Saturday, July 31, 2010

Granier Training

Friday 30th July 2010

GPSies - Aime Granier, Valezan, Vulmix, Bourg, Macot, Aime

Straightforward workout, trying not to overdo it but to maintain fitness. Would have preferred to workout on Thursday to have more rest in preparation for Sunday's race - but weather was not cooperative.

Observations on Breathing
I notice that when nasal breathing the heart rate does not climb so rapidly at the start of a workout - it is a much more progressive climb and seems to relate better to the "warming up " process of getting the muscles to the right working temperature - which takes time.

Felt much stronger than usual today and despite not exerting to the upper limit was able to match previous best times for this climb this year. On those other occasions I'd been pushing to the limit and was anaerobic. Couldn't get an accurate time check at the end because the road is closed at the last 100m. Took a side road with an extraordinarily steep climb - real fun - but it was blocked by a tractor unloading hay - bad timing!

Began carbo loading in the evening - didn't like stuffing myself with pasta even if it was wholegrain. Continued generally overeating after that and went to bed stuffed. Woke up mouth breathing and a kilo heavier than the day before. Eating definitely affects breathing.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Les Arcs 1800

Tuesday 27th July 2010 (Weight 69.0kg Bp 110/73 HR 46)

GPSies - Aime, Macot, Peisey Vallandry; Arc 1800, Bourg St Maurice, Macot, Aime

My favourite photo from the Tour De France 2010. Incredible to see Lance on the podium in Paris. This time he didn't make it on his own - but even more fitting that his entire team made it happen. Shocking to think that the No 1 team in the Tour has not been selected for September's Tour of Spain due to the selectioners calling them "not competitive enough"! The controversial black shirts being worn have the number 28 written large on the back - representing the 28 million cancer sufferers around the world.

Object of today's training session was to try to climb the steep route to Arcs 1800 through Peisey Vallandry without hitting bottom gear and keeping a good cadence.

The main reason that a higher gear is possible is probably "weight loss" - having lost 5kg since May. Have also noticed that my leg muscles are getting SMALLER!!! It appears that the quads in particular have lost a lot of thickness. Is that just fat or is it some sort of adaptation of muscle tissue to endurance? Looking at the photo above it's clear that all of those elite endurance athletes have pretty skinny legs - but then they are all pretty skinny in general.

Average cadence for the 1000m climb in second gear was 60 rpm and average speed was 11 km/hr. Average Heart rate was 149 bpm and that is on the edge of Lactate Threshold. Will be interesting to compare those figures with a lower gear and higher cadence next time. My legs did become tired but it's clear from the chart that there was no cardiovascular fatigue as the heart rate was still rising progressively to the top of the climb. Not sure if that would be the case on a second climb though.

Breathing Control. (
The workout took 02:30 hrs and nasal breathing was successfully used throughout. Part of the day's objective was to find out if breathing control has any measurable impact on endurance. Until today the longest workout I'd managed with nasal breathing was about 35 minutes - so it was a major step up managing 150 minutes. The point about nasal breathing is that it reduces breathing creating an air shortage. The first thing that does is to create a mild sense of panic or anxiety. You just feel like you have to stop it and take a big breath through the mouth. If you avoid that temptation the body quickly adjusts and the anxiety disappears. The aim is to use the body's natural means to increase CO2 levels in the lungs and blood. When this is achieved the blood releases a higher level of oxygen to the muscles and organs - thus keeping the physical activity more aerobic. In simple terms - to get more oxygen you have to breathe LESS! I'd already tested this at maximum physical output levels and found that it didn't have any negative effect on performance - in fact I climbed significantly faster. The key is in understanding the process and allowing the sense of anxiety to pass without giving in to it. It is very counter intuitive - but then so is everything that works in life.

One major benefit I stumbled upon on this longer test ride was that with the mouth closed there is very much less dehydration. In addition to that, when drinking from a water bottle it is remarkably easier than if you have been breathing through the mouth. If you breathe though the mouth and you try to drink you end up holding your breath when drinking. This is extremely unpleasant when engaged in hard physical effort and so you tend to avoid it until there is a break - getting more dehydrated as a result. When you breathe through the nose the drinking process doesn't conflict with breathing, so you can do both even when working very hard.

GPS Incident!
Descending at high speed from Arc 1800 on the main route is always slightly unpleasant because the road surface is very degraded from the winter and lack of community expense in correcting the problem. This is made worse by the fact that it is a wide open road with long straights and it is tempting to go fast. About half way down the 18 km descent I looked at my handlebars and noticed that my GPS was not there! It had been there at the summit of the climb because I'd registered the split time but now it was gone. Obviously one of the violent potholes had dislodged the Garmin Forerunner 305 from its quick release clip holder. Not only did this mean that I'd lost all the workout data but it would cost at least 200 euros to replace the unit or 300 euros to upgrade to a new model. What a bummer! I'd seen a few cyclists going up hill and perhaps someone had found it, so I did a quick about turn and started climbing. fortunately the legs felt good so I had no problem setting a good pace that would catch anyone ahead. Meantime I kept my eyes on the ground both on and around the road. Approximately one kilometer up the climb, to my amazement, there it was, smack in the middle of the uphill lane of this main road, upside down and still working, on automatic pause due to sitting still. With hardly a scratch on it all I had to do was clip it back on the holder and resume the descent. Had the device been slightly to either side it would have been crushed by a car and had it been the right way up and more obvious then perhaps another cyclist would have collected it instead of thinking it was a piece of junk. What a tough piece of kit to have survived such abuse without a hiccup. The only downside now is that I can't really trust that quick release attachment from now on and I don't want it to spring off again at 50 km/hr when an unexpected pothole jerks the bike with tyres at 110 psi.

