I was recently in Southern Utah, escaping winter and mountain biking the fun technical trails in the area. Taking the easy return to work a technical feature I was dumbfounded when I had to put a foot down. I was nailing big lines all day, and this spot was green terrain. What happened? I broke rule #1 for riding ANY obstacle. Can you see what I did?
Do you see it? No? Watch again.
Rule # 1: Look where you want to go, not at where you don’t.
When I teach skill clinics or work one-on-one with mountain bikers I preach that following this rule will-
get you out of most “bad” situations
get you riding obstacles you are getting stuck in the middle of
make your air time comfortable
let you carry speed with confidence
(just to name a few)
I have found that this one “trick” is the first thing to try when a rider is not having success with almost any mtb skill. I regularly run ahead on a line, wave my arms, and yell, “look at me” to help riders keep their gaze ahead. When riding into something unexpected or too fast; looking for the clean exit ups the odds to getting through. If you can do more, that’s great; but in a pinch this is the most bang for your buck trick.
Why does this work?
Your body will follow your focus; driving your bike to that destination.
Look at that stump/boulder/cliff/etc. = ride directly into it
Look at the ideal exit = bike will move under you, not into that scary thing (usually)
When you look down your center of gravity moves over your front wheel. Being heavy on the front tire encourages it to:
get buried in divots
stop when it drops in a divot or on the backside of a rock
slide out on corners or loose terrain
slow down more than expected (touching the brakes = endo*)
Looking at the exit of an obstacle or a corner, and scanning ahead for the trail keeps your center of gravity over the bottom bracket (place where the pedal crank-arms attach to the frame). This allows you to:
drive the bike forward – avoiding face-plants, maintaining traction and carrying speed out of corners
stay light on your handlebars so you can maneuver your bike if it starts to stray
lets you put power to your pedal if you need to get over a rock/root/snake/etc.
roll over and away from drops
Breaking rule #1 happens to the best of us. Adherence will advance your riding and give a higher probability of a good outcome when you make a mistake. Breaking it may be the cause for mishaps on the trail and diminishing confidence. Being aware of how this played into your, “I can’t believe I just rode that” or, “oomph, that didn’t go as planned” is a big part of progressing. But, be gentle on yourself; we all break the rules now and then.
*Endo: a sudden stopping of the front tire of a bicycle resulting in the rider face-planting in front of the bike as the rear wheel flies into the air.
I’m home from Jasper, Alberta where Frosty’s Fat Bike XC and 50K races were held. With an Arctic flow consuming the Canadian Rockies I knew my week there would be spent in daytime negative digit temperatures. I will admit, I was daunted by this. In preparation for my trip I reached out to Karen Jarkow who won Fat Bike World Championships in 2017 in -25 Fahrenheit, my coach who has athletes in the Upper Peninsula and train outside year-round, and a friend who races JP’s Fat Bike Pursuit successfully every year. I spent the weeks leading up to my trip experimenting with apparel and gear (see my blog) and I arrived in a snow storm and -22 Fahrenheit temps (before wind chill). Game on!
I was hosted by Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for the week, which let me fine tune my equipment, clothing and nutrition strategies before the three days of races and events began. I had several surprises and a steep learning curve but marked success by:
Racing an XC in -18 Fahrenheit and not being cold at the finish
Finishing the 50K race not regretting my clothing and (most) of my equipment choices
Being one of the few not to leave with frostbite
“It’s all about the tires”
You hear this all the time from fat bikers, but how your bike engages with the snow is the difference between floating across terrain or sinking so deep your axels are at snow level. My “must have” tires for any snow condition are Kenda Tire Juggernaut 4.8’s. They always find traction, roll fast on hard pack, and have a sidewall that allows for even spreading of the tread across the snow. I spend the first few minutes of any ride adjusting my tire pressure. My start-point is generally 3PSI in the front and 3.5PSI in the rear.
Tubeless tires may fail in extreme cold. Alloy rims conduct heat well, meaning they quickly give any heat they have in them to the snow. Rubber contracts a little in very cold conditions. Sealant is water based which may freeze and expand. The increased space between your rim and tire may be too big a feat for your sealant to hold together and sealant that is normally sloshing around to fill the gap is a solid mass. If in doubt, a tubed heavy wheel is faster than potholing in snow with a 35Lb bike on your shoulder. I did this. Twice.
If you adjust your PSI in a warm place, like
your condo, when you go outside in very cold temps the pressure will lower more. It’s easier to reduce pressure after you have been out for 20 minutes than to add it back, so head out with more pressure than you think you will want.
Even if the snow is hard packed or groomed, very cold temperatures take the moisture out of snow and it starts to behave like sugar. As more people spin through the sugar bowl it starts to become bottomless. Run a low PSI as if you were in a little fresh powder.
Frostbite is not a love-bite
In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in just a few minutes, especially if the wind is blowing, if you are wet from sweat, or if skin is exposed even briefly as when taking a glove off to open a snack. A solid layering solution that prevents wind from getting in but allows moisture to escape is a must.
Your face, especially around your nose and mouth are hard to keep covered when breathing hard. I coat my face in Joshua Tree’s Winter Stick balm. The beeswax base prevents moisture from direct contact to my skin, has SPF, will not easily rub off, and if you get some in your mouth it has not taste or strange chemicals like Dermatome does.
Hands need to be bundled up, but not so
much that you can’t maneuver your levers to shift or brake. BarMitts are basically mandatory. I put heat packs in the BarMitts and turn them into an oven.
Feet are notoriously hard to keep warm while cycling. I have had several pairs of winter riding boots, and I believe Lake Cycling MXZ303 is the best out there. They are warm, waterproof and windproof while being just breathable enough to prevent your feet from wading in a sweat bog. They adjust by a Boa system, so the fit will never put too circulation reducing pressure on any part of your foot and all sizes are available wide. Most the Canadians were wearing these too.
