Weekend Training: Heat Headaches and a Glimpse Into My Future

It’s absolutely stupid that we live without an ozone layer. We have men, we’ve got rockets, we’ve got saran wrap – fix it!”
– Lewis Black

I could feel the headache start behind my eyes and worm it’s way up to consume my entire forehead over the course of 5 miles. Soon the throbbing would start and it wouldn’t stop for 36 hours.

On July 4, 2012, I set out to complete a training ride in preparation for RTYD I. I scheduled myself for 75 miles. I don’t remember the exact time I left, but it was mid-morning and the temperature was already over 90 degrees. The heat index would hit 104 that day. I would stop several times just to cool off in the shade, one stop lasting for thirty minutes, me just laying on a picnic bench, trying to stave off the throbbing. I wound up cutting the ride short, turning the 75 miles into 54 with a focus on just making it back to my parents’ house in Kennedy, NY.

I lived alone during this time, the wife taking up residence in Manhattan (Not Manhattan, KS, mind you), so making it home was imperative. When I finally got to the house, I collapsed on the bed, ate half a protein bar and fell asleep. The headache wouldn’t dissipate at all the next day. I would talk with D later that week and find out that he too went out on a training ride and was so overcome by the heat that he was starting to see things at the corners of his eyes as he pedaled home.

Fast forward to this weekend’s batch of riding and gone are the days of pouring rain and shivering, entering instead into 91-degree days. The two rides this weekend were my first foray into hot weather for the year and it crushed me a bit. Luckily, I learned from the experiences of 2012 was able to recover somewhat from Day 1 to Day 2.


The Heat


On Saturday, I got up and took my time eating and getting ready, not leaving the house until 8:15. I had a nice bike route planned taking the Cedar Rapids Trail, which I had never been on before. I aimed to get in at least a hundred miles with a loftier goal of 120. I didn’t really notice the heat until around noon or so and even then, it was a mere annoyance. By mile 70, I felt that creeping, seeping feeling again behind my eyes and knew that was that, I was in big trouble. Once the creeping starts, it’s inevitable the headache will set in. The only remaining question is how bad it will be. I immediately adjusted my goal and my route to get me home in the shortest distance possible.


The weather app and I have a very contested relationship (perhaps I should say heated relationship here for the pun points). I didn’t really consider the heat as being an obstacle because the app told me the temperature would be in the low 80s with a chance of rain. In fact, I packed my rain gear in my backpack, worried more about another weekend like the Wisconsin weekend than the heat. As a result of my nonchalance, I applied sunscreen but didn’t bring the bottle with me and I brought my normal amount of water (more on that later). My wife wound up driving out to Mount Vernon to bring me some more water and more sunscreen because she was worried about the heat and sun.

I did bring enough food, but one thing that happens in the heat is you do not want to eat anything, and definitely not dry granola. You have to eat and you have to eat maybe more than normal because of the heat and so you shove the food in and try to ignore your churning stomach.

The Carnival

Saturday’s ride marks the third street fair/carnival I have had to get off of my bike for in order to walk through crowds of people, the other two occurring during RTYD I and RTYD II. What was weird about this carnival was that the bike path cut right through it, yet no markers were placed to indicate to the carnival goers to watch out. As a result, the area was crowded by a bunch of people walking perpendicular to 8 cyclists trying to wade their way through. I was on the fringes of this one while passing through Cedar Rapids, experiencing mostly a random dude with a sign and microphone and speaker expressing his opinion that I repent my sins without providing any evidence of his particular stance.

The Trail

The best part of the ride was the Cedar Rapids Trail. In fact, while I was on it, I was considering doing some similar ride the following day so I could get on the trail again (that thought occurred pre-headache). The only issue with any trail is the start and stop nature of the ride. When you are riding on a highway, you have the right of way at every intersection so you can go miles without a need to stop for a stop sign or a traffic light. On a bike trail, every intersection is going to require a stop. This leads to more short bursty riding with little chance to get a rhythm. However, the lack of traffic does balance out the drawbacks a bit. I will be hitting up this trail again very soon (probably next weekend).