Monday, July 26, 2010

First ever outing with a cycling club

Friday 23rd July 2010

GPSies - Aigueblanche direction Pontchara

Cycle to Bourg St Maurice picking up Chris along the way, then double back to Macot and then head up to Notre Dame du Pré. Manage to get up to Longefoy - about 600m of climbing - before a storm breaks over us and we quickly turn around and descend to avoid the downpour. We arrive a Macot in the dry and part company there with me simply going home to Aime and Chris with the wind at his back and an easy ride back to Laundry where he started. This is one of the few runs that I’ve done on “fresh” legs this year and that feels great. Combine that freshness with a body weight now consistently below 70kg and climbing feels good. There is power in the legs and a real pleasure in attacking any climb or acceleration. This feeling was absent all the way up to the Marmotte because the legs were permanently tired. It’s now that the payoff from the Marmotte training is coming through.

Sunday 25th July 2010

First ever outing with a cycling club!

It was really enjoyable but thankfully I waited until being reasonably fit – or it could have been difficult in many ways. I’ve always been very wary of such sports clubs because of the likelihood of being way off the mark in terms of fitness or performance – so it was great to be at the correct level first time out.

Other than racing it was the first time ever in a “large” peloton – of 11 individuals. They managed to get everyone back together in the end of the day – taking care not to lose anyone. The speeds are so much higher working constructively together like this that it takes a little bit of getting used to. Going at 50km/hr at 6 inches from the next wheel in front can be slightly worrying at times.
Nobody really spoke to me at the beginning but by the end the ice seemed to be broken – perhaps partly because they realised that I wasn’t useless on the bike. Several of the group were suffering after almost 5 hours in the saddle. I was well within my limits and even managed an uphill sprint near the end that felt very good.

Lowering the handlebars to 5cm below saddle height has really improved many aspects of cycling. The biggest thing is that I can feel and use my glutes much more, which is great for power and simply reducing the load on the quads. It’s hard to imagine that a couple of centimetres difference can have such a big effect but it does. This change also makes it much easier to use the top bar of the handlebar and then to flatten the body to slipstream better. Despite a 5 hour ride today there was no apparent discomfort from the lower position – so it looks like becoming a permanent modification.

Morning Weight 69.2kg Blood Pressure 112/74 Resting Heart rate 44 bpm

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hard Workout

Tuesday 21st July 2010

Hard workout on the bike yesterday. Legs were tired from running but it was time for a bigger effort on the bike. The tiredness wasn’t just mental because it was impossible to get the heart rate up high. Nevertheless the workout went well in that I was able to step up a gear and keep a good speed. Cadence went down a bit, but previously there wouldn’t have been enough strength to keep up this speed in a higher gear anyway. I can feel the benefits of an improved power to weight ratio – probably a combination of more strength and much less weight. Weighed 69.3kg this morning – compared to 74kg in May.

Bradley Wiggins is currently complaining about his constant mediocre form on the Tour de France – which is reassuring for me. He had previously claimed to have prepared for the tour to perfection – and it just hasn’t worked. Last year he was in much better form and claims that it was a fluke – in that it wasn’t planned. This all makes me feel much better regarding my own unexplained disaster in the Marmotte. I guess that sports science has a long way to go yet.
Wednesday 22nd July 2010

Slept a bit poorly due to some leg pain – particularly in the right quads – no injury, just pain from tiredness. Decided to limit the day’s exercise to swimming only. Well, I certainly must have changed something because from the moment I started to swim my deltoids hurt. It took a few minutes to figure out if they were injured or not but as it didn’t worsen I assumed that it wasn’t an injury. After about 10 minutes the pain in both shoulders had gone completely – so the muscles were in need of warming up. Have never felt pain there before (except through injury) so this was interesting. Looks like I need to build strength now for the swimming now that the crawl stroke has basically been sorted out. Swam 600m this time with no breathlessness or struggling. Will add to this distance as feels appropriate and once I’m really sure I’m not injuring myself.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Darth Vader

Friday 14th July 2010
First run today for about a month. Slow and kept short at 45 mins. Find that running level has dropped a lot.

Saturday 15th July 2010
Not feeling great so just go for a short hard bike ride and a bit of research into “breathing”. In fact legs are hurting quite badly from the running yesterday – the “DOMS”. One week ago I climbed the Versant du Soleil in 35:07 mins and today I wanted to see how fast I could climb it with purely “nasal” breathing. The theory is that breathing through the nose increases levels of CO2, NO and O2 in the blood and creates a better oxygenation of the whole body. This is achieved not by breathing more deeply but by breathing more slowly and less deeply and by the diaphragm. It is a bit hard to get used to because of the habit of hyperventilating being so ingrained. The result was interesting in that the climb took 33:44 mins – when to be honest I expected it to be slower. Average heart rate was practically identical for both efforts.

To help to slow down exhalation you can make a sort of grunt of groaning sound at the back of the throat, with the mouth closed – which sounds a bit like Darth Vader.

Sunday 16th July 2010
Have even worse DOMS today. Decide to go for a short training session again. Climb the Versant du Soleil using nasal breathing and pushing a higher gear. Found it mentally much tougher to hold it together. Not used to the pain level of pushing the higher gear – I guess this is the drawback of using low gears and working on high cadence and aerobic fitness most of the season. It’s clear to me now that the best way to improve climbing speed is to get more power into the pedals. Tour de France climbing specialists use a gear ratio of 53/39 to 11/23 even on the steepest climbs. The ones who are not specialists might have a rear sprocket up to 25 or 26. I’m climbing mostly on 34 front and 28 rear. That’s good for developing higher cadence rates and surviving longer distances, but it’s not really developing muscle power. The result of using the third sprocket (23) instead of second (26) was that the climb was 30 seconds faster. It was hard to deal with the leg pain and the mild discomfort of nasal breathing both together, but that was also due to the nose feeling slightly obstructed. Will have to start washing the nasal passages with salt water – as is recommended. This means pouring water in one nasal passage and letting it run out of the other.

