Strathpuffer and the Kielder Chiller spend most of their time in the dark and below 0°C. Add to this the fact you’re likely to be wet from the rain or sweat and as soon as you stop you will cool down… fast! If you’re not mentally and physically prepared to spend much of the day in these conditions, you will suffer unnecessarily.
It is noted that sudden changed in temperature cause thermal stress on the body. If you attempt a winter race without having got out and got ready, you’ll be in for a shock!
Battling the cold during a 24-hour winter race is a fine balance of clothing choice and riding intensity. Ride too fast and you’ll sweat, increase air flow over your body while increasing the rate of heat-loss through your respiratory system. Too slow and you won’t be generating enough heat to keep your core warm.
The body is well equipped to adapt to the cold, but you can’t wait until race-day to do this as it may take a while to get the body ready for the stresses of the race.
Cold weather adaptation
The most obvious way the body tries to generate heat, thermogenesis, is shivering. Shivering generates heat through movement at the cost of consuming glycogen stores and impairs your fine motor skills. In context, this means you may not be able to control your hands while fixing or cleaning your bike and you will fatigue quicker. Shivering should not be relied upon!
The other method of generating heat is through the use of brown adipose tissue – BAT fats. BAT fat generates heat directly, without using any glycogen and doesn’t rely upon movement which makes it better during physical activity.
The issue is that while children have large stores of BAT fats, as we age, the amount of BAT fat decreases. The theory popularised by Wim Hof is that we can regenerate BAT fat simply through exposure to the cold. It has been shown that exposure to the cold for 10 days will cause an increase in the bodies non-shivering thermogenesis.
Another benefit of cold weather exposure training, it the implied benefits to the cardiovascular, CV, system. When the body is exposed to the cold it tightens muscles to restrict blood-flow to the extremities, vasoconstriction. The muscles involved are not necessarily involved in movement. Therefore even when we think we are training our CV system, we’re only training part of it. Environmental training for cold weathers could help us strenghten these muscles and aid out CV system as a whole!
Cold weather training
As with all environmental training, the body adapts to the stimulus it is given. The only way to get your body ready for cold weather is through exposure to it. Hiding inside on the turbo just because it is cold out will miss this important aspect of your training. The best way to get ready for the cold is to get out and ride in the worst conditions possible. This will not only force your body to become better in bad weather, but you’ll get better at riding in poor conditions and be better prepared mentally.
Remember, you don’t just train on ‘training days’!
Every day exposure to the cold will help too! Turning your thermostat down a couple of degrees and taking cold showers are good ways to force adaptation to the cold. The worst part about cold showers is getting into them. After the first few gasping lungfuls, you get used to it. After a couple of months, you can’t remember what warm showers are! Not feeling brave enough to jump into cold showers? Ease yourself in. At the end of your shower, turn the dial as low as it can go… and see how long you can stay in!
For more hints and tips on training for a winter race, click here.
My blog on the importance of suffering, click here.
More on how I personally go through environmental training, click here.