Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Straight climb up to La Plagne

Tuesday 31st August

Straight climb up to La Plagne. Legs still a bit tired from Saturday's tough race so no heroics today. Still, it's always a hard steep climb so good training. Would perhaps have been better with an extra day's rest so as to get a more powerful workout tomorrow.

Moved the saddle up about 4mm and the difference was major. It seems that there is a sweet zone where tiny saddle height adjustments make qualitative differences. At first I thought it might be too high again but later decided that it was probably perfect. The extra height means that there is not such a build up of pressure late on the down stroke (forcing the pedal down at the bottom of the stroke would be a total waste of energy). The feeling is that just before the bottom of the stroke the lessened force makes it easier for the pedal to move backwards - it feels very "round" as a stroke. The "pulling back of the foot to scrape mud off" motion seems to actually happened to you. Next thing is that it is easier to pull up because the leg and foot feel more naturally extended and less cramped at the start of the pull. Combining the pull and push with opposite legs forces the bike to remain very stable. If you shift weight from side to side to get more pressure on the pedals for the down strokes, then you lose the pull up. The pull up feels much more powerful and effective as an option. There is also an engagement of the lower abdomen when the pull is used and it feels quite strong and effective. The ankle can extend on the lower part  of the stroke to use the calf muscle more and engage the quads when they are probably most effective. The first part of the down stroke seems better with the ankle flexing - allowing the glutes and hamstrings to contribute more. This "Ankling" is really to be able to access all the muscle groups in the legs when most appropriate. Very little of all the above could be felt when the saddle was a few millimeters lower.

This morning my nose was blocked and I didn't feel comfortable breathing though it. It feels like it was blocked by congestion. The Buteyko theory is that it is blocked by pooled venous blood caused by "hypocapnia" - in other words - over breathing. The idea is to reduce breathing with breath control exercises and the blocked nose will clear due to improved blood flow. I felt sceptical but spent some time reducing my breathing and lo and behold it worked. The nose unblocked without blowing it or picking anything out of it (not that I would do such a thing). Later on the entire climb to La Plagne was done with nasal breathing because the nose stayed clear all day. I'm hoping that this will help with recovery (lower lactic acid levels) from the session and permit another longer one tomorrow - or the next day.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Préalpes Race - The Epic Battle For Third (last) Place

Saturday 28th August 2010

GPSies - Pré Alpes

Who said competition was all about winning? The motivation to avoid being last is every bit as powerful - perhaps even more so - than the motivation to win.

Picture the scenario: 4 hours into a race working relentlessly close to maximum effort, rain, cold, dangerous wet gravel roads, full concentration and exhaustion setting in. All this to find yourself in last position with the sweeper up van (Voiture Balai) sitting 10m behind on your tail as you crawl up another interminable steep mountain pass - wondering whether his engine or your legs will stall first. The last guy who overtook you has already disappeared from sight.
Surprisingly I discovered the Voiture Balai experience to be motivating. I always thought that it would simply encourage you to give up but it does exactly the opposite - it pushes you on as if you desperately want to get away from it. It's much more motivating than being overtaken by other cyclists because there is a sort of fatality to it. OK, I knew that this day was a bit special - very bad weather meant a very low turnout and most had opted for the short course - so I was up against a bunch of die-hards from the start on the long course. The Voiture Balai would normally be a long way further back, but as I happened to be the one in last spot it was right on my tail. I wondered what they were thinking. Regardless, it certainly stopped me from easing up - ultimately keeping me in the race.


The Préalpes race takes place in the Chartreuse national park, just to the south west of Chambery. It's a really stunningly beautiful area and the mountains rise with steep cliff faces - making very interesting mountain passes and gorges to ride though.

One year ago the Préalpes was my first ever cycle race - so it would now be the first one to be revisited. First advantage was that the route to get there was already programmed into the GPS. It makes it so much easier when you know the ropes - where to park, where to find a cafe in the morning, where to get your start number and where the race starts. It was only a 90 minute drive from home but I still preferred to be there the night before as it does mean a much more relaxed preparation in the morning. I parked in the same quiet spot in the centre of town that I'd used the year before. Amazingly, in the van I could get internet reception. SFR subscribers get free hotspots everywhere in France and it really works. After rattling off a few emails I went to sleep - at least tried to - but the rain started. One disadvantage of parking under a tree is that the big drops of water falling from the leaves sound like bullets on the metal of the van. Still, I get to sleep pretty easily so there was no problem - until suddenly there was a loud bang and the van shook. I went from sleeping to maximum heart rate in under 3 seconds. Convinced that someone outside was messing with the van I sat up and looked out of the darkened windows (they let you look out without others being able to look in). It was a small household cat that had jumped onto the van. Wonder what it would sound like if a lion jumped on the van? Still not much likelihood of that in France – I hope.

To bail out or not to bail out…?

In the morning I was up bright and early at 6am to have breakfast – preferring to eat as early as possible. Liver glycogen levels are depleted by around 50% during the night’s fasting and as glycogen levels are crucial for endurance sport it’s probably best to eat as early as possible to have time to restore levels to normal. I walked 100 meters to the race organisation to collect my electronic race number and then found a boulangerie to buy a very inappropriate “pain au chocolat” and then a bar to sit down for a coffee. Those comforts were very welcome because it was now pelting down with rain and extremely discouraging. Thoughts of last week’s suffering on the Col de L’Isèran were running through my head and the idea of bailing out was very appealing. Somehow every time this situation arises I opt to participate and not to bail out and every time I’m really glad of that decision – so it was obvious that there would be no bail out today. Illness is probably the only really justifiable reason for bailing out. The day before I’d bought new “SIDI” wind and waterproof “Windtex” shoe covers, so it looked like they would get well and truly tested out. My other “waterproof” shoe covers had been a total failure and the Col de L’Isèran was the final straw. The “North Wave” brand of waterproofing takes about 10 minutes for your feet to be completely sodden and frozen in rain – the rain entering from the useless adjustable seal around and under the shoe sole. The SIDI seal was not adjustable but worked perfectly and the Windtex material was also breathable – at least doing something towards removing sweat during the dry periods.
Teaching skiing for many years has taught me that it is always better to err on the side of being too hot rather than too cold. With this in mind I put on an extra tee-shirt and a membrane type waterproof jacket (completely covering up my number – as quite a few others did on this day) and arm warmers. Reflecting on the fact that most heat is lost though the head I put on a Goretex under helmet hat too – risking some potentially serious overheating on the climbs – or at least a stop or two to adjust layers during the race.

The Peloton with No Brakes!

Race start was delayed due to the deluge and participation was clearly going to be low. In the event the rain suddenly stopped and so we were only 15 minutes behind with the start - a few more minutes were lost due to the giant inflatable start banner deflating and blocking the road. There is a big organisation surrounding road security including police intervention near the mass start – and many security vehicles, ambulances, support vehicles and voluntary helpers at junctions and pit stop locations – so delays are a big deal.
The start of the Pré Alpes is always fast and because it is partly downhill and flat there is a lot of ground to be gained by staying with the fast front peloton for at least the first 20 minutes. There are a couple of short sharp climbs during this section, but it is worth maxing out on heart rate just to stick with the peloton and get through them. Today the main problem was that due to all the water on the road no-one had any brakes! A large fast moving peloton is pretty scary and dangerous at the best of times, but this was really dodgy and no-one was letting that interfere with proceedings. As luck would have it there were no accidents at the start.