One thing I notice when really pushing hard and nasal breathing is that there is a tingling feeling sometimes passes through the body – a feeling that does not occur with oral breathing. There is no light headedness or anything negative. If you have to take a break and allow two or three breaths by the mouth it might relieve the slight feeling of need for more air, but immediately there is a sort of negative feeling goes through the body – hard to describe. The nasal breathing feels so good that you just want to return to it as soon as possible. It takes a bit of getting used to the feeling that there is not enough air – but that feeling appears to be a bit of an illusion reinforced through habit.

Monday 17th July 2010
Went for a 10km run today and confirmed that my running has gone right back to square one. Very Slow!!! Legs hurt and everything laborious. Felt the old plantar fasciitis for a few minutes under the right foot but that fortunately completely disappeared quite quickly. Focussed on running technique and nasal breathing. The nasal breathing was effortless as the legs were not able to propel me at a level capable of taxing my respiratory capacities in the slightest.

Started to swim a bit more seriously today. Strung together 10 lengths of the 50m pool and managed to pretty much hold the technique together. Added two lengths a much higher speed and everything felt better with the extra speed, plus there wasn’t the usual accompanying breathlessness so something must be right. Tried to breathe out through the nose under the water. Having to concentrate to keep the elbows up both in and out of the water. No shoulder injuries even with the harder effort. Previous attempts to swim harder have injured the right shoulder – but this time the movement of the arm from the shoulder feels much stronger and safer. Feel like real progress is being made in the pool.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Thursday 15th July 2010

Short training workout, from Aime (700m) up to 1400m on the La Plagne road. The la Plagne road is quite steep and relentless but has a good rolling surface so it is enjoyable to climb. The wide road also means that traffic can give you plenty of space.

Started pushing hard from the beginning so as to have a high intensity workout. Perhaps due to tiredness from pushing ultra hard up the Col de la Madeleine two days earlier it wasn’t possible to get my heart rate high enough to be anaerobic for any sustained period of time. Despite the heart not going up so high I was able to sustain a slightly higher gear and keep a good cadence – which meant quite high power and speed. The previous time I’d done this climb was in June and managed a time of 50 minutes – pushing really hard. Today’s time was 8 minutes faster at 42 minutes. The last month has seen a significant improvement in fitness and today it was a real buzz to keep the body working so powerfully for a sustained period.

Swimming daily at the moment due to the outdoor pool being open and the opportunity to acquire a good dose of vitamin D. Still working on crawl technique but really feel like I’ve “Got It” now as it all makes sense. Will progressively start to work on stamina soon and make technique a secondary issue.

Need to start running again soon too. Running was abandoned due to the intense preparations for the Marmotte.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Col de la Madelaine – Tour de France

Tueday 13th July 2010

Today was probably the hardest day in the 2010 Tour de France culminating with the final climb of the day on the Col de la Madelaine. My aim was simply to get early to the top of the col to watch the best racers in the world come though. This stage of the Tour started in Morzine and included four major mountain passes – La Col de la Columbière, La Col des Aravis, La Col des Saises and finally, the biggest of all, La Col de la Madelaine – which alone has a climb of over 1500m altitude.
On the day the Tour passes through a mountain pass the road is closed for several hours. Hundreds of camper vans will have already installed themselves in every nook and cranny possible along the road side during the preceding four days – with the mountain top completely jam packed. Despite the riders passing though later in the day, around 5pm, there are people already sitting along the roadside all the way up the 25km climb from early morning onwards – all staking out their vantage points for a good view. With the road closed to traffic from about 11am onwards it makes an ideal venue for cycling – and on this occasion there were literally busloads of cyclists taking full advantage of the situation.

I parked at the supermarket car park in nearby Aguieblanche not far from the start of the climb. It would have been possible to have cycled all the way from home at Aime, but being very unsure of the weather and the effect of waiting for several hours at the summit it seemed more prudent to drive to near the foot of the climb so as to be able to get home without problems later on. Early on the evening before there had been major thunder and lightning storms in the area! The supermarket is a good place to park because you can get a coffee, use the toilets and park safely for the day. 10 minutes after leaving the car park on the bike I was at the bottom of the climb up the Col de la Madelaine. Feeling good I went straight into attacking the climb and within seconds had my heart up at 170 and anaerobic. This was the first time in two weeks that I’d been able to raise my heart level so high easily and meant that I’d finally recovered from the Marmotte race and the training leading up to it. For the next hour and a quarter I was able to keep the heart rate anaerobic and maintain a really good speed. It was always very unlikely that I’d manage to keep that level up for the entire climb and sure enough after 16 kilometers my legs decided that they’d had enough. Over a period of a few minutes I was converted from being one of the fastest climbers to being one of the slowest – very much like happened on the Marmotte. One thing is very clear to me now – I cannot tell the difference between “bonking” and overexertion – they feel very much the same. It appears that at the moment I can maintain maximum exertion for around 70 minutes when fresh. Whether this 70 minutes can be spread out over sections of a longer race, or whether by breaking it into chunks it is possible to achieve 80, 90 or more minutes, I don’t know. It’s a little bit frustrating to not really understand what is going on. The only thing certain is that training with such high intensity will improve performance more rapidly than anything else.

