How to do the Death Ride without really dying


After coaching last week’s Velo Girls Alpine Altitude Adventure camp, I wanted to share my top tips for Death Ride success. I’ve participated in the Death Ride three times (2010 will be my 4th). There are lots of ways to approach an event like this. Here are my best suggestions:

#1 — Have a Plan. If you don’t have a plan, you’re less likely to keep on schedule, make the time cuts, and keep going when the day gets challenging. In your plan, include details like your time goals (print these out and put them on your bar, stem, or top tube), nutrition (what to eat + drink and when), and clothing.

#2 — Stick to your Plan. Don’t get lost in the moment. Revisit your plan during the day as needed.

#3 — Have a Partner. In my experience with the Death Ride, I’ve found having a partner encourages accountability. Discuss with your partner in advance if you’ll ride together the whole day. If not, when/where will you re-group. Discuss your challenges and how you will support each other during the day.

#4 — Pace Yourself. Ride at YOUR pace — a pace that is sustainable for the entire day. Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the early morning hours and try to keep up with the hammer-heads. Remember, some riders will be much faster. Some riders aren’t planning to complete all five passes. If you start out too hard, too soon, you’re likely to suffer later in the day.

#5 — Go Easy on the Easy Parts. Yes, that’s what I said. Resist the temptation to hammer on the lower grades and the flats. Allow yourself to recover on the easy terrain and conserve your energy for the hard terrain (when you really need it).

#6 — Remember to Breathe! Altitude affects individuals in different ways. In general, you will feel the effects at higher intensities. Try to prepare mentally for the negative effects of altitude (shallow breathing, rapid heart rate, headache, and nausea). Don’t linger at the top of the climbs, but rather at the bottom. And don’t panic when you suffer the effects of altitude — remember that when you descend many of these negative effects will disappear or lessen.

#7 — Freshen up for Five! As you pass through Markleeville, take a quick break to change clothes (a clean chamois will make you very happy), grab an icy cold drink from your cooler and your favorite treat, and an Action Wipe. We leave all of this in our car on the route so we can make a quick stop to refresh before the final climb.

#8 — Don’t Try Anything New. The day of the Death Ride is not the day to experiment with your nutrition, hydration, clothing, or equipment.

#9 — Expect the Unexpected. For many riders, this is the most epic and challenging day they will have spent in the saddle. Over the course of 10 hours, anything can happen. Try to be flexible and roll with it.

#10 — Don’t Forget your Lotions + Potions. At 5:00am you’re probably not thinking about sunscreen and lubrication. Here’s your reminder. Apply early and apply often. I’m a big fan of Betwixt + Zealios and will be taking extra little sample-size packets with me on the ride.

#11 — Celebrate your Victories! Participating in the Death Ride is a great accomplishment. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed and unhappy. Remember to smile. If someone says “good job,” even if you feel awful, just smile and say thank you. Ring a bell or holler at the top of your climbs. Appreciate the great feat you’ve accomplished.

#12 — Be in the Moment. Stay focused and aware, especially when descending. Although the roads are closed to cars (on Monitor and Ebbetts), there are 3,000 bicycles on the road. Be aware of others and your interactions with them. Ride safely, don’t take undue risks, and have fun!

#13 — Honor Mother Nature. It’s true, you’ll experience lots of different weather on an event like the Death Ride: cold morning temperatures, blazing sun and heat, and (most years) rain, hail, thunder, lightening, and chilling temps in the afternoon. Even if it’s 90 degrees mid-day, it’s likely to be cold + wet later in the afternoon. Don’t ditch your layers before climbing Carson (you might very well need them).