My standard operating procedure for fluid on these training rides has been one 24oz. bottle of Gatorade with a 20oz. backup, a 24oz. bottle of water, and a 3-liter hydration pack. The 24oz. water bottle serves as backup for the hydration pack. The only issue with this setup is that my hydration pack has been malfunctioning almost since I bought it. Instead of being able to unlock the valve and drink when I want, I need to relock after every drink because when in the unlocked position, water will just stream out of the tube. Unlocking and relocking is also quite difficult because of how stiff the mechanism is. It requires me to yank on the valve with my teeth to unlock. All of this yanking caused the entire thing to break during Saturday’s ride, making the pack completely useless. Even with the pack though, I needed to stop twice (one stop by my wife, one by me) to get more water and Gatorade. This has me thinking about the July ride and whether or not a hydration pack is necessary. More on that later.

The Recovery

The headache started with over 30 miles to go and I started to worry about being able to make it home. I kept in contact with my wife (until her phone died) and just kept drinking water as frequently as I could, counting down the miles.

When I finally got home, I just sat on the stairs in the cool air for a few minutes, trying to get my body temperature down. Then I went upstairs and weighed myself. I also weigh myself every morning when I get up because 1) I love data and I want all the data points I can get and 2) I can use that morning’s weigh-in to see how much weight I lost during the ride. The answer was nearly four pounds. At my weigh-in that morning, that meant over 2% of my body weight. The standard rule for exercise is don’t lose more than 2% body weight. So I drank some Gatorade, some water, some milk, and I began prepping dinner before taking a cool shower.

I knew from that July 4th ride that I needed to consume a bunch more fluid and food than I did that particular day. I am fairly certain that the reason the July 4th headache stayed for so long was because I did almost nothing to help it. I didn’t take any medication and I didn’t drink enough fluid or eat enough food to get me back to baseline. I just laid down and effectively passed out. On Saturday, I made sure to take more preventative measures, including the use of Excedrin Migraine to try and knock out the headache as soon as possible because unlike that July 4th ride, I needed to saddle up on Sunday and try to get at least 75 miles in. The recovery went about as well as it could, all things considered.


I should have gotten up early and left as soon as possible to bike in the cooler temperatures because the app was telling me mid 80s, which means the temperatures would hit 91 again. Instead, I shut off the 5:27 alarm and kept sleeping, wanting to make sure I was as rested as possible before setting out. I wouldn’t leave the house until 9:43. Mistakes were made, as they say.

Food and Water

Given that my hydration pack went and got all broked up, I had to set out with a new hydration plan (psst…I got a good hydration plan!). I had my 24oz. water bottle, two 20oz. Gatorades, two other 20oz. bottles of water, and a handy dandy #thanksmom insulated bottle for emergencies. My thought for this ride was that in 90-degree heat, I have about 10 minutes before everything I bring fluid-wise is hot instead of the desired cold.

Indeed, I filled up the 24oz. water bottle almost entirely with ice and within five miles, it was all warm and gross. So, instead of bringing a ton of fluid, just stop more and get fresh, cold supplies. With sights on the long ride, this may be even more important because one big factor of the upcoming long ride is weight. I will need to carry more supplies than just food and water and almost every pound I bring will be placed on my back. Instead of having 30-60% of that weight consist of fluid, I can cut that percentage down and rely instead on my 20-mile gas station stops to get new, cold fluid.

For Sunday’s ride, I only needed one stop because of the short distance. I think moving forward on these training rides (next weekend is supposed to be even hotter), I will need to test more ideas to reduce weight and increase stops to get cold water instead of scorched water.

IMG_20170604_184102Back to the handy dandy insulated bottle for one second. I did not end up needing the water in there (it cannot hold very much). It sat in my bag in direct sunlight for six hours and when I took it out and tried some, the water was still nice and cold.

