SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

Snowshoeing into the Bike Season and Beyond

As a member of the “Endurance Tribe” one of the great things about snowshoeing and snowshoe racing in particular is how the sport prepares you for racing in other endurance events in the spring. (For a review of how snowshoe racing serves as cross-training for other sports see http://bit.ly/mKCjFz.)

Here in Minnesota the spring of 2011 was true to form, both blustery and unpredictable with alternating unstable weather fronts of both crushing cold and scorching heat. Ah, the joys of weather in the Midwest.  With that in mind, below is an account of a perennial early-season century ride event in Minnesota, the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride. Having completed a season of snowshoe racing culminating in the March 12, 2011 Dion USSSA National Snowshoe Championship it was a pleasure to take on the Ironman Bike ride knowing full-well that snowshoeing builds power for biking and conditions the mind and body for dealing with the cold.

Nothing like “eating the wind’ for 50 miles with temperatures in the 30’s to toughen one up for the upcoming road biking season.

The 45th annual Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride is the longest consecutively run 100-mile bike event In Minnesota and is known for the unpredictable, and often challenging, spring weather conditions.

I figured it couldn’t be worse than the 2010 conditions that had temperatures in the 40’s and rain. Wrong.

With the May 1, 2011 Lakeville, MN event came a stiff, constant wind out of the west at 20+ mph with gusts and temperatures in the 30’s with sleet. It gave a new meaning to the term “air brakes.”

It took nearly 2 1/2 hours to bike the first 24 miles – a distance that should take HALF that time to cover.

Notably  several riders abandoned the 100-mile (actually it’s a 105 miles) course early on and turned south at Jordan, MN opting for one of the shorter distances of either, 68, 30, or 17 miles.

I started my Wilderness Athlete nutrition plan in the morning with a protein bar and Energy and Focus hydration. I opted for the Energy and Focus because for a race day I prefer the surge of energy and mental clarity it provides over my usual wake-me-up cup of coffee. I usually have a cup of coffee and drink some water to counteract the coffee’s diuretic effect. It made much more sense to have the Energy and Focus which provide both a boost of “cleaner” energy than coffee, essential nutrients (sodium potassium etc…) for a long endurance event, and provides straight-up H2O hydration. Moreover, I wanted to make sure I “topped off the tank” in the morning with a protein bar that would sit well in the stomach and also have plenty of carbohydrates for fuel. I slumped down one of the Berry gels about once per hour to maintain a steady flow of quick energy.

Two things happened during the race that made me glad I did.

One, I came up to a biker somewhere on those windswept farmland roads around mile 65 and he was hurting. His name was Bob and he was no slouch – in conversation he noted he’d already put in a couple of 200km rides this season – 120 miles. But today, after those first punishing 50 miles out to La Sueur, MN  he was bonking and the nutrition he had wasn’t sitting well – and the quality of the protein nutrition at the rest stops wasn’t that great (there are only so many peanuts in a peanut roll).

I rode with him a while, gave him one of the 25g Wilderness Athlete protein bars, and took off because well…I was feeling great and after making the eastward turn at La Sueur that hellacious headwind wind had turned into a terrific tailwind. Free speed. There is nothing quite like the sensation of hitting 45-mph of free speed from a bit of a down slope and a tailwind on a road bike. If that doesn’t make a grown man say “Wheeeeeeeeee!” nothing will.  I saw Bob at the mile 75 rest stop as I was leaving and he was going in. He said he was feeling much better “that bar did the trick” and he thanked me for the WA protein bar.

Two, well…things got a little iffy around mile 85. Perhaps it was that I elected to skip the final rest stop at Lonsdale, MN and focus on getting home for the final 30-miles, perhaps it was that last northward slant in the course after the Montgomery, MN rest stop that took the ride back into a battle with a hard west wind, but whatever it was around mile 85 I knew something was slipping out of gear. It was the sure signs of a “bonk” the mental, emotional and physical physiological crash that starts the slide towards the dreaded ‘death march” into the cold, dark “pain cave” where every endurance athlete eventually spends a little “me time.” As in poor me, woe is me, what the hell is wrong with me….

As much as I hate clichés and stock phrases I’ve “Been there,” and “Done that” and after a few decades of this endurance business I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. On Sunday, one of those tricks happened to be Wilderness Athlete gel and hydration. As soon as I could wrap my rapidly befuddling brain around the fact that a bonk was creeping up on me I literally started snarfing down nutrition. Rip open a WA gel and masticate, drink, slurp. Drink down 12 oz. of WA hydration with carbs. Repeat.

Somewhere back in my primitive “lizard brain” all I knew was after 5 1/2 hours in a cold, windy bike ride the final 20 miles had the bad potential to turn into a sad, crawl of pain that could last another 3 hours instead of another 1 1/2 hours if I didn’t get something nutritious and hydrating into my system. Eat.

And by golly it worked. A first for me. I’ve been to that pain cave on a number of occasions and this was the first time that I was able to have both the presence of mind to see it coming and catch it quick enough with some hydration and nutrition to back it away slowly. By mile 92 was feeling much better. Personally, I very much enjoy the triumphant last few miles of an endurance race, especially when I’m feeling strong and have got some gas in the tank to pick off a few “challengers” either in front of me or trying to sneak up from behind.

Sunday, two riders riding in a line, caught me on a downhill about five miles before the Lakeville finish-line and went for a strong pass. Not going to happen. I hung on to them and with a surge of energy around mile 103 cranked it up to 25 mph+ and kept it there leaving them a couple hundred yards back by the final chute. I glanced at them briefly as they came in – better luck next year fellas.

Despite the tough conditions and 6 1/2 hours on the road I was feeling much better than I usually do after a tough endurance event. In fact,  I was feeling…strong and focused. It’s going to be an epic summer of races.

And, in turn, after all that summer training, well, the Endurance Tribe never stops and next winter is going to be a great winter of snowshoeing.