I’m drooling looking at the footage of the Quebec Single Track Experience (QSE) stages. Finding lines on the root-crossed dense forest trails of Valcartier will be a challenge. Flowing down the bermed descent of St. Raymond will be a deserved reward after the climb. Riding the terrain of Mont Ste-Anne will give me inside tips […]
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!
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.
Summer heat? Bring it on!
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.
- Connect with other lady fat bikers.
- Improve your snow riding skills.
- First time? This is a fantastic first fat bike ride experience.
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?
I grew up at 7000 ft. altitude in New Mexico, spent my early adult life living in Utah where I trained and played in elevations above 8000 ft. regularly, but I now live in Oregon at 3000 ft. and am learning the unique pain and challenges of racing in high altitudes when I live and train at low altitude. This summer I have three races in high altitudes: the Chile Challenge Pro XC at Angel Fire NM, National Championships at Mammoth CA, and the BreckEpic at Breckenridge CO. This schedule has given me the opportunity to be my own “guinea pig” of how to prepare for this added challenge.
For us lowlanders, a trip to the Rockies is a humbling experience. A hill I would normally warm up on has me gasping for air, two hours into a casual paced ride will have my legs burning, my après ride festivities are reduced to sleeping, and the next morning I don’t feel as fresh to pedal as I expect. Altitude! So what is going on? The atmospheric pressure is less at high altitude making less oxygen available in each breath of air you inspire. Oxygen is captured in the lungs, transported by hemoglobin in blood, and delivered to muscles so they can fire. Respiration and heart rate must increase at altitude to get the same amount of oxygen to muscles from what is needed at lower altitude. If you live or regularly train at elevation your body will physiologically adapt to transport more oxygen.
When I get to high altitude my body:
- Reduces the plasma (liquid) in my blood, thus increasing the concentration of oxygen carrying hemoglobin being pumped through the circulatory system, but making my blood thick.
- It takes more oomph for my heart to pump my thickened blood, so my heart rate increases.
- To get more oxygen to my lungs, my respiration rate increases.
- Muscles lose their ability to use fatty acids for fuel and rely primarily on glycogen.
If I can stay at high altitude for 3-4 weeks my body:
- Will increased the amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin allowing plasma levels return to normal and my blood is no longer sludge.
- Resting respiration and heart rate decrease to my pre-high altitude zone.
- Mitochondria (muscle cell’s power producers) increase in size and number so fueling during exercise returns to a predominance on fatty acid consumption instead of glycogen.
- Increases erythropoietin hormone (EPO) to increase red blood cell and hemoglobin production.
In a world where I don’t have a job and have unlimited funds, I would travel to my high altitude race destinations a month before the race, but until I am rich and famous I have to be smart about how I prepare and interact with altitude. There is a lot of conflicting research about when the negative effects of altitude are the most intense for athletes but it is general agreed that immediately upon arrival at altitude your body starts to respond by increasing respiration, increasing resting heart rate, and decreasing blood plasma.
I decide to arrive at altitude under 24 hours before my race:
- The physiological effects will have had the least time to exert their negative influence on my body: my blood is not complete sludge, I still have untapped glycogen stores, and if my sleep is poor due to my racing heart I’ve only had one meager night of sleep instead of several.
- When I pre-ride the race course and tune-up, I do so at a less intense effort (10-20% reduction) than I normally would. However following my active routine will help me acclimate better than just relaxing.
- It is easy to become dehydrated at higher altitude because I am shallowly breathing dry air more rapidly allowing fluid to be lost with my respiration. The dry air also evaporates my sweat so quickly I may not know I am loosing fluid this way too. I increase not just my water intake, but my electrolyte intake as well. Sadly, I eliminate diuretics from my diet – no caffeine or alcohol.
- Appetite is suppressed by hypoxia, my body uses more energy at rest than at low altitude, and my body poorly uses fat stores as fuel at high altitude. I shift my eating routine to frequent, carbohydrate dense meals to maintain my energy levels. I also east iron rich foods (broccoli, lean red meat like elk and kidney beans) to support my hemoglobin and anti-oxidant rich foods (berries, russet potatoes and cinnamon) to repair cellular damage caused by not enough oxygen getting to my muscles.
- Sleep! My sleep is disrupted, I am using more energy just sitting on the couch, and my body is in overtime working to adapt to oxygen depletion so I schedule naps throughout the day.
I may be at a disadvantage racing at altitude compared to my competitors who live or train at high elevations, but having a plan based on physiological effects to manage the impacts gives me an edge over those who do not prepare. For me, knowing what to expect from my body at altitude gives me confidence to race well. I will rely on a slightly less intense effort while focusing on consistency; I will be the tortoise not the hair during the race. If mid-race I have to put in a sprint effort I will quickly replace the glycogen used by eating a gel. After all, very few competitors live at high elevations and all of us are suffering with reduced oxygen. So, how is my strategy working for me? Stay tuned and I’ll break down what worked, what didn’t, how I changed my plan of attack at Angel Fire to Mammoth and what I’ll be doing to get ready for six days of racing above 9000 ft. at the BreckEpic in August.
