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.
Preparation is Key for Keeping it Fun in the Cold on a Snow Bike
Baby, it’s cold outside; but I want to ride. Those of us living in environments where the earth is white for several months and the pavement shoulder hides under sheets of ice and debris thank the bike gods for giving us fat bikes. You can now pedal in the snow. Fat biking is just biking, but there are some unique equipment considerations before you hit the trails.
What to wear to ride in the snow?
Getting sweaty in cold weather is a recipe for misery, so utilizing clothing layers while carrying additional layers is key. I take off and put on layers several times on a fat bike ride. I start out slightly overdressed on a ride and once I’m warmed up I peel off a layer. Even if it is sunny out, I carry a waterproof jacket and pants. You may find yourself hiking in deep snow or the snow may become slush and soak you. If I am going on an epic ride, over four hours, I carry an extra undershirt (and sports bra) to change into mid-ride if I get sweaty. I ride with a small pack to easily store layers as I need them.
For the coldest weather I layer:
On top – a thermal top, fleece top, vest (down if it’s really cold), and waterproof jacket with pit zips.
On bottom – bike tights (full length or bike shorts with leg warmers), calf height winter socks, long johns or fleece leggings, and waterproof bike pants.
Extras – cap and neck gaiter or balaclava, warm gloves and bar mitts, and fat bike boots (see feet for more detail).
For warm winter days, I layer:
On top – thermal shirt and a windproof vest.
On bottom – winter bike pants (windproof on the front) or bike shorts with leg warmers (only on short rides in full sun and temps well above 32).
Extras – headband, thin gloves, and fat bike boots
Protect Your Extremities
Hands will not be able to shift or brake if they are numb. If your gloves are too bulky you will have trouble feeling your shifters and levers. Bar mitts let you wear thin gloves. Lobster claw style gloves are also good for fat biking. I always carry a packet of Hot Hands (chemical packets that when opened deliver heat for 7 hours) and put them in my gloves over the top (non-palm) side of my hand where they warm the blood going to your fingers. Carrying an extra pair of gloves is a good idea if you are going for a long ride or getting wet is likely.
Feet will get colder than if you were riding on the road in the same temps. Your boots will brush through snow banks on the side of the trail, and post holing through the snow is inevitable. Flat pedals with traction nubs (free ride style, not the plastic ones that came on your kid’s bike) with good winter boots work well. Bike shoes with neoprene covers are okay but most fill full of snow when you hike. Yes, walking in the snow is a normal part of fat biking in the snow so plan for it. If you ride a fat bike regularly in the snow and want to use clipless pedals, investing in fat bike specific bike boots (I wear Bontrager OMW Winter Shoe) is a must. I also carry an extra packet of Hot Hands to put in my bike shoes if my feet get too cold. They warm your toes best under your socks/against your skin right behind the ball of your foot. Consider an extra pair of non-cotton socks for long rides or rides where you know you will get wet.
The head is where we lose the most heat, so find a fleece cap that fits under your helmet. If you are hot, this layer is the quickest to remove and cools you rapidly. I carry a headband if I think I’ll take my cap off so my ears stay warm. I also carry a neck gaiter for extra warmth if the wind or snow picks up.
Eyewear selection can greatly affect how much fun you have too. Ski goggles have lenses that enhance snow definition but can fog. If you fat bike with goggles make sure they vent well with your helmet; if they are made by the same manufacturer they typically will. Yellow lenses work well in the snow unless you will be biking in full sun conditions. For full sun, regular riding sun glasses work fine.
Preparing for a mechanical on a fat bike requires a few special items
To fix a flat on the fat bike’s extra large tires you will need a fat bike specific tube. Some bike shops will sell you a DH (downhill) tube and say it will work. It won’t. Your CO2 cartridge may fill your tire to only 2-3 psi, so carry several, or better yet, carry a hand pump. To have the most fun on your fat bike, adjust your tire pressure to maximize float on the particular snow density; it is nice to have a pump so you can play around with the psi that is right for you and not worry about running out of CO2 cartridges. Tire patch glue often freezes, so carry an extra tube. Tire levers also get brittle and break in the cold; I carry three just in case. Thankfully, flats are pretty rare in the snow.
