Friday, April 2, 2010

Summer Safety (please!)

I try not to be preachy about exercise - just because it works for me doesn't mean it will work for you. However, the one thing I am preachy about without resolve is safety on the roads. Accidents happen every day, especially in a city like Chicago. You don't plan for a collision - "Hey, I'm going to wear my bike helmet today, cause I have a feeling I'll get nailed by a truck!" The reason they are called accidents is because they are unplanned.

Anyway, as the weather warms up, lots of people either move their workouts outdoors, or the decide to dust off the old kicks and head out for their first jog since November. I'd like to take this opportunity to hop up on my soap box and explain the dangers of the great outdoors.

First, and most important, is the bike helmet issue. The number of cyclists around the city and on the lake front path has quadrupled now that the weather is over 70 degrees, and I'm astonished by the number of people who don't wear helmets. I know, I know - your mom has been telling you to wear a helmet since you were 4, and it's just annoying. Well in this case, Mom is right. Bike/Car collisions happen daily (not to mention bike/bike and bike/pedestrian), and even if you are a "safe rider" or you ride a cruiser bike at 8 miles an hour - if a car driving 30 miles per hour strikes you while you're at a dead stop, you WILL be injured. Please trust me on this - I've had more collisions than most people I know and I can vouch for the pain of a car accident. Wearing a helmet every time you get on your bike is essential to your survival. You are not clairvoyant, you cannot predict when you are going to be involved in an accident, and it REALLY hurts when you hit your head on the concrete. If you don't have a helmet, aren't sure how to buy the right one, or can't afford one, let me know. Jeff and I regularly attend bike swap shows and can help you find something affordable.

Continuing with the bike theme, lets discuss tune-ups, tire pressure, and lubrication. A lot of people seem to be breaking out their bikes after a winter of rest and getting right out there. The best thing you can do to prepare for a summer of riding is to get a tune-up. When mechanical parts sit still for a long period of time, especially in changing temperatures, things shift. Parts get dry, metal rubs on metal, chains rust, and rubber cracks. It's perfectly reasonable that your bike tires might be soft, your brake cables are loose, your brake pads have been worn down, or your chain is grinding. Quick rule of thumb - you are not supposed to hear your bike squeak, grind, whine, or wail. All you should hear is the whir of the gears and the hum of the tires.

A bike professional can fix all these issues with a simple $50-70 tune-up. It would suck to be cruising down a hill, heading toward an intersection, when you find out that you have no ability to stop. I highly suggest checking your inner tubes, your brake cables, cleaning and oiling your chain, and getting the wheeled trued. If you don't have a local bike shop, let me know and I can recommend one. If a bike tune-up is something that you want to do but have no idea where to start, let me know - Jeff is great at this stuff and we have a bike stand in our house.

The only other important thing to remember about biking is to stay hydrated and to take it easy on yourself when you're heading into the wind.

Now for running.

Running is a progressive exercise - to get results, you must start slow, go easy, and build miles while increasing speed over time. Even professional marathoners cut mileage when they are increasing speed or changing climates.  If you are used to running on a treadmill and move your exercise outside, you will not receive the same results. Also, if you are used to running outside in the cold, you will not get the same results when the temperature increases. I read a statistic in Runners World that said that for every 10 degrees over 60, you should decrease your mile time by 30 seconds. So if you comfortably run a 10 minute mile in 50 degrees, in 70 degrees you should run that same mile in 10:30, in 80 degrees make it 11 minutes, etc. The reason for this is because your heart rate increases with the temperature, so your body could easily overheat, causing dehydration, heat stroke, lightheaded-ness, fainting, muscle fatigue, and worse. Long story short - running in heat is REALLY bad for you if you're not used to it.

My recommendation is to start off the season slow. If you're used to running 3-4 miles on the treadmill, go for an easy 2-mile run outside to start, and increase by only one half of a mile each run. If you're used to running outside but not used to the heat, I recommend taking one long walk in the heat to slowly get your body used to regulating your blood flow. On Tuesday, the first day it was over 70, Ellie, Chuck and I walked 4 miles and I was winded and slightly sore afterwards.

As for making the switch from winter clothes to summer clothes, there are some important things to know. In the winter, you want to wear dark colors, to absorb the heat from the sun and keep your body temp up. In the summer, you want the exact opposite. I have seen a lot of people running in all black, and while fashionable, this is a surefire way to end up over heated. Wearing a light colored technical shirt will keep you cool in the sun. Also, please be sure not to wear a black hat. Just as in the winter, hats keep heat in your body, which you do not want in the summer. A white hat or a visor is ideal for warmer temps.

Last but certainly not least, please remember to wear sunscreen!

Hopefully this inspires you to be safe when you hit the road this summer. Happy running!

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