An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: Building Resilience In Snow - Pedal Progression


7 March 2018

An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: Building Resilience In Snow

Last Thursday night I had planned a training ride. Thursday is the one night a week I can regularly get out in the evening and basically keep going for as long as I want. Last Thursday was going to be a special Thursday. Each month I have decided that I will extend my longest off road ride time. In February I rode 6.5 hours non-stop off road and this week I was planning to extend this to 8+ hours, no breaks, no time off the bike. By Wednesday I had been feeling good all week and so the stage was set for my ‘big one’ for March!

Then it snowed, as I am sure you all know! At first it was light and pleasant but as the day went on the air got colder, the wind picked up to 40mph and drifts started building around the Ashton Court estate. The estimated temperate including wind chill was said to be about -12. As the snow piled up my motivation for riding started to slip away, it was replaced with visions of hunkering down with a glass of wine, some tasty hot food and movie with the kids. My brain was rapidly rolling out a list of reasons why it would be a bad idea to head out. And with the news throwing out stories of red weather warnings and an increased risk of a ‘major incident’ being declared, it was becoming pretty easy to reason with myself that maybe tonight was not the night to get out on the trails.

What to do? At this point I remembered some really useful words of wisdom I picked up a few weeks back when I met with Adam (who is helping me with nutrition). He said, ‘however you feel always go out for at least 20 minutes’. The theory being that although part of your brain (probably the sensible part) is trying to talk you out of it, once you get going, get over the hump, warm up and start to enjoy yourself you will end up going much further than you thought. I am not sure he meant it in context of bad weather but it was about the only piece of rational advice I could think of that might get me out for a ride.

The other piece of advice I have read and talked about with endurance riders is that the best and only real way to build resilience is to put yourself in as many unfamiliar and challenging situations as possible. You can never really prepare for all the potential set backs you may encounter on your bike over the course of a 24 hour event, but the more varied your experience with set backs, and the lessons you learn from dealing with these and pushing through them the more likely you will be able to deal with new unfamiliar challenges. A massive cliche, but sentiment that I am sure many of you have come across in other areas of life rings just as true in sport. I have had some really useful advice from Matt Jones about training a resilient mindset, part of which refers specifically to going out in awful weather and in that respect tonight was an ideal opportunity to crack on and make the most of the evening.

So I got dressed up the best I could. I knew from the off that my weak point was my hands and fingers, I have no need to own a pair of gloves suitable for -12 so I doubled up with a rubber glove in between each layer to try and fight off the wind. I plugged in my favourite play list and headed out for a night on the trails. Just me Beyonce, Alisha Keys and Ed Shearan… the four us, hanging out in the snow together. I decided to stay local, just in case it got too painful but my plan was to keep going as long as seemed sensible but definitely past the 20 minute mark. After 15 minutes out on the bike I could not feel my fingers and started to doubt whether I would be able to go on much longer. As any rider knows, once the fingers go you can’t pull the brakes and if you can’t pull the brakes it’s only a matter time before you hit a tree! So, off the bike I got, swung my arms around in circles 40 times each side and bobs-yer-uncle, I got fingers again! This drill was then repeated every 40 minutes or so to ensure my fingers stayed functional. Lesson one – my glove set up was still shit in -12. As I found a rhythm and figured out how to keep my fingers alive I started to enjoy my ride! It was a lot of fun sliding around in the snow, riding trails I had ridden 100 times before in different conditions brought a new dimension to the riding. Fatigue was increased by the need to focus more on handling the bike and I learned lessons about how this might affect my pedalling efficiency and muscular efficiency over time, in the dark, in unusually sloppy conditions. I think I am unlikely to be faced with snow in July but lots of mud is very possible!

Did I ride for 8 hours?…Nah. I went for about 4.5, which under the circumstances I was quite happy with. Will I need to push my body and mind further for the 24 hour? Yep. But there is time. I only just convinced myself out for 20 minutes so 4.5 hours is not so bad.

So what did I learn other than how to grow icicles on my beard?

  • Go with the 20 min rule. Whatever is going on, get out, don’t skip the plan! Don’t let your brain talk you out of your session. Once you get going your mindset will change most likely for the better. (Thanks Adam)
  • Take advantage of all possible unique opportunities to challenge yourself. They might not present themselves again and the lessons these situations teach you will almost certainly be super valuable and if not they will definitely be ‘unique’. At the time you will probably translate ‘unique’ as ‘uniquely shit’ but in hindsight you’ll feel the benefits. You will not build the resilience you need by doing the same stuff all the time. Sometimes you have got to shock your body to make it change.
  • It might turn out rubbish, but as long as you stay safe, the worst that will happen is just that – it might turn out to be a bit rubbish and that’s not so bad really.
  • The rewards you reap from the challenge will most likely justify the effort put in. I say ‘most likely’ because there is always a risk that it will be worse than you thought and you will eventually give up.
  • My gloves are shit at -12 but I know how to keep my fingers working indefinitely under these conditions.
  • Riding in really slippery conditions has a major impact on my perceived effort and fatigue, this is definitely something I need to work on.
  • I am not as tough as I thought in the cold. If I enjoy the Pivot 24twelve I have my eye on the Strathpuffer – lots more work needed for this!
Ollie Cain

Written by:

Ollie Cain