You will flop your bike into deep snow often. These falls are silly and usually painless, but your derailleur hanger is particularly susceptible to bending. Carry an extra derailleur hanger and the tools to replace it.
Prevention of mechanicals is the best medicine for fat bikes, and that means put your bike away DRY AND LUBED. Components don’t like being wet. A bike put away wet is a rusty bike when you take it out next time (particularly if you ride in an area that salts the roadway).
It gets dark fast in winter; carry lights. I always have a headlamp in my pack in case the ride is longer than I expect. Snow conditions can change quickly, and your out-and-back ride may take twice as long on the return. A flashing front and rear light is great if you will be on trails used by snowmobilers, mushers, skiers, or may find yourself on roads shared with motor vehicles.
Plan your route wisely in winter conditions. If you have a mechanical or other problem, hiking out in the snow will take a whole lot longer than if you are on dirt or pavement. Bring extra clothes, food and lights just in case. Cell phone power is easily drained in cold temps so don’t expect your phone to work. If riding alone, make sure people know where you will be, when you are expected back, and what to do if you don’t return in reasonable time. Choose a ride that is busy, parallels roads, communities, or goes by several trailheads so you have options. If you are exploring remote areas, bring a well-equipped posse of friends.
Fuel your ride
When you are cold you don’t feel thirsty, but you need to drink like on any other ride. A well-hydrated body is better able to thermoregulate. The hose of your hydration pack or a water bottle in a cage may freeze in winter riding. I carry an insulated bottle with hot beverage. Hot tea with electrolytes is nice: green tea with citrus sports drink mix or ginger tea with apple electrolytes are my favorite. I also bring hot soup for long or cold rides. If it is warm out and a hot drink is not what I’m craving, I just add a little snow. In a pinch I have poured my hot drink on frozen components to get me home.
You burn a ton of calories just staying warm, so bring more food than you think you will want. Holiday cookies and leftover ham sandwiches (the meat will stay “refrigerated”) are great, but moist snacks (gels, blocks, bars, fruit, nut butters, etc.) freeze into rocks you won’t want to eat.
Have a hot recovery beverage waiting for you at the end of the ride. I’m a big fan of a Fluids Cinnamon Vanilla Recovery Mix made with hot almond milk to sip while I clean, dry and lube my bike at the trailhead before transporting it home. Hot cocoa is pretty great, too.
My Fat Bike Packing List:
Flat kit: fat tire tube, 3 tire levers, mechanical hand pump with psi gauge
Down coat if I’m going to take a lunch break in the snow
Gore-Tex/ waterproof jacket and pants
Extra base layer (top, long johns, sports bra)
Extra thin gloves or glove liners
Neck gaiter or balaclava
Zip-lock with my phone and map
With a little insight and preparation, you will have a fantastic adventure on a fat bike. I’m pretty sure you will be talking to your local bike shop about adding a fat bike to your bike stable in no time.
As the new year approaches, I like to sit with the athletes I coach to discuss the highlights of the previous year and what changes we should make for the coming year. I coach men and women ranging in age from juniors to senior games participants specializing in anything from ultra-running to alpine ski racing.They come from many walks, yet what do they all have in common? In every one of the “new year” conversations, each and every athlete mentioned dissatisfaction with their weight, their body composition and appearance.Funny thing is that they all fall within the normal, healthy athlete body composition spectrum and yet they all feel they need to lose a few pounds!
It would be deceitful if I did not say I too find my inner monologue periodically chastising myself:
“If you were two pounds lighter your watt to mass ratio would be higher.”
“Your jeans are tight on your muscle bound thighs, and that looks bad.”
“You would be faster if you skipped that slice of birthday cake yesterday.”
“That competitor is thinner than you – she must be more dedicated than you are.”
When you hear someone else say this you think they are crazy, being unrealistic and self-deprecating.They have body dysphoria.But when you say these things to yourself you believe them to be true.How did we get ourselves into such a pickle?These untrue labels we give ourselves are catastrophic on our psyche and are defeating.This has got to stop, and each of us hold the power to end this tyranny of lies for ourselves.Take it as another task on your training schedule.
My New Year’s resolution is to start a revolution among athletes to celebrate their athletic physiques.Here is how to start; list ten things you love about your body.Be honest.Do not give back-handed compliments.Put this list somewhere that you will see it daily.Read it out loud.This is your mantra.Add to the ten.You are amazing, strong, beautiful, and can do things that your friends envy – celebrate it.