Multiple Mountain Passes

The route included 4 major mountain passes listed as follows:

Col de l'Epine
Col des Egaux
Col de la Clusaz
Col du Cucheron

Before and after those cols there were significant 5km climbs. It was at the first 5km climb that it was time to say goodbye to the main peloton - though I kept up a high pace and max output for both this climb and the following descent - right to the base of the first col averaging 30km/hr over the first 43 minutes of the race. I fought hard to catch and stay with a good fast moving group at this point because there was still a lot to be gained from a group effort until the base of the first col. From the base of the Col de l'Epine it was a case of "every man for himself". Steep climbing deprives you of any shelter that you might gain from slipstreaming - so it is down to your personal power to weight ratio and nothing else.
I arrived at the summit of the Col de l'Epine isolated and did the descent alone. The road was wet and the turns sharp so it had to be taken slowly to avoid any unpleasant surprises. I ended up covering a total of 13km alone and knew that a long faux plat of main road - straight into the wind - was coming up next. I could see there were a couple of riders working together behind me and catching up so it was best to slow down, rest, have a drink and wait for them. This strategy more than paid off because one in particular was determined to push on as hard as possible and for the 10km of main road he had me working my legs off just staying on his back wheel protected by his slipstream. Suddenly and unexpectedly the course split in two at around 51km from the start. There was no warning and as I'd prepared myself mentally for the big course I naturally veered off towards the hills and so did the guy behind me. Our pace-man went straight on which explained why he was gunning it - as he was on the short course and not far from home. Thus the start of the Col des Egaux climb began with company - but not for long as I had to let him go because it was impossible to sustain the same maximum effort that I had just done for the past 10 km. At least a lot of energy was saved on the flats and a lot of time gained. The Col des Egaux was followed by the Col de la Clusaz reaching the highest altitude of the day at 1213m and predictably passing though rain and cloud. (Snow level was at only 2000m) Two riders passed me on the Clusaz - the last drawing alongside right at the top. Each time it was a small fright to find someone alongside because I was in a world of my own with my thoughts and didn't realise that there was anyone there. Most importantly and without reducing effort I took time to look at the scenery because it was truly superb and unique in this area. If we had been in the high Alps a course like this would not have been possible because we would have frozen on the descents due to the rain and cloud. As it was the descent from Clusaz did chill the body, but the low altitude kept it tolerable. The knowledge that working hard for the next climb would soon generate warmth again was comforting. It was hard to decide whether or not to keep on wearing the waterproof because it doesn't allow the sweat to dry - but then it's evaporation of sweat that cools you - so I kept everything on. Talking to others at the end this appeared to be the right choice as I seem to have suffered less than those who had removed their rain/wind proofs. Several times I questioned the wisdom of having chosen the long course - especially as the choice had not entirely been mine due to the confusion at the poorly marked separation of the courses. The separation had been much earlier than expected - leaving the majority of the long course still to do with the big cols to climb in poor weather. Apparently the companion I'd collected at the top of the Clusez had the same thoughts because when he spoke to me during a flat section of the descent it transpired that he believed he was on the short course and only had a short way  to go to the finish instead of another 50km and two more big climbs. He reacted by bailing out and trying to get home via the closed road that had been the actual cause of the change of route - he clearly couldn't face the rest of the long route. I have no idea what happened to him and guess he must have succeeded because he was not listed behind me in the results. Either that or he got lost and was never heard of again.
The final Col du Cucheron was long and difficult. It was half way up this col that one by one the last two riders overtook me. I wasn't giving up or seriously slowing down - they were just faster. Eventually I was left with the Voiture Balai's diesel engine plodding along slowly behind me. This didn't have a detrimental or discouraging effect on me - in fact it made me work harder to try to escape its clutches. It felt like I was being pushed up the hill by the sweeper up van. At the top of the hill there was a pit stop and I stopped for the first time today to refill my water bottles and put some Isostar tablets in them. It was almost 4 hours since the start and I'd drunk only one and a half of the small bottles (500ml) and taken nothing to eat. There was no feeling of hypoglycemia or anything - just muscle pain which I was trying to control with technique. I'd pretty much given up on nasal breathing as I felt blocked from the start. This might be due to not having felt too great during the few days before the event. When climbing I worked at lowering my heel at the start of the down stroke so as to use the hamstrings and glutes along with the quads. If the toes are down then all the effort goes into the quads and they cramp up eventually or wear out dramatically reducing the pace. Just changing the foot position was keeping me in the fight even though the two guys ahead of me had now disappeared from view and I didn't expect to see them again. At the pit stop I had a laugh with the drivers of the Voiture Balai after confirming that I was last. They told me not to worry as many people had elected not to even do the course and that I was going fine. In other words I was well within the time limits and wasn't about to be overtaken by the Voiture Balai and have my number stripped from me. I didn't rush the pit stop and headed off relaxed and relieved to have made it to the top of this climb. 
Finally there was a proper and long descent on a wide open and dry road free of gravel - just as I like it. I got the bit between the teeth and started chasing an annoying camper van and played at losing the Voiture Balai with 70km speeds and aggressive cornering. Almost got into trouble when the camper van braked inside a tunnel and it was a bit damp making high speed braking a bit hard on the bike! Basically I had unwittingly launched a 25km chase against the two guys in front - that's how long it took to overtake the second one. Hopefully along the way I was providing some entertainment for the drivers behind me as they watched me get back into the race. The battle at the back of the race was fierce. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to be last. I found energy that I didn't imagine was there and somehow felt that I could do this all the way. It's definitely psychological but this normally happens to me 5km from the finish not 30km. Shortly before the final 5km nasty climb - the steepest of the day - I caught the second guy just as he relaxed to eat something. This signaled to me that he was tiring, perhaps even starting to bonk, so I ripped past him with a word of encouragement however. I think that the Voiture Balai was rooting for me now because they overtook on the main road to help with the traffic control for the next turn off for the climb. They were smiling and almost cheering me on - or perhaps I was just delirious by now. The climb started fast and although it quickly steepened I worked hard at keeping up the power. There was a buffer now with two guys behind me - but then the second one came charging past me on the climb again - this time he was moving. He was really skinny and an obvious climber. My power to weight ratio was against me as my data figures later confirmed. Basically I had caught him up on the long flats with the same power output that I was using on the climbs. The only solution was to increase the power and use my best technique. He was rapidly reeled in again and was more than surprised that his best effort hadn't lost me - in fact I could see him visibly cracking now with his bike starting to weave around due to his extreme efforts. He must have been desperate not to be last. Eventually something pinged on his bike and if he didn't break himself it seemed that his bike was breaking. Whatever happened he was dumped and he didn't catch up again. The last part of the climb was really steep. This 5km climb is in both short and long courses so I'd covered it last year and people even on the short course were forced to get off the bikes and walk up. Somehow I had the energy to get back up into the anaerobic zone and blast up this part - ensuring a safe descent to the finish without any pressure to race downhill. The battle at the back of the course had been intense and there was no way I could have predicted this outcome - I'd fully expected to be last and never expected to catch up and beat the others - especially with the tough climb remaining. I can't explain it.

