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Top 8 Cold Weather Tips for a 24hr Enduro Obstacle Course Racer and their Pit Crew

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Written by: Jamie Hunter
Coach – Run Vault Performance | Co-Owner – Run Vault Shop.
Solo Male Winner, 2021 Aussie Titles 24hr Enduro

 

It seems to be the number one question everyone is asking as we prepare for the 2022 True Grit Enduro – “How cold will it be and how will I keep warm”? The single most important thing when it comes to hot or cold weather is your ability to regulate your temperature effectively and to keep it stable. Too hot and you risk nausea, dehydration and cramping. Too cold and you risk the inability to function and potential hypothermia.

 

The Aussie Titles 24hr Hour Enduro is staged in Lower Portland about an hour’s drive north of Sydney. Traditionally held in March each year, the race can be quite manageable with the warmth of day and cool of night. Due to recent wet weather events, the race has moved to June this year in the middle of Winter, which has triggered quite a bit of discussion around running, racing and competing in conditions that are expected to get very chilly!

 

I’ve raced in conditions with temperatures below freezing through to highs exceeding 40°C. I’ve also crewed for mates in similar conditions & have experienced and seen first-hand what mother nature can do and the affects it can have on us. Here are a few top tips to help you handle the low temperatures expected at True Grit Enduro this year.

 

Handling the cold – an Athlete’s perspective

1. Train in race simulated conditions

Being mentally and physically prepared for the elements expected on course plays a significant factor in the continuation of your race and how you may react or respond to certain situations. Cold and wet weather can end your race very early if you haven’t given yourself the opportunity to be prepared for these elements.

 

In the same way you test what you’ll eat and drink for the race in training along with your choice of shoes and equipment, preparing yourself for high and low temps and wet weather is extremely important to ensure any issues relating to these factors don’t end your weekend early.

 

Most of us won’t have the opportunity to train in an environment like Dargle Farm, so here is where you need to improvise and simulate the conditions in your own hometown.

 

In a lead up to an event like this, I’d suggest getting a crew together, pack equipment you’ll be racing in, then heading to some trails that surround a freshwater reservoir. You’ll start this training run before dawn on a cold morning and dip in and out of the dam in between running and strength work, to provide exposure to the cooling down and warming up of the body during exercise. This way you can work through how to manage our own temperature fluctuations before the race & also have an opportunity to test your cold weather clothing to see how well it helps you warm.

 

We all seem to handle exposure to the elements differently, so putting yourself into a simulated environment will answer many of the questions you have about how you will handle the 3am Dargle Farm hustle. The less you leave to chance and the unknown, the easier it will be to work through these situations.

 

If you don’t have access to a reservoir, beach or pool, cold showers are the next best thing!

2. Dress in Layers

Dressing in layers gives you an opportunity to remove a layer or two as you warm up on course.

 

Choose clothing that wicks away moisture and retains body heat. Most athletic performance clothing is engineered for this. Avoid fabrics such as cotton that freezes when extremely cold and holds moisture. This type of clothing will stick to your skin and drop your temperature rapidly.

 

Ideally you will want a base layer of clothing such as compression shorts or pants, and a moisture wicking top that will stay on you for the entirety of the race. As it gets colder you could layer up with an additional long sleeve shirt, a sleeveless vest to keep your core temperature warm, or a neoprene top and pants. These can easily be removed if you do get too hot. If you’re running with a pack or storage belt you can stuff unwanted clothes in that until the next pit stop. For this race I recommend a Raidlight 4 pocket stretch belt for a minimalist approach, or the Raidlight 6L Responsiv Vest for more storage capacity.

 

In some situations, you may want to put on a wetsuit for absolute protection. Racing in a wetsuit can be quite restrictive and uncomfortable though. If you do choose a wetsuit, make sure you train in this first to allow it to adjust to your body shape and choose a quality suit with ultra-stretch or four-way stretch neoprene.

 

If this course sticks to tradition, there will be a deep water crossing about halfway around a lap. The bottom of this water crossing is unreachable, so there is no option but to swim across to complete the obstacle. By wearing layers, you could remove your top layer and leave on the side of the dam with the volunteers, then double back to pick up your dry top and put back on.

 

There’s always the chance of rain, so I recommend a quality seamless waterproof jacket that keeps heat in and rain out. These jackets are not cheap, however the quality ones pack small and lightweight. These jackets have saved me on many runs and races in bad weather!

 

If you find a piece of race clothing that is the perfect fit for you, buy two! Your shirt or pants may get damaged on course from barbed wire, so changing a t-shirt for an identical one that is dry and warm is a great option. Socks are the most commonly changed item during a race like this, so choose a natural fibre material like the injinji toe socks to keep your feet warm and reduce the chance of blisters.

 

All the above rely on a couple of main points – how you as an individual are conditioned to the cold, and how quickly you are moving.

 

3. Warm yourself from the inside out

Many times I’ve been cold during training and racing, only to realise my stomach is rumbling and I’m craving comfort food or something hot to drink. Studies have shown that there is an increase in your body temperature shortly after eating, due to an increase in your metabolic rate in digesting what you’ve just consumed. Along with the physical and documented changes explained here, personally when I eat or drink something that makes me feel warm during training and racing, my spirits are lifted which helps take my mind off the cold.

 

Think about a time when you’ve been really hungry – what is it that you’ve craved? Having your own comfort foods available to you at the event can help you get through the cold hours.

 

4. Switch on mentally and physically as you approach an obstacle

Just when you thought a 24-hour Obstacle Race couldn’t get any harder, the lovely folk at True Grit have doubled the penalty for a failed obstacle to 20 burpees. Considering there will be over 30 obstacles on course, this could mean a lot of burpees and wasted energy.