Here is my list of ten.
My quadriceps power me up technical climbs that most cyclists walk.
My feet are pretty, especially with bold polish on them.
The scar on my ankle (my wishbone – thanks sis!) is a testament to my body’s amazing ability to heal.
My spine is capable of serpentine motion that lets me swim butterfly, and a lot of good swimmers can’t do that.
Thick, dark, perfectly arched eyebrows are mine, all mine.
I have a super strong core that lets me demo super advanced Pilates exercises safely.
My lady parts tolerate all fashion of saddles without demise.
My arms react to a front tire going astray before my brain even knows there is a problem.
Yeah, I look good naked.
I have flexible hamstrings that let me balance one-legged on icy slopes while I pull skins off my skis and make it look effortless.
Send me your list.I’ll anonymously post them.We are not alone.What could you possibly have to lose by loving yourself more?
Toast. Cooked. Cracked. Gassed. Shattered. Today I got to experience this firsthand: panting, legs burning, dull brain, feeling like I’m giving everything but the output is a trickle, a mile is a forever, a water bar feels like a three foot step-up, and I am spent!
Stage six had us going up and over Gold Dust on wiggly single-track, descending to the valley in a moss covered ditch that felt like riding a bobsled run, climbing a fire road back up Gold Dust, then a single track descent home. I was lackluster on the first climb but the fun terrain made up for my missing oomph. I felt like a rabbit dropping into the valley, but then was passed by one of my competitors making me wonder how fleet of wheel I really was. On the final climb, I was slipping back. The headwind was not helping but Dean and JP caught me in pace line formation and urged me to grab on. With tunnel vision to the wheel ahead of me (and JP’s prosthetic leg – so cool! He’s an Afghanistan Vet) I dug as deep as I could, but try as I may I just couldn’t hold on. The will to go harder was there but the tank was dry. I had slipped back to fourth position on the day but my effort would maintain my overall standing. Head down, put calories in, keep turning the pedals, get er’ done… that’s just what I did.
Finally, atop Gold Dust the second time, I was greeted with PBR and a raucous seven mile descent to reboot my energy. Ripping down root covered chutes and plowing along running creeks it felt like I hadn’t pedaled over 250 miles over countless mountain passes in the past six days. Elated, I hit the finish line and joined the riders sharing their glee at completing the Breck Epic. What a ride! What an adventure. Holy cow that was a huge undertaking. I loved it. I’m going to take a day off biking. Okay, maybe two. When do I get to do this again?
It turns out that competitive hike a bike is a misery loves company affair. Today’s stage began as a TT start based on our overall standings in the race to keep us spread out on the single track start. Quickly the trail turned upwards and we climbed to the top of Wheeler Peak in under six miles. Climbed! I’m sure the track was laid by mountain goats and the last half mile was mandatory hike-a-bike turf. But rewarded I was at the top; views, views, views, bacon frying and gummy bears were the reward. But it was a ruse! We were not going down, we were to traverse, descend a bit, climb, climb, climb, traverse, carry our bikes over talus, climb to another summit above 13,000 ft, and traverse more goat paths (Mike the race director called them primitive trails…). It was a hard task to ride up to 12,000 ft on the Queens stage, but pedaling very technical terrain above that for over an hour was a feat of mental stamina with a brain starved for oxygen. I have never been so happy for a descent. Loose and exposed at the top did not matter, as the altitude decreased my bliss increased. The descent was truly a trail of legends. What a big day!
As I mentioned yesterday, stage racing is the full monte of cycling experience: endurance, technical skills, tactics, perseverance, and luck. I had the third strike of oops today, the dreaded crash. Not really much of a crash. I was descending after the first summit, still unaware that I had another hour of hard riding at altitude in my future, on a section that was a pinball gallery of boulders on a steep hillside. My bike got bounced loose on my line and rather than go off the steep side of the “trail” I opted to lay it down on the uphill side. I scraped my arm on a rock and thought nothing of it. Much later a rider passed me and asked if I was alright. I was confused and said yes, and then another rider asked me the same thing as I overtook him. Again at the aid station I was asked if I needed medical. I decided that the scrape on my arm must be pretty ugly, but obviously not an emergency as I had no pain and arm and hand worked just fine so off to the finish line (in a downpour) I went. At the finish I was brave enough to look at my arm: a pretty meaty slash that was nicely cleaned by all the rain was my souvenir of the day.