It is easy to think you will keep your feet warm with more socks. However, pressure on your foot from being squished under several socks will reduce foot circulation and cause your feet to cool down. I experimented one day in Jasper and wore a thin wool sock on one foot and two on the other and went for a ride. The double sock foot chilled a bit, and the single one was comfortable.
I backed-up my warm feet strategy by rigging my ski boot heaters to my boots. I ended up only using them to prewarm my boots, my feet were toasty when riding without the added heat, but they worked quite well.
When it’s cold, you desire to eat and drink is meh’ at best. However, just keeping warm consumes a lot of calories. Not to mention you are exercising! Liquids freeze. Hydration and nutrition is a bit of a conundrum.
Put edibles in your BarMitt ovens. The heat packs will keep them from becoming solid, so you won’t break a tooth trying to gnaw on your Honey Stinger Waffle.
Water bottles upside down in the bottle cage will work for the beginning of your outing.
I found an Osprey hydration vest works best for me. I put it over my first base layer and under all others. The nozzle I run under my neck gator. My body heat keeps the liquids from freezing.
When I’m done drinking, I make sure to blow some air into the tube so the bit that is exposed does not have liquid to freeze.
If the nozzle does freeze, putting it in your mouth (like biting a stick) will melt it in a minute or two.
This trick came from my coach at CTS, but I put 1oz of liquor in 1.5L hydration bladder. This lowers the freezing point but is not enough to be impaired.
I found putting my nutrition in my water was the best strategy to keep me fueled AND hydrated. I favorite blend was GQ-6 green apple Hydrate Base, a dash of cinnamon, and whiskey mixed into hot water. It tasted like hot apple cider.
Increase your hourly calorie replacement by 100 Kcal or more. I weigh 125Lbs and consumed 400 Kcal/hr during the 50K race and was still ravenous for lunch. And then second lunch.
Odds and Ends
Your iPhone is good for 1-2 pictures before the battery is drained. I put heat packs in my internal pocket that held my phone and it would warm up enough to take another 1-2 pictures 30 min. later. Point is, ride with lots of friends and have one person take a picture at any stop and share your images and/or only take the amazing shots.
My Shimano XT disk brakes worked better than I expected in the extreme cold. To keep the brake fluid viscous, I pumped my brakes a few times every 20 min. And remember, you are riding in snow. I scrub speed most of
the time by nudging my tires into the soft edges of the groomed trails, avoiding touching my brakes all together.
My seat post clamp is alloy. As it became brittle, my carbon fiber seat post would lower in my downtube. I had to stop and raise it several times during the 50K. If I had refreshed the carbon fiber paste it would not have been a problem.
Access to a hot tub or bath is essential. As soon as I got back to my condo I took a hot bath to restore my core temperature. It will gobble up all your energy trying to rewarm otherwise; leaving you a zombie at post ride festivities and not letting your body recover to head out the next day.
Now that you have all the tools to ride in extreme cold AND have fun, don’t gloat to your friends when they are suffering. Remember, misery loves company. Better yet, be a real friend and share these tips with them before you head out on a chilly adventure. Please share your new-found tricks with me too. I’m headed back to Frosty’s in Jasper next year!
The biggest challenge with winter fat biking is how to stay warm. No matter how beautiful the terrain or how great your partners are, if you are cold you will not have fun. Bulky winter clothing will make you feel like Stay Puff on a bike, making it futile to move your arms and legs. You will be exercising, and sweating. Wet clothing invites Jack Frost to nip at more than your nose. And you need to keep the snow out without becoming a mobile greenhouse. It’s no wonder this is a conundrum for most cyclists who want to bike in the snow!
Don’t give up on riding in the snow. I can help! I’ve been riding and racing fat bikes since fat tires were 3.2’s (but ride 4.8’s now). I’ve developed and fine-tuned a clothing strategy that gives me confidence when I head out for a fat bike ride in winter that I’ll return home happy, without frostbite, and boasting tales.
1.) Layers are key. Raid your alpine ski gear. I have found wool next to my skin is best to wick moisture away. Over that, synthetic materials are fine, but avoid cotton. Be able to add or remove layers as needed and have a way to carry them (jersey pockets fill up fast).
2.) Outer layers are chosen by the conditions. Wind-stopper material when it’s windy, Gore-Tex or rain gear if it’s wet, wind jacket/vest if it’s nice out.
3.) Use your head. You lose or retain a lot of heat here depending on what is covering your noggin. I bring a fleece headband, skull cap, and a fleece hat with me and adjust this layer before any other.
4.) Coldhands can’t break or shift gears. If there is too much bulk on your hands you won’t be able to do these things either. Investing in bar mitts is a must. These are neoprene pouches that attach to your handlebars, encase your cockpit and allow you to easily slide your hands inside wearing only a thin glove. When it’s really cold, I wear a thin glove liner with a winter riding glove or lobster claw glove over it. This way I can remove one or the other to prevent my hands from getting wet.
5.) Feet suffer reduced circulation when cycling. When you are cold, your body reduces blood flow to your extremities, and extra socks may squish your feet reducing circulation to your toes even more. I have found a good pair of winter riding boots are essential as they will keep the snow out and have insulation so you don’t have to cram six pairs of socks in. Booties and shoe covers are notorious for coming off when you have to hike your bike in the snow and filling up with snow that then melts in your shoe.
Apparel Strategies by Climate
1.) Cool Climate is where the temperature is in the 30’s factoring in wind chill. If it’s sunny, expect to take layers off. If there is precipitation or it’s overcast, bring extra layers for “Cold Climate” riding.