After Race

I changed into dry clothing straight away on finishing and sure enough the clothes were soaked and heavy with sweat. The driest parts were the feet - for a change - the SIDI shoe covers having worked excellently. Lunch was still being served at 2:30pm although few people were still eating. I slowly consumed everything because carbohydrates and protein are essential immediately after a hard workout to get the recovery process going.  I sat down beside John Thomas who was waiting in the hall despite having finished the short course at around 11:15am. He had finished 9th overall only 5 minutes behind the winner - another amazing performance and a 2nd place age category podium. He was there for the prize giving - which I was also in time to enjoy. Despite being 2nd he was disappointingly not awarded a cup but instead received a mountain walking stick engraved with  "Prealpes 2010" and a water bottle for his bike (worth 3 euros). Only the 1st place got a silver cup - so next time he needs to get first place. 10 minutes later he won the exactly same prize in the Tombola without even moving a muscle - much to our amusement.


Results   Long course -  54th out of 56 in 5:13:37hrs     13th out of 14 in age group.

Data   ( Distance used for X axis to give better profile for the hills. Normally Time is used instead to indicate the length of time spent in various heart zones.)

Technique   Worked on lowering the heel at the start of the down stroke so as to activate the glutes and hamstrings. This seemed to allow a better pace and endurance on the climbs and prevent any cramps as it made it possible to be selective about muscle use.
Felt like the saddle might still be a bit low. Feels good on the downward power stroke but also feels too cramped to get a good pull through, back and up. When it was 5mm higher it seemed that power was lost on the down stroke but perhaps that was a case of needing time to adapt. Will put the seat back up by 2.5mm now and see if there is an effect.

Breathing   Felt a bit under the weather for a few days before this race and breathing through the nose felt "heavy". It was no surprise to find the same during the fast start to this race. I ended up breathing through the mouth during the most intense efforts, but the rest of the time nasal breathing was possible. When mouth breathing I worked at controlling the breathing pattern - taking longer on the exhalation and still trying to keep the volume of breathing as low as possible.

Body parameters   Weight 68Kg , Blood pressure 109/70, Resting HR 45bpm

Nutrition Had a wholemeal pasta and beans feed the evening before with a small protein bar just before sleeping. In the morning had porridge early - more than 2hrs before the race but forgot the fruit to put in it. Had a horrible "pain au chocloat" also with a coffee while it was pouring rain before the race.
During the race my nutrition management was terrible - I ate nothing and drank only 1.5 litres of sports drink during the 5 1/4 hour effort. Energy felt good at the end though so I don't really understand this. Was able to get in to anaerobic effort zones when required at the end so there was no apparent energy dip despite not eating.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Notre Dame du Pré

GPSies - Aime, Notre dame du Pré, Moutiers, Hautecoeur, Montgirod, AIme

Wednesday 25th August 2010

Great sunny weather has returned so definitely time to go out and generate some vitamin D. Legs were always going to be a bit tired after yesterday's high speed climb, but another 52km and1680m climbing in the bank is all good training. It's worth the climb up to Hautecoeur above Moutiers just for the spectacular view on a clear day like this.


Worked on leg strength again - bigger gears. Leaves the legs hurting by the end of the second climb, but it's certainly faster - especially when pulling up on the pedals too during the climbing. Not sure how I'll come through the race on Saturday with this energy output - might be better to slow down a bit and try to keep the pain reasonable until near the end of the 130 or so kilometers.


Slept poorly last night after the late workout and could not stop myself from breathing through the mouth in the early morning. It seems that doing so during sleep causes the nose to block up and then it is hard to switch back to the nose and reduce breathing volume again. Had no problems during the cycling though. Hopefully that will ensure a rapid recovery so that there will be a good build up of energy over the following two days of rest before Saturday's Pré-Alpes race.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

La Plagne (short workout) Tech and Breathing special

Thursday 24th August 2010

Today's workout was intended to be short mainly because it was started late in the evening after a miserable day of rain and cloud suddenly cleared up and dried. Originally it was only going to be a 30 minute workout, but I felt better than expected and there was easily enough daylight to complete the normal "short" workout.

The recent raising of the saddle height has allowed me to find out that there is a lot of power to be gained when pulling up on the pedal during the upstroke. Last year I'd read in a book of triathlon training that it's not necessary to pull up on the pedal, but was better to just lift the weight off the pedal on the upstroke. This is starting to look like bad advice. I started the climb to Macot both pushing and pulling on the pedals and was amazed at the climbing speed that it gave me - but expected the effort only to last a few minutes at best. To my amazement there was no difficulty continuing this all the way up the climb - reducing my previous best time by over 4 minutes and 8 minutes faster than last years best. With the saddle a few centimeters lower it wasn't physically possible to pull up on the pedals as it was so cramped - but that position had complied to the rule book - permitting the heel to sit on the pedal with the leg straight at the the bottom of the stroke. Since deciding that I didn't like this squashed position the saddle is now about 5cm higher and everything feels much better. (Now using the rule that the saddle height should be 109% of the inside leg length - measured from pedal spindle centre at the stroke bottom) It feels like the glutes and hamstrings can be used now whereas the lower position was only loading up the quads. The calves and ankles can be used - like a push off in running - whereas before they couldn't be used at all. The pedal cycle feels naturally "rounder" as the maximum power of the leg - just before full extension - takes place before the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke, whereas before it seemed to be still loading up the pedals at the bottom of the stroke - which was probably wasteful in energy terms. One other advantage is when descending it is much easier to keep the pedals at equal height. When the saddle is lower doing this feels like a squat position and is uncomfortable so you end up stretching one leg down to avoid it. When cornering on steep hairpin descents you have to make slightly more effort to get the weight off the saddle and completely onto the outside pedal, but this is easily done by pulling up on the inside leg. During this climb the saddle felt like it could go up even more so for the next day I put it up another centimeter and found that it helped again with the pulling up of the pedal, calf/ankle use etc. Starting to feel just a little high though, but can't tell if that's just because of not being used to it. Definitely not having to rock the pelvis or stretch to reach the pedals though.


Despite this being the fastest climb ever - it was done with only nasal breathing the whole way. It's taking time but I'm learning what this breathing is about. A lifetime of overbreathing conditions all our reflexes towards overbreathing. This means that even when we try to change this condition we end up unconsciously looking for ways to continue to overbreathe. When we feel the air constricted by the nostrils we try to breathe more deeply with the diaphragm or we try to force more rapid breaths. Another strategy is to try to grimace to widen the nostrils or to use clips to keep the nostrils open wider. What we just don't do is see this constriction to breathing as a natural defence mechanism by the body - telling us that we are still overbreathing. When we make an intense physical effort it seems to be commonsense that we need to breathe deeply - but have we ever tried anything else? The feeling of air hunger or slight suffocation is a bit scary so it's probably quite reflexive to strain for deep breaths. During this climb I decided to tolerate the air hunger at intense physical levels and try to observe my behaviour. Being conscious of this anxiousness changes everything. The real issue turns out to be the anxiousness and not the air hunger. The air hunger is no big deal and just doesn't lead to trouble. In fact it's the overbreathing that will kill you despite our basic instinct telling us otherwise.

In the available literature they say the the nose getting blocked or the lungs constricting (asthma) are the body's defense against overbreathing - but they don't discuss the general physical constrictions that we encounter during sport. There's a point where by desperately trying to force the air in the nose the nostrils are sucked together, narrowing even more. Why has nature caused this? The answer might be to stop us from overbreathing. Instead of wishing for wider nostrils perhaps we should take a cue from this and work harder at learning to adapt to breathing less.

