cold weather

Cold spring weather could be killing your summer “A” race

Cold spring weather got you down? Except for the skiers out there, most of us in New England and Canada have reached our cold limit. It’s not really “spring,” it’s “less winter.” And this awkward “less winter” season could be killing your summer “A” race. Despite the clickbait-like headline, cold spring weather is a legitimate concern.

From base to build

Most long distance triathletes (and ultrarunners) are now getting out for supporting rides during the week and long rides on the weekends. Big “A” races like IRONMAN Lake Placid are 10 weeks away, with IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant not that far behind. Athletes are now moving from their base period to their build period. A build period training strategy involves dialing in to what we call “race specificity.” In other words, you start to train as you will race.

The build period includes long training rides with race intervals where you work on race-specific intensities to train your aerobic and muscular endurance. But what you are also trying to train is your environmental durability. Environment durability can be thought of like this: go out on your lawn with a handful of Gatorade bottles and gels, hang out there for the day, and see how well you feel after 8+ hours in the sun. Then try to run your best marathon. If you work inside, especially in an air-conditioned office, your environmental durability most likely needs improvement. The most common comment after an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 is, “It was so hot out there!” Guess what? It’s hot out there nearly every day. You’re just not used to spending the entire day outside.

Humans are well-oiled machines. We adapt well and quickly to our environments. But when spring temperatures are cold, we lack that warm, challenging environment that we need to train our bodies to withstand the heat, stay properly hydrated, and manage thermoregulation (i.e., staying cool at race pace). Cold weather means less opportunities to gain the adaptations that are required for summer “A” races.

How do cold springs affect race day?

We had another cold spring a few years ago in New England. A few of The Endurance Drive crew were racing IRONMAN Syracuse 70.3 in mid-June. The weather stayed cool through the spring except for one very hot and humid day in May. I had 4 x 20’ race watt intervals scheduled. I did one interval and quit the workout. It was simply too hot and humid, and I had a total of zero days to acclimate to the conditions. The temperatures dropped again after that day and didn’t rise until the race.

As luck would have it, race day brought temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, and the humidity and pollen were through the roof. What happened? Most of us cratered on the run.  During the first mile, one of my friends quit the race. He was an overall win contender but the heat was just too much. I tried to run my goal 7:45 race pace but looked down at my watch after the first mile to see a 9:45 pace and a very high heart rate --  and I was going downhill! I only stayed in the race because I was fascinated with what type of carnage the extreme hot and humid environment would bring upon the racers. The entire run played out in slow motion.

Lessons learned

We were all in the same boat that day. Without an impromptu trip to Florida during race week, it would have been tough for athletes from the New England, New York, or Canada areas to prepare for that early summer heat and humidity. The point is, environmental durability matters a lot, and it can’t be properly trained on 40-50F temperature rides. No matter how fit you get (and big fitness is the best hedge against everything that can happen during a race), training for the heat is a major success factor in your “A” race.  

So what practical steps can you take to train for the heat when Mother Nature treats us to another mid-May snow storm?

  • You can head back to your pain cave, crank up the heat and enjoy more Zwift.

  • If you have an early southern “A” race and are coming from a cold environment, it’s ideal to have 2-3 race plans based on the environmental conditions (and other race day factors). Your Plan A could hinge on moderate weather. Having a Plan B and Plan C that are ready for less-than-ideal racing conditions can help you adjust your goals based on the environment.

  • Or you can wait it out; it will get hot and humid soon - I promise! (And then try to resist the urge of a true New Englander to complain about that, too!)  Don’t quit during those first few hot workouts, stay hydrated, and aim to get heat-adapted to do well at your summer “A” race. -Jim

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Cold weather riding gear & tips for triathletes & cyclists

You’ve been on your trainer all winter and you’re just dying to get out as the salt washes off the roads and the ice turns to mud.  There’s only so much Zwift an athlete can handle! Northern triathletes and cyclists ride four to eight weeks in the spring and fall in temps ranging from 30F (0C) to 50F (10C). And there’s often rain, sleet and snow thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. But fear not! There is no bad weather, just bad gear. Go prepared, and you’ll enjoy your ride! Go unprepared, and both you and your riding pals with suffer misery.

Here are some of our favorites for cold weather riding gear by body part and some general tips for staying warm:

Legs:  A key to riding in the cold is keeping your legs, and particularly your knees, warm. Pros won’t ride with their knees uncovered until temps are over 55F (12C). Follow their lead and cover up. Your knees have zero cold protection. As such, any combination of the following will do:

  • Tights or long bike bib tights. Your regular bike kit with run tights over or under them will work.  If your budget allows, purchase bib tights. You’ll use them 8-10 weeks of the year. Any brand will do. We love our Castelli and Assos bib tights.

  • Leg warmers, which are more versatile than tights but not as warm.

  • Knee warmers. When the temps are hovering in the 50s, these will be sufficient.  Start with them on a cool morning and shed them as the temps hit the upper 50s and above.

Upper body: Nearly all spring/fall conditions require a long-sleeved base layer and decent bike jacket. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but think wool or synthetic warm base layer and a breathable jacket on top. If the temps are really cool, a vest underneath the jacket is a warm addition and can be shed later (or lent to a friend who didn’t bring the proper layers). There’s no need to buy a specific bike base layer, because you probably have a running or hiking layer that will do. A breathable cycling jacket with back pockets will be useful for 8-10 weeks of the year.

Arms:  You can put on arm warmers, like leg warmers, at the start of a cool ride and shed them as the day warms. You will find them useful even in the summer for early morning starts or later afternoon finishes. This is a piece of gear you can use for 4-6 months of the year. Nearly any brand will do.

Feet: Here is where you go full pro. Protect your feet and your ride will be blissful even in the coldest temperatures! And conversely, there’s nothing like cold feet to ruin you ride. Don’t skimp on shoe covers; get the kind that fully cover your shoes and ankles. Toe covers are worthless. Castelli makes a bunch of warm shoe covers with neoprene. Neoprene will also keep your feet warm on rainy days.

Pro tip: Get ski shoe covers for riding on very cold days like these from Yoko. Yoko Boot Cover

Hands: Don’t skimp, get warm gloves. You’ll rarely regret warm gloves. Like cold toes, cold fingers can make a ride really unpleasant. When in doubt for buying gloves, buy the warmer pair.  

Pro tip: Get a pair of Kinco leather insulated gloves - warm and very economical.

Ears / Head: A hat and/or headband is crucial. Nearly anything will do, but make sure your helmet fits over the top of it. Again, look at what you already have for running and hiking and you will probably have something that works.  If you don’t have a hat that fits under your helmet, a headband will cover 99% of the requirement.

Pro tip: A neck gaiter will keep your neck and face warm. You can pull it over the top of your helmet for extra warmth or put around your ears if you forget your hat or headband. It’s worth always having one in your bike bag.

Bike bag:  Any big bag will do. Put all of the above in your bike bag. Staying organized is key. When you go for a ride, it will all be one place. A big bag provides no excuses and centralization.  And more than 50% of the time, you’ll hand out gear to your riding pals who weren’t as squared away as you. Be a cold weather riding hero!

Also… don’t forget to drink and eat regularly! Your sense of thirst isn’t as strong during cold rides, but you are still dehydrating as you go. Drink and eat like you would on hot rides. You won’t stay warm if you become dehydrated and hungry (and you’ll ride like junk).

Have questions about cold weather riding?  Contact Us!

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