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RAGBRAI Training: Dealing With Iowa Heat. DO Sweat It!

  • 19 June, 2018

By Coach David Ertl

As I sit here writing this, the BACooN RIDE is taking place.  It is 92 degrees, humid and windy. Perfect and typical RAGBRAI weather so this ride serves as good preparation for RAGBRAI.  So just how does a cyclist deal with this kind of heat when on RAGBRAI?  Iowa has a lot of corn and soybean fields and that means there aren’t a lot of trees to give you shade. That means you will spend miles out in full sun and wind, nothing to give you a break from the heat until you hit the next town.  The saving grace is that towns are spaced about 8-10 miles apart so you are never too far from the next oasis.  When it is hot, humid and sunny like today, there are some things you can do to help you get through it without suffering heat exhaustion or worse.

The number one rule for staying cool and healthy when it is hot is to make sure you are hydrated.  You will be sweating buckets, and that is a good thing.  You want to sweat.  Sweat cools you.  When you stop sweating, you are in trouble.  When riding, you should be drinking one to two large water bottles full of water each hour.  When you get to a town, add in another cold beverage.  One point that won’t be popular with some of you – alcohol isn’t the best beverage to drink to stay hydrated.  Alcohol actually dehydrates you.  Water is best, or water with electrolytes or some source of energy work best while riding (nuun is always a great choice!). Pouring water over your head and back can really cool you down.  Just make sure you use your water and don’t use your sports drink mix for this. Make sure you are sweating and having to use the bathroom throughout the day. If you haven’t visited a porta-potty all day, you aren’t drinking enough.  Don’t just concentrate on drinking during the ride. You need to continue to work on hydration when you reach the overnight town. You will be outside in the heat and continue to perspire all day, and perhaps all night long.

Another important tip is to wear light colored clothing, such as white when it’s hot and sunny.  Dark clothing will make you hotter.  Also, avoid cotton and go with a lightweight jersey made of polyester or similar material that evaporates moisture quickly.

Starting early of course is an obvious strategy for avoiding the heat. Start early in the day when it is coolest and try to finish before the heat of the day in mid to late afternoon.  Being out on hot pavement makes the heat even worse.  Be sure to stop frequently if you feel hot when you find some shade. Sitting under a tree with a nice breeze blowing (almost guaranteed in Iowa) will really help cool you off, so don’t hesitate to stop when you need to.

When it is really hot you should slow down.  The faster you ride, the harder you work, and the harder your work and the more heat you generate.  So slow down when it is hot and especially if you start to feel overheated. The good thing about cycling is you always generate your own breeze to help keep you cool even when riding slowly.

If you begin to feel symptoms of heat exhaustion, you should stop, find shade, and pour some water over your head and body.  Be sure to have someone with you in case your symptoms continue to get worse. Symptoms include: Confusion, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps, and nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

So there you have it – stay hydrated, wear light clothing, find shade, start early and take your time.

Have a hot time on RAGBRAI and live to tell about it!

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com.


  1. John Lalka

    Never eat or drink the same thing twice on a ride except water. Give all the vendors a chance to make you happy..Recommend taking small drinks every 5-10 minutes, about one bottle an hour. If the tongue/throat is dry, I water it. Doing two bottles an hour on a hot TOMRV was too much and the excessive hydration flushed me out too much. It felt like hitting the wall. Shots of pickle juice, and pickles were helpful, not too much fruit. Salty snack crackers and a bit of dairy product, cheese or ice cream was helpful. Big fan of hot dogs; like diving into the clubhouse for a quick snack between the 9th and 10th hole. Still following that routine. I bank a pocketful of in-shell salted sunflower seeds for variety. A bloody Mary early or beer late hasn’t hurt anything I can feel yet; but I didn’t start drinking before age 60– chased with not too much water.

  2. John Chimahusky

    Yes, if I’m out on a hot sweaty, ride I would not count on beer for hydration, though I have been known to have a beer during a ride when the rest stop is at a brewery (last year in North Carolina) or a bar (several years ago on RASDAK when one of the stops was the famous biker bar in Sturgis, SD). yes, if you’re fully hydrated drinking only beer will dehydrate you somewhat. At the END of the ride, however, beer can actually be an effective part of your rehydration effort. At the worst, beer is no better or worse than water or sports drink for RE-hydration. Check it out, There’s research out there.

  3. James Wilson

    Alcohol dehydrates? Fake news! :)

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