RAGBRAI XLIX registration is now open!

Top 10 Training Tips for RAGBRAI #8 - Get Ready for the Hot, Humid Days of RAGBRAI

  • 19 June, 2017
  • TJ Juskiewicz


by Coach David Ertl

RAGBRAI is nearly a month away now and right on cue, the Iowa weather (oven) has begun to heat up. We’ve been in a warm spell the past couple of weeks, just in time to remind me of things to consider when cycling in the heat and humidity. For whatever reason, RAGBRAI always seems to fall on the hottest week of the year here in Iowa.  What is hot?  Temperatures in the 90s (Fahrenheit) during the daytime is common, high 70s, low 80s at night, and usually accompanied by humid air. So here are some tips for dealing with these conditions to help keep you comfortable and moving on down the road on your bike.

Your body tries to keep you cool by sweating.  When you perspire, the water evaporates and cools your skin.  When you are riding your bike, you are generating a lot of heat inside your body which has to be dissipated mainly through cooling of the skin.  This brings up two issues when it comes to hot and humid weather.  First, the hotter it is the harder your body has to work to cool you. Your internal body temperature is around 98 degrees.  When it’s 50 degrees out, your body cools very efficiently. When its 95 out, not so well as there are only a few degrees differential to transfer heat from your skin to the air.   So you sweat more and for longer.  This dehydrates your body which is why everyone tells you to drink a lot when its hot.  For more on this topic, see my Tip #5 on hydration.  The other issue is with humidity.  The higher the moisture content of the air, the less capacity it has to absorb moisture from your skin and therefore your sweating becomes less efficient.  Humid weather is often described as ‘sticky’ weather, because your skin feels sticky from all that sweat just sitting on it, not going anywhere.  So even though you are sweating more, it isn’t evaporating very fast and not cooling you down as well.   So its kind of a double whammy when it is both hot and humid.  So let’s take a look at a few tips you can use to keep your cool on RAGBRAI.

Ride when it’s cooler.  Even though it may only get down to 80 degrees at night, get up early to beat the heat. 80 degrees is better than 95.  Most people on RAGBRAI are up and riding early anyway, but watch the forecast and the hotter and sunnier it is supposed to be, the earlier you should be up and at ‘em.  Get some of your miles in before it gets really hot.

Wear light colored clothing, especially your jersey or shirt. And wear a shirt and also wear sunscreen as these will help reflect some of the sun’s heat off of you and keep you a little cooler when out in the sun. Iowa doesn’t have lots of trees so there isn’t a lot of shade out on the road.  However, if you are feeling hot, find a tree or other shade and sit under it for a while to cool off. If you can, find a spot in the shade with a breeze blowing.   It helps, and feels really good, to spray or pour water over your head, arms, legs and neck when you are hot.  This acts like sweat and cools you, but if you use cool or cold water, it works even more quickly. Just make sure you don’t have Gatorade in your bottle when you pour it over your head or ‘sticky’ has a whole new meaning!  Some nice folks along the route will put out a hose and spray you as you go by . That’s about the most wonderful feeling there is, so take advantage of it. Wiping down with a wet rag is also very effective at cooling you off.  The hotter it is, the longer you may want to spend at towns along the way, to stay in the shade and cool off between your riding segments.

Keep drinking steadily throughout the day.  Don’t wait until you are thirsty as that will be too late.  It’s okay to drink cold beverages to help cool you down, just don’t gulp them down or you might be stomach upset. It’s not fun to ride with an upset stomach.  When its really hot you probably won’t feel much like eating but remember to eat enough to keep your energy up. Eat refreshing, easily digested foods, like fruit which has both calories and water.

Another way to deal with the heat is to build up some tolerance to it prior to RAGBRAI.  I know a lot of people will get up early to go training to beat the heat, but don’t always train when it’s cool. Get some rides in during mid day to help build up some heat tolerance, both physically and mentally.

Like your car, getting your body overheated is serious business.  Our bodies don’t come with those red lights on the dashboard indicating overheating.  If you do start to get overheated, you may feel nausea, headache, dizziness, flushed skin and even goose bumps (yes I know that sounds weird but that’s one of my early warning signs).  If you feel hot and have any of these symptoms, find water and shade quickly. Don’t let this escalate to heat exhaustion and then on to heat stroke. Heat stroke is very serious and can lead to death.  If you suspect either heat exhaustion or heat stroke, find some medical help. Obviously the best treatment is prevention, and with a little care and forethought, problems can be avoided.

Be cool!

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. Denise Krohn

    Coach Ertl: Last year was my first RAGBRAI. I noticed by the fourth day or so that I was retaining fluid. My legs were swollen especially my ankles. It wasn’t painful but I wondered what was going on. Thoughts?

  2. KenH

    If you want a scholarly discussion of fluid intake during exercise by sports doctors you can read the current American College of Sports Medicine’s position statement from their website at http://www.acsm.org. Mouse over the Public Information tab near the top right of the page and select the second item on the list that appears, Position Stands. Then from the list in the middle of that page scroll down and select Exercise and Fluid Replacement. I’d post a direct link but I am not sure that is allowed in these comments.

    It is an article dense with MD-speak and it unfortunately uses units for numeric quantities that only scientists and engineers and MDs will recognize so while it is all worth reading you may want to scroll down to near the end where it starts talking about Modifying Factors and then Fluid Replacement. I am not an MD but thanks to the internet we all can have access to the array of opinions on this subject that various MDs hold. Based on what I have seen this is a very thoughtful and thorough discussion of what we currently know about all the risks associated with exercise in hot weather and what they mean for your water consumption levels. This position stand is dated 2007 and it differs quite a bit from earlier ones because more work has been put into studying this topic since the last one which I believe was 1999. If you have been working off the 1999 version I think you want to use this one instead.

    Sorry, Denise, but I do not know the answer to your particular question, perhaps coach Ertl does and will respond.

  3. Robert Bleck

    Denise, I am not a medical authority so take this with a grain of salt (or maybe not, you might be getting too much salt). After races we would regularly lie down and elevate the legs to avoid pooling of fluids in the legs. We also thought this would help blood flow back to the heart, but I think that has been debunked. Also, if you are carrying excess fluid and it is not painful, this may be a good thing. The opposite, dehydration, is of course, the worse risk.

  4. Clarence Blessing

    Fluid retention can be in indication of several different things. Things ranging from diet to cardiovascular issues. It’s best to consult your physician.

  5. Monte Krog

    After completing a bike tour where temperatures ranged from 95-105, I want to pass on some tricks I used. I carried grapes and ate them all day. I had at least one water bottle with a sock around it and would wet the sock when necessary. It cools the water so you want to drink more. I set my watch to alarm every 15 minutes so I would remember to drink. I ate at least 1 banana everyday. When I would reach the campground I would eat some Pringle potato chips (I could carry them under a bungee without smashing them) and drink water until I had to urinate. Some may want to substitute one of the electolite drinks but my stomach doesn’t like them (they also taste really bad at 100 degrees!)

  6. Frank McDermott

    A tip learned the hard way. On the first leg of RAGBRAI 2016, I had what I thought was a great plan. Start early, eat a banana or two, drink lots of water, take a rest and wipe off with a wet clothe. One thing I forgot: Watch the temp and humidity and heat. 108* Was concentrating on everything but electrolyte -SALT. Sweating is a great coolant, but it also depletes the salt. When I reached the stay over town, my legs cramped up bad. Lesson learned.

Submit a Comment

Related Articles
Friends of RAGBRAI