Headband or thin beanie
Wool base layer or long sleeve jersey or jersey with fleece lined arms
Wind-stopper jacket with removable sleeves
Thin gloves and bar mitts or thin and thick gloves
Winter riding tights or bike shorts with fleece lined legs
Winter riding boot with a thin wool sock
2.) Cold Climate is where the temperature is in the upper teens to 20’s with wind chill. This is the temperature zone most cyclists will fat bike in.
Thin beanie or fleece lined hat
Sunglasses or goggles if it’s windy
Wool base layer AND a long sleeve jersey
Winter riding jacket
Winter riding gloves in bar mitts or thin gloves with ski gloves over them
Fleece lined winter riding pants (or Nordic pants work well) over bike shorts
Winter Riding boot with 2 thin wool socks
3.) Frigid Climate is where you must be smart about exposure. Temperatures with wind chill are in the single digits or lower teens. When I ride in these conditions I make sure I can get back to a warming hut in 30 minutes or less, just in case the conditions worsen or I have a mechanical that leaves me walking.
Fleece lined hat, neck gaiter and nose cover
Wool base layer and a thick thermal layer
Winter riding jacket (and a Gore-Tex shell if it’s windy or there is accumulating snow)
Glove liners, winter riding gloves and bar mitts.
Winter riding tights AND heavy winter pants
Winter riding boots with a thin wool sock AND a thick wool sock.
1.) Wind can make temperatures drop 20 degrees or more. It can literally suck the warmth right out of you.
Add wind stopper outer layers on your hands, chest and front of legs. If possible find windproof layers for the front of your body but allow moisture to escape from your backside. Most Nordic and cycling specific apparel is made this way.
Protect ANY exposed skin. A balaclava or two neck gators (one cut to 4” width) work well to let you breathe and cover most of your face. I cover the delicate skin around my nasal passages and mouth with Joshua Tree Skin Care Winter Stick but Dermatome works too.
2.) Snow is tricky because it may slow down your pace as it accumulates, and when it piles up on your shoulders it melts.
If it’s so cold the snow won’t melt with body heat or is a very light snow, wind stopper outer layers are generally adequate.
If it’s wet snow or quickly accumulating, you may need a rain or Gore-Tex jacket and possibly rain pants.
Carry extra gloves and socks. If your extremities get wet, you will be miserable.
Sweating is part of exercising, but making sure the moisture does not get trapped next to your skin can make all the difference from enjoying your ride or counting the seconds to get home.
Adjust your layers as soon as you start sweating. Outer layers with pit-zips are great and half zip jerseys can fine tune your thermal zone.
If your next-to-skin layer is saturated, take it off! Be able to carry extra layers and layers you may want to remove. An extra pair of socks, glove liners and base layer top are always in my pack.
4.) Long Rides present extra challenges. The conditions will shift while you are riding.
Carry a variety of extra layers and outwear
A down coat to put on while not riding is envy provoking
Don’t ride solo.
Carry “emergency” supplies such as extra food, extra layers, and a full tool kit.
Stay warm like you have Inuit smarts, but remember that fat biking is silly fun. Get out there and experiment! You’ll have loads to brag about when you get back from your snow cycling adventures. Maybe you’ll even get your friends to stop moping and get off their trainers!
The guys at aid station #3 said I only had two more miles of climbing until the final 8-mile descent to the finish line. I’m still climbing at snail’s pace, and it’s been over five miles since I left their false promises. This has been a long day. The Point to Point boasts over 15,000 ft. of climbing in the Wasatch mountains over the course of 76 miles, and I have been in misery since mile 25. I am trying not to let the well-intentioned misinformation from the volunteers at aid #3 dim my spirits. Just keep pedaling.
The Back-Story to This Moment
I lined up to race this morning with some amazing women I was thrilled to chase. Not having raced this distance or elevation profile before, I knew this race would be a learning experience for me. I had abandoned my warm-up routine when my hands, feet and nose were numb in the (very) early morning chill, and opted to regain feeling in my extremities huddled with several other racers in the heated women’s bathroom. Park City has heated public bathrooms at trailheads; fancy! No longer shivering, I rolled to the start line. An air cannon shot cereal into the air, beginning my Park City Point to Point escapade.
The Pro Women did not begin with a social pace that winds up to race pace over the first 20 minutes of racing allowing riders to warm-up in the actual race as is typical for ultra-endurance distances. Normally ultra-endurance races begin at a social pace that slowly builds to race pace over the first 20 minutes of a race, which allows riders to warm up. But not today. Instead, we tore from the line sprinting in short-course fashion. I love to jockey for a spot in the lead pack, so I gave chase but regretted not properly warming up. We ripped through Round Valley, and I was in heaven nailing the loose switchbacks on the descents. The lead pack broke up as we crossed into Deer Crest. I slowed on this climb realizing I had gone hard off the start and needed to settle into my pace. Typically, I am a diesel engine distance rider: I slowly build to pace and hold it for the duration. This puts me behind the pack in the early part of the race, and I slowly pass up through the field to the finish. Today, however, I was a hot rod. I decided I would go fast off the start and hope to put enough distance between myself and the chasing women to hold my position. This was new.
Having fun with elbow-bumping racing, opportunities to eat were few, and the cool early morning temps distracted me from my need to hydrate. By 10am and just 30 miles in to a 76-mile race, I discovered I had bonked.* Using my normal race strategy, I am a metronome for pace, hydration and nutrition, which keeps me from entering this sad, miserable state. This was unchartered territory. I replaced my hydration bladder, which was only half empty (bad!) but did not need to restock my gels because I had not taken a single one (very bad!). I knew I needed to get some sugar smacks running through my system ASAP if I was going to overcome the bonk. I went to the feed station, and nothing looked good. There were tasty options, but when you are that depleted nothing looks appetizing. I was in serious trouble! I tried to eat a cookie as I rolled away from the first aid station and was nauseous. I am sorry to admit I fed most of it to the squirrels. *See footnote at end of article for a definition of “bonked.”
