Keeping cool in the desert

At first glance, a perfectly ordinary cycling shirt with a bit of a weird design but the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the pockets aren’t in the right place! One of the things I wanted for RAW was some sort of ice-vest. I investigated various types but the problem with some of the off-the-shelf cooling vests was that they were either really expensive or would be fine to keep you cool for about 20min but then would be hard to get cool again, particularly in the Follow Car.

In the end I was inspired to create a DIY one having read “One Million Pedal Strokes” by Ellen and Keith Wolcott. Ellen made one for Keith’s (successful) solo RAAM in 2014. Mind was a bit last-minute as I kept putting it off but Ri, one of our nurses at work, very kindly moved the pockets on the back of the jersey up and then took some off another one and put them on the top across the upper back. In the desert we filled the pockets with ziplock bags of ice and it worked really well (albeit the bloody desert is so hot it melts the ice quite quickly but at least the shirt is wet for a while!

I also spent a lot of time with ice packs on my neck and shoulders and tucked into the straps of my sports bra (for once a bonus to being female!) I had found in the heat chamber that ice on the wrists is really cooling as well and tucked ice into my “arm coolers” (essentially white arm warmers!) on the hottest days.

I tried out the Spruzzamist which is an ingenious idea to give you a spray of mist into your face. There’s a small reservoir attached in front of your bars and a little lever that you press to activate the spray. When it worked it was really refreshing but quite often the angle wasn’t quite right and it fell off in Monument Valley at one of the hottest points of the day! I really like the idea (and thanks to the guys at Spruzza for giving me an extra one for last year) but it just wasn’t quite durable enough for the hours of use that was needed.

One thing I did suffer from on RAW was ridiculously hot and painful feet. I knew this was likely to happen and we’d prepared for it with a washing up bowl that I could soak my feet in with or without shoes (just putting bags over them). I ended up neglecting to do this as I was spending so much time nipping to the loo that it seemed a luxury that I couldn’t afford. It was only in Mexican Hat that I finally succumbed to a desperate need to cool them down with icepacks. It took nearly 4 months after the race for me to be able to feel the balls of my feet and my toes and whilst some of this is likely also due to be the pedalling, realistically cooking my feet for 3 days won’t have helped!

What will we do differently for RAAM?

1) The ice vest will become a jacket with a full length zip for ease of taking on and off

2) Ideally something that makes cooling the wrists a bit easier

3) I’ll have a better means of cooling my neck and shoulders – some way of keeping the ice in place that doesn’t involve me holding it! Possibly some form of tubular structure like knotted tights or something shoulder-shaped with pockets

4) I’m definitely going for the legionnaire’s flap down the back of my helmet to shade my neck and also allow it to be wet – if it works for the MDS guys then it’s in! Thanks to Shane for the suggestion, not sure why I didn’t think about it last year!

5) Regular use of the foot bath on stops during the day in the desert

6) A small bottle that I can carry to do my own misting rather than the Spruzza (think small spray bottle that you use for travel toiletries)

7) There was much talk of Super Soakers last year – I was concerned about uncontrolled spraying as you need to be careful about getting shorts too wet otherwise you run the risk of saddle sores. Out there I would quite happily have been subjected to a good soaking so the crew may be allowed to have some fun! The slightly more restrained approach will be using a garden sprayer to provide a more fine mist (better for me but a whole lot more dull for them!)

We were lucky last year that the temperatures in the desert didn’t go above 44 degrees (at least not for the solo riders). It is frequently hotter on RAAM so I need to be prepared for this eventuality. Last year I did some work in the heat chamber at the Porsche Human Performance centre to work out sweat rates and cooling strategies. It was too far in advance of the race to be of benefit for actual acclimatisation (a lot of the MDS runners use the centre in the weeks before they head out). Riding inside on Wilbur the Wattbike stimulates sweating which is the adaptation that the body needs to make and this year rather than going to Oceanside the week before I will be in Borrego Springs courtesy of Sylvia Mass who I raced with on RAW last year and who has kindly offered her condo. Heat acclimatisation doesn’t necessarily have to mean riding in the heat – you just need to be in it, even just chilling (so to speak) so it will be ideal. A lot of the other racers are likely to be in Borrego doing the same thing so it will be nice to meet them as well.

One final note… I packed various jerseys to go to Tenerife, including the one that is now the ice vest – I had completely forgotten that it had been modified! I pulled it out to wear one morning and at the last minute changed my mind for something with a full zip. Thank God I did as I’d have looked a right plonker rocking up to ride with pockets half way up my back…..

#thisisRAAM #84days

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