We’ve had some rain recently with more on the way. And there is rain and snow in the forecast for the Spring Death Valley Double Century this Saturday. Often people ask me why I ride in the rain. Why do I train in the rain when I could wait a day and it will be sunny and warm. First of all, I do it because most people don’t. Most people are fair weather riders. And that’s OK if you’re a recreational cyclist. But if you are competitive cyclist then sometimes you need to suffer a little to learn a lot. You need to learn about yourself and your limitations. What I believe makes me a successful Ultracyclist is I still haven’t found my breaking point. I purposely go out on training rides or races seeking my limitations. Even when I thought I had reached my breaking point like a Phoenix I rise up from the ashes and ride again.
Being a competitive cyclist has many different meanings. I am competitive but really I just compete against myself. I “race” with other riders on the course but ultimately I am competing against myself and MY results from previous years on the same course. If I place in the top five I’m not going to Kona or some World Championship. I’m not receiving prize money or primes (pronounced preems). Nope I’m doing Ultras for my own personal sense of achievement. I do Ultras for a sense of self-awareness or as is listed in the California Triple Crown website, Personal Growth Experience. I can’t control who shows up. I can’t control the weather conditions. What I can control is my pace, my nutrition strategy, and my mental attitude. While a good result is important to me when I “race” it’s much more important that my process through the event was efficient, smart and repeatable. Once you have adopted the proper mindset for Ultras then you will be satisfied or not with YOUR results.
Let’s discuss the weather shall we? The reality, my cycling friends, is you can’t plan the weather. There will be times when you line up at the start line with rain imminent. Or even more distressing, it could be raining before the start of your event. You know the difference don’t you? When you wake up and look outside and it’s raining it’s really hard to get out isn’t it? When you can hear the rain pelting on your bedroom window it’s quite discouraging. But THAT’S when you seize the moment to make the exception! That is when you separate yourself from the rest. Get up get dressed and get rolling! It’s much different than when you’ve been riding and it begins to rain.
What about wind? I know that fighting a headwind is mentally draining as well as physically exhausting. I would rather climb than fight a headwind. However, I plan routes so that the return leg will be into the headwind. In triathlon they say to train your weaknesses during your off-season. As cyclists I don’t believe we have the luxury of an off-season so I train my weaknesses year-round.
What about cold? I will ride up at higher elevations during the winter months because I love to climb but I also like to expose myself to lower temperatures. Riding in colder temperatures requires a higher calorie burn, hence it allows me to test my nutrition strategy along with my clothing.
What about heat? You need to train in heat so you know how your body will react. In particular how do you stay fueled how do you stay hydrated and how much electrolytes do you need. I’ve gone out on really hot days or ridden in really hot areas to test all those very things.
2004 Death Valley Double Century Southern Route more the half the field DNF’s based on 112 degree heat
I do all this suffering because I wasn’t given the genetics so I train harder than most to make up the difference. I think of Steve Prefontaine who said the difference between him and other runners was the pain he could tolerate. Go Pre!
We live in Southern California and to say that our weather is moderate would be an understatement. However, there have been several years when my early season events have had awful weather. Why do I train in the bad weather? Because when you don’t know what to expect of yourself and your equipment the likelihood of riding a successful ultra may be compromised. You have to know with absolute certainty what clothing works in the rain and cold. You have to know how well your equipment will function with the abuse of rain, sand and mud in your drivetrain. You have to know how to handle your bike on wet, oil slick streets. You have to know how to ride fast through painted intersections. You have to know what are your limits or your equipment’s limits when descending a wet switchback mountain. You have to know how your brakes will function in the rain and not be alarmed when your stopping distances are almost doubled. You have to know that motorists’ visibility is reduced significantly and wearing passive reflective equipment and actual lighting is essential in ensuring your safety. And don’t forget you’re still racing an Ultra so rain, cold, wind, low visibility AND night riding is also possible in the shorter days of winter. You must know that your lighting equipment will work in all-weather along with your cycling computers.
On a recent training ride I purposely began a 6.5 hour training ride (112 miles 5,500 feet of gain) at 12pm. I knew it was going to rain and wore wool from head to toe. I brought my lights and reflective gear. I knew that I would ride about 1.5 hours in the dark. It was important for me to test my clothing, nutrition and lights. In anticipation of foul weather in Death Valley I had to test my gear. I wanted and needed to be prepared equipment wise and mentally. Over the years I have gotten faster as such I have been finishing most centuries and early season Double Centuries in daylight lately so I had to move my start time to noon so that I would encounter some night riding.