Climbing Park City Mountain Resort was pure drudgery. I was getting passed. And passed some more. It was heartbreaking, but I knew my current situation was my own doing. Then finally, halleluiah! I reached John’s 99 trail, and the technical descent, a non-energy consuming strength of mine, restored my spirits. I felt like I deserved the “pro grease” number on my calf again until the next climb where my legs cramped and the men I passed on the previous descent enjoyed zipping past. My mantra kept me going, “Drink. Eat. Ride the efficient line. Keep pedaling. You’ve got this.”
At the bottom of Crescent Mine Grade, the second aid station greeted me. I told myself that if I was not having fun I could call it quits here. Cheering friends brought sanity back to my thoughts. I was suffering, but I was not in danger of injuring myself. I was not going to be on the podium today, but that is not why I race. I had made a series of tactical mistakes, but this would be a point to improve upon moving forward in my career. So, I left aid station #2 to climb Armstrong and knew I would see this through. No excuses.
Back to Now
With cheeks packed with potato chips from the third and final aid station (I was hoping they would dissolve and enter my bloodstream without my body realizing I was eating), I finally hit the descent from The Canyons to the Utah Olympic Park where the finish line mercifully received me. Done. I got this done. It was not pretty. It was not a race to brag about. I am proud to be a professional cyclist, but today was humbling. With TUNA coach Chris holding my bike so I could dismount on wobbly legs, my sister eagerly embracing me despite a sweat-soaked kit and a thick coating of dust, my DH skills coach Brandon spraying me down car-wash style, and Summit Bike Team director Lori enticing me to the ice cream parlor, I realized there was no embarrassment for me to hold on to. Racing is an adventure, and if everything went perfectly it would be mundane. Victory is not dictated by a number or the approval of others, it is marked by reaching beyond what feels possible. Today I won by overcoming fear of perceived failure. My podium was learning how mentally strong I am amidst physical meltdown. My award was the love lavished nonjudgmentally on me by my cycling community. Define your own success.
*Definition of Bonking While Mountain Biking
Going hard and getting passed by a rider I expect to finish ahead of. I’m convinced they are riding above their abilities and will blow up. In reality, I’m crawling. I have run out of fuel and my muscles can barely fire.
Cursing the rocks for being in my way, forcing me to maneuver my bike and put some heat into my pedal stroke so my bike doesn’t topple over. My adrenaline is spiking in a last-ditch effort of survival because my brain knows the end is near.
Realizing I’m calorie depleted and trying to take in a gel, but it tastes like soggy socks instead of bacon. My ego no longer cares if I stop to look in my pockets for something edible.
Tears. I’m understanding this mess is my own doing. (Yes, I just admitted that.)
The All-Mountain World Championships took place at Downieville CA last weekend and I was over the moon to be in the mix. The famous Downieville Classic draws some of the most famous names in mountain biking to test their all-around bike prowess over two days of grueling racing. Day one is a mass start cross country course (XC) with a leg searing and lung busting eight mile climb on loose terrain to start the morning, followed by descending a pinball chute of round river rocks (“baby heads”) and through deep creek crossings, then finishing with a sprint down Main St. of the mining town. Day two is a downhill course (DH) where riders start at thirty second intervals to rally features with names like “The Dip” and “The Waterfall” while descending 4000 ft over fourteen miles in less than an hour. The All-Mountain Champion is determined by riders results from both days. I have wanted to be a part of this race since I first heard of it, and hoped my fitness and technical skills were up to the task.
Unique to this race is using the same bike for each day of racing. Mountain bikes come in many flavors to support a rider’s style and terrain choice. An XC bike will be a light and twitchy climbing machine, but unforgiving on rough and technical terrain making for a slower descent. A DH bike will be a bit heavy and inefficient to pedal uphill, but will float over obstacles and gobble up terrain as it flies down the mountain. Bike choice is clutch. Bikes are weighed and components recorded each day to ensure racers are on the same bike. I chose my XC race bike, a Trek Top Fuel , that is an aggressive climbing beast and has full suspension to soften the descent. I gave it some downhill boost with a 9points8 dropper seat post so I could get behind my saddle for drops and rock gardens and put a wide DH tire on the front to hold onto the loose corners but kept a narrow fast rolling tire on the rear to keep me fast. I was entirely confident with my bike choice until the first bike weigh-in where the crew laughed at my bike and said it was the lightest they had seen. Too late to rethink it now!
The XC start was a combined pro men and women affair. Five time Olympian Katerina Nash took off like a rocket and the women chassed. Except me. I know Katerina’s pace is superhuman and will explode my legs in a few miles. Since this race would take over two hours, I settled into my steady climbing pace. As I expected, the chasing women were popping off the pace left and right. I slowly passed one rider after another all the way to the top. One woman got excited about me passing her in eyesight of the top and elbowed me off the gravel road. Instead of dampening my day, it fueled me to get back on my bike and zoom by her right before the single-track descent began to cheers of spectators who saw the incident.
Pauly’s Trail, aka pinball alley, loomed and I was with a great group of pro men. I stayed with this group confidently as I hovered over my bike as she moved through the choss like a possessed serpent. I rode perfectly and even the men I was riding with gave me accolades. As town loomed a group of spectators hollered that I was the second woman to pass. I figured they had just not noticed some of the women ahead of me. The field was star studded and I knew I was strong, but second place seemed unlikely. Another cheering squad and another remark that I was in second. At the finish, it was official, I came in second to Katerina. Holy cow! Now to recover for tomorrow.