At the top of the col Chris Harrop had reserved a restaurant table right beside the road with an excellent view. Chris was accompanying a group of 14 American (some from Japan and South Africa) clients from “Bethel Cycles” who were out for a week of cycling based in the Tarantaise valley. A local named Riccardo was employed as a guide for the group. Riccardo, with the skinniest legs possible, made his lycra cycling shorts look baggy – so he was clearly an excellent climber. The American group was actually bigger than this but not everyone had felt up to climbing the Madelaine. Fortunately the weather remained excellent and after a slightly chilly period of drying out clothing the sun seemed to get warmer and there was no need for an extra layer or anything warm to wear. I’d brought a rucksack with a warm fleece and rainproof along with camera and money etc. so either way I’d enjoy the day. Unfortunately the restaurant owners didn’t organise any television so we had no idea what was going on until the riders arrived – that was a very disappointing aspect of the day for me as there were some major battles taking place, especially lower down on the Madelaine itself. There was no 3G coverage in the area either so Chris couldn’t get TV on his mobile telephone. Everyone however seemed to enjoy the plate of Spaghetti Carbonara (vegetarian version also) despite it being ridiculously overpriced at 20 euros. They also overcharged for coffee at 3 euros. I dislike that sort of attitude and hope that the tour goes elsewhere next year. Last year when it came over the Col du Petit St Bernard from Italy there was none of that nonsense or greed – the restaurant owners being Italian, just a few yards over the border.

When the leaders in a breakaway group arrived at the top they were so fast and kept so close to the wall on the inside of the road that we saw nothing. We were looking down from above and the road was curving in towards us, but nobody expected to see absolutely NOTHING! A small amount of repositioning permitted everyone to be ready for the actual tour leaders arriving next, a few minutes later. I did manage to get a photograph of Contador and Schleck battling it out together and demolishing the rest of their competition – and also in the photo the bottom of one of the Bethel group.

The riders came through in small groups or individually from then on, but it was about an hour before the largest group came through with Mark Cavendish being supported and helped by most of the HTC Columbia team. Considering the vast amount of climbing on this stage I’d expected for them to be even further behind.

As usual Chris was jumping at the bit to get going and had the entire Behtel group ready on their bikes before the road was open and the race finish car and Voiture Balai had come through with the last competitor. This imprudence sparked the wrath of the gendarmes and some of the public – so fortunately they moved over to the roadside and waited – which was just as well as a whole bunch of dangerously fast moving vehicles streamed through just after the final rider. Chris and his group headed off down the other side of the col in the same direction as the racers into the Maurienne valley and I headed off through a massive crowd back in the direction that I’d come from. It took quite a while to move through the throng of thousands of people all seemingly going to the Maurienne side – the opposite way from me. On the descent there were traffic jams all the way down the mountain and I’m sure it must have been very late before it was all cleared. My only incident was when a motorcycle gendarme honked me from behind and I ignored him to overtake a camper. He wasn’t happy, but technically I was in the right anyway. I just nodded at his indication to slow down and continued to listen to my music and ignore him.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Sunday 11 July 2010

Today, the road from Val d’isère (1850m) up to the Col de l’Isèran was closed to traffic and reserved for cyclists only. This road is the Route Nationale so it is seldom closed to traffic once the winter snow has been removed from the mountain pass.

Even better, the road was also closed on the other side of the pass down to Bonneval, also at 1800m, in the Maurienne valley. Cyclists from both valleys were invited to make the trip across the pass and down the other side – and back of course.

Registration was free and timing chips optional. The timing chips didn’t actually work and there was absolutely no indication of where the sensors were for starting or finishing the climb – so they were a waste of time. The climb was intended to be an informal friendly randonnée – a “cyclotourist” outing. That’s a shame because a proper hill climb race like the Grimpée de Semnoz at Annecy would attract a lot of participants. There were perhaps only 30 people at the start in Val, but probably a lot more made the trip during the day.

I removed my water bottles so as not to have unnecessary weight and took no wind proof jacket as I didn’t intend to go to Bonneval. I simply wanted to climb as fast as possible and like Chris, who started late, make a bit of a race out of it. There was still quite a bit of tiredness from the Marmotte so I couldn’t get my heart rate up as high as hoped. Last year on the Semnoz I averaged 169bpm but here it was about 159bpm. It seemed that the only people who wanted to race for a fast time were British ski instructors – five BASI grade 1s in fact. I messed up with my stopwatch by pushing the button twice at the start and only spotting it about 15 minutes later, when I eventually started the clock.

Giles Lewis and Paul Gardner took an early lead followed by one French guy, who later left them behind. The climb was pleasing because despite some tiredness it seemed short and easy in comparison with the cyclosport courses that I’d become used to. One Col (mountain pass) would have seemed like a major effort to me before, but now it just feels like a warm up – even when going as fast as possible. Near the top I hit my “split” time button when I saw Giles pass a road marker up ahead, then hit it again when I passed it. I was strong enough to be able to accelerate at the top and so knew that the time difference between me and Giles at the road mark would be close to the same at the end. The time difference was 02:07mins and Giles’s time was 58:45mins which put me on 60:52mins. Next time I hope to be 5 kilos lighter and much stronger so getting under 60 mins should be quite easy.

Chris Harrop managed 59 mins, but was also still quite tired from the Marmotte. Chris, myself and Kevin, an American client (of Chris) from Japan all then decided to go down to Bonneval. The sky was a bit grey and we did get a bit cold and shivery by the bottom. There was a big welcome tent at Bonneval and free coffee, juice, croissants and friendly faces. We were joined at table by Chris Haworth, recuperating from a major ski accident where his leg was shattered in 7 places due to an impact. The cycling was part of his recovery training and it was his first time taking part in any form of organised one off event. I ended up cycling back up to the col with Chris and we both benefited from the motivation of driving each other on. My intention had been to go back slowly but in the end it was a good workout, especially at the top when I got my heart rate back up again.
We all had refreshments again at the top of the col and then headed back down to Val where the atmosphere was quite festive with a group of musicians and free refreshments again. Val was warmer and sunnier than Bonneval so quite a lot of people were out.

