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Often described as one of the toughest bike races in the lower 48 states, the Arrowhead 135 challenges even the most prepared riders. This is a journal by a non-athlete's participation in an event where starting is often just as much a challenge as finishing.

Sleep Deprivation
August 22, 2010
Here is an interesting thing I've noticed in a few race reports form others who have done some of these endurance bike races: sleep deprivation is a real time killer. It goes something like this: somewhere after the first 12 hours, you're rolling along and feeling ok, then (sometimes quite rapidly) the sleepies start to creep in. At that point, its a fight over the next few hours to stay awake, usually until daylight or the "second wind" kicks in.

For awhile, you might fall asleep while riding, usually resulting in a wipe out or snow bath. So after a few times of this, you might start doing other things to try and stay awake, like alternating walking and riding, listening to music, eating, caffiene, etc., to varying degrees of success, but usually just prolonging the period of nodding off.

The nodding and resting offer some benefit, which is why after a few hours you might get that second wind. A couple of minutes of sleep at a time finally adds up to something resembling "enough" and you can keep going. But the toll was a lot of lost time because of the walking. So the question is, how to prepare for this situation better? The goal would be to sleep at opportune times, like at the checkpoints, for short amounts, so that your body wouldn't get all cranky while you're trying to ride. In other words, try to prepare for and then manage sleep so that I'm not attacked by the sleepies while riding.

One experiment might be to try a forced race-like sleep situation on myself during some period before the race, like the previous couple of weekends. This is the idea that the body likes rythems and cycles. For the Arrowhead, we're looking at two long days and a night in between of riding. So this matches up nicely to a weekend. Now doing this a couple of times might not result in anything, but at least it would give me an idea of what to do to go to sleep rapidly. And its not so much "staying awake" for the whole night, but rather preparing the body for a disrupted sleep cycle. This means just being able to fall asleep when there is time, and spreading out the blocks of sleep so its not all in one 8 hour chunk.

I had planned on stopping for 4-5 hours at the halfway point. But no matter how you slice it, I'm riding in the small hours of the night, when its hardest to stay awake. The best thing I think is to try to go into that time period after just having rested. In any case, sleep training and management is going to be an important aspect of doing this kind of race.

I'm also going to start doing more with weights. There is no doubt going to be some pushing involved, there are short, steep sections (i.e. 50-100 meters long) that are mostly impossible to ride, so you have to push up. This is where upper body strength comes into play as well. So I need to be sure I'm focusing some amount of training time to upper body strength. I'm also trying to think of places where there are hills like this around here that I could practice on. Maybe someplace by the river. The Ft. Snelling hill is like that, but its a road thats probably plowed in the winter. I'll have to keep thinking about this.

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