One other thing I've noticed is that when breathing through the mouth and starting a workout without warming up there is a rapid initial rise in heart rate which then settles back down after about five minutes. With nasal breathing this doesn't seem to happen - the heart rate climbs smoothly and progressively regardless of the absence of the warm up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Col de Petit St Bernard

GPSies - Aime, Granier, Valezan, Bourg St Maurice - Col de Petite St Bernard,, Bourg, Aime

Sunday 22nd August 2010

102km circuit, 2280m climbing

Another Garmin equipment failure - this time the cadence/speed sensor has cracked. It obviously let in water during Wednesday's wet weather and is now dysfunctional. I'll try to repair it. Most electronics work fine when dried out and plastic can often be glued. Once dropped a Hewlet Packard conputer in the sea and after washing it out with fresh water and drying it the thing worked fine.

Still too tired from the midweek cycling to be able to go into a race this weekend. Decided to just do a workout at my own pace instead without the pressure of racing. Focused on leg strength again. Using mainly gears 3, 4 and 5 for climbs. This leads to leg pain after about 2 hours. Leg pain has only started happening recently due to stepping up a few gears to go faster. Not sure what adaptions this will bring about in leg strength and endurance, but they will probably be quite positive. Have noticed that the leg pain can be either prevented or removed by shifting down gears and pedalling more. It’s for this reason that by using a “compact” gear setup I’d not had any pain earlier in the season. While losing weight and getting into shape it was more or less necessary to work in the lower gears permitted by the compact setup. This really proves that the compact setup is ideal for someone of my level. It’s often difficult to work out how to set up a bike – triple, double or compact setups being the option. The compact lets me climb any hill without pain – either when getting into shape or when very tired at the end of a very long day – or it lets me work the legs into the pain zone when desired. The “double”, standard setup guarantees either pain or walking. The triple is just a double with an extra small chainwheel added – complicating things.

Today was another exercise in nasal breathing. The most important aim of nasal breathing is to reduce breathing volume. The natural reaction from chronic over-breathers like myself seems to be to work at getting more air through the nose – rather than to use the nose to reduce breathing. You can breathe very deeply through the nose by using slow abdominal (diaphragm) breathing – but that defeats the purpose. The purpose is to learn NOT to over-breathe. A lifetime of hyperventilation through the mouth and encouraged in sports makes changing this tough. What’s the point? Well number one is to avoid heart attacks. Number two is to oxygenate the body better making it more aerobic. Counterintuitive as it may seem – that is done not by breathing more but by breathing less and training the body to get used to higher CO2 levels in the lungs. This has the effect of increasing the blood CO2 levels which alters the blood PH (acidity) value and releases higher levels of O2 from the blood to the muscles and vital organs such as the heart. Basically, you cannot have a heart attack if you breathe this way and in training lactic acid levels should remain lower due to better oxygenation of the muscles – so endurance should improve and recovery should improve over time as the body adapts.

The climb to the Col de Petit St Bernard seemed long and hard in a high gear but the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. Normally it is completely desolate at the summit of this mountain pass over to Italy but today, to my great surprise, there was a major local agricultural fair right at the top just on the Italian side. There were dozens of stands selling local farm produce and hundreds of prize cattle being studied buy crowds perched on the hillside facing the sun. I stopped just over the Italian border and ordered a coffee in a small bar that I’ve visited occasionally when skiing over there in the winter. It was great to see such a dynamic atmosphere.

The legs continued to hurt a bit through the night but that is normal for a workout of that sort of power intensity. Will just have to gauge it carefully for next week’s race!

La Plagne (Short workout)

Saturday 21st August 2010

The most important apect of today was finding out that my GPS is working perfectly despite bouncing down the road on Wednesday at 60 km/hr and going wonky for a while. The quick release attachments for the Garmin Forerunner 305 need to be seriously avoided - back to a normal strap now.

Legs still tired from Wednesday’s 200km outing. Aim for a short fast climb half way up to La Plagne to keep the system ticking over after a two day break. Work on staying in a higher gear (leg strength) and reduced breathing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Chicken Run

GPSies - Chicken run

Not sure how to describe this escapade - The Chicken Run! Part tour, training, adventure, ordeal, pain, pleasure, achievement all mixed together.

La Poule - "The chicken" is the shape of the heart of Savoie on the map - comprised of its two main mountainous valleys - Tarentaise and Maurienne. Savoie is department 73 in France. It used to be a fully independent country but was "liberated" from its freedom by Napoleon and incorporated into France. There is still an active "Free Savoie" movement operating today. The road around the centre outlines the chicken.

Our aim was to cycle the entire chicken in a day, around 220km with 4700m climbing. Just to make it more difficult we were going to cut the chicken's head off by going straight over the mountains by the Col de La Madeleine - which was the toughest climb on the hardest mountain stage of this year's Tour de France. Today it would be the smaller of our climbs with the Col de l'Isèran reaching 770m higher at an altitude of 2770m and being the highest mountain pass in the Alps. Added to the difficulty would be the fact that only two days earlier cars could only get across it with snow chains on despite it only being the middle of August. There was some suffering lying in store for us.

The day was supposed to begin from the Tonneau bar in Bourg St Maurice at 7am sharp. Leaving Aime driving east towards Bourg there was a stunning sunrise illuminating the clouds above the Col de Petite St Bernard - but this did forebode the "Red sky in the morning - shepherd's warning"! I arrived about 15 minutes early in Bourg to have a coffee and decide where to park for the day. After parking and getting the bike and a small day bag ready then returning to the Tonneau bar for 7am - only Rob was there by now - tucking into a fresh croissant and coffee. The start was not going to be so sharp - in fact we set off at 07:35 eventually.
Only three of us were doing the entire route - Chris, me and Justin who had just arrived the previous day and had not acclimatised to altitude. We all gave day bags to Rob to put in the backup car. Rob remaining oblivious to the significance of our individual preparations. Rob and Lesley were aiming to each do stages of the tour, with Lesley tackling the first climb and Rob the second. Rob's first task was to take Lesley to Moutiers ahead of us where she would start her day. The car would also allow us all to meet up for a scheduled lunch stop at St Michel de Maurienne. The three of us set off at a good pace, slipstreaming in rotation and making good speed on the first leg of the tour to Les Lecheres and the bottom of the 25km 1500m climb up the Col de la Madeleine. Straight away on the climb Chris set off on his own at a slightly faster pace. I stayed with Justin who was already sweating heavily and clearly not in the best shape. For me, part of a day like this is that it is more social and shared with others than a race day - so there was no rush. In addition my recovery from Saturday's very hard race had not gone so well so I wanted to conserve my resources. About 8km from the top I felt like having a bit of a workout and so pulled away from Justin and kept a slightly higher pace to the top of the climb. At the top of the climb, while waiting for Justin I got chatting a a young guy with a small shack selling mountain farm cheese. It turned out his parents own the farm right next to the house we rent in Aime and he was at college last year with our Norwegian neighbour/landlord. This passed the time waiting for the suffering Justin to arrive and sort himself out for the descent. Descending from the col the road was very good - having been improved for the Tour de France earlier this year - that is until we went through a short tunnel and in the bad light I hit a pothole! The bike was fine but my Garmin GPS jumped off its quick release mount and bounced about 30m down the road. This time the Garmin was not so happy about falling - having survived two previous adventures with a different quick release clip that turned out to be broken. The clip was not broken in this case, but still spat the unit out. Anyway, from then on the unit could not lock on to satellites - so it appeared to be toast. The rest of the descent was done with the GPS dysfunctional and not logging any position data. Fortunately about 7 minutes further on I realised that I should switch off the auto-pause which engages automatically where there are no satellites - thus enabling the unit to log heart rate data and time at least. At La Chambre, the bottom of the descent, we met Chris and Lesley in a cafe waiting in the warm for us. It was overcast and chilly since we had started cycling - the blue skies having disappeared right at the start of the tour. Rob then appeared after having driven the other way around the Chicken to scope out the section he would be climbing. Without wasting too much time we set off again - the four of us together towards St Michel de Maurienne at 23km distance. Miraculously the GPS started to work again  - it was as if it had been temporarily concussed by the fall and had now recovered. This was the start of the long climb up the Maurienne valley - from 470m eventually culminating at 2770m altitude. St Michel would be our lunch stop, where Rob was ahead locating a suitable restaurant. Lesley meanwhile was hanging in, slipstreaming as we fought our way rapidly up the "faux plat" against a headwind. We predictably split into two groups with Chris and myself ahead but I started to feel some leg pain which was clearly a legacy of Saturday's race as this sort of pain had been unknown all summer until that race - so I allowed Chris to lead and remained slipstreaming. This was a section of road that we passed on the Marmotte race and I remember then how I was fooled by the faux plat and how my legs turned to mush at St Michel when we changed direction to climb the Col du Télégraph. Rob found a nice restaurant where we could sit outside - sheltered from the wind coming down the valley. We all ordered the "Cicyliste" menu - but the Spaghetti was full of fattening creamy sauce, cheese and ham - typically Savoyard and very inappropriate for our needs. In compensation however it tasted very good.

