heat exhaustion

My Marvelous Mexican Midlife Crisis: Heat Exhaustion (A Cautionary Tale)

By Carmen Poon

When people who live in temperate climates come to Mexico it is often to escape the cold weather in their backyard. Many dream of returning to the office with that sun kissed skin that tells their coworkers, “I was in the tropics while you froze your tukhus off and had to work!” As such, tourists and snowbirds who are finally free of the chains of toques, winter boots, and parkas love to participate in outdoor activities during their sourjourn here in Puerto Vallarta. Unfortunately, they sometimes overindulge in sunshine. Every person reading this has, or knows someone who has, personally experienced sunshine overload. That overindulgence can come in the form of a mild or severe sunburn, heat exhaustion, or even sun stroke. Nevertheless, those of us who hail from cooler climates seem to forget about the power of the sun, just like we tend to forget how to drive in snowy conditions every winter! It takes us time to adjust our behaviour. Even people who live in Puerto Vallarta year-round can sometimes make the mistake of not affording the sun the respect it deserves. Whether you are a weekend warrior or a seasoned elite athlete the heat and humidity of Puerto Vallarta are the greatest challenges that you will encounter while participating in sports here. This should not dissuade you from exercising or practicing the sports you love, but you do need to pay attention to your body and take precautions. Let me share a humbling experience with you.

One fair, sunny July morning I went for a bike ride. I had gotten a later start than I would have liked, but I still was gung ho to ride to Mirador (that was my first mistake). Mirador is a favourite mountain bike route here in Vallarta. Located in the mountains east of the city, it is a challenging ride (for me anyway), that features about 3 kilometres of constant climbing. Mirador means lookout in Spanish and it does not disappoint. The view is stunning with much of Banderas Bay laid out in front of you. It is a wonderful reward after the suffering that precedes it.

On that day, I happened to meet up with 2 other cyclists, and following an informal chat, we began the ascent. After a short time, it was evident that they were stronger riders than I. I struggled to keep up, pushing myself harder and harder despite the tropical sun beating down on me. (That was my second mistake). My ego whispered in my ear and said “Get going! You’re not going to let them get away are you?!” Like a dummy, I listened (my third mistake).

I was sweating buckets in the bare sun, drinking water like a university freshman tossing back beer. My legs felt like lead. I drink a lot when I ride; but unfortunately, I only had one water bottle with me that morning. (That was my fourth mistake. I am really getting tired of using that word in this article). The sun’s rays sucked the energy out of me like a kid drinking a thick milkshake through a straw. Sweat poured down my back in an impressive imitation of Niagara Falls. I began to get light headed. Yes I know. Shake your head at my stupidity. Sigh heavily at my lack of planning. Click your tongue in disappointment. I can’t believe I did it either.

Looking back at that day I have to admit that I am exasperated by my behaviour. This wasn’t my first time exercising since moving to Puerto Vallarta. And it was JULY for goodness sake!

July in Puerto Vallarta is really-stinking-hot-and-humid. What was I thinking? It’s simple. I wasn’t.

I stopped (the first smart thing I did that day), and walked my bike to the nearest shady spot (the second smart thing I did that day). As I huffed and puffed in the shade, I surveyed my body. Was I being a big baby about a bit of discomfort or had I actually met my physical limit that day? I looked at the small amount of water left in my bottle and calculated how much was left of the climb. Then I looked at my legs making sure that they hadn’t turned into concrete.

I wistfully looked up the mountain. My newfound riding companions were long gone. I firmly told my ego to shut its big mouth and turned around (the third smart thing I did that day). With a sigh, I pointed my bike back down the hill.

About 10 minutes later I confirmed that I had indeed made the correct choice. Using my emergency 20 pesos that I always carry with me, I bought an electrolyte drink at the nearest convenience store and downed half the bottle in a matter of seconds in the shade of the building. I felt like a balloon being inflated with fresh air and my energy began to return. I poured the remaining electrolyte drink into my water bottle and rode home, taking care not to push it too hard. Once I got home I took a cool shower, and gave myself a good swift kick in the tukhus!

When I started writing this article I did a bit of research on heat exhaustion and sun stroke. I learned that what I experienced on that morning was really just the beginning stages of heat exhaustion. Although I was slow to do so, I listened to the messages my body was screaming at me and I didn’t end up in the hospital. Here are a few tips that my husband and I have found to be helpful if you are doing physical activity in intense heat. We certainly are not experts on the topic, (that is my official disclaimer), but they are mostly just common sense. If my article has demonstrated anything, however, it is that humans need to be reminded to use common sense! If you want more information definitely do an internet search and see what the experts on this condition have said. I have also included the links to other articles on the subject for cyclists, but much of the information is also applicable to other activities and sports.

– If possible, start exercising earlier in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.

– Make sure that you have sufficient water for you. Remember, you might drink more here in the tropics.

– Electrolyte drinks and coconut water are also excellent in the heat.

– Wear sunscreen.

– Don’t push yourself too hard. Heat and humidity can often times reduce the intensity with which you can exert yourself.

– Take breaks if needed. Let me repeat. Take breaks.

– Find shade. Follow the example of wise Mexicans. No Mexican will stand out in the blazing sun if there is shade to be had. Neither should you.

– Wear light breathable clothing.

– Wear a sweatband. You might feel like a renegade from the 70’s, but this small item of clothing can help keep your vision clear by keeping the sweat out of your eyes.

– Pour some water over your head (if you can spare some). It is refreshing and cools your body like sweating does.

– Listen to your body. Do you feel like a wrung out wash cloth? Are you light headed? If your body is screaming at you to stop and cool off, listen to it.

– IGNORE your ego. In fact, tell it to shut its big mouth. It doesn’t matter if the other athletes around you are faster, or how far or fast you can usually ride. The fact of the matter is that today you cannot. Every day is different. Don’t bend to the ego’s pressure today and tomorrow you might have a “kick butt” workout.

– Wear insect repellent. This has very little to do with heat exhaustion, but there are mosquitoes and other biting bugs like no-see-ums in the tropics. You want people to notice your fantastic athletic legs, not your stunning display of bug bites!

Here are some links to other articles about cycling in hot conditions. Have fun out there and be safe!




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