I always seem to have some drama during a race. You would think that with all this disaster management I would have calm nerves when things don’t go as expected, but when I sliced my rear tire less than twenty minutes before my DH start I came unglued. I shouldered my bike and ran a mile (not sure when I ran a mile last) to the neutral mechanic at the start for help. He was a pro. He grabbed by bike and told me to go sit in the shade and her would get my bike fixed with time to spare. And he did. With gratitude I took the start.
I was followed 30 seconds by Tracy Moseley, Enduro World Champion from the U.K., and Katerina 30 seconds behind her. I knew both women would be faster than me on the DH, but was excited to try and follow their wheel when they passed me. It felt like only thirty seconds, though statistically it could not have been, when Tracey literally flew by me. The only reason I knew the blur was her was because in a British accent she said, “pardon me, might I pass?” I held her wheel for a millisecond. Katerina caught me too, but further into the run than I expected. I was able to hold her line, but it was at the top end of where I can pilot my bike. She rides direct and light as air. What a learning experience that was. We hit a climb and she disappeared. At the Dip, Tracey flatted. The rocks in the bottom were sharp and luck did not smile on her. I delicately rode the feature and pedaled on. Of course she passed me again, but this time the terrain was not as gnarly and I held here wheel for about ten seconds. Wow, that woman can ride a bike! I got to work and rode my race taking the time to ride obstacles clean. The last few miles on the DH are pedally (smooth, relatively strait, and have some climbing). I caught Tracy. In disbelief, I put my head down and gritted it out to the finish. I finished ahead of her, but with the time gap she placed ahead of me. She is exactly the role model I dream of. She hugged me at the finish and shared with me that she was exhausted when I caught her, but it motivated her to pick it up to the finish knowing she only had thirty seconds on me. I put pressure on her!
With staggered starts and many women in the field with impressive DH resumes, I assumed I finished middle of the pack. I hoped my good DH time would keep me on the podium for the All-Mountain competition, but was so happy with my riding that it didn’t really matter. I had raced the DH to the best of my ability and not got caught up in going too fast and making errors; what I have often done when racing heady terrain. While cooling down, a friend congratulated me on my third-place finish. I was stoked to learn I stayed on the podium. He said, “No, you placed third in the DH. You finished second over-all!” Pinch me! Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up on the podium between Katerina and Tracy. I’m not going to lie, it was really fun to “be a big deal.”
Summer is here, and it’s a hot one across the country. Don’t let the heat beat you up, keep you from having fun or having success. When we first experience summer’s furry, our bodies are not prepared to run the internal swamp cooler. As we overheat in those first hot days, our heart rate spikes, efforts are difficult to maintain, we feel wiped out after a minimal workout, and our muscles are more tender than expected afterwards. However, with a thoughtful training block targeted to stimulate adaptation to heat, we can perform in the summer with minimal ill effects.
Why We Suffer in the Heat; a Little Physiology Lesson
To sweat and cool, blood, which carries heat generated by working muscles, needs to flow to the skin. Blood caries heat generated by working muscles. With blood being diverted from our muscles and heart, power and endurance are diminished.
Sweat is comprised of plasma and electrolytes. Increased sweating depletes these resources from the blood, making it thick. Thick blood (low blood volume) is taxing for the heart to pump, so heart rate increases to sustain the workload. An endurance pace may feel like a sprint.
With less oxygen-carrying blood making it to our muscles, aerobic capacity, the oxygen fueled energy system relied upon for long duration efforts, is decreased and we must rely on carbohydrate-greedy anaerobic metabolism, which is sustainable for only a short duration and is the primary culprit for delayed-onset muscle soreness.
With reduced blood volume, VO2 Max is reduced, meaning our bodies are not able to take in as much oxygen. This means that we are less efficient and are putting more stress on our bodies for any exertion.
Fortunately, we are incredible at adapting to heat. Once adapted, if we continue to train in these conditions a few times a week, we will return to our previous fitness profile. If we actively work on acclimating to hot conditions, it can be accomplished in 10 – 14 days.
Hiding in the Cool Will Not Help You Acclimate
Stay out of air conditioned spaces to adjust to the heat, but do not get hot. Keep cool with a fan, cold showers, dips in a lake, etc.
If you can, sleep with the windows open. However, if it is too hot to sleep, use the AC sparingly (set it to the warmest temperature you are comfortable in).
Drink as much water as you can, alternating pure water with electrolytes. Avoid/ reduce caffeine and alcohol intake while acclimating as they dehydrate you.
Stay out of the sun when not training, and do not get sunburnt! A burn will reduce your ability to sweat.
If you are traveling to an environment that is more warm or humid than your home turf, arrive as many days before the event as possible.
Guidelines for Heat Adaptation Training Block
After training for an hour a day for two weeks in peak heat with two rest days in the mix, the body should be adapted. If we train to exhaustion, overheat, neglect our nutrition, or don’t recover from training sessions, the process will take longer- often much longer and to the detriment of our fitness.
Pre-cool your body with a cool shower or spending time in an air-conditioned area before you work out.
Wear clothes that wick moisture away from your skin. Avoid cotton, tight filling garments, and dark colors.
Train through the peak of the heat each day for a short period of time. Heat stress sessions for one hour a day will trigger a physiological response. Increase the time or intensity each day, but do not stay out if you start to feel excessively hot or fatigued. You want to stimulate your body to adapt to the heat, but if you stress your body too much you will spend your rest time recovering instead of adapting.
Ease up. Slow your pace, reduce the time, and decrease the weight/reps if power training.
Maintain Heat Adaptation
After this adaptation period, slowly increase duration or intensity of your workouts in the heat.
Train for at least one hour, twice a week in the heat to maintain physiological adaptation.