Just one example of my equipment choice is I don’t like Speedplay Pedals because they can become sticky in rainy conditions (metal to metal engagement). Another reason is on supported events the aid stations are placed off the pavement and they can get quite muddy and all that stuff clogs up your cleat. I prefer Look/Shimano pedals and cleats.
Now let’s talk about something more timely. This Saturday’s event, the Spring Death Valley Double Century, put on by AdventureCorps promises to be epic. There are weather forecasts of cold temperatures, precipitation and even snow at higher elevations. Does this scare me off of a 200 mile event? On the contrary, I’m looking forward to it. The worse the weather conditions are the more everyone else is suffering as well. I enjoy riding in stormy weather. I enjoy the ardor of it. The fact that I will be suffering more than the usual amount on a 200 mile event is enticing to me. The bonding that I feel with other riders when we’re riding in poor weather is unexplainable. We suffer together and brave the elements and succeed where others fail. I feel an immense sense of achievement when I’ve completed an event in poor weather. Below are just a few examples, where I’ve actually taken the time to write-up a report documenting riding/racing in less than ideal weather conditions. Of course there have been many other times that I just considered it part of life as cyclist.
Butterfield Double Century (Rain)
San Diego 300km Brevet (Rain, hail)
San Diego 300km Brevet (Rain and hail 50% DNF rate)
San Diego 200km Brevet (Rain)
San Diego 300km (Rain and cold)
UPDATE: 2011 Spring Death Valley Double Race Report
Epic Training Tip: If it’s raining— go climbing. When you climb you are going fairly slow. Consider that if you are on flat ground you will at least be traveling at 18mph but uphill 8-10mph. Everything is happening in slower motion. You produce more body heat because you are working harder and won’t feel the cold–as much anyway. Additionally, you are going slower so the rain isn’t pelting you which is nice when it’s hailing 😉 Riding skill isn’t really important until the descent. When you summit descend at a leisurely pace and go up again 😉
Epic Training Tip: Wear wool. This is always a conflict for me. I have sponsors and I have to represent them with my clothing and equipment. I have recently joined the Simple Green/Bike Religion cycling team. And while I should be wearing my team kit on Saturday, I have some series reservations. I will opt instead for clothing that I know works. I will wear wool at Saturday’s event. While I may receive a little grief from my team members I hope they understand the extremes of riding a 200 mile event in inclement weather . What’s more important in the end is that I represent the team well with good sportsmanship, a competitive spirit and as a bonus a good result. You have to FINISH to have a good result. My safety, my health and my performance as an individual are much more important than wearing Lycra.
Why do I train in all-weather conditions? Well because far too many riders DNF when the weather is not ideal. We are so spoiled in Southern California. Some of my close friends are Race/Ride Directors so I feel compelled to say this — please don’t start an event if you know in your heart that you don’t have the will to finish it. Those that DNF (Do Not Finish) put unnecessary load on the system. While the volunteers are SAG’ing in a rider because you are an ill prepared, ill trained and ill clothed, there could a rider “racing” the course that needs attention much more than you so he/she can finish. Please be considerate of your fellow race mates it’s better to DNS (Do Not Start) than to DNF on the course. Ideally, if you’re not attending an event then please let the ride/race director aware so he can find another rider to fill your spot. Then IMMEDIATELY request to be a volunteer so you can help the ride/race director have a successful event. The race director will be very appreciative of the extra people when the weather, not the course, becomes the primary obstacle for a rider to finish.
Personally I hope the weather is abysmal this weekend. I wish for a weeding out of riders who spook easily. I would actually prefer that it snow. If it snows instead of rain the riding conditions will actually be better. Allow me to explain…it takes a perfect conditions for snow. In my opinion, snow is easier to ride in and comes down slower and you don’t get as wet. Rain on the other hand has a much broader temperature range and you get really wet and that sucks more :p There is a certain crispness to the ambient air a freshness and an eerie quiet when it snows. I love being in the mountains climbing when it snows!
Why do I train in all-weather? Because I’m an Ultra Cyclist and on race day I will be prepared!