(Actual route taken - GPS track in blue)
Lunch took about an hour altogether after which the three of us set off for Bonneval at 60km further up the valley and at 1800m altitude. Most of the climbing would continue to be" faux plat" and Justin was suitably suffering. We stayed together working as a group until we reached the second 'Col de Madeleine" which is a short climb several kilometers before Bonneval. There we split up and went at our own paces, Justin finding again that he was short of power on the faux plat after the climb. Rob had started his climb just before this col and left Lesley with the car. We passed Lesley sitting on a terrace sipping coffee at an outdoor market looking like she was enjoying life slightly more than we were at that moment. Later we would meet up with Lesley and the car at Bonneval just at the bottom of the final 1000m climb up to the Col de l'Isèran. On arrival at Bonneval the rain started - cold rain! We all had some extra clothing and protection in the car so we put it on - including waterproof shoe covers (that aren't waterproof) and leggings. I also had a better waterproof jacket and a dry microfibre shirt to put on at the top of the climb. Rob was way ahead of us - having not stopped at Bonneval as we had scheduled and taking our coffee kitty with him. Rob didn't have any extra protective clothing.
The climb was just a slog really. I was now in bottom gear to spare any leg muscle pain from developing and just winding my way steadily uphill. At the half way stage of the 13 km climb Chris was still visible up ahead so he was going fairly slowly too despite him feeling in better form. We were closing in on the 200km mark so he was certain to be tiring. Justin and I did the first pitch together, chatting for a while, but then we split due to the need to find our own paces for the task ahead. The last part of the climb is hard because at around the 2km mark the gradient suddenly jumps to around 12% and the air is becoming thinner at this altitude. I'd been climbing using nasal breathing all the way - in fact all day excepting periods when chatting - but here I just couldn't maintain that. The sudden change of gradient had me wondering for a short while if I actually had the strength left in me to make it to the top - but then the steepest part was behind me and I felt better. Perhaps it was breathing through the mouth at this altitude; I don't know but it felt like a veritable "second wind" and felt good right to the top. At the top it was absolutely miserable; Some people were arriving on bikes from the other side - obviously making the trip over to Bonneval because no-one would just climb up one side on a day like this without really having to do so to get somewhere else, but at least they seemed properly equipped for touring - unlike us with our racing setup. I went in to a doorway to shelter and put on the dry protective clothing as quickly as possible because I just wanted to get down the other side and into our meeting point - the Chevalot Boulangerie.
Immediately on the descent it was clear that the brakes were practically useless for rapid slowing down - which meant that the entire descent would have to be slow. The rain was pouring down and there was still snow piled on the sides of the road. The wind added rapidly to the chilling effect and it wasn't long before the shivering started. Where the road was straight is was possible to go a little faster but the chilling effect was incredible and shivering amplified instantly with each acceleration. The descent was totally miserable. Towards the bottom it was difficult to hold on to the brakes as the fingers were frozen and cramped by now. The involuntary shivering of the body was so violent that it threatened to destabilise the bike and cause an accident. It was a very strange feeling. I realised at one point that due to the shivering I couldn't even breathe properly and had a tightness around my lower ribs and diaphragm area; Breathing out was prompting an involuntary groaning that was very hard to stop. I wasn't sure of making it to the bottom, but just had to go on. Arriving at the boulangerie Chis was just leaving it to go to a warmer cafe and so intercepted me and took me with him. Chris had probably been down for about 20 minutes already but was still shivering violently and had already had one hot chocolate. Rob had done a runner with the kitty. When Rob had arrived at Le Fornet cable car at about 1900m altitude (Val is at 1850m) Rob was forced to stop and shelter as he felt unable to control his bike any longer. His feet were so cold that he was worried about what would happen when he put them on the ground - whether or not they would function. While standing there groaning and shivering the free bus stopped by him and the driver asked if he ws OK. Rob jumped on the bus with his bike and took a warm sheltered ride into town, called his wife Inga and got her to pick him up all before any of the rest of us arrived. Rob had climbed the Col rapidly as it was his only section of today's tour, but he probably ended up suffering more than anyone by the bottom due to lack of protective clothing. Justin arrive some time later and after having a hot drink in the boulangerie he saw our telephone message and came over to the cafe to warm up better. The decision to abandon the remaining 36km descent back to Bourg was unanimous. There was no way that we would have made it without falling off the bikes. The shaking of the body was so violent that controlling a bike much longer would have been impossible. I struggled to drink my first hot chocolate fully expecting it to end up on the floor. Chris had been embarrassed that everyone in the establishment might think that he had Parkinson's disease when in fact he was just really chilled.

All Rob's crimes were forgiven in the end as he returned with the cavalry - namely his warm vehicle with a bike rack on the back, plus the drinks kitty. Rob drove us down to Bourg through the cloud and rain to where Chris had to recover a car and mine was parked. Thankfully there were some warm dry clothes in the van so I changed straight away and went immediately home - zombified. Chris and the others all had a dinner party planned for later - but there was no way I was up to that - followed by a drive home. I just wanted to sleep already. Unfortunately sleep was not great because the body felt like it didn't know that it was all over - it rebelled a bit during the night but nothing serious.


Distance.   We logged 198km on Chris's GPS and 4700m climbing. I burned almost 10,000 calories. Due to the GPS problems about 10km is missing from my own recorded workout and track.

