Fill up for endurance sports? There is so much information out there on how to do it right, how to properly load carbs, hydration, enough salt, enough sleep, suggestions for waking up at 2am to have a smoothie, pasta is good for you, pasta makes you gain weight . The media conflicts and best practices are a minefield. But after running countless half marathons, two marathons, long distance cycling, and all the other events I’ve competed in over the years, I should know better what works for me and what doesn’t. For many years I had a severe intolerance to starchy carbs to the point that I went on an elimination diet to see what was causing my problems, had tests for celiac disease that didn’t come back here or there, and then went low carb for 11 years had eaten groceries and free health foods that my friends said looked and tasted like cardboard. The intolerance was so sensitive at one point that even if my fork had made contact with mashed potatoes before touching my food, I would have been clinging to my left side in pain. I slowly started to reintroduce starchy carbs into my diet, with occasional discomfort, but now I can eat pretty much anything. The decision to start doing this was just because I wanted to be more active, I wanted to run, I wanted to play soccer, I wanted to ride a bike but I couldn’t do it any longer and diet without introducing the potato and rice back onto my plate and i had to try to make it work.
Energizing and hydrating for endurance is something that can easily go wrong, and even more so during a heatwave. If it’s not about worrying that what I’m eating is pointless junk (while plowing through the chips on Fatboy’s plate while sticking my fork in my salad), then it’s worrying that that what I ate is even enough to sustain me for the next long time long haul or fast ride, fueling my body with quality rather than cheap and cheerful and finding the right nutritional balance. Then there’s the conundrum of burning more calories than you’re eating, or not eating enough to replace the calories burned. My head is spinning. There are times when I can go for a quick bike ride or run and feel great, and then there’s the odd occasion where I’ve been so preoccupied with life at home that I forget to properly eat when I’m out running errands and pay for it and that was in the days leading up to Ashby’s 100, a 105+ mile ride that was a well attended ride just for fun within the cycling club last year and then to an official event this year became. Having spent a few days before the event taking care of “Gizzard Puke”, the youngest member of the household, being woken up at witching hour, I passed just in time to train for my upcoming triathlon, followed by some shopping for a holiday and busy running around trying to get last minute necessities and helping out with bike maintenance for Ashby’s 100 and so in the days leading up to the ride I not only lacked sleep, I hadn’t really eaten much let alone Because thinking about how hot it would be that day.
On the morning of the ride I was up and putting on my Primal Ambassador custom kit, dropping the Neon Crush arm warmers as it was going to be a hot day and sitting on the edge of the bed staring at my pile of socks trying to figure out what to wear. Electric Shock Socks or the Panda, it’s always a difficult choice, but in the end it ended up with the Icons. I sipped my black coffee, my brain and stomach couldn’t really coordinate, I still woke up not finishing my breakfast. I had packed some gels, flapjack and salt tablets in my jersey pocket, enough to get me through to the aid station at 50 miles and headed out to meet the other riders for the 8:30 start. Around 20 riders took part in the event. Coach Matt gave us a pep talk including making sure we got a decent breakfast. You know, when you were in school assembly and the principal was calling the students to something to find the culprit, that’s how I felt at the time and my innermost sigh was “Oh!”. He then repeated the intervals of when to take the gels and stay hydrated: “If you’re thirsty it’s too late,” he said, to which I was relieved as I was one and we had only 50 miles before 1st place Stop feeding, how bad could it be.
We set off at a leisurely pace and chatted as we headed out into the open countryside towards St Ives and Warboys, it was starting to get quite warm for this time of the morning. As we turned onto a street a few of us slowed to wait for a few others who were a little way back to make sure they had seen us before attempting to catch up with the pack ahead. The ride through the rural landscape with fields of bright yellow rapeseed resembled a snapshot of the Tour de France driving through the sunflowers. A couple of riders coming back from injury were just beginning to feel the effects at mile 40 of the ride as we rode into the wind with some setbacks. I was feeling good, but my bike felt quite heavy, partly due to changing tires from my usual SWorks Gripton, which were beginning to wear out, to a set of temporary road tires that came as a spare set with my CX bike , and I couldn’t handle it. The tire roll was noticeably different and felt heavy in comparison, which in turn began to weigh heavily on my legs as the group began to push into the headwind of the bog. Despite sitting in the middle of the pack I suddenly fell off the back and then worked harder again to keep up the pace of the group who were now sitting at around 30km/h but nothing unusual about the speed. I broke off in frustration and drove to the stop where everyone had gathered for a quick drink and regrouping. We only had 4 miles left until the feed stop and I thought that was a good point of judging what I wanted to do, keep going or end the day at 50 and I didn’t want to stop.