My Dad came to watch my finish and I was so glad for some assistance, but sorry to have him see his daughter sliced up. I gave him the task of washing my mud caked bike as I found medical. They took one look at my arm and sent me to the ER. Sorry Dad! So off to the hospital we went. I was super lucky; the gash was so deep they could see all my tendons but none of them were nicked. A nice row of internal and external stitches later my arm is as good as new!
Tomorrow is the final stage of the race. It is rumored that most divisions ride as a parade (and take whisky shots at the summits) but I suspect the fierce ladies in the open field will want one more day of competition. Whichever way the race leader chooses will no doubt be the icing on the cake for me and this amazing adventure into the Breck Epic.
I’m feeling pretty darn good. I’m thirty three miles into a beautiful ride that has taken me from Breckenridge to Keystone and am headed back. I easily climbed Vomit Hill, kept my wits about me on the Aquaduct trail with a very exposed traverse, and steady-Eddie’ed the eight mile grinder climb out of Keystone. I’m munching on a Gu waffle and banana I grabbed at the last aid station and I’m starting to get nervous. I’m alone, and today the racers are very spread out so this is not unusual, but something feels off. My Spidy senses are tingling and I slow down. I must be off course. I stop and wait for another rider to come into view. No rider. Even though I’ve climbed two miles up from the last aid station I turn. Yep, I was off course. (As I was headed down a course marshal drove up to catch me – what a well run race!) Right after the Aid station there was a right turn onto new single track and I must have missed the course marking (the course is really well marked) as I was stashing supplies into pockets from the aid station. Doh!
Though I added four miles to my day and at least ten minutes to my time (I really don’t want to look at my Garmin data to see how bad it really was), I got back on track. I decided to ask my body to pick up the pace just a titch and see if it would respond. Yes! For the first time at altitude I could push a little harder without my heart rate spiking. I slowly passed riders I had gone around two hours earlier, and moved back into second place for the day. The women I passed the second time were quite confused to see me again, but they gave me kind words for my error. A gentleman I was riding near heard about my mistake and as we hit the last big descent he invited me to follow his line, he was a local and had it dialed. So with blazing speed I would not dare otherwise on a descent I’ve never ridden before I zipped the last four miles to the finish.
Wow. Stage racing is such an adventure! Mechanicals, getting off course, crashing (cross your fingers for me that I continue to kept it rubber side down), weather… I suspect every rider has to manage at least one of these blips. The race is long. Ride your race. I’m having so much fun!
Lightning and thunder (fortunately I was in the valley between the two big climbs)
Ear to ear grin downhills
Walking my bike for about a quarter mile because it was too steep (even Todd Wells walked)
Technical descending in a downpour (all the skills sessions I’ve been leading this year really came in handy here, I passed so many people who were walking and I was giggling with glee)
Views! The climbing was so slow I had lots of time to look around.
Skittle hand-ups on the summit
Today’s course was the Queens stage, a climber’s day. I fancy myself a climber so I was excited about riding my bike over the big passes that would have me pedaling at an altitude I’ve not been on a bike at. Three days into this race and the field is friendly; passing is made simple, if you are off your bike everyone will slow to offer assistance, veterans will give you beta on what is up ahead, and several men gave me a little push uphill as I passed them while they were walking. I tried a new hydration/ fueling strategy that worked better for me than previous days and the aid stations were stocked with bananas and Gu’s waffles that were a welcome treat to gels (ingesting gel #15 today still required anti-gagging tactics). And I have found my inner bike Buddha and no longer care what other riders ahead or behind me are doing; I ride my race, trust my training and listen to my body.
My legs definitely did not have the oomph in them I was hoping for, so today I listened to them and backed off when the burn started to be ignited. My bike is sporting a new rear shock and rear tire today so I attacked the descents, which were first class fun-fests. I came across the finish line third in my division, but was elated. (I’m still second overall.) My Mom was volunteering at the finish line and her friendly cheer made me feel like a celebrity. I had the most excellent day on the bike. Though tired, as one would be after riding 44 miles and climbing 6400 ft, I felt great! This monster of a day is one I’m proud of putting in my personal record book, and feel tomorrow I will be even stronger. Look out top of the podium!