Heart.         Basically only a relatively short time was spent near the anaerobic zone so the tiredness appears to stem from the race four days earlier - and the extra long distance.  It appears that the effort was controlled as best as possible because the average heart rate at the end of the last climb after almost 9 hours of effort was practically the same as the start of the first climb of the day. The only difference is that at the end of the day it would have been very difficult to have made the heart work much harder.

Food.         Apart from a coffee and glass of water only three 500ml bottles of sports drink were taken all day and one energy bar eaten. (For energy add a spaghetti lunch). This seems to be terrible mismanagement of feeding requirements - but the tiredness towards the end felt simply more like muscle fatigue, which could probably be expected. I do need to find a way of consumming more though - both fluid and carbohydrate/protein sources. It's just so hard to make yourlself do those things when the body doesn't give you direct signals to do so.

Breathing.       The recent virus appears to have gone already so nasal brething was possible for most of the tour. When being sociable and chatting it's impossible to breathe through the nose, but the rest of the time I'd switch back to nasal breathing. Slight occasional blowing of the nose kept it clear enough to deal with even the most strenuous efforts of the day. Only at close to 3000m altitude and with extreme tiredness did I allow myself to switch over to mouth breathing for a few kilometers. The hope is that this permits a better recovery from the tour than would otherwise happen. It was noticeable that with Saturday's race which had to be all mouth breathing due to the slight virus - the recovery after the race was slow. I'm assuming that this has to do with the influence on lactic acid levels generated by different ways of breathing - the CO2 and blood acidity being higher with nasal breathing thus more O2 being released into the blood and a more aerobic workout resulting  - hence lower lactic acid concentrations and quicker post exercise recovery.

Cold.     If one lesson was learned today it is that the very highest mountain passes cannot be cycled without special clothing unless the weather is warm and dry. The problem is that in the wet the brakes don't work so you have to descend quite slowly and the body can't work to generate its own heat - other than by shivering to the point that the bike cannot be controlled.

Weight.     Next morning weight: 67.1kg
                Blood pressure          106/71
                Resting Heart rate      49 bpm

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Le Tour de l'Ain stage 4

Saturday 14th August 2010  (Weight 67.8kg Hr min43/max185, Bp 115/73)

GPSies - La Tour de l'Ain

http://www.tourdelain.com/   Route: Culoz - Grand Columbier - Belley

The professional Tour de l'Ain ranks about 4th in terms of importance in France, after the Tour de France, the Paris Roubaix and the Dauphiné Libèré. This year's tour incorporated France's first ever "cyclosportive" tour in parallel - with the option for amateurs to enter either the full tour or individual stages.

Basically, the fastest amateurs are slightly faster than the slowest pros - so it makes a beautiful overlap, catering for all sporting levels.

The winner of the pro tour was Haimar Zubeldia of Radioshack - Lance Armstrong's successful Tour de France team - he won by a few tenths of a second over the 4 day tour.

The overall winner of the Cyclosportive event was 23 year old Benoit Paris - and as can be seen in the photo the event is celebrated almost as seriously as the pro event...

Some of the participants in the amateur event were actually professionals. John Thomas - an excellent rider and British ski teacher based at Peisey Vallandry - had a fight with one during the race. The Cofidis team rider apparently threatened to push him off the road if he didn't comply to his desire to ride in a certain way. Unfortunately it didn't really matter because John had misjudged his food intake and bonked on the biggest climb of the day - having to get off his bike and walk anyway! That must have been a seriously bad day for someone who is used to ending up on a podium.

My day started well and finished well. That's unusual!

The night before I had parked the van right next to the small town center in Culoz and had a good night's sleep, rising at 6am to breakfast on porridge with an apple. Previous disasterous attempts to "carbo load" discouraged me from attempting it again. The day before I ate a pasta meal in the evening but that was my only consession. I didn't want to start a race again with a bloated stomach through ridiculous overeating. While driving to Culoz though in the evening I did crack and buy a Magnum almond and chocolate coated ice cream - but perhaps that's why I had no energy probems during the race the following day!

After breakfast I went out on the bike to find the race registration and entered both myself and Chris Harrop - paying 38 euros for each of us. In return we were given electronic race numbers and cycling jerseys worth 50 euros each - so it was a good deal. Right next to the center was a small cafe serving coffee - so everything was perfect - except one detail !!! Chris had slept in with his alarm clock failing and it became obvious that despite his best efforts he would not make the 08:30am start despite driving 150km like a lunatic.

The Race
The weather was forecast for rain though it appeared to be clear. I decided to take a rain layer with me - not so much for the race but for after as we had a 17km ride back to the cars from the finish line and lunch in Belley- and that was potentially unpleasant after cooling off.

At the start Chris had still not turned up. I waited at the back of the grid in case he made it so that I could give him his start number - but he didn't make it. We had arranged that in such an event I would start the race with both numbers - his tucked inside the front of my jersey and my own electronic tag pinned to my back. Chris's task was now to either intercept me or catch up with me - a long shot but better than nothing. Chris was really depressed and frustrated at the situation and ready to turn back for home, but he spotted the race security just ahead of where he was on the road and realised that the peloton would pass this point, so he parked up and quickly got ready. We were perhaps only 500m into the race and I spotted Chris coming the other way desperately looking for me amongst 315 others - so I shouted and he spotted me, replying that he would catch me up. This was definitely the most audacious start so far - and a happy ending to a horrible moment for Chris. Meanwhile I was on a mission because starting at the back of the pack meant that the main peloton was already disappearing into the distance and we were being stranded with a bunch of slow moving duffers - not a good idea with 63km of generally flat terrain ahead. I found myself out in front pushing on my own to try to bridge the gap. This anaerobic effort could not last long and I made very little ground up on the fast moving massive peloton. At last Chris caught me up and so I passed over his number which he folded and put in his pocket. Chris then took over for a while to help with the chase. For about 20km we were pretty much alone in chasing the groups ahead as the main peloton began to fracture, with several riders tagging along but not helping. Eventually we caught a group that was going fast enough to stay with and conserve some energy. We lost a lot of time due to the poor start, but at least catching this group would make us reasonably effective from now on - at least that was the idea.

At Km 23 and the first hill climb the group fractured and Chris went ahead with two others. I was just behind with two young guys who annoyingly stopped at the top as they had a support team waiting for them there - and so I was isolated and could not catch up with Chris. Soon the young guys caught me up though and we started to work together - but only kept a steady distance from Chris's group. Eventually after about 20km of hard work the main group behind wound us in and I realised that it was time to rest a bit and hang at the back for a while to recover. At Km 60 eventually we wound in Chris's group - to Chris's great surprise as he was engulfed in riders all of a sudden after being sure that there was no-one behind him. I took the lead as I saw a small climb coming up and prefered to be ahead and control the group a bit  rather than being dumped off the back. This resulted in me taking Chris's place with the two other strong guys as we broke away from the main group - and it let me survive a rather sustained climb without being wound back in again. We continued to reel in some other groups in front and made some good progress, but soon the real climbing would begin in earnest. Up until this point my average heart rate was at 91% max for almost 2 hours and well inside the Super Lactate Threshold zone - but I didn't feel any adverse effects. I'd given a water bottle to Chris as he had started with only half a bottle and I still had a complete full one, but it made me conserve my drink rather than drink liberally and running out. By the end of the day I'd be a bit thirsty but it didn't cost me any problems. The worst moment was just after eating an energy bar which immediately caused stomach cramps. Eating and high intensity effort don't go well together for me.