 

A strategy that has worked well for me as I approach an obstacle is switching on the mind and thinking about specific details of my process to get through the obstacle in front of me. This is a great distraction to any cold, pain, or discomfort I am feeling from being on course for hours on end. Talk out loud to yourself what you will do to get through the immediate task in at hand.

 

I often prepare myself physically for an obstacle as well mentally on the approach. This course can call for quite a few hundred metres of walking or running between obstacles, meaning the use of your grip and upper body between obstacles could vary over a long period of time. If I’m approaching the ammo box carry as an example, you’ll see me clenching my fists repeatedly to warm up my hands and forearms. I’ll then swing my arms across my body and shrug my shoulders. This warms up the muscles needed to complete the task and also reduces the risk of any injury.

5. The sun will rise, feel its warmth

Chase the sun! If you haven’t felt the warmth of the sun on your back as it greets the day you don’t know what you’re missing! The power of light and warmth is remarkable, both physically and mentally.

 

Picture this – it’s 4am, you’ve been running and racing through the night which seems to have gone on forever. You know the sun will rise eventually, but each minute till dawn feels like an eternity. You’re not alone here with these thoughts. Don’t give up now! Naturally as humans we are diurnal, meaning awake during the day and sleeping at night.

The sun will rise, which will lift your spirits, then shortly after dawn the temperature will rise to help you get through the second day.

 

Can’t wait for the sun? A super bright headlamp can cheat the mind. Check out the 1,000 lumen Ferei HL40II headlamp!

 

6. Obstacle Course Racing with Gloves or no Gloves?

This is a personal choice, however I feel I have more control and grip with bare hands than with gloves. If you are wanting gloves for warmth this can be a good option if you make sure to keep them dry. Otherwise putting on wet gloves is worse than no gloves at all!

 

One option is having some ‘Hot Hands’ – this a product found at most pharmacies and supermarkets. They are small pouches that when exposed to air are activated, generating heat. These can be slipped into your shoes, inside your running vest, on your back, or simply held in your hands between obstacles and stops in the pit area.

 

A running buff like a Headskinz can be an option as well. I loop one or two of these like a figure eight around my wrist. You can slide it down over your hands when walking or running, then use them to dry your hands before an obstacle that requires grip strength. Try not to get them wet by taking them off for the water crossing by leaving them to the side or on putting on your head like a bandana. Bleggmits can also be a good option to as they block out wind when moving then you can expose your hand when needing your grip and strength for obstacles.

 

Handling the cold – A Pit Crew’s Perspective

Pit Crew listen up! Keep your racer safe, warm, and moving forward with these three top tips.

Your job here on the weekend is crucial for the success and safety of your racer. Enduro is one of those unique lap-based events where you can inform your racer of what will be ready for the next pit stop as they leave for the next 11km lap. Their lap could be anywhere from 60 minutes to over 4 hours so it’s important you keep them fuelled, hydrated and warm for the duration.

1. Warm your runner up from the inside out

Warm your runner up from the inside out. I’ve mentioned previously for the racer to take ownership of this point & they need your help to have what they want ready. The feeling of cold is amplified within us when we are hungry, so it’s important to make sure you have hot food and drink available. As your runner leaves the pit area in the cold of night, let them know what’s on the menu for when they return. Find out what their comfort food is and explain it clearly like a specials board at a restaurant.

I remember last year at around 1am my Pit Crew said they would have a lentil lasagne and coffee ready for me when I returned after the lap.

After hearing this, that lap was more manageable than other laps, knowing what was waiting for me when I returned.

When it’s cold, dark and you’re hurting, there’s nothing more satisfying than eating one of your favourite hot meals, along with a hot drink cupped in your hands as the steam rises across your face!

2. Questions are the Answers

Ask your runner questions about anything and everything repeatedly whilst they are in their pit area to get a gauge of their coherence level. Simple questions with either a yes or a no answer won’t cut it. The early stages of battling the cold with an individual are obvious and easily managed, such as the feeling of being cold and shivering. This is usually overcome with warm clothes and a hot drink. It’s the more advanced signs and symptoms of hypothermia that if left untreated can be of concern. Slurred speech, confusion and drowsiness are all signs to be looking for.

 

Questions about their race and how they are feeling are perfect – this helps you assist your runner better to keep them moving. I also recommend asking questions or starting dialogue that is totally separate to the race. This achieves two things: 1. it distracts them from any negative thoughts they may have about their race and 2. gives you a good indication of their state of mind and situational awareness. If they are joking and throwing banter around, this is usually a good sign, so tell them to hurry up and get out on course! If they are struggling to hold a conversation or unable to recall basic information or recent memories, call for a medic to get a second opinion.

 

3. Take charge of their gear and equipment

Your runner may be focused on hitting a distance goal for this event and not put enough thought into their gear or clothes choices for each lap. It’s a good idea for you to do a quick head to toe check on their equipment and replace where necessary. If they are cold, shivering and wearing wet clothes, get them into something warm. There isn’t any chance to dry clothes during the race, so make sure you know where their spare racing kit is and keep it dry.

 

Remember: preparation and experience go a long way to your success at this race. Put yourself into a simulation of this race before the race. If the situation rises where you get too cold, hungry or tired, you can say to yourself ‘Yep! I’ve been here before I can get myself out of it.’

 

Good luck in these last few weeks of training and I’ll see you on course lap, after lap, after lap…

Jamie

Coach – Run Vault Performance

Co-Owner – Run Vault Shop

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