Humidity Hurts

Training for my 2022 bicycle tour


We here in upstate SC have had an unusually wet fall thanks to climate change and global warming. Great for the peppers (chilis and Bells) and the single eggplant that are still hanging on in my garden, covered in peppers and baby eggplants. My freezer is full. I’m having to move ahead and can frozen tomato sauce and consolidate to make room for the additional abundance. I’ll dry a lot of the extra chilis for cooking through the winter and next year.

As an aside: I love to make my own chili powder, the main component of which is poblano peppers. I blend the poblanos with other dried peppers from my garden. Each batch is unique, depending on which dried peppers I have on hand and how much of each I add into the mix. Yummy. Chili season is at hand! But this is not the reason I’m writing this post. I get so easily sidetracked these days. Old age ADD?

I’m writing this post in regard to the role high humidity can play in strenuous training, especially for an old man, but in general. Now SC is normally high humidity, especially in the summer months. The air usually starts to get a little dryer in the fall as the temperature drops and rains slacken.

The other day, the relative humidity was down to around 30% (Dew Point around 55 degrees). I noticed the hills were easier. I was working less hard. It was a great ride! As I rode I started thinking about why today’s ride was so much easier than the same ride a few days earlier? It was cooler. An early fall coolfront had moved in. But it also registered on me the air was significantly dryer! I thought, this is great because where I’ll be touring out West (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), the air was significantly dryer. I had grown up in West Texas (Odessa), and though spending most of my adult life in SC, I still never liked the high summer humidity here. I longed for the dry air of the West. A few days later, the same ride, and I was working my buns off getting up those same hills. Remembering the earlier ride and its dryer air, the humidity was significantly higher (90%, DP~69 degrees), the ride significantly harder.

Then, a couple of days ago, we had had several days of rain. The air was really humid. I needed to run over to my son’s garden for some jalapenos. During a break in the rain, I decided to ride over and collect them. I needed three pounds for to make some Cowboy Candy. I had an abundance of jalapenos, but not enough for my recipe. Off I pedaled. (Remember, I only have a bicycle now. No car or truck. If I want to go somewhere, it has to be via bicycle.)

That 7.4 mile ride (14.8 round trip), beat the shit out of me. It was one of my routine training rides mostly, so what gives. My inner left-brain whispered, “It’s the humidity, stupid! My brain was hurting too. The right side was just whining since it is non-verbal. Got my jalapenos but I was wiped out the rest of the day.

Came home and did some research. Based on my own background in biochemistry and physiology, I had already reasoned: more water (humidity) in the air, less oxygen in the lungs. As a corollary, I knew as the temperature increased, working out was harder. Sure enough, more humidity, the less oxygen (O2) getting into your lungs. Additionally, the high humidity interferes with the lung cells/blood exchange of O2, so this process is less efficient. Add temperature to this and it gets even nastier: your body doesn’t cool as well either. It was a cool day, but I was sweating like a pig! All this really sucks energy from your body. Hence, why I was so wiped out the rest of the day.

Moral: next time take the e-bike. It doesn’t care if it is humid or hot.

Help me do this tour…