest ride in the world. I might be exaggerating, but not by much. He thought if we
Hancoc Horizontal Hundred Hill Profile
took our Cannondale Tandem I might find it more enjoyable and the wind a little more tolerable. He could not have been more wrong. If you hate headwinds, don’t register for the Hancock Horizontal Hundred. Let me save you from yourself. It’s true that riding into a headwind is easier when you have the power of two peddlers, however, at some point you need to turn a corner. Now, instead of that streamlined vehicle cutting through the oncoming forces you become like a semi in a hurricane. At the end I didn’t feel accomplished, or empowered, or even gratified. I felt like someone could knock me over with a wet spaghetti. I thought my knees had genuinely become disengaged and I looked more like a marionette with loose strings than a cyclist. 

Then we decided to take a trip on the Katy Trail in 2011. The trip was planned, we had nice accommodations for each night of the ride, and we were meeting up with a couple of friends who  were going to ride with us. Did I mention our eleven year old daughter was going along? It was a self-supported trip and Velo was carrying the kiddo’s bags. Our trip was planned for June. If you don’t remember, 2011 was the year the Missouri River flooded and temperatures set records reaching triple digits*. 

The Katy Trail runs through a whole lot of corn fields for long stretches with little to no shade. What was really cool, though, was that we were riding the train from St. Charles to Sedalia, our starting point. A real rails to trails experience. As we were stepping off the train we realized we left our helmets and gloves in the car. A minor setback? Or an omen? The first day out Kiddo overheated. Luckily we were close enough to our destination that we could get her to the hotel and air conditioning. Our friends were meeting us in the next town and we were able to have them bring their car instead of taking the train. We made the best of it, but really, it was a disaster as far as cycling goes. Did I mention I had just torn the ligaments in my ankle and was riding with a brace and carrying my air cast with me? Kiddo hasn’t ridden a bike since this fateful trip. She has dubbed it “The Tour de Misery”.

Now hills are different all together. I can ride hills, especially if they are rolling. I do live in Cincinnati for heaven's sake. And you have to climb hills toget the best views. I've included a few shots fromatop som significant hills in the Peak District in England.  

My motto is “I’ve never met a hill I couldn’t walk”. Since I was a runner before I started cycling I cannot find any shame in walking up a long and steep hill. Quite honestly, walking beats falling over because you’re going too slow and then lying there like a turtle on its shell because you can’t get unclipped. So I think I would say hills are my least dreaded adverse condition. Rolling hills, OK. Long hills, not so much.

 I would vote that heat is the worst. Heat and headwinds together? The Reluctant Cyclist is not getting on the saddle. No way. No how.

*An unusually warm air mass established itself over Missouri during the first ten days of June with oppressive heat impacting the state and several high temperature records being broken. Temperatures averaged 8-10 degrees above normal during the period and it was the hottest June 1-10 period since 1934. Most locations experienced 90 degree plus temperatures on a daily basis and some locations in the Bootheel witnessed several days with triple digit heat.

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