How Low Can You Go…

…and not faint?

Walnut season is here, which means I un-retire for six weeks and take a sabbatical from doing Stockton Bicycle Club rides. But I don’t stop riding entirely, I just squeeze in spins whenever work allows. Shorter rides to be sure, but I do some focused interval training so that when the season ends around November 1 I haven’t lost much fitness and can get back to my typical 4 rides a week with my fellow club riders.

No Wonder I Felt Dizzy: Post Ride Blood Pressure Reading

After working Saturday morning, I went out for an afternoon solo spin. I did a 40 mile big loop from my house to Clements, then north to Peltier Road and back into Lockeford and then home. I was riding at a pretty quick pace (for me anyway), and I was feeling really good. It was a lovely afternoon, warm but not hot, and with very little wind.

After 28 miles, I got stung by a wasp or something. This has happened several times over the years and is a hazard of cycling. I’ve had stings/bites on my bare pate, on the bridge of my nose, above my eyebrows and on the tip of my index finger. But this bug got me somewhere new: up ‘high on the thigh’. Specifically on the inside of my right thigh about a foot above my kneecap and about 2 inches from what would have been a really bad situation. Think of the part of your body where you would least like to have a stinger lodge, and you’ll get the idea. This was a close call.

But that is all it was. After the initial pain I was able to keep riding and I was still feeling good. I rolled through Lockeford and onto the wonderful new pavement on Jack Tone Road between Brandt and Kettleman Roads. But when I reached Harney Lane, a mere 5 miles from home, I started to feel less well. My neck was really hurting me and I was feeling much weaker. I kept up my good pace until I reached Eight Mile Road. Then I pressed ‘End Ride’ on my Garmin to preserve my fairly decent time for the 38 miles, and allowed myself to ride the last 2.5 miles home at a very easy pace.

My heart rate went down right away, but I was still feeling weak and my neck was hurting even more. And I was beginning to recognize the signs of something that has happened to me before. When I finally got home and got off the bike I felt dizzy, and there seemed to be a shimmering bright light along with a narrowing field of vision.

If this had been the first time this happened to me, I would have been slightly panicked. As it was, I simply laid down and put my feet above my head. I took my blood pressure just to confirm what I already knew: It had dropped low enough to cause me problems.

As I said, this has happened to me before. Most recently in 2017 in France after a long and hilly tandem ride. That time was much worse: I really scared Stoker and our guide John and I guess I must have looked terrible. This time after about 30 minutes my vision was normal and the dizziness was gone. I took a nap and woke up feeling fine.

I have high blood pressure which I control with medication and cycling. Sometimes the combination works too well. When I go on week long trips where I am doing long rides with lots of climbing every day, I do not take medication (with my doctor’s blessing). And I bring my blood pressure monitor so I can confirm that my readings stay normal. I could get off the meds completely if I would just ride 5 hours a day, every day, the way we did in the Alps. Since that is not possible, I’m going to have to keep taking pills and turning pedals to keep my blood pressure at a healthy level. And when the combination over corrects remember to lay down and put my feet up!

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  • Blog Author

    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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