In the heat, I suffer. At 6’5″ and almost 200 pounds, I’ve got a lot of surface area and my heart has to work harder than an average 5’8″ rider in order to get blood to all my appendages. I’ve found myself suffering in the heat to the point where I thought that if someone were to hand me a gun, I’d blow my head off. My first AZT 300 was like that. My final day found me in the hot box between the Gila and Picket Post. Temps were in the 90’s. I know because I use one of these. I remember running low on water with about 18 miles left (at least 2 hours), and passing a Polish guy who was out of water. I just stared at him as I kept moving by. No way was I going to risk running out of water in that desert.
In grad school I was the only test subject to complete all three trials of a heat study. Ride in a small room filled with heaters and hot plates with boiling water for 3 hours at 50% max VO2. Esophageal temp probed shoved up my nose and down my throat, blood draws every hour, and 5 minutes in the mask every 20 minutes. The seat killed my prostate and if I had to pee, I had to do it on the bike into a graduated cylinder….once with a boner…very difficult and a tad bit embarrassing with more than a few coeds checking things out. The fridge holding the blood samples lost electricity for a weekend and all the samples were lost.
My third AZT 300 found me early into day 1 with a missing chainring bolt. I rode really fast trying to catch up to people who were a good 20 to 30 minutes ahead of me after that. I blew up in the heat a couple of hours before Kentucky Camp. Hiding under a tree trying to escape the heat, I quickly realized my attempt at a 3rd consecutive finish was done. Day 2 found me going through so much water there was no way I’d make it to the next water source before running out. I turned around on Reddington Rd., spent an hour at a Safeway, then took the road to Oracle eventually being swept up by my ride.
Tour Divide found me in some heat too. I went north opting to take the heat early. Near the end of Day 1 I rolled out of Silver City with a full bag of ice on my back. I really didn’t see heat like that again until Canada. Yeah. 92 degrees just north of Butts Cabin. Luckily there were clean water sources everywhere. Since my 2014 Divide Ride, I haven’t done much serious riding other than the Puzzler 50.
I have a neighbor that is into hot yoga. She convinced me to do a Bikram class with her….in her little yoga room with a enough heaters to keep a public housing complex comfortable during the worst El Paso winter day. An hour and a half listening to some Indian dickhead that calls(ed) himself a Yogi bark instructions and insults putting me into positions I’d never been in before. I was pretty sore the next day despite doing many of those poses on a daily basis under my own terms for several years. I wasn’t sure what to think. I later attempted an Ashtanga class….normal temps….but the video instruction we watched just went on and on with the guy basically showing off how awesome he was at doing handstands.
Still not a fan of a structured yoga class and much less a fan of doing it in a room that is 100 degrees, I was convinced to go to a real hot yoga class as part of my neighbor’s yoga training certification process. It was pretty good…only an hour. It wasn’t that hot, but hot enough to get me really loose and into some good poses. The scenery was really good so I decided to tag along with her to some other classes eventually winding up in a studio in Las Cruces for a hot flow class (some call it Bikyasa) that lasted 2 hours. The temp hit 102 and the humidity was at 57%. I would have made it all the way through if I didn’t have to pee. It was by far the hottest thing I’ve ever done. Kuwait in full battle rattle had nothing on this. Sweat dripped onto my towel covered mat sounding like the rain in that section of Forrest Gump when he was in Vietnam.
I was getting most of the poses and trying not to pass out every time I stood up and reached upward…..toward the heater just above my head. Seeing the rock bodied and tattooed Meg to my right and the creamy skinned Maria to my left kept me motivated. I thought about my hottest bike races and they didn’t come close to this horror. People were dropping out left and right. Child’s pose was being practiced by more than a couple folks as the rest plowed on. Warrior 1 to warrior 2, eagle, warrior 2, warrior 1, foward fold, flow high to low, downward dog, yada yada yada, more flows, sweat, drink water, wipe sweat off of hands, focus man. Focus!
The next day I injured myself doing a not so heavy lift of an empty shelf and my weekend went to shit after that. Three days later I was still guzzling water, hitting the foam roller, and doing several drugs. I started thinking about why so many people are doing this crazy shit. I remember when Willow Koerber (Rockwell)….damn she’s still so fucking hot… was trying to continue racing after having her first baby (I think she has 2 kids now) and she blogged a bit about doing Bikram. It sounded like a surreal experience for her. Kind of like going into an opium den and participating in whatever craziness happens in an opium den. I also thought she was a wack job searching for answers. Recently I started to wonder if maybe there was something more to this. Maybe there was something that could be applied to my competitive mindset. Maybe there is a physiological training advantage happening.
I won’t get nerdy with Aldosterone, but it’s the “sweat hormone”. It controls internal temps by causing you to sweat. It’s affected by hydration status and whether or not you are “heat trained”. I can tell you right now, I sweat more than anyone in those classes. You can hear my mat…it sounds like a rain storm. You don’t hear it from the others. They don’t have the surface area I have. Maybe this is a “fun(ner)” way to build that tolerance to heat – lots of hot girls sweating and bending their bodies into all kinds of fascinating positions. Maybe the mental aspect of pushing your body to complete all the flows is a great form of mental training. Maybe it can translate to someone’s ability to make it through the hot parts of the day during a race. Maybe hot yoga stimulates the production of Aldosterone. I really hated doing research when I was in grad school, so I’ll just speculate and let you do whatever research you want to do. If nobody has done any research on this stuff, here you go.
I do know that anything that flips a switch in your brain causing you to push yourself harder, focus more intently, and drive yourself to complete a difficult task is something that will help you be a better athlete. I’m still not convinced that hot yoga is safe or even that awesome, but it is surreal and it does weird things to your brain. I’m always down for stuff like that.