The serious climbing began at Km 62.6 and I'm glad I didn't know what was ahead or I'd never have worked so hard from the start of the race. Basically this climb is considered the Ventoux of the North - perhaps the toughest climb Hors Categorie next to the Ventoux itself. The climbing starts 30km from the summit, and goes up in stages with the final stage being 12km and averaging 8%. This is not a particularly hard average gradient, but the problem is that it is stair cased - going flat and then really steep - all the way up. Gradients of 22% are frequent and the final kilometer is scary to even look at from below. Chris predictably pulled away form me on the climb and as climbing is a case of "every man for himself" I was happy to see him go and then just get on with surviving. The mental strain of just hanging in there was really tough - especially near the beginning. Once a rhythm sets in then you settle down and get on with it. I was surprised to hold my ground with those around me and only two riders overtook me on the entire final section. Back at Km 72 there had been a food and drinks stand and I had stopped briefly to get some water. Filling the bottle was too awkward so I just filled my stomach with as much as I could rapidly swallow. Just at that point the main group that I'd left behind earlier got in front of me. I then regreted not having just stayed with them and conserved more energy - but you can never really tell. Most often a group disintegrates anyway and then if you had stayed back you would lose out in every away. The climb itself was gruelling but at least it was not hot, in fact it was threatening to rain but fortunately only started to spit at worst. The roads were lined with people setting up for the pro tour coming through later on, but they were relentless in their encouragement. 

At the top of the climb we were just entering the clouds. I'd kept on my arm warmers so didn't bother with the rain/wind layer and didn't get too cold on the descent. The descent was fearsome, reaching over 70km/hr on some nasty surfaces. One rider ahead of me did a "tout droit" on a sharp steep bend but safely survived the event. The long scary straight sections higher up suddenly changed into an incredibly windy section lower down. My left hand, operating the front brake (European setup) became totally numb at one point but I couldn't let up. I wanted to try to stay with one or two fast guys by the bottom of the climb so as to have people to work with on the flats. In the event I did become isolated anyway at the bottom. I'd even missed the apparently stunning views of the Lac du Bourget during the descent - focus had to be 100% on surviving. The flats at the bottom of the climb would have been welcome except for the pain that now appeared in my legs - deep pain in the thighs signalling the effort from the climb. I probably just didn't notice it when descending as it was a life threatening descent. Now the pain grew and I knew it would be a while before it disappeared. The right thigh started to cramp so I consciously removed most effort from it but continued to pedal to flush the lactic acid from the muscles. Eventually two riders caught me from behind at a strong pace and I jumped in behind them to both go faster and rest for a while. Fortunately the legs recovered quite rapidly because it was about to become considerably hilly again. It rapidly transpired that I would be the strongest on the climbs as I could keep up a high pace on short climbs, the strength having returned to the legs. One of the guys dropped out on the climbs and I was left with one other who I waited for on two climbs to work with on the following flats. We worked well together and kept up a good pace catching a few riders ahead. Finally, two kilometers from the finish there was a very steep short climb

Photo of the guys at the back - with the Voiture Balai hoping to collect them...  

After Race
Immediately after the race we each had to find the reception for getting our meal - which happened to be a kilometer away. Thankfully they did have an organised enclosure with tickets to protect the bikes. The meal however wah absolutely horrible. I thought it was scrambled eggs and sausages but it turned out to be a horrible yellowish polenta with diots (tough Savoyard susage) whihc was completely inedible after such a race. I had lots of water to drink, a small desert and a small coffee but that was all. I'd found Chris straight away in the enclosure so we chatted about the race for a while and then decided to find our way back to Culoz, 17km away where the race had started and our cars were parked. This entailed navigating our way past the closed streets and barriers and somehow finding the right road which would hopefully take us on a flat journey alongside a river all the way back. The road had fast flowing traffic so we stayed single file with Chris in front and kept a pace of around 34 Km/hr - another complete workout really! On arrival at Culoz we went straight to the town center where leading pro peloton was just about to arrive. I went to get some money from my van and Chris installed himself at a table of a roadside bar and ordered coffees. We made ourselves comfortable just in time to see the charge of the leading contenders for the tour fly right by in front of us. Their speed was pretty impressive. Zubeldia was in front. It was great watching all the pros go by  from our roadside vantage point while chilling out in comfort.

Leaving Culoz the rain started almost immediately and it was torrential. We had had a very lucky day all round.

315 entered the race and 248 completed it. Apparently the Col du Grand Columbier claimed many victims.

My placing was 197th in 4hrs 47mins with the only two women finishers being 8 and 12 minutes ahead of me. The faster of the two women is the current Olympic cross country skiing champion. Chris finished strongly 18 minutes ahead in 145th place in 4hrs 29mins. Chris was 24th in our age category and I was 35th out of 53 finishers


The fastest professional was Wouter Poels in 3hr 15mins (Zubeldia same time) with and the fastest amateur Jean Francis Pessey at 03hrs 44mins.

The slight bug that I had during the week meant that nasal breathing was impossible. I can't really explain why as the nose isn't really congested. I had to breathe through the mouth the whole way so I tried to focus of at least keeping the breathing pattern correct and making the exhalations longer that the inhalations. Listening to the others around me they tended to get it the other way around - long deep inhalations and sharp exhalations. It must be the first time I've ever paid attention to the pattern of other people's breathing.

Heart Rate Zones
Rode in total 3km completely anaerobic! No idea how my heart rate can stay so high in the sub anaerobic zones for so long - this being the longest ever with no clear sign of tiredness. It seems that the three enforced days of rest prior to the race might have helped a lot.

Performance charts (1st chart Distance based,  2nd chart Time based)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Refuge de Mont Pourri 2465m

Tuesday 10th August 2001

Hiked up to the Refuge de Mont Pourri for today's exercise. Legs hurt superficially from Sunday's hike but this was an easier path to climb so there were no problems.

Was unable to breathe through the nose in bed last night and this morning - as there seemed to be some heaviness or congestion that wouldn't go away. This seemed to have carried on from having had to breathe through the mouth while training yesterday. Had no problem nasal breathing on the climb today.

It's only just dawned on me that the attraction of hiking in the mountains is that it is an endurance sport! I'd just tolerated the physical side of it in the past - but now relating it to endurance cycling experiences I can see it differently and now understand what really attracts people.

Here's a couple of views of Mont Pourri glacier today... (They can be enlarged.)

Noticed that with the Nordic Walking poles I liked to place them both in front of me on the steep parts of the climb and then drop my centre of mass forwards while supporting myself with the poles - then as the body moves up and forwards this progresses into a push up from behind. Normally, unless descending the poles are supposed to stay behind the body - but I find this other way more effective as an aid in climbing steep ground.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Swim and Bike

Monday 9th August 2010

Started today's exercise with a swim. Working on breathing on both sides with the crawl - absolutely awful! Sometimes before the end of a length I'd feel so confused and anxious about exhaling that I'd just have to stop. It seems that there is so much tension that when I need large amounts air and yet have to control a long exhalation my reaction is to either block or let it all out rapidly. The whole thing gets confused. It might be that swimming trains you to tolerate a slight air hunger and raises your CO2 levels (hence O2 in the blood), but for me it just seems to expose my dependence on hyperventilation or over breathing. My body just doesn't seem to tolerate this level of CO2. Whether it's the breathing itself that is the problem or tension due to technique I can't decide. Will persevere until I'm relaxed with breathing on 1.5 cycles instead of just 1 cycle on the right side as I usually do. It's still good training for reduced breathing even if I don't get far in the swimming itself. Triathlon can just wait a bit longer.