I was very happy with my time up to the col from Val and look forward to improving it in the future. The workout was a good high intensity one and the day very enjoyable. I had to rush home however to be in time for the British Formula 1 start, then to watch the first mountain stage of the Tour de France and later the World Cup football final – a perfect day in paradise – except it was a bit sad to see Lance Armstrong fall badly and end up in such difficulty. Congrats to Spain for beating the Dutch thugs!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

La Marmotte

Saturday 03 July 2010
GPSies - La Marmotte

Build Up
The “Marmotte” is recognised as the toughest cyclosportive in Europe. Five thousand meters of climbing over 174km. Forget the “Tour de France”. Unlikely as it may seem the real show is here. 7000 participants from all over the world all determined to complete it – as one American said to me afterwards – so they don’t have to return again to finish the job!
The race starts in Bourg d’Oisans which is a small town in the heart of the Alps south of Grenoble. Bourg has been a mecca for climbing and skiing for generations but more recently it has become a mecca for road cycling and is extremely popular amongst foreign, especially Dutch cyclists. Having completed the Marmotte and experienced the terrain I can easily understand. It’s not just the mythic climb up to Alpe d’Huez, made famous by the Tour de France, but the unique combination of long flat valley bottoms with wide roads that are very cycling friendly and spectacular mountain passes amongst the highest in Europe.
I arrived early Friday afternoon in Bourg, having stuffed myself with wholemeal spaghetti (Sarasin and Epeautre grains) early, before leaving home. The force-feeding process was an attempt to start carbohydrate loading for the race the next day. On arriving at Bourg it was surprising to find the place reasonably peaceful as I’d expected there to be a serious level of overcrowding and traffic. The event was being organised by the totally useless “” outfit so it meant that everyone had to go all the way up the mountain to Alpe’dHuez to collect their start numbers – but the road was quite clear despite a number of people cycling up and down the mountain in a futile effort to get fit for the race, simply tiring themselves out. I was slightly worried about getting my race number as I was pretending to be Mark Hardie and had to give them a copy of his latest medical certificate – but there were no issues when handing over the document along with the acceptance letter issued during initial registration. I walked out relieved and tested the electronic chip on a computer on the way out – number 891 was ready to go. Unfortunately for Mark, who is one of the UK’s top triathletes it was very unlikely that my results would enhance his reputation...
All of Chris’s gear was in my van because he had decided to come by motorbike over the mountains, the direct route, taking in the cols du Telegraph and Galibier that would play a major part in the race. Motorbike is a great way to travel in the mountains when the weather is good. Despite massive thunder and lightning storms in our own Tarantaise valley in the evenings there was nothing but heat and sunshine where we were. Returning home after the race I found the expensive fanless power supply for my main computer grilled by the lightning despite being protected by a special line interrupter and several fuses and the computer having been switched off. While waiting for Chris at Alp d’Huez – I managed to buy a new helmet from one of the stands. Most items were at half price compared to shops so later we both stocked up on high tech Continental GP4000s tyres at a bargain price. The following day I was wondering why I did that as it felt distinctly like I might never want to cycle again.
Back down the mountain in Bourg I parked in the peaceful courtyard of the “chalet” (everything and anything can be marketed as a “chalet” in France) where Chris was staying the night with his friends, Justin, Paul and Anthony. Despite being completely autonomous it was nice to have access to a proper clean toilet. Unashamedly antisocial I heated up my own special pre-prepared pre-race evening meal in the van while the others were shopping for their own meal. Basically, I absolutely stuffed myself with the remaining spaghetti from lunchtime – an impressive mound of spaghetti and sauce. This gave the advantage of eating earlier which would also mean sleeping a bit better – hopefully. When it became apparent that some were going to spend the evening watching the World Cup football on television I opted for early retirement to the van. Sleep however was not so forthcoming because it was so hot. The van windows were all kept closed because there were mosquitoes in the area and they were not welcome roommates. In the morning I was up bright and early at 5am and preparing porridge with a banana within minutes. It’s best to get the food cooking first then focus on shaving and dressing properly. While the porridge was cooking three bottles of long endurance sports drink were prepared from powder – one to consume with breakfast and two for the bike. I’d several large water bottles as a water supply in the van as part of its autonomy. Basically if the van could float and be put to sea it would be totally self-sufficient. Next I prepared the high protein, high carb pre-race energy paste. This is the stuff that has proven to be inedible in the past, but I’d taken a risk and bought a new 20 euro tub of the powder with a different flavour. The previous horrible stuff was “praline” and the new one was “Chocolate flakes”. The new one was very much more edible – thankfully – so I felt no guilt at having tipped most of the praline version into the bin. I think that I’d finished stuffing my body with high energy substances about an hour before the race start – which meant that I went to the start semi bloated but at least with the stomach clear enough not to cause too much discomfort. Chris and I left for the start before the others because they were being very “English” and intending to follow the rules, which meant they would be in the latest of the three starts. The start was is groups of 2000 according to race numbers and they were 20 minutes apart. I was supposed to be in the first start at 7am and Chris in the last almost an hour later. We decided to try to get Chris into the first start group so as we were funnelled in to the appropriate lane Chris weaved his bike so that nobody could read the number on the handlebars and it worked – straight past the marshal. We still had a thousand or so before us in line for the first start, but as many of the fastest people would be racing in this group there was still a good chance of quite a fast start and joining a fast peloton.