For food, eating was still a challenge in the heat. I made an attempt to shove more calories into me by getting a chocolate milk at my stop. That didn’t sit well. I am not sure if anything sits well in hot temperatures but I’ll need to keep testing to figure out the best foods in the heat. #beettheheet


One unexpected thing to happen on this trip was a nice 10-mile jaunt with company. I stopped 10 miles into the ride to grab a new water bottle to refill the 24oz. bottle and re-apply sunscreen and a cyclist rode past on 500th street.

I was able to catch up to him, but instead of breezing past, I slowed and asked how far he was going that day. He was planning on 70 miles and we talked about all sorts of things for those ten miles. We talked about his ride across the Mississippi coming up next weekend and whether or not I would be doing RAGBRAI this year. He urged me to attend, even for a just a day, to see the carnival that is the ride. He even mentioned one year when a Marine decided to run the event instead of ride it. As I told him, any time I think I am an endurance athlete, these stories are enough to put me back in my place.

He provided yet another unsolicited compliment on my uncle’s Centurion, saying, “They don’t make them like that anymore.”

We talked about my training and my plans for the big ride and we talked about how he is lucky to get any time on the bike in with four kids. He is pretty much what I hope to be when I get near 50: a dude with a bunch of kids who still enjoys going out for a quick 70-mile ride.

Headache, Part II

I designed Sunday’s route to allow me to be close to home in case the headache came back with a vengeance. I would have loved to get 100 miles done but I set the route for 85 and wound up only doing 75 because I could feel the headache coming back by about the 40-mile mark. I think one reason the heat headache didn’t start until later in the ride on Saturday was because of a slightly earlier start and time spent on the trails, which provided some tree cover. On Sunday’s ride, I think one mile out of the 75 was done in any sort of shade. Iowa just does not have trees anywhere. When you are out, you are in direct sunlight the entire time.

The Great Cycle Challenge

Great cycle challenge donation week 1Great cycle challenge mileage week 1

The most important part of the weekend was starting towards my goal of 1,000 miles in the Great Cycle Challenge to benefit children’s cancer research. I already reached my initial donation goal of $500 by the first day of the challenge, adjusting it to a goal of $1,000, and I am nearly a quarter of the way done with the mileage goal after the first weekend. Even with the slightly-lower-than-desired mileage output this weekend, the website says I am ranked 1st in the state for miles ridden thus far. The pressure is on to keep that status for as long as possible.

Looking Ahead

This month is the biggest month for miles I have left before the big ride. I’ll put in some century rides in July, but my focus will also be on recovery and, going into the week of July 18th, as close to full strength as possible. For the rest of June, I have to get used to a few things including more heat training. I also need to get used to back-to-back 100-mile days. I have the next three weekends tentatively scheduled thusly:

  • Weekend 2: 100 and 100
  • Weekend 3: 125 and 100
  • Weekend 4: 150 and 100

I also need to get used to getting up earlier. I want to start adjusting my sleep schedule now and get on the road by 5 or 6am for the next few rides and keep moving that start time earlier and earlier so I am ready for a 4am departure come the big ride in July. I think the earlier morning start will be important as a measure to battle the heat as well.

Odds ‘N’ Ends

  • Only two hecklers all weekend, each unfamiliar with the Doppler effect.
  • Saw more cyclists out this weekend than any previous weekend, including a dude in speedo.
  • I had a friendly lady at one convenience store ask me several questions about my ride, wishing me luck as she finished her lunch break.
  • My Garmin watch died near the end of Sunday’s ride, so the map is split into two and is missing some small amount of mileage in between.

4 responses to “Weekend Training: Heat Headaches and a Glimpse Into My Future

  1. Hello! Miranda from the Great Cycle Challenge just dropping by to say, what a fantastic job you are doing! We are cheering you on every mile and want to thank you for all your dedication and hard work! We are so proud of you! Rock Star ; )


  2. Pingback: Weekend Training: Practice in the Headwind | Doctor of Cycology·

  3. Pingback: Month in Review: June ’17 | Doctor of Cycology·

  4. Pingback: Weekend Training: Punctuated Practice and Paranoid Planning | Doctor of Cycology·

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