Heat exhaustion during the 4th of July Watermelon Bike Ride

Mike, Tammy and Mari at the Watermelon Ride rest stop

Last week, on Thursday, July 4th, my dear friend Tammy and I joined up and participated in the Twin Cities Bicycle Club TCBC Watermelon Bike Ride event. We decided to be brave and go for it, and do the 52 mile route. I had done 49 miles at the Hope in Motion ride just a few weeks earlier, so I was hoping I had it in me to do 52 miles.

The day was very sunny and HOT!!! The humidity was over 70% and the dew point was also super high. I brought my little cooler in my car so that I would have cold water after the ride. Plus, I always like to keep a fresh bottle of insulin, just in case. I had plenty of snacks with me and I had two full bottles of liquid – one of Skratch Labs nutrition and one of water with a Nuun tablet, for extra sodium. I figured since it was an organized ride, there would be stops along the route for more water.

These patriotic ladies from Austin, MN inspired us!

Tammy, Mike and I set out at about 8:30AM, ready to do both loops of the route, which would take us around a few beautiful lakes and result in 52 miles. Mike was going to do the first loop and meet us for lunch and lots of watermelon at the end of the ride. The three of us had a wonderful first 16 or so miles, when we arrived at the first (and only) rest stop. We refilled our empty water bottles, had a few snacks and socialized with the other riders.

We got back on our bikes and Tammy and I headed off on the second loop. After about 8 miles we realized there wouldn’t be another rest stop until we made it all the way around the second loop, which would be 27 miles in all. We were both feeling good, so we weren’t worried.

What snuck up on us as we kept peddling and laughing, was that we weren’t paying close attention to how much we were eating and drinking. At about mile 37, it hit Tammy that she hadn’t eaten anything since the rest stop. I had just started noticing that I was feeling slightly dizzy. The few times I’ve gotten dizzy on my bike have all been related to heat exhaustion. Apparently my body doesn’t manage heat all that well, especially if I don’t pay close, close attention to my hydration, which on this ride, I had not been doing.

Tammy wisely insisted we pull over at a corner and eat and assess. As soon as I got off my bike, the dizziness got so bad I was certain I might pass out. I quickly sat down and put my head between my legs. Luckily that immediately helped. After about ten minutes, I felt ready to stand up again. Our water bottles were super close to empty, so not enough extra water to pour over my head. I used my bit of water to drink, and increase my hydration. I actually felt thirsty, which is a dead give-away to being too far behind in the hydration plan. Thankfully, my blood sugar was stable.

When I stood up, I again got really dizzy. So down I sat again. We were on a rural corner, near a highway and a frontage road. By this point, Tammy had rescued a duck mama and her five or so babies from being run over, and she had prevented a motorcyclist from being hit by a huge truck. Additionally, she decided it was time to call the SAG vehicle to come get us. That was a good call. It wasn’t until I’d been in the air conditioned car with the cool air blasting on me for about ten minutes that I started to feel better.

The SAG driver happened to be the Watermelon Ride main organizer, and he agreed to take us directly to the after-ride lunch. Tammy and I were hungry and looking forward to some cold watermelon! We met up with Mike again and after we ate a yummy lunch, we had it in us to ride the two miles back to our cars.

Tammy and I didn’t ride 52 miles, but the 40 miles we did ride were a success, despite the nutrition and hydration challenges we faced.

My key learnings from this heat exhaustion ride are:

  • When the humidity and heat are high, carry 3 water bottles, just in case
  • When the humidity and heat are high, bring extra Nuun tablets
  • Set timers and be SURE to drink a full water bottle every hour
  • Pay attention to dizziness – it’s a warning!
  • Review the nutrition plan BEFORE every ride, and plan to eat as I ride!

I’ve got a few more long rides planned this summer and I will be ready, heat and humidity and all! A big shout out of appreciation to Tammy for your wisdom and help!

What about you? Do you have heat challenges?

Please tell me what you do!! Thanks!

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8 thoughts on “Heat exhaustion during the 4th of July Watermelon Bike Ride”

  1. As a member of the Safety and Wellness Committee for a state agency whose personnel spends most of its time outside in the South, I have done copious research on heat related illness.
    It takes the average person 5-7 days of progressively lengthened exposure to the heat to become acclimated. Elderly and overweight persons take longer and may never get acclimated. If you suffer from heat exhaustion once, you are more prone to it in the future. I rode 58 miles on Saturday morning with temps starting at 84 degrees and finishing at 93 degrees, very little shade, and RH in the 65%+ range. I had 3 liters of water with one fillup opportunity at mile 18, and that was it until I got back to my car. No Nuun, unfortunately. I did have an Adkins bar. I drank close to a gallon of water. Bear in mind that I work outside most days, although we usually come in in early afternoon this time of year. I felt find during and after the ride. When I got home that evening, I could tell I was dehydrated and my electrolytes were out of balance. I had another liter of water with a Nuun tablet. I was pretty beat on Sunday; there was no way I could have ridden another 50+ miles. I just hope it is not that hot when we ride the OCET from Cincinnati to Cleveland in August.

    • Cabe,
      WOW, this is great info and I so totally get it about the body needing a few days to recover from heat exhaustion! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!

  2. I get it Mari, I have had similar experiences. Summer here in the Pacific Northwest can be hot and humid. I have had heat exhaustion problems in the past, having type 2 doesn’t help. I now use a 2 liter camelback and have two bottles on the bike as well. I keep plain water in the pack and I use Nuun in one or both bottles. Sometimes the rest stops are not as close as one would like.

    • John,
      Good work on carrying water and water with the amazing Nuun tablets!!! Those of us with the D do have temperature regulation challenges. Thanks for sharing your story!
      You inspire me!

  3. It’s hot and humid here too. Being on Lake Ontario, sometimes the cool breezes off the lake can fool you. I have to keep reminding myself to drink water when I am out. So glad you got the help you needed.

    • Hi Cathy!
      Yes, breezes can fool us! And yes, having a system to remember to drink on a regular basis while exercising is essential!!!

  4. Be extra careful with the heat and water! I read a science article a year or two ago that indicated that people with diabetes tend to have bodies that don’t regulate body temperature as well as other people and can be affected by the warming expected with climate change. Stay hydrated and cool off in the shade if necessary.

    • Thanks Donna for your wise words of advice! I would say that’s true about my body that has diabetes! I am learning AGAIN the importance of paying good attention to my hydration and staying as cool as possible!!

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