The Race
Prior to starting the race I’d made the decision not to pace myself for the extra long distance. In all the previous races I’d simply raced the hardest I could and in doing so discovered unexpected capacities – or incapacities. Sometimes that approach could lead to a catastrophic failure, but without pushing hard and really racing there was no way to find out – so the decision was to race and deal with the consequences. With hindsight it was definitely NOT a good decision. The race began at a fast pace along the flat straight and wide road northwards from Bourg d’Oisans at 730m altitude for about 6 km before turning sharp right towards the climb up to the dam and the Lac du Verney. The luxury of fast flat road lasted another 3km until the start of a long gradual climb of 25 kms up to the Col du Glandon. I was alongside Chris for the first 15 km but we parted company on the first serious sustained climb. There appeared to be something wrong with my ability to perform into my higher heart rate zones. It was unusually hard to get the heart rate up high or to make the required effort to do so. Later on Chris revealed that he didn’t feel right either and even had a slightly sore throat. I had targeted 8hrs for the entire course (non adjusted times) and Chris 7:30, but we were both destined to fall far short of our targets – in my case quite spectacularly. Nonetheless the time up to the Col du Glandon (1932m) was good at 01:55hrs total so I still felt confident of a good result at this stage. Most people stopped for a rest at the col because the descent was excluded from the timing to prevent high speed accidents on a very long, fast and winding descent. Only right at the bottom of this 30 minute descent was the timing started again at Saint Etienne de Cuines, where another change of direction took place, again to the right – now heading South East along a “faux plat” steadily climbing up the Maurienne valley floor. I had not wasted any time at the top of the Col du Glandon because I wanted to get into a dynamic and fast peloton to work with along the valley floor. That is precisely what happened. Our group grew from about 6 to over 5O as we caught up people in front of us – so I fortunately only found myself working at the front once and was able to hitch a fast ride the rest of the way. This section was from kilometer 56 to kilometer 79: 23 km of fast progress, but hard work that had my heart rate in the red frequently, something that had not happened on the climbs. I could feel however that this really did not feel sustainable today. Just before getting to the end of this section I had a run in with a miserable little French idiot who took offense at the fact that I almost shouldered him off his bike. He had allowed a split to develop in the peloton and I was boxed in behind him, unable to get out to the left (middle of road) or to slip back. He was wandering around quite a bit so I took the opportunity to slip through on his inside, just at the moment when he wandered back over and “closed the door”. Fortunately I was through and slightly in front so when we came shoulder to shoulder I had the best position and continued through. I’d shouted to warn him when I saw him closing the door, but he didn’t hear. His reaction was to swear at me at the top of his voice in French, but rather than react to him I simply stood up and sprinted across to the group in front and left him behind to stew in his own juice – regretting that I hadn’t knocked him over properly. At Saint Michel de Maurienne at approximatey kilometre 80, we took a sharp turn right again directly South and entered the climb up to the Col du Télégraph, starting at about 704m altitude and ascending steeply to about 1556m. Right at the bottom of this climb I checked my average overall speed and saw it was over 24km/hr which put me on course for a fast overall time – but it was already clear to me that something else was wrong – there was no strength left in the legs for climbing and everyone was overtaking me now. In the end I must have been overtaken by about 2000 people and my speed slowed down so much that I didn’t manage to overtake more than two or three others for the rest of the day. I was rapidly in quite serious trouble so the obvious had happened – the race was over as I’d blown up – bonked! The climb up the Col du Télégraph immediately joins the climb to the Col du Galibier so with a 2000m climb directly ahead the question now was about simply getting home, the business of racing was over. In addition, there was also the final climb up the Alpe d’Huez so the prospects of finishing seemed very slim. My heart rate began a steady decline whilst climbing the Télégraph – from 160 bpm to 145 bpm over about an hour. Just before the top of the Télégraph there were traffic lights and police manning the traffic. They had to stop the competitors or no traffic would ever get down the mountain as there was practically an unbroken line of several thousand cyclists climbing the mountain. Frustration was intense amongst the cyclists for being forced to stop and one had been arrested and was being held aside by the police. Police, being the most corrupt form of unintelligent life of the planet, were, as might be expected, having lots of problems dealing with the situation. Luckily for them the cyclists were not organised to throw them over the side. I found out later that Chris had a good attempt though – trying to barge his way past the red light and only being stopped by the second policeman who jumped in front and stuck his hand on Chris’s chest threatening to arrest him. Yes, Chris was perhaps not having a great day but he was still on form in other ways.
At the top of the Télégraph I took on water (had done so also at the top of the Glandon) and then made myself swallow a 100 gram sickly sweet gel. In fact this was the first time I’d ever managed to do so in a reasonably controlled manner. While descending on the bike I had first of all to screw off the top of the gel without losing it, then put the nozzle into my mouth. Then the trick is to suck the gel in and swallow it in small amounts – fully controlled so as not to vomit the lot back out – which is precisely what Chris did later on in the day when he barfed the lot out inside a tunnel. Once the gel packet was empty I put the top back on to avoid runny sugary stuff running into my pockets and then could drink some water to wash it all down and facilitate digestion. The descent from the Télégraph was over rapidly as it was only a blip in the 2000m overall climb up the Galibier. No-one seemed to have been suffering too much going up to the Télégraph but I had definitely been the slowest towards the top so things were not looking too good. Starting to climb again towards the Galibier there was a sign saying 17km to the summit. My low morale was now ebbing towards rock bottom and this sign didn’t help and neither did the headache or being overtaken by everybody and their dogs. It was around this point that I started to reflect on whether it was even sensible to try to complete the Marmotte. There is an option open to all competitors to cut out the final climb up the Alpe d’Huez and just stop at the bottom. It seemed most likely that I’d be forced into his option and the result is then called the “Marmotton” which means “baby marmot”. For those who don’t know a marmot is like a ground hog but a bit bigger and fatter. Plodding up the long road to the Galibier my energy started to return a little. I’d completely forgotten that I’d eaten that gel and was too tired to make the association at the time – but reflecting on the situation later it is now clear that the sugar was getting through to the blood and muscles and I should have eaten much more. Up until this point I’d only eaten one energy bar and drunk two bottles of complex carb drink, plus the gel, and it was now about 5 hours into the race. During the following 5 hours I would only eat one more energy bar and take one more bottle of energy drink. Sweet sugary stuff becomes very unpleasant to consume after a while and there is no sensation of hunger while the body is engaged in physical effort. Despite the low consumption of food it feels like you are overeating. I think that the correct rule is probably “eat, eat and eat” while competing, but that is a challenge on its own.
Approaching the top of the Galibier presented us with an unforgettable spectacle – possibly the longest line of cyclists in the world. There is a long straight line leading up to the final dramatic series of hairpin bends ramping steeply up to the top of the ridge. You look up at the sight and think “Oh My God”! 