When we got to the food stop, we met up with some members of the club who had baked cakes and sandwiches and provided drinks and a supply of sunscreen. It got even warmer and many riders were already tanned by 11:30 am. I felt a lot better after the meal and was ready to complete the 2nd half. All was going well until poor Bill, the organizer of the event, had a mechanical freewheel after 10 miles in the second half of the ride. While waiting for a spare tire, the riders paused and headed out onto the grass, a good chance to top up on sunscreen, have a drink, and crack some terrible jokes before heading off to our second stop in Denver, the was about 80 miles away. I was starting to feel better after the meal so now it was just a matter of conserving my energy regardless of the tire situation and rising temperatures. 5 miles before our 2nd stop as the sun was beating down on us and we were about to get to our destination Coach Matt got bored and I needed a distraction as the heat got the better of me so we started playing I Spy it weird, how the most obvious takes the longest to guess. When we finally got to The Jennings Arms, a Denver riverside pub, we huddled together parked our bikes and headed for salty snacks and drinks at the bar before heading home.
As we cruised along the river bank, we passed the river boats and exchanged waves. Poor Bill suffered a 2nd and 3rd mechanic with a flat tire within minutes. As I set off again, I found myself feeling a little upset. I was very exhausted from the heat and lost the strength to move my legs around and started falling backwards and throbbing. The main package had gone ahead and it was just Bill and I for company. Coach Matt was ahead of the pack but noticed that me and Bill weren’t in the group and walking back to us he could see I was struggling. After saving his Cherry Bakewell Torq gel for a “special occasion,” he handed it to me along with his half-pack of dextrose candies and told me to eat the one with the gel. While pedaling and doing as I was told, I was also expected to answer a number of his questions, including answering the letter “D” from our I Spy earlier. Speaking was made difficult as the dextrose and Torq gel mixed together and began to foam almost like a magnesium tablet. That made me laugh, and laughing was all I could do. Matt handed me a Soreen Malt loaf and told me to eat it, as well as the Torq gel and dextrose candies, I couldn’t stop laughing as the malt bread stuck to my teeth while the foam subsided. Within minutes the combination of all three started to take effect and Matt explained to me the three levels of energy reserve and probably combined with the heat and my pre-ride refueling I had reached energy reserve 3 fairly quickly. I drove another 9 miles before the group called another pub to get water refilled, another flat tire fixed and the sweeper to take me home. I had really hit the wall at 91 miles!!!!!!
The next day, I decided that I needed to make up the miles I hadn’t logged the day before, for no other reason than that it was an unfinished business. On another blisteringly hot day, I took it easy and headed out into the sunny countryside, well fueled and hydrated in my Theta shorts and jersey, with the intention of just enjoying the view and stretching my legs for about 10 miles to shoot… 27 miles later I got home. It was so hot that the rest of the week was a case of calm. It was too hot to bother training for my triathlon and I didn’t want to hurt myself. While it’s not in my nature to sit still for too long, I used my rest time when the weather was nice and went shopping with the intention of buying a tri-belt and laces, but came home empty-handed but had ordered a new road bike. It’s similar to when I went to the stores with Fatboy’s bank card for coffee and tomato sauce and came home with 10 shopping bags and no sauce or caffeine.
The following week my new bike, a Liv Envie Advanced 1, was ready for me at Rutland Cycles, after bike fit and adding the aero water bottles, I was then able to take the bike home. It was a real pleasure to ride this bike and practice swimming bicycle Triathlon section made me smile a lot. So, with learned nutrition, taking the weather into account and with a tank plan that is going well, I’m looking forward to my 1st triathlon, I just hope it’s not too hot, otherwise I’ll just keep swimming.
Until next time…
Thanks to James Smith