Drink Your Water Before It's Too Late (My Scary Ambulance Story) 

A couple of winters ago, my boyfriend Brad and I went on a trip to Puerto Rico with another couple.  We were there to do a 3 day bike ride around the entire island with 625 other riders…roughly 380 miles of riding in 3 days.   

This was to be a SPECTACULAR experience, one we could hardly wait to embark on.

We arrived around 4:00 PM the day before the first ride was to start.  There was so much to be done, including getting our bikes unpacked and put back together, picking up our ride packets, getting our gear prepared for the first morning's ride and making sure we had a good, hearty meal.  

The first day’s ride was 154 miles.  At 6:00 AM, all 625 of us began the first 20 miles together before splitting off into three groups based on pace...'A group,' B group' and 'C group.' 

When the ride starts, it's pitch black outside because it's so early.  Of course, we all have lights on our bikes but as I'm riding alongside my friend my main focus is seeing where I'm going, avoiding holes in the street, paying attention to where the other riders are around me (not everyone on this ride is an experienced rider) and just soaking it all in.   

I'm not thinking about hydration...

About 30-40 miles in, my arms started to feel fatigued and achy.  

Now there were some pretty steep declines (due to the pretty steep inclines) and I'd never ridden in the mountains at this point in my riding career. 

So, I just assumed my arms were sore because of my death grip riding down these steep hills, the multiple holes in the road that we had to be careful to avoid, an occasional iguana (I'm not kidding, there was an occasional iguana in the road) and the sometimes 'not so smooth' terrain.  

I just kept telling myself to loosen my grip and relax my arms so the pain would go away.  

Little did I know, this was the beginning of dehydration.  

Now, I was already dehydrated from our previous travel day...traveling does that to you. I wasn't thinking about the water bottles sitting in my bottle cages on the bike (that I should have been drinking from) during the first 20 miles and at 6:00 AM when we started, it was already over 80 degrees and devastatingly humid.

At about 70 miles, my quads started to cramp up.  I had to get off the bike and two men who were riding near me stopped to help me out.  They gave me salt tablets and pickle juice (apparently, pickle juice is one of the best things to prevent dehydration due to it’s high sodium content) and one of them rubbed my legs for me. Of course, being the diehard that I am, this was all I needed and I was on my way again. 

At mile 85, I somehow managed to make it up a 4 mile climb without cramping.  Not sure if this was the pickle juice kicking in or the fact that I didn't stand up during the entire incline even though the last 1/2 mile was the steepest part…pretty much like a wall! 

At mile 92 when I got to lunch and had made it up that hill without cramping I thought I was home free and the remaining 62 miles would be smooth sailing.  I actually thought, "I only have 62 miles left, I'm good to go." Think again...

I made it to mile 120 but unfortunately at that point, my quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, hips, glutes...yeah, pretty much my entire body cramped up so badly that I literally COULD NOT move.  I hunched over my bike just as one of the ride ambulances drove up.  

They had to lift me off the bike and put me on a stretcher in order to get me in the ambulance.  I ended up having IVs and was severely sick to my stomach.  

Needless to say, it was a miserable night and I was unable to ride on day two.

While this ranks as one of the worst experiences of my life, it was definitely one that I learned a lot from and now I'm passing those lessons on to you.  Here they are:

  • If you're flying to do an athletic event, if at all possible give yourself a day in between your travel day and the day the event begins.  Because I didn't want to get up every 15 minutes to use the bathroom on the plane, I barely drank.  HUGE MISTAKE as traveling already dehydrates you.
  • If your event is located in a hot climate during the winter and you live in a climate that has a cold winter, your body won't acclimate as quickly as it should.  Take precautions like, wearing 'arm coolers.'  Not to be confused with ‘arm warmers’, these are sleeves that shield your skin from the sun and keep you cooler because you can spray water from your water bottle on them which will help keep your body cooler.  They’ll also prevent sunburn.
  • Pay attention to staying hydrated.  I'm generally a person that says you should drink when you're thirsty but there are some serious people out there who think they’re camels...DON’T BE A CAMEL.  You should drink every 15 minutes, especially in hot, humid conditions.
  • If there is ice at a rest stop, put a chunk down your jersey and in your helmet.  It will melt quickly but it will help you stay cool and comfortable.
  • Take salt tablets.  Salt reduces heat stress and muscle cramping and helps maintain electrolyte levels, all of which are factors that may cause dehydration.  My favorite are SaltStick Caps.
  • Put water or a carbohydrate drink in one of your bottles and put an electrolyte drink in the other.  The carbohydrate drink will replenish your calories, giving you more energy and the electrolyte drink will restore your electrolytes and help to prevent dehydration.
  • Mostly, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Had I known I was starting to get dehydrated at mile 30, I could have gotten a ride to the next rest stop, restored my electrolytes a bit and gotten back on the bike to finish out the day instead of ending up in the ambulance at mile 120.

It was unfortunate that I traveled all the way to Puerto Rico to do this ride and have this experience. I had no choice but to rest all day on day 2…I could NOT have ridden had I tried.  But one thing's for sure...I'll never let dehydration get me like this again!

I did end up being able to ride on day 3 and I rode the entire 130 miles with no issues because I did everything I mentioned above.  

I really can’t complain that I didn’t get to ride on day two...I rode 250 miles...in two days...in January...during one of the snowiest winters in history in Minnesota.  

Plus, riding into Old San Juan with all 625 riders and thousands of spectators cheering for us was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I'd say one of the most important things I learned that day is that severe dehydration, like what I’ve described CAN BE FATAL.  This is something I did not know when I was sitting in the SAG wagon with my IVs hanging from the hook by the door while negotiating with the nurse sitting next to me how I was going to ride on day two.  

So write my lessons down, memorize them, ingrain them in your brain and DO NOT forget them next time you're out on a long ride in the hot, hot heat (or during any endurance sport).  They could very well...SAVE YOUR LIFE! 

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Reader Comments (5)

Wow - this is a scary story indeed. I am a yoga teacher and I've been to heated yoga studios that frown on water drinking (not kidding here). I got yelled at once for bringing a bottled water in the studio - the owner told me that the practice was designed to raise "tapas" (heat) in the body to burn away impurities. Needless to say, I put my water away and halfway through the class I felt sick to my stomach. I was never so happy as to get out of that class and guzzle some water. I never went back to that studio again. No matter how much I love yoga, I don't feel like getting overheated and sickly is going to make me a better person.

September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheresa Reed | The Tarot Lady

Wow Kim-what an amazing story! Hydration is so incredibly important and unfortunately sometimes that gets overlooked-even by pros!

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBri Saussy

Holy crap, Kim! I'm glad you were okay - that's scary stuff. Luckily (? hehe) I'm one of those people that's a total wuss about dehydration - I've always got water nearby, I actually need to make sure to be careful not to drink too much! I can see how dehydration could happen during a big event though, especially if you had travelled the day before. Thanks for the tips!

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

"listen to your body'' is always good advice.. i cannot imagine the rest.. to me that sounds like NOT a fun trip so am totally impressed at the plan just from the get go.. Dehydration on top of it all is a scary thing and glad you lived to tell..


September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Claudia Briggs

I agree with you. If you want to look fit then you need to drink water 3 to 4 ltr in a day.

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