Heat Exhaustion

Every now and then I do something colossally stupid that probably ought to kill me but I somehow luck my way through and survive. Saturday was one of those days.

Friday night, I succumbed to temptation and ordered pizza (which is certainly not on my training menu), and Domino’s at that (which, if one has to cheat, is really the worst way to do it). When I woke up Saturday morning to get ready for my ride, I felt like I’d still just eaten 10 minutes ago. I tried to eat some pasta to get some clean carbs in me, but I only managed half a bowl, plus an apple. That’s really not a good way to start a 60 mile ride.

Complicating matters was that I was going to be riding with Steve, a Category 3 cyclist friend of mine (that is to say, fast). I knew I had no chance of keeping up, but I didn’t factor in the slight psychological push his mere presence would give me.  We ended up completing the first half of my usual route much faster than I usually do alone. We stopped so he could refill his water bottles, and that’s when I noticed I didn’t feel very good.

It wasn’t an especially ‘hot’ day, but it was certainly warmer than we’d had so far this year, and it was still climbing. Plus, I don’t think I was paying as much attention to my nutrition and hydration as I usually do. I was terribly thirsty (from the super salty pizza), but my gut was feeling full the whole ride, so every time I took a drink I felt like I was forcing it in. All this, plus pushing myself harder than normal up some very steep hills, meant I had totally overheated.  I felt nauseous and weak, and would have been all too happy to have been home right then and there.

As it was, though, we were already half-way through the ride, so it was going to be about the same distance home whether we followed my route or not. We continued, and as the temperature rose, I kept feeling worse and worse. I was sucking down as much Cytomax as I could stand, and we stopped several times so I could cool off in the grass for a few minutes. Steve kept assuring me that this happened to everyone at some point, which was nice, as I felt like a total schmuck.

The last half hour or so was the worst of it. It was now over 80 degrees, the hot asphalt was reflecting the heat back up at us, and we had precious little tree cover. Plus, it was uphill. We finally made it back to the start, and Steve recommended a protein shake and a cold shower to try to get my temperature down.  He started packing up while I went inside to do just that!

The shower felt ok, I guess, but by then I was too brain fogged to care. I grabbed a big bottle full of cold water, turned the fan on, and laid down for a nap. I was only able to sleep about 90 minutes, as I had a couple things I had to take care of before the stores closed. Getting myself back out of bed was almost impossible, but I managed it. An hour later, errands completed, I was right back in bed and feeling even worse.

I was drinking as much water as I could, but it didn’t seem to be helping. My body felt on fire one minute and frozen the next. Every time I stood up I immediately broke out in a full body sweat and felt my temperature drop 10 degrees. I couldn’t think straight and everything hurt, but I knew if I kept pounding water I’d get through it.

I hadn’t eaten anything since my meager breakfast that morning, plus a handful of energy gels and Perpetuem during the ride. I figured that wasn’t good, but every time I thought about food, my stomach would roll upside down and give me the finger. I even had a little back-of-the-throat vomit at one point, which I desperately hoped wouldn’t escalate, as I doubted I’d make it to the bathroom in time.

At some point during all of this, I must have blacked out, because when I woke up around 3am, the bed was soaked, and it wasn’t just sweat. Yuck. I was able to stand long enough to get the sheet off and into the hamper, then I laid down on the dry side and went back to sleep.

At 4:30am, I felt strong enough to try for some food. I made it to the kitchen and refilled my water bottle. I sprayed some butter flavored pam on a piece of bread (I didn’t have the patience to wait for toast), threw on some honey and grabbed a plum.  Then the world started closing in on me and I had to sit down, which I managed to do with plate and bottle in hand. This turned into laying down on the kitchen floor, where I managed not to pass out. After a few minutes I grabbed the plum and took a bite.


I tell you, that was the best damn plum I’ve ever had in my whole damn life! I had to eat it very, very slowly, as I could feel my stomach wasn’t as convinced of its awesomeness as my taste buds were. By the time I finished it, I’d recovered enough to stand again, and I made it back to the bedroom. I ate half the bread, chugged some more water and went back to sleep.

As the morning wore on I steadily improved. I progressed to toast with peanut butter and honey, and downed a couple glasses of Gatorade. I think the salt and sugar kicked my brain back into gear, and I started perking up. Granted, I was still sleeping between chugs of water, but I no longer felt like I was dying.

By 1pm or so, I decided to try taking a shower. That went well, so I tried packing a bag for the drive the Pullman that I had originally planned to make at 10 that morning. By the time the packing was done, I was still vertical, and continuing to feel better and better, so I went ahead and started my trek across the state. I still needed to get more solids in my gut, though, so I picked up some Saltines.

By the time I got to Pullman, I’d gone through almost all the Saltines (which are full of HFCS, btw, and should never, ever be eaten except when nauseous or trapped under an avalanche), a big bottle of Gatorade, two big water bottles, and half a Muscle Milk (gross, but I needed the protein). My gut was still doing the mambo, but I was able to keep down a small plate of dinner. My appetite slowly improved over the course of the next 48 hours, as I downed several  gallons of water and tentatively tried an ever-widening range of food.

So, basically, I was very, very lucky. I should have gone to the emergency room, and would have, but by the time I realized how serious my condition was, I was no longer in such serious condition. Lessons learned:

  • No matter how much the taste may have improved, Domino’s is still just as evil as ever, and shouldn’t be eaten. Make a damn Boboli next time, but not the night before a big ride!
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! By the time you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Drink at least a bottle an hour.
  • [ this ]* is how hard I’m allowed to push myself in heat that I’m not acclimated to
  • If I’m feeling [ this ]* crappy half way through a ride, I’ll swallow my pride and call a cab to get home. Finishing isn’t worth 3 days of torment and nearly dying.
  • If I’m feeling [ this ]* awful, I’m going to the emergency room for an IV and observation.

(* a subjective level that has now been established in my own head)

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