Just before this section the thunder had started accompanied by heavy rain drops – which were very welcome despite the significant temperature drop at this altitude. Chris and I had set off with no rain or wind protection so it was a little bit worrying that the storms were starting so early and I was moving like a snail with a million miles of hills to cover before reaching shelter. Fortunately the brief shower was a one off and there was no real threat of hypothermia that day. There was still quite a lot of snow on the Galibier and melt water rushing down the road. I’d discovered long before this point that the only way of getting up there with no power in the legs was to stand up and use body weight to turn the cranks, SLOWLY so as not to turn it into a sprint – which would have the opposite effect of being extremely tiring. This definitely removes the load from the leg muscles and as long as it is kept slow it really facilitates climbing at low energy levels. There is another unexpected benefit of this tactic and that is that it enables deep breathing as your stomach can move down and lower ribs expand more easily to let the diaphragm descend when breathing in. Breathing deeper then allows the retention of breath to last slightly longer and for a better exchange of gasses deep down in the lungs where most of the gas exchange actually takes place. There is a tendency when sitting to breath in a shallower manner using the top half of the chest – which is really detrimental to any aerobic activity. It was this breathing that made me realise before the top of the Galibier that I was also going to be able to climb the “Alpe” at the end of the race. Competitors were already starting to crack on the Galibier, with some stopping due to cramps, though this would be nothing compared to what was to come on the Alpe. Once again at the top of the Galibier I recharged with water and launched into the descent. Descending from the Galibier at 2600m altitude was the only cold period of the day. The chill lasted perhaps 10 minutes until enough altitude was lost for the air to warm up – thankfully justifying our decision not to carry any extra clothing.
Normally I enjoy descents, taking pleasure in fast turns and high speeds but the very long descent from the Galibier towards the valley of Bourg d’Oisans was not enjoyable through such a wall of tiredness. I remember being able to still ride ok though on the flats and short climbs with a small group – so I wasn’t exactly dead. The tunnels were long and horrible being very badly illuminated or not at all in some cases. One group of cyclists slowed right down at a dark bit in a tunnel and I almost went straight into them. It was black, resembling cycling with your eyes closed at points. That suited me fine as I really couldn’t care much by now anyway. Luckily I didn’t encounter Chris’s barfed gel and slip on it. My only real moment of lucidity was when we went past a stunning waterfall dropping off a massive cliff face. Even someone as far gone as I was couldn’t fail to appreciate such a marvel of nature. With the descent over we were greeted on the valley floor with shockingly high temperatures of around 39°C and a very long flat straight back to Bourg d’Oisans. People continued to pass me and now I had no interest whatsoever in tagging on to a group. Despite a slight headwind I was very happy to proceed at my own pace, alone. Nearing Bourg, on the opposite side of the road, there was a stationary police car with three gendarmes around it. Two were leaning back against the car hiding a third with a mobile radar held against the roof. God I hate those morons. Police must be specifically selected for both lack of intelligence and zero moral fibre. More than likely it’s illegal to hide such equipment when in use so I hope their community finance raising scheme ends up being challenged in court. Shortly after passing the morons Bourg appeared floating like a mirage in the distance through the desert-like heat. At this point I was not really aware of many cyclists around me and people were probably quite strung out on the flat road. Certainly, since the Galibier the flow of people overtaking me had slowed down to a trickle in comparison. I don’t recall refilling with water in Bourg at the bottom of the climb, but probably did. The actual start of the Alpe climb was further on, right at the bottom of the actual climb where an electronic timer was situated to get the split times and also for the Marmotons.
The first few kilometres of the Alpe climb are the steepest, but I went into it with no doubt about finishing. Morale had hit a low on the Galibier, but since then I’d realised that things were not going to get any worse and that as there were no acute discomforts there was nothing to get anxious about. I’d worked out a way to turn the cranks and with the breathing improvement it seemed possible to plod on forever, up anything. When climbing the Alpe it seemed to get busy again and there were cyclists all around me and all over the place. Generally, people recommenced overtaking me at a prodigious rate as my pace was often as low as 5km/hr when standing on the pedals in first gear, but more and more the numbers were increasing due to people having stopped at the roadside. The first ones I came across were slumped over the fronts of their bikes, for all the world looking like they were dealing with technical problems with the wheels or brakes. They would fiddle with bits like that – obviously not wanting people to think that they were stopped for other reasons. Further on people were starting to sit on the wall at the side of the road or to lie down on the grass. Huez village is about 8km up the 14km climb and there was a water stop there where I filled up once again. There was a shower strung across the road but somehow I managed to miss it. People at the road side were pouring water over the cyclists and somehow I managed to miss all of that too, despite passing right in front of them. Regardless of all of that the plodding was going to plan and nothing appeared to threaten it. A few kilometres further on and people were now stopping to refill their water bottles at mountain streams flowing through channels and under the road. The numbers at the side of the road were increasing steadily and the police were even controlling one watering hole that seemed to be causing traffic problems. People must have skipped the watering station at Huez to end up in that situation. One guy even filled up his bottle from the roadside gutter! Even though the water was probably from the glacier way up above he must have been desperate. Getting into the last few kilometres people were really starting to suffer and one guy started screaming at the top of his voice. It wasn’t necessary to even look back because it was obvious that he had severe cramps – that being the only reason why people scream like that. He went on for ages like an adult baby. It must have hurt though. Further on someone was holding out chunks of grapefruit to the cyclists and I accepted one – it was delicious, refreshing and very much appreciated. Shortly afterwards one guy, stationary at the roadside, straddled over his bike, threw up the entire contents of his stomach right in front of me. It was amazing to see all the stuff that was still in his stomach at this point in the day. He’d eaten all sorts of lumpy stuff that hadn’t digested. He wasn’t alone though as I saw another cyclist throw up and there were several more sick piles on the road, let alone what might have been in the grass at the side. Once up at over 1900m altitude the air had cooled a little and there was slight refreshing breeze. My plodding was slowly getting me there and seeing the suffering and catastrophic breakdown of others helped to put my own plight into perspective. It was really good to have continued and not bailed out to end up as a “baby marmot”. The sights going up the Alpe were nothing short of amazing. My only loss on the day was in not getting a proper race time, which although a real disappointment was not really important. I learned here that finishing was much more important. Most people seem to have come here already understanding that. Crossing the finish line was almost an anti-climax. Bonking is not a nice feeling and to continue another 7 hours non-stop after bonking is guaranteed not to be enjoyable. At least I now know it is possible. 