Unfortunately, it only takes 5-7 days to lose heat adaptation.
Train to Refuel and Rehydrate in the Heat
When it’s hot, our appetites are suppressed, and drinking feels like a chore. However, we will not be able to do endurance or intense workouts in the heat if we don’t refuel and rehydrate while exercising. Fortunately, we can train our bodies to digest food and absorb liquids. When our digestive tracks are not heat adapted, a sour stomach, bloating or the feeling of liquid sloshing around in our bellies is common. These usually lead to stomach cramps and we stop refueling and rehydrating. This leads to disaster! Eat a good meal three hours or more before a heat stress workout. It will take three hours to digest this meal.
Eat a good meal three hours or more before a heat stress workout. It will take three hours to digest this meal.
Drink while exercising, and make sure you are hydrated before you start.
We need to drink more water than usual when training in the heat. In arid climates, it is easy to think we don’t need to replace lost fluid because our sweat is evaporating so rapidly our skin and clothes are dry. Aim to drink .5 – 1L of fluids per hour. Drink even more when in conditions like Death Valley or the Amazon.
Freeze half of liquids in a bottle/ hydration bladder, or fill bottles 2/3 with ice cubes. Hot liquids are unpleasant to drink and are generally still untouched when we finish training, leaving us completely wiped out. Cool liquids will help cool your core temperature too.
Replace lost electrolytes. Alternate pure water and electrolyte mix during training sessions or follow hourly training dose guidelines for specific electrolyte tablets like MetaSalt or Endurolytes.
It is hard to digesting food in the heat. Err on the side of moist carbohydrates such as sports drinks, gels, blocks, rice balls, etc. instead of dry bars, sandwiches, trail mix, and the like. Fats and proteins are especially hard to digest in hot conditions. Avoid them during workouts or add them in carefully.
You will burn calories keeping cool. Consume more calories than you usually do.
What Physiologically Changed During the Heat Acclimatization Training Block?
Our blood volume increases. Blood no longer becomes thick and taxing for the hearts to pump. Heart rate and V02 max return to normal zones. Efforts feel as they should: endurance pace no longer feels like a fast pace, and sprints are fast again.
Our cardiac output increases. We can now get oxygen-carrying blood to our organs, working muscles and skin at the same time. This returns our endurance, recovery between intervals and power to normal, and it diminishes Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
We sweat more profusely at lower temperatures but with less electrolytes lost. This lets us dump heat efficiently and reduces cramps.
We also improve fluid and nutrient absorption. We can now fuel our long sessions and intense efforts.
Traveling to a Hot Location to Race or Adventure In?
Arrive in the climate as many days prior to the event as possible.
Spend the two weeks before departing adapting to heat by training in the warmest location available. Be creative! Crank the heat in a small room for a trainer session, go to Bikram yoga, train in excessive layers, etc.
If the destination will be humid and you live in arid conditions, you will want to adapt to this as well. In humidity, sweat does not evaporate well off our bodies. Find a steam room to use daily and increase the time in it each day in addition to heat stress training. Our bodies will adapt to this too if asked nicely.
Continue the adaptation routine on arrival, but do not get exhausted before the big day! Training days should be short, at an easy effort, and ended before the heat is impacting performance. Cool down as soon as the training session is complete.
Last weekend I headed to Carson City, Nevada to race the Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road Race. It was the first time I have raced a 55-mile course with a women’s field this stacked, and I was stoked for a new challenge. However, I never imagined my biggest challenge would be the extreme conditions.
Winter would not give in to spring this year in Bend, OR. Much of our mountain bike terrain was under snow until I left for a few weeks of traveling and racing. I’ve been riding in leggings and sleeves to stay warm, and when I surrendered hope for the trails and hit the road, snow was in the forecast again. Even my spring training week in St. George, UT was during a cold streak of rain and temps in the 60’s. Needless to say, I do not have tan lines or acclimatization to the heat! Arriving in Carson City I learned they too were melting out from an epic winter, and the course had to be modified to lower elevations: three loops covering 55 miles with over 7000ft of climbing on exposed terrain. And then, last minute, the heat wave hit. The temps rapidly went from the sixties to the nineties; I would be racing in ninety-five degree temperatures without tree coverage to stay out of the sun. Gulp. It was time to plan for how to race in the conditions when I was completely not acclimated to heat.
Here is what I did to acclimate as much as I could in the days leading up to the race:
I pre-rode the course (about 19 miles) during peak heat every day except Saturday.
I drank as much water as I could all day, alternating water with electrolytes.
I avoided air conditioned environments, but kept cool with cold showers and dips in the river. Likewise, I slept with the windows open. ***(see bottom of post)***
Friday evening was the fat tire criterion race. It would be a good test run of my heat hardiness. I did a full hour plus warm-up in the heat for my race, and drank carbohydrates and electrolytes. The crit was a blast. It was my first of this variety: a short loop on the roads through downtown Carson City with tight corners that we raced through on our mountain bikes. The pace was instantly fast, and we were shoulder to shoulder going into the first few turns. At the second corner there was a crash that I stayed clear of, but it reminded me that my first priority was to stay safe. The pack started to break up and I pulled into the lead group. The worst place to be is at the back of a group in this sort of race. You are forced to brake into corners and sprint out of them to keep up. This yo-yo riding blows through your energy reserves quickly. I knew this and had the sprint power to pull into the middle of the pack, but every time I did a more experienced crit rider would challenge me for position, and I would back. As expected, I blew up just 10 minutes into a race of 30 minutes plus three laps. After a lap, I recovered enough to try and claw back to the lead group. That turned out to be an impossible task for me solo with a headwind climb, but I was able to practice smart strategy and pass two women who popped off the lead group. It turns out I have learned a thing or two about road racing watching the grand tours on TV over the years. Dripping sweat I made the final lap. I knew I would have to be more strategic in managing the conditions on Sunday for the big race if I wanted to be successful.
