Breaking the Iditarod Trail Record

Apr 19, 2011
Outside Magazine

Screen shot 2011-04-13 at 1.46.26 PM

Louise Kobern earned the nickname La Ruta Lou by becoming the 4-time winner of arguably the hardest mountain bike stage race in Costa Rica. Recently, she set a new course record for something a little different and a bit colder. She nailed the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile bike race in Alaska, racing in the fastest woman's time yet—3 days, 22 hrs and 20 minutes. We caught up with her after the ride for a little advice on racing in the cold.
--Heidi Volpe

What kind of tips do you have for staying warm? 
The trick to stay warm is to never get too cold in the first place!  You need to add more clothing before you actually feel cold, because once you stop riding to put clothes on, you instantly FREEZE and then it is really hard to use your fingers and dress while shivering like crazy!!  Also, if your feet get cold, you can get off your bike and jog or walk while pushing, that seems to get the circulation going in your feet. Eating is also key, you burn calories like crazy in the cold climate and having fuel in you makes it easier to create body heat!!

List out your kit for a normal day.

My "kit" includes:  

long sports bra

Sport Hill thick jersey

Sport Hill vest

soft shell jacket with hood (probably for below 0 or so)

ski hat

goggles with neoprene to cover the nose

glove liners


bike shorts

fleece pants

Sport Hill cross country ski pants


wool socks

Snow Runner boots

I also have a Northface down jacket with hood that I put on when it’s below -20 or so

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How different is it to manage your fueling being so bundled and racing in -20 degree weather?
It is SO hard to fuel in this type of climate!!  To eat when your whole face is covered up, and with mittens on your hands is not so easy, but you HAVE to (or at least I do).  Drinking can be a challenge as it is very hard to keep your camelbak hose from freezing even though you keep it under your armpit, and blow out all the water each time you drink.  

Also, at times you ride for 20 hrs without a break, so it’s not an option to not eat for a little while.  You eat constantly, and as much as your stomach can tolerate! It took me three tries to figure out my nutrition for this race as it is so different from anything else I do.

Did you have any Frigophobic feelings during the ride or before? 
I don’t really have any fear of being cold.  I have “bonkophobia” though. I am more afraid of not being able to move forward!  As long as I can stay fueled, I can ride and then it’s usually not that cold.

Since you live in NoCal how did you train, aside from racing this race 3x previously? 
For this race I add some hiking to my schedule.  I don’t feel like I have to be super fast for this race, just very strong, mentally and physically.  Last year we had to push our bikes over 100 miles so you need to be used to being on your feet a lot.  There are also some really tough steep hills where you have to hoist your 50 pound bike up and it helps to be strong. 

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What did you do differently this year then last to nail the record breaking win?
There were a few factors that added up.

The weather/terrain:  We had blue skies for the most part and no snow storms so there was actually a trail the whole time.  When it is really windy the snow mobile trail can blow in after 30 seconds and then you have to post hole through deep snow.  We could ride most of the race this year, maybe hiked 20 miles or so.

My new awesome snowbike.  I rode snowcat wheels on a regular mountain bike the first 3 times, now I have a Fatback with 80 mm rims. It made a HUGE difference

My eating:  Finally got my food figured out to keep my blood sugar levels up(have had lots of problem with hypoglycemia in the past)

Luck: the stars just lined up this year. 

photos courtesy of Magura /Speedway Cycles Eric Kobern


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