Recently I traveled to Poulsbo, WA to participate in an endurance mountain bike race. I have a lot to learn and dial in so I can “get it done” at BreckEpic, so in preparation I signed up for the Stottelmeyer 60 to practice the endurance race format. Years ago I raced a 50 mile mtb event and it was a spectacular disaster: I crashed, bonked, had mechanicals (3!), and mercifully DNF’ed with six miles and a huge climb to go. I will say I went to that race on a whim and thought it would be like the after-work races I did at the time (about 12 mile courses) but would take longer. ROOKIE!
There are many things different about endurance racing than the cross country (XC) racing I focus on. My biggest concern is fueling; if I don’t get enough calories in I will bonk or find myself walking off leg cramps, if I take in too many, to quickly or the “wrong type” I will get a sour and crampy stomach. All of these have plagued me as an athlete. In endurance races you have drop bags deposited along the course at aid stations full of snacks and supplies you hopefully will not need; like a rain jacket or extra CO2 carriages. There are no aid stations in XC races, you would never give up the seconds to stop to grab a snack, and a flat tire means you are cut at the end of the lap by falling off the leader pace. How I was going to embrace food, aid stations and intentionally stopping during the race left me feeling like I was headed for an exotic destination where no westerner had ever been before.
I traveled to the Olympic Peninsula with my friends Anne and Cary who are seasoned veterans of distance racing. They were gracious to share their tricks of the trade for fueling, how to move through aid stations efficiently, and what should be in my drop bag. They shared awesome details like putting a rubber band around the necks of water bottles to secure gels so at aid stations I can quickly resupply and that a Payday candy bar might be the race treat that gets me to the finish line. What I took away from our conversations is that fueling (as I feared) the factor that can make or break your success in an endurance race. On my long training rides I have been experimenting with foods and calories that work for me. I have learned that on longer rides I need to replace about 250 Kcal/hr consisting mostly of carbohydrates and I need to drink half a liter of water an hour in cool temps where every other bottle has electrolytes in it. My travel companions cautioned me that my caloric intake may be significantly higher during the race; and I would know if I started to cramp (not enough glycogen for my muscles), my bike handling was sluggish (not enough glucose to power my brain), or I had any stomach disgruntling. They were also worried about my food choices which were homemade rice cakes from the Skratch Labs cookbook and Perpetuim (a high calorie electrolyte beverage formulated for endurance athletes); so I threw out the adage of never experimenting on race day and followed their advice for a fuss-free but completely pre-packaged fueling strategy. Calories by gels, blocks and a high calorie (but protein free) electrolyte drink was the menu.
The Stottelmeyer 60 is a fifteen mile loop course twisting and turning through a very dense forest keeping the pace slow but requiring constant bike handling skills to get over roots and between tight trees. Opportunities to pass came in short fire road strait-aways, giggles were had on a new DH flow trail, and we passed through a lupine field where the flower stalks brushed my helmet. The weather had been unseasonably warm and dry but race day presented with a black sky and cool temps. The rain held off through the first half of the race, but by my last lap it was a downpour. As the rain came down, bike handling became more important as the trail became muddy, roots slick and visibility poor. My brain fogged in fatigue on the last lap too. My palms tenderized by miles; a switchback that was a fun swoop on previous laps became a terrain feature not to be taken lightly by the last pass.
Endurance race pace is slower than XC race pace. If I went too hard early, finishing would be a struggle; so I used my competitors as my mentors. Early in the race I posted-up with four other women in the pro division; two with solid endurance mtb racing resumes and two who were local girls that knew the trails like the back of their hands. Midway through our second lap I stopped at the aid station to resupply (I had just endured a minor muscle cramp episode and knew I would need to get a whole lot more calories in than I had planned – I calculated I averaged 375 Kcal/hr!) and those girls rode away. I did not doubt my need to stop and ensure I stayed fueled, especially so early in the race, but it was hard to lose the pack. But not to fear, back to riding I caught up with a group of men who were happy to sit on my wheel and chat me up for the next hour. The miles ticked off, I felt great, I was enjoying the terrain, and I was keeping a pace I was confident I could hold for the rest of the race. My train and I overtook the women I was earlier riding with (a moment of doubt for me) and I soon lost the chatty gentlemen. In my third lap I would catch up to riders, chat for a bit (crazy to be in the middle of a race and making friends, not gasping for air), then find myself catching the next rider. I developed a strategy for moving through aid stations: hand my bike to a volunteer, swap out water bottles, drop my gel wrappers, put two gels in my leg cuffs, grab a handful of blocks (like 7) and ride away chipmunk style. A stop took me less than a minute. My last aid station stop was bliss. I knew I was 9 miles from the finish, 9 miles from dry clothes, and 9 miles from a burger. I didn’t care if my stomach turned at this point so I ate a banana and an Oreo. That Oreo may be one of the best tasting things I’ve ever laid to my taste buds. I wished I had put Oreos in my leg cuffs not gels; soggy or not they would have been divine.