Saturday, the amateurs took to the course. I did my tune-up ride in the morning before the temperatures hit the nineties then headed out to cheer the racers on. Dennis and Spencer, my host families father and son were racing as well as many others I knew. Many of them were visibly overheated. I knew preventing this was essential for me the following day. That night my host family threw a backyard party to celebrate those who raced that day. I heard their race play-by-plays and took note. Cramping and sour stomachs were a big issue for them, as was their lack of desire to take in calories in the heat. I had a plan for this and fell asleep confident for Sundays event.
At 7:40am Sunday morning in eight-five degrees, the pro women’s field started the Carson City Off Road. The pace was social as we rode out of downtown and picked up as we headed to King’s Canyon. As we hit the gravel road I glanced at my Garmin and was surprised to see my effort was too high to sustain for the distance in the heat. It was devastating to be the first woman to drop off the peloton, but I stuck to my strategy knowing that going too hard too early would put my success in jeopardy. Adding insult to my ego, my husband Joe and host family were just ahead to cheer me on, and I was in dead last. I did holler to Joe that my position was part on my “Grand Plan” so he wouldn’t worry and I pedaled by. As we hit the single track the peloton started to break up, and I caught up to two women. I got around them before the descent and put some distance between us. Later in the descent I caught several women and knew that if I stuck to my steady-Eddie pace and confident downhill skills I would continue to move up the field.
The second lap was a blur of passing women, hydrating, fueling, feeling the heat take it’s toll, and enjoying the descent to cheering crowds. At the end of the second lap I met Joe to pick up a new frozen hydration pack. He dumped ice water all over me to cool me down then I pedaled through the streets to downtown feeling spry.
The third lap was a crusher. I kept my pace in check, resisting the urge to slow. I knew I was heating up so I started drinking as much cool fluid as I could. I was dreaming of a breeze or the shade of a single tree as I caught Olivia, a beast of an endurance racer, ahead of me. Then I started to get goose-bumps, a sure sign of overheating. I
slowed, and at an aid station I doused myself in ice water and drank even more until my temperature was under control. I headed out again with a friendly push from the aid team. I began to feel better and better as I continued to climb with only dim hopes of catching Olivia who had passed me while I dealt with my overheating, but I did near the end of the descent! There was no room to pass, so I hugged her wheel. We hit the last, short climb and Olivia took off like a rabbit. I gave chase, but she put a little distance between us. Olivia is a pro-roadie and can crush open terrain like the pavement we hit. I spun my legs as fast as I could in my largest gear, zipping through the city and sprinting to the finish. Though Olivia kept her lead on me, I was stoked to have a her to motivate me to give my all at the end of a tough race. What a great day. My thoughtful preparations to race in the heat and trusting the strategy I laid out for myself were key to a successful race. Dare I say it? Bring on the heat!
These beautiful images are generously provided by Stan Lattin. Follow him on Instagram @mtb_stan_lee
***Follow up post about the science of adapting to extreme heat and how to do it coming next week! Stay tuned.***
With my Dad as co-pilot, in a downpour that lasted almost the entire eleven hours of driving, I anticipated the Missoula Pro XC with glee. This would be my third year at this race and it is my favorite UCI XC course. It features a lung exploding climb with tight switchbacks, a steep descent that you cannot let your guard down on for even a moment, a heart-in-your-throat gap jump, and is lined with cheering crowds. Not to mention that Marshal Mountain is in full wildflower bloom and town full of good eats.
My race season started a bit late this year so I could savor the ski season, and only now am I in race form. I could not wait to see what I could do at this race. Afternoon race starts are tough for me to manage my nerves. My Dad was a trooper putting up with me bouncing around in the endless rain which generously called it a day as the pro women took the start line.
As expected, the pace for the first lap was insane. I held tight in the lead pack up the climb but prayed the second climb would be humane. Thankfully the descent loomed and I launched over the first water bar. A strange sound from my bike greeted my landing, but I had no time to ponder it as the second water bar was just feet away. When I landed the second time I could not control my bike and crashed into the lupine. I was unhurt, but mystified that I made an error on a simple terrain feature. I freed my handlebars from the cables, put my chain back on, did a quick run through my bike to make sure nothing was damaged, and got back into the race a few riders back from my pre-wreck position. I pressed through the next tight turn to the left and then the following one to the right. But on the second turn my bike felt as if it was flexing. Not good. I trusted my scan of my bike after my crash and was confident nothing serious like a cracked frame had happened, so I surmised my bottom bracket lost a few bearings or my rear hub was damaged. Neither mechanical would be so catastrophic that my bike was unsafe to finish the race, but I would have to descend with caution and at less speed than I like to carry. I would have to make my gains on the field climbing instead of relying on my downhill skills as I usually do.
I rode very cautiously on my second lap amidst sporadic grinding sounds from my bike. It took me a while to adjust to the lateral flexing my bike made when I make turns to the right or compressed my suspension. The rider behind me took my wheel. I needed to decide: trust my evaluation of my bike and race or drop out. On the descent, I started to understand how to handle my bike with confidence and headed out for the third lap.
Though I could not zoom the descents or air obstacles, I maintained my position in the race with strong climbing. The last lap came and I felt good. It was time to put the hurt on the women around me knowing if I didn’t put enough distance between us on the climb they could catch me on the final downhill. My legs were up to the challenge and I got around the women near me. I even saw a racer ahead of me who I’ve not been able to catch before late in the descent, but was unwilling to press my bike mechanical issues to close the gap. Elated, I crossed the finish line in seventh place. My best UCI finish yet! If I had been able to ride the downhill sections at full speed I may have been in contention for a spot on the podium. I was stoked!