On the Alpe my heart rate steadily dropped from 145 bpm to 125 bpm by the end. I can only assume that this was due to my failure to keep on eating and taking sports drinks. The finish was chaotic with thousands of people around. There was a queue for the food and thousands of bikes in the area. No way was I going to leave my bike unattended, so I just had a drink of juice, sat down for a rest and decided to move on away from the excessive public address noise and excessive throngs of people.
Descending back to Bourg was slow due to traffic being blocked by the cyclists coming up. By this time my palms were swollen and painful so descending was becoming uncomfortable. The balls of my feet were also swollen and painful from 10 hours of pressure. Worst of all, my backside was raw and a real mess over a large area. I have no idea why this happened because it my saddle had not given any pain at all until this race but the problems began quite early on in the day. Perhaps it might have been due to sweat, which is slightly acid and very salty, as this is the first time that it had been so hot. After the race I also found that the seat post had lowered itself by about half an inch during the race – probably due to some very violent bumps on the road and not having tightened the seat clamp bolt quite enough so as to protect the carbon frame. (Have since tightened it more.) The seat lowering probably partially explains the breathing difficulties, but since then I've also discovered that it was way too far forward. The forward position explains why in very long races I was getting a bit of knee ache (didn’t happen this time though – probably due to standing a lot) and why I was cramped over the handlebars and unable to use the top bar of the handlebars – always aiming for the brake hoods instead. The excessive pressure on the hands would also perhaps be explained by this setup.
Three days later (Tuesday) and I tested the bike out with the new seat position and it really does feel good – answering a lot of problems. The legs however still feel completely dead, struggling to get my heart rate over 130 bpm, almost like a continuation of the Marmotte itself.
Five days after the race (Thursday) and I went for a ride up the Versant du Soleil, looping back through Bourg St Maurice and Macot. The legs now feel great and stronger than they felt at any point during the Marmotte. There is still a general feeling of tiredness so my system is obviously still recovering.

Why did I bonk early on in the Marmotte and not at all at Morzine? Not a clue! If the legs were just too tired for a long effort then I don’t understand why that should relate to “bonking”: running out of glycogen. How do you relate fatigue from lack of recovery, lactic acid (and other metabolic by-products) and blood/muscle sugar levels?
Despite everything my final result was 3092nd out of 5206 finishers out of over 7000 starters. This translates to 411th out of 804 finishers in my age group. The final time of 09:28:52 was with the descent from the Col du Glandon removed – and I had recorded that at around 30 minutes, taking it easy. Chris’s final time was 08:00:17 which placed him 1157th overall and 118th in the same age group as me.

Speaking to Chris a few days after the Marmotte, he said that during the course he found himself asking himself why he was doing this. Strangely this question never entered my mind on the day. During a few of the previous races however I’d posed exactly the same question and realise that it is more of a sentiment or emotion. It’s good to hear that the same things happen to others sometimes, regardless of fitness or strength.

Only two months ago I had no intention of even attempting the Marmotte as it seemed out of reach with no training in the bank. It’s clear now that trying to RACE the Marmotte with less than 2000km of training in the legs is not a good idea, though finishing it is a perfectly attainable goal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mid Week Training

Recovery run with Chris from Aime to Lechere – 45km

Monday 28th June 2010
We probably worked too hard on the climbs. Personally I felt strong and fresh on those short climbs – very unexpected the day after a hard race. The rule is that the day following a hard effort the workout should be at “recovery level” – a low heart rate (103 to 132 bpm in my case) so that the body continues to repair and build. This permits a better, stronger workout in a day or two. If hard training is done again before recovery is complete then the quality of the workout is low and there the only thing that happens is that you get tired. It is incredibly hard to judge those things though. I felt good climbing hard so perhaps it was the best thing to do on that day. The race was relatively short on Sunday so it wasn’t too exhausting or demanding on the muscles. Confusion comes from the fact that it is also sometimes recommended to do two very hard workouts on consecutive days – and that this also has a long term training effect – provided recovery is eventually permitted.

Les Versants du Soleil - 30km
Wednesday 30th June 2010

Had a full day of rest on Tuesday and then another moderate workout on Wednesday. Despite finding it hard to motivate myself to raise my heart rate there was some good climbing and the legs felt strong over distance. Kept the climbs short so as to recover and rest at a maximum for the big race on Saturday. Still unsure if it is 5000 or 5700m climbing – it makes a difference. Kept some training up here as fitness drops off rapidly if there is no exercise. Have noticed this year that a higher level of cycling fitness permits a relatively good performance even when the fatigue levels are still quite high – so rather than completely reduce the fatigue it seems better to raise the fitness.