I was so excited for another day of this race that I didn’t sleep. All night I fretted about my rebuilt shock, how much extra stuff to carry for endless flats, and how to refine my strategy. Since I wasn’t sleeping I looked over my bike again, ate a monster breakfast three hours before the race start and was at the start line (to make sure I was not 200 deep) before the race officials even showed up. Nerves. Mom took a picture of me heading out that I am sharing so you can laugh. She also said I, “looked scary” meaning it as a compliment (she also thought the gel packets hidden under my kit leg cuffs were my bulging muscles).
I survived the mountain bike peloton up the road for the first three miles, this must be the same as riding in the crash-four group as a road racer, and was relieved to hit the dirt and get spread out on Heinous Hill climb. I was surprised at how strong I felt early in the race, but that was not to last. Mile 16 to 19 we climbed over 2000 feet to top out at 11200 and I was the turtle not the hare. I did put some good distance on Amy (race leader) but on the descent she passed me never to be seen again. My pace was sustainable, I was taking in calories like a metronome but still had minor cramp twinges at mile 28 reinforcing my attitude to have patience with the race and ride my race.
I am a power house and (not to brag) can drop just about anyone on a climb if I want to. In a stage race doing this will gobble up your glycogen (what fuels your muscles) and it takes days to replenish so your legs are cooked for the rest of the race. It is taking Yoda whispering in my ear to keep me from powering up to drop a rider just because I can. Who knew I had so much ego! Fortunately the sage Emma gets to chat with other riders on climbs, take in the views and get some air on the flow trails as we descend back into town.
I finished the day moving into second place overall, but lost a few minutes to Amy. Tomorrow is the Queen Stage featuring a climb over 12,000 ft, biking through snow, climbing over 12,000 ft again, descending through bear territory, a wall (but it’s short? What is short 38 miles in and having climbed 6800 ft already?), and then my Mom will be at the finish line volunteering for the race. Epic.
Stage racing is the real deal; no wonder the road scenes crown jewels are the grand tours. We lined up is a grand mess with no regard to category for a neutral start with a police escort up the pavement until we hit the trails. This should have spread the race out a bit, but there were a lot of nerves urging many people to sprint. After a flowy descent (stuck behind a team of guys who insisted on zipping ahead of me as we approached the trail but didn’t have the descending skills to match their enthusiasm) the real climbing began on two track and the field finally spread out.
My plan for day one was to stay in the middle of the open women, to copy their pace and learn how they managed aid stations and working with other riders. However, with a mass start I didn’t even know how many women were in my category, let alone know who they were; so I relied on an even pace I knew I could sustain all day (which had me walk a few loose hills I could have ridden but my legs would have been on fire) and forcing myself to consume 100 calories every 20 minutes and electrolytes on the hour. I took my time at the aid stations to restock my supplies and devour a banana.
I felt strong and was breathing with ease as I crested the last big climb and had been informed at the last aid station I was the first female! I was STOKED, the day could be mine. And then I flatted on a relatively smooth fire road. My tire had a double puncture. A nail? Who knows. I took my time and put a tube in after sealing the inside of my tire with a Gu packet. The race is long, it is better to do things right instead of making a flustered mistake and getting another flat down the road. (But I did realize my rookie mistake of not having a back-up tube and CO2 cartridge in my drop bags – I will remedy this for tomorrow.) But as I was putting my tire back on I heard a whoosh. Oh no! I was confident I repaired my rear tire correctly. It was not my tire but my rear shock decided right there to loose it’s seal and release all of it’s fluid. No rear suspension – just a fully squished shock. Nothing I could do about this but ride gently the remaining eleven miles to the finish, which was mostly downhill. I rode smart: a bit slower and more conservative than I would have liked but I got to the finish without a hitch.
Somehow I finished in third place today! I’m thrilled to be on the podium, and think not having the pressure of the leaders jersey will be an advantage tomorrow. SRAM generously spent the afternoon “fixing” my shock (fingers crossed) and fortunately I ride for Rolf Prima so I have a back-up set of wheels to ride tomorrow. I now know I have what it takes to do well in a stage race, and success will come from being patient and sticking to my own plan. Can’t wait for stage 2.