The finish line loomed. Anne and Cary were cheering me home despite the pouring rain. I did it! I successfully completed an endurance mountain bike race: I managed my pace, my fuel, aid stations, enjoyed (almost) all of the race, and I even won. My burger was fantastic. I can’t wait to do another of these!
So my test run for BreckEpic was a big confidence boost. Stottelmeyer 60 gave me insights on what I have to work on: recovery after a race so I can do it again the next day, increasing my mental stamina so I can safely descend technical terrain at the end of a day, tightening up the equipment I carry, and refining what I have in my drop bags. I learned the pace for an endurance race is still pretty fast (faster than a fast ride with friends), I will be constantly eating and drinking, aid stations are a place for support not a zone to fear, the race is long so trust yourself and don’t get seduced by doing what others are doing, endurance racing is a whole lot of fun not just suffering, and most important – I can do this!
I am a cross country mountain bike racer. My races are two hour sprints on trails. Strategy choices play out in minutes. A mechanical is a DNF. I don’t even slow to slurp down a gel mid-race. Fast, intense, then over just like that. I love them. However, I’ve listened to friends gush and groan about their longer race escapades. Tales of finishing a stage with a duct taped derailleur, eating Twinkies at mile 42, taking pictures at a vista and still landing on the podium. This is a world so foreign to me, so curious and seductive I have to give it a try. So I signed up to race the BreckEpic in August in blissful ignorance of what is involved to do an event like this one.
The BreckEpic is a six day, mountain bike stage race in the mountains around Breckenridge Colorado. Each day features a BIG ride of 30-50 miles of single track and climbs topping out over 13,000 ft. This is a very different mountain bike race than the Pro XC format I focus on where my race is 105 minutes of sprinting on a 5 KM loop. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I have a lot to learn to be successful. So come along for the ride. I’m going to share my learning curve, you can be my teammate, and maybe my antics will inspire you to do a stage race too!
Project Proposal: BreckEpic 2016
Goal: To race and complete the Breck Epic 2016 as a solo rider.
- 6 back to back days of hard mountain bike riding
- 30 – 60 mile days taking an average of 5 hours of pedaling
- Climbing an average of 6200 ft each day
Steps to Success:
- Self-support Supplies
- Drop Bags
- Back to back days
- Long days
- Big elevation gains
- Riding at serious elevation
- The Unknown (???)
Project Completion Date: August 14-19, 2016
Overtraining. This is a dirty word in my circles. My cyclist peers will never own up to it and speak in hushed or mocking voices when they talk about someone else who has it; mere mortals or those too stupid to “listen to their bodies” are the ones who get overtrained, not them. My clinical peers roll their eyes when they talk about one of their athlete clients who is overtrained, “don’t those exercise monkeys know better?” So with embarrassment and self-deprecating inner monologues I found myself 27 miles from home, huddling under a tree to wait out a storm, sobbing because I wanted to turn home. Sobbing because I was going to bail on my training plan and go home. Sobbing because I was sobbing. Yes, I’m overtrained.
And that is not the end of the world!
Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) effects your hormone and nervous system creating an environment where your body can not keep up on repairing and rebuilding tissue in response to training stresses. This usually happens when intensity and/ or duration of training are turned up too quickly and/or you are not getting adequate rest and/or there are other big stressors in your life. Physically athletes with OTS show rapid decrease in performance with mild muscle soreness and maybe headaches. Psychologically they present with irritability, sudden lack of love for their sport (“staleness”), and depression. Insomnia and decreased appetite are common symptoms as well that compound the problem.
Fortunately, if you recognize the symptoms early, OTS can be turned around pretty quickly. If you keep pushing through lack luster workouts or add more in to “make-up” for poor performance you can set yourself up for a lengthy bout of OTS. If symptoms have been present for 3-4 weeks, typically a 3-5 day rest period followed by returning to training with similar intensity but lower volume for a few weeks remedies the situation. There is a lot of evidence showing that reducing training volume but not intensity for up to 21 days will not affect performance. But, if symptoms have been present for a longer period, a multi-week break from training and slow return may be required. Early detection and intervention is key!
Good thing I went home instead of pushing on in the rain.
To supplement my rest phase I am getting gentle sports massage (this is NOT the time for deep tissue work). I am making sure I am hydrated and my glycogen supplies are restored (i.e. eating complex carbohydrates). There is a lot of evidence that active recovery helps stimulate normal tissue repair cycles so I am going to a restorative Pilates class or doing a mellow swim (not my usual Master Swim cross training session) a few days a week. And I’m sleeping! I am early to bed and not setting an alarm on weekends. I am goal oriented, so my training focus is to get my recovery right; turning down a late night out with the girls, skipping the group ride that turns into a dead sprint, and eliminating that nagging “to-do” list with my free time so when I’m back to full training I won’t have that stressor in the mix.
Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.