Washing the mud off my bike, I saw the mechanical problem. I had lost one of the pivots. Pivots are the bolts and bearings that connect the rear triangle of a full suspension bike to the rest of the frame. With one missing my bike would in fact flex whenever force was put into the frame. It validated my cautious riding and I was glad I stayed safe. I must have broken the pivot landing the first water bar and it must have come out on the landing of the second one. This is a mechanical problem that is extremely rare, and just luck of the draw that it happened. Because this is a part of a bike that is almost never damaged, no bike shops or race mechanics had one to repair my bike with. I really wanted to race short track on Sunday morning, but my bike was unsafe to ride.
The bike community is AMAZING! When word got out what had happened to my bike, the Bear Development Team came to my rescue. They race Trek Top Fuels too and one of their junior men offered to let me borrow his pivot bolt so I could race. I literally jumped for joy. Adams race was right before mine and he finished second. After his award ceremony, Jack, the team mechanic, dismantled Adams frame and installed the pivot on mine. I had ten minutes before the start of my race and did my best to warm-up my race tired legs in a few minutes instead of the hour I usually take. I rolled to the start line just in time and we were off. It took a few laps for my legs to warm-up and my sluggish start put me in a position that was hard to claw ahead from. But it didn’t matter, I got to race!
Dad and I headed to The Big Dipper for a celebratory ice cream. We talked about my races, and even though both had some bloopers, I was really pleased with how I did. I kept cool through a mechanical and used it as an opportunity to test my climbing fitness. My endurance is expanding; I could pick up the pace for the last lap and was not wasted from the race (aka I could keep my eyes open during dinner). I am part of a community that is generous. I am understanding race strategy more and can plan my attacks and know when to be patient. Most of all, I had a great time.
First race of my season, and the first running of the Dev Tech Pro XCT in Midway, Utah. A new course. A new race season. Old home turf and old friends to connect with. Second weekend in a row with my sister. Second to none stoke.
I have spent time withSummit Bike Club, a youth development team, who created this event. These kids are as comfortable off monster drops as they are on highball balance beams. I knew they would turn the rolling hillside that was the site of the 2000 Winter Olympic Nordic events into something playful that would reward an XC racer with BMX, trials or DH skills. On pre-ride, I was not disappointed.
The course featured two steep climbs that were just long enough to singe your legs. But you would not get to recover from these; they were followed by descents full of tight switchbacks, extremely steep shoots, bike park style jumps and doubles, rock gardens, drops, up and overs, and slalom tree lines. It would be impossible not to have fun on this course. My challenge would be to stay at race pace and not get distracted playing on the obstacles.
Friday: Short Track. I love it when short track is the day before XC. It lets me work out my race nerves, get a feel for the terrain at speed, and is a great race tune-up. This short track was not UCI sanctioned so the U23 women got to race with the pro women. This was so cool. These young women have grown up mountain biking, where many pros had not heard of a mountain bike at their age, and they added fresh enthusiasm to the field. My sister cheered me on as round and round I went. It was hard to stay fluid on the course and it took me a few laps to stop waste my energy braking to drop speed for a blind turn and accelerating out of it. I’m not quite in race form yet and some cobweb clearing happened for me at this race. Flow would be essential for my success at tomorrow’s XC race.
Saturday: Cross Country. My plan was to test my early season fitness by staying with the lead group for as many laps as possible. The first climb pace was exhausting to keep up with. I focused on my strengths: steady pacing so I am strong in my last lap, taking the direct/fast line at obstacles, and flowing through turns to not lose momentum. I had moments where I moved up the field, I had moments where I knew I could not close the gap. The whole time my sister was running around the course to cheer me on and take photos. She was as tired from being a spectator as I was from racing. Though I’m in early season form and most of the other women have been racing since late March, I pulled into the finish in eighth place. My best UCI finish yet. Look out, I’m going to crush this year!
One of my favorite local trails finally emerged from the snow, and this morning I gave it a pedal.I was going fast – really fast.And I felt perfect flow with the terrain, not like I was risking life and limb.I figured I have just forgotten what it feels like to rip a favorite trail since winter in Bend, OR has been one of those, “100-year winters,” and time on the mountain bike has been sparse.Once home I loaded my ride data and, sure enough, I was riding that trail faster than I ever have before… even faster than that time I chased a Pro gravity dude down it (dumb; don’t do that!) and was sure I would either hit a tree or break my frame.
So, what changed?Time away from a technical sport leaves me rusty and needing a few weeks of “back to the basics” drills and practice to get my form in shape.On my ride I was practicing the nuts and bolts of riding with flow: dynamic body positioning, scanning ahead and momentum management.This cobweb-clearing should not have added up to a blistering pace on wiggly and sporadically technical single track.I was puzzled.
After a hot shower and a good lunch, I sat down for my daily meditation session.I reluctantly started meditating this winter as recommended by my physician to help manage my insomnia.Meditation is helping me reign in my wandering mind.In my practice today I did not do such a great job at keeping my thoughts on task.On one of my brain’s ambles it struck me that concentration was the new driver to my speed.Focus.On my ride this morning my mind gave undivided attention to the terrain as it approached.Thoughts about my to-do list, what I want for dinner, or if my Dads birthday present will arrive on time did not pop up to distract me. Nothing existed but the task at hand.Meditation: my new secret training tool.
Want to give it a try?I started by downloading some free meditation apps.I like Calm and Head Space.They both have an intro-to-meditation series, and each lesson is only 10 minutes long.That’s it.That will get you started.It’s a low time commitment, has nothing to do with religion, and you can do it anywhere (even at a quiet place along the trail).Meditate, and go faster.