Fat Bike Tech Tips for REALLY Cold Temperatures

morning

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:

  1. Racing an XC in -18 Fahrenheit and not being cold at the finish
  2. Finishing the 50K race not regretting my clothing and (most) of my equipment choices
  3. 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.

  • Tire Sealant
    Sealant Malfunction Clean-Up

    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
    IMG_6487
    PSI Adjustment

    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.

  • frost face (2)
    I’m Comfy and Frost Bite Free Racing the XC Event in -18 Temps

    See my article on layering to ride in the cold for elaboration.

  • 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
    Amy in Malign
    Amys fingers and fig bars are avoiding the freeze in her BarMitts

    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.
  • IMG_6524
    If you are not an Abominable Snowman, you had better use these boots!

    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.

Comfort Food

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.

 

  • Hydration magic (2)
    Mixing up my race fuel

    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.
  • Lunch #2
    First Lunch After the 50K

    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

  • photo photo
    You only get one shot

    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
    hot tub
    Post ride warm-up at Fairmont Jasper National Park Lodge.     Photo by @vamospraonde

    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!

Malign Canyon Friends
Happy fat bike friends after riding in Malign Canyon for the “Ride with the Pro’s” event

 

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Don’t Sweat It, You Can Train To Perform In The Heat

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

sweat physiology

  • 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

 

tubbing
Keep Cool While Adjusting to Hot Environments

 

  • 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

 

holly running (2)
Once Heat Adapted, You Can Be Successful Racing and Training in the Sun

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

electrolytes
Some of the Electrolyte Products in my Pantry

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?

fun in the heat
Heat Adapted Athletes Having Fun
  • 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!

New Year’s Resolution: To LOVE My Body More

image-1As 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. 

  1. My quadriceps power me up technical climbs that most cyclists walk.
  2. My feet are pretty, especially with bold polish on them.
  3. The scar on my ankle (my wishbone – thanks sis!) is a testament to my body’s amazing ability to heal.
  4. My spine is capable of serpentine motion that lets me swim butterfly, and a lot of good swimmers can’t do that.
  5. Thick, dark, perfectly arched eyebrows are mine, all mine.
  6. I have a super strong core that lets me demo super advanced Pilates exercises safely.
  7. My lady parts tolerate all fashion of saddles without demise.
  8. My arms react to a front tire going astray before my brain even knows there is a problem.
  9. Yeah, I look good naked.
  10. 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?

Meet Training Weight

training weightToday was my first road ride of 2016.  A week of warmer than usual temperatures in Central Oregon melted the ice off the roads and the sun beckoned me to lube the chair and re-inflate the tires on Training Weight so he was road ready.  Training Weight; yup, that’s the name of my road bike and it is a name of endearment.  Even though this bike has a drive train squeak that no amount of grease can quiet and tips the scales at about the same spot as my 5” travel mountain bike, the second I hit the pavement aboard this machine I feel like I am flying.

Training Weight is the first road bike I owned.  I got this bike to rehab a torn meniscus in my knee from a skiing incident more than ten years ago.  Pedaling sped up my recovery and let me explore the gritty and far reaching corners of the city I was living in while not dwelling on missing ski season in the Rockies.  Aboard Training Weight my injury depression was manageable and ultimately liberating.  Riding to rehab was enjoyable but I wanted to ride for a purpose, so I signed up for a century ride.  This was the first time in my athletic life that I trained for an endurance sport.  No, I did not become an ultra-athlete, but a season of endurance base building paid off the next year.  Training Weight helped me turn a bummer of a situation into an opportunity. No matter how many fancy bikes fill my bike stable, Training Weight always inspires a nod of gratitude.

There are a lot of advantages to Training Weight.  When a mid-ride espresso is in order, I am not concerned about someone stealing him. And if they do; I know the thief was desperate for transportation and I hope the burglar logs many miles. When I show up for the local club ride (“suffer-fest”), no one expects me to hang onto the peloton let alone take a turn at the front.  It is nice to earn a little respect when I do. But the biggest advantage to Training Weight is exactly this bikes namesake; riding a somewhat outdated bike puts cycling in perspective for me: shaving a gram or two mostly affects your bank account, good bike handling skills are just that – good bike handling skills (assuming it is maintained and safe), and my ability to get the training benefit from a training ride is pined to my attitude and approach – not a flashy paint job.  (Don’t get me wrong, my race bike is crazy light and quite the head turner.) And I have to laugh because just twenty years ago Training Weight would have been a marvel of a machine! 

A ride on Training Weight tunes me into the road beneath my wheels like none of my other bikes do; every pebble, seam and pot hole jar through my body asking me to be dynamic in the saddle.  Gear selection must be anticipated as a shift under torque usually pops the chain off the ring.  I have to support my upper body with my core or my hands will go numb at the two hour mark.  The extra friction in the drive train helps me up my power at a higher cadence. Miles on Training Weight make me stronger.  Hours on Training Weight make me an alert and engaged cyclist.  Training Weight reminds me that I bike because I love to bike, and that is the motive for the adventure.  So shed excuses; your equipment is fine.  Dust off that old gear in your garage and give it a spin.