Other unfortunate responses to cold temperatures, compared to mild ambient temperatures, include an increase in lactate production and a decrease in VO2max. An end result is that cardiorespiratory endurance will likely decrease if the whole body cools enough.
Never in Training
In training, most athletes practice pre-race fueling, complete long rides on terrain similar to the race course, ride at intensities intended for race day and use the fueling strategies they expect to use on race day.
However, I don't know of a single athlete that does a training session that includes a warm-up, followed by the athlete stopping and standing around in one small place in cold temperatures for some 30 to 60 minutes. Following the standing around, the athlete then rides their bicycle all-out, similar to a mass start event.
One issue with a self-seeding, mass-start race is that it requires the athlete to be present with their bicycle. This place-holding behavior and all of the associated logistics seldom, if ever, occurs in training.
If you're considering having a place-holder do the job for you, know that many races forbid it. You must be personally present and accounted for.
What to Do About It?
No, I'm not recommending that you complete training sessions that include warm-up, followed by getting cold, immediately followed by all-out effort. I will recommend the following strategies for you to consider:
- If your race start will be early morning and you expect cold temperatures, do some of your training at this time of day -- rather than cherry-picking the warm afternoon sun for your training rides. In the three weeks before your race, complete cool morning temperature training three to four days per week, or as much as you can manage.
- If you think you will be standing in queue for more than 30 minutes on race morning, don't bother with a warm-up that gets you sweaty and wet. You're better off staying warm and dry, then using the first 20 to 30 minutes of your long race as warm-up at a lower intensity.
- Wear extra clothes to the start line. Recruit a hand-off person to take the extra clothes from you. The goal is to stay warm enough so that you do not need to shiver.
- If you don't have a person to hand-off clothes to, be prepared to take off extra clothes later in the event.
- Another option for dealing with extra layers is to inquire with the race director to see if they can provide a big bin near the start line where extra clothes can be stashed just before the race starts. These items can be collected at the rider's own risk post-race or donated to the area homeless shelter.
- Be aware of nervous drinking prior to the event. Are you drinking excessively?
- Do more racing in similar conditions. It is nearly impossible to replicate your start-line feelings in training. The more positive practice you have at various events, the better prepared you'll be for the big event.
- Practice mental toughness techniques, as much as you practice physical training.
With awareness of the affects of stress and cold on your body, you can take actions to minimize any negative consequences on race day. When other racers around you are shivering and tittering like nervous Neddies and Nellies, you can be calm, temperature-controlled and collected.
Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.