Joined Chris for a light cycling workout, 30km around le Versant du Soleil. Was tired from the hiking yesterday and really felt that in the legs until they warmed up properly. An hour into the workout I was able to attack the final climb up to Macot with an average speed of around 24 km/hr so couldn't have been all that tired. Was unable to sustain nasal breathing due to talking with Chris. It's really hard to switch back to nasal breathing once it gets interrupted. When you are engaged in nasal breathing then you can sustain it even at high intensity but otherwise you can't go in and out of it so easily. I did manage the Macot climb wath nasal breathing because I was on my own by then.

The sore throat hinting at developing the past few days has thankfully gone away.

Col de La Chal

Sunday 8th August 2010

Change in training today - went for a hike with 900m climbing - in the valley of Peisey Nancroix, up towards Les Arcs - Col De La Chal. Was pleasantly surprised at feeling fit and strong, both climbing and descending on some quite steep trails. Walking downhill uses different muscles from cycling - especially with the quads and the calves involved in eccentric contractions - that is the muscles are forced to contract while extending! The result is that I was more tired that expected at the end (Next day it hurt!)

Used nasal breathing the whole way and felt very comfortable with it. Christiane, who is not very fit just now, struggled to breath through the nose and had a bit of a nose bleed at one point.

Used Nordic Walking poles as can be seen in the photo below.

Those poles are attached to the hand though a glove which can be quickly and easily detached from the pole. They have sharp tungsten spikes (or rubber covers for tarmac) for grip. When climbing or walking you keep the poles behind for propulsion -just like in cross country skiing. This really helps with steep climbing - especially when running.

When descending you keep the poles in front and usually place both point in the ground to use the poles to lower yourself. This takes a great deal of stress off the knees.

The poles are extremely lightweight carbon and a real pleasure to walk, hike or run with. This also gives the upper body a good level of workout, particularly the shoulders, arms and upper back.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Les Arcs 1950 Time Trial

Saturday 7th August 2010

GPSies - Bourg - Arc 1950 Time Trial

Well that was a mistake and a half. Today was supposed to be a day of rest and recuperation, with some swimming to loosen up the body after the really demanding workout yesterday.

There I was, comfortably tucking into a salad in Bourg St Maurice at about 12:50pm when the telephone rang. It was Chris Harrop – who I thought might want to meet up for lunch as he started by asking me where I was. Quickly it transpired that there was some confusion as Chris pointed out that our time trial race was in just over an hour’s time – to which I replied that it was the wrong day – it was tomorrow. A quick check on the documentation proved Chris right! Suddenly a leisurely lunch and afternoon were out of the proverbial window. Wolfing down the food and drink I arranged to meet Chris five minutes later as he arrived in Bourg to give him my license to register me into the race. This would let me dash off back to Aime 15km away to get my bike and stuff for the race. It would be cutting it close but seemed possible. The problem was all the tourists on the road. Instead of a normal traffic flow at 90km/hr they were blocking the road the entire way at 60km/hr so it was a very frustrating journey as the road between the two towns is not safe for overtaking.

On arrival at Aime everything was collected quickly with one sports drink made up and a quick change of clothing into cycling gear. Everything was thrown rapidly in the van and another” hair tearing out” journey back to Bourg followed. Meanwhile Chris called to rendezvous in the Funicular car park on my arrival. Nothhing was forgotten despite the haste and I made it with about 10 minutes to spare. Chris attached my number to the bike while I put the other on my clothing. Then we were off to the start.

That’s where everything slowed down. The organisers were not in a hurry to start and nothing was ready. After a lot of faffing around everyone was ready on the road next to the funicular, which was closed to traffic. There were quite a few photographers and videographers but I have no idea where to find any of that stuff now. I was quite apprehensive as I expected to have very tired legs from the day before and there were a lot of seriously fit racers – with many from Macot cycling club who all looked skinny and ready to climb.

When the race started it set off fast following the lakeside to the South of Bourg and around to the start of the climb up to Les Arcs. By the time we reached the climb the field was already split in two with me at the tail end of the front group and already about 200m gap to the second group. Everybody attacked the stat of the climb hard at around 20km/hr in my case and close to 25km/hr for the very fastest. The question was “Is this pace sustainable?”. To my great surprise it was sustainable and my legs felt fine. Quite a few however did not have the same luck as after about 10 minutes of this there were many who simply had over done it and faded already. I just let my body decide what to do and continued to race. Bourg starts at 800m altitude and by Arcs 1600 I was still overtaking people and felt good. Prior to the race we had discussed nasal breathing and Chris was convinced that at this level of effort – in a hill climb time trail – that nasal breathing was not possible. I wasn’t exactly sure, but so far, despite hovering around the anaerobic heart rate level the entire time, I was having no trouble persisting with nasal breathing. It was at the 17km, 1700m altitude and 1 hour after starting that I first felt my limits. Though I slowed down slightly there was no let up in heart rate (93% max) or effort, it was still up on the edge of the anaerobic zone. There was a brief section of downhill and for me that is not good because it is so difficult to get back into using hard leg power again after a break like that. Despite all of this I kept up speed and heart rate right until the end. In the last 500m I was overtaken by two others (I overtook one) but I had not realised that the end was so close. I thought that there was still quite a serious climb to make so it was necessary to hold back a little. Of course had I known the route better I’d have given it everything for the last 500m and made a better finish.

The nasal breathing was fine for the whole thing. It’s hard to say if it slowed the pace, but it didn’t seem that way. Pace felt like it was controlled more just by strength. I’d stayed in 3rd gear right up until the 17km mark which was when I had to start using 2nd gear and so dropped a bit in pace. It’s the first time this year that I’ve climbed in 3rd so it took more strength than usual but was definitely faster. The previous day I’d done much more climbing but always in 2nd and had thought that was hard at the time! There was no feeling of breathlessness or chest tightness at the finish line which seems to be provoked by hyperventilation – so I’ll stick with the nasal breathing and higher CO2 levels for now.

The following links leads to information and resources of nasal breathing:

Analysis (Click image for larger view)

Statistics Wt 68kg, PB 112/71, HR 43bpm

Interesting to note that the heart rate remains constant over time but the pace slows progressively. Normally the heart rate also drops when the effort is intense, or rises over time when the effort is aerobic. Last year I managed a full climb in the top "anaerobic" zone the whole way 98% max heart rate over 55mins - but I  don't think that would be possible on this climb which is 11km longer.

Chris's previous time for the race was 01:22 which he bettered this year at 01:19. He seemed disappointed, but that is a significant improvement considering the record by elite pro racers is around 01:03. I came in at 01:26 which considering a totally misjudged preparation was a respectable time.

It seems possible that the reason I had recovered well enough so soon from the previous day is due to the nasal breathing. Nasal breathing creates higher CO2 and NO hormonal levels which reduce lactic acid in the blood plus many other free-radical ravages. Yesterday I'd used nasal breathing throughout the 4hr workout.
Today, after the race, about an hour after descending to Bourg, I did have a serious energy dip. This is probably not surprising as regardless of breathing or anything else it is certain from the data that I was well above lactic acid threshold the whole way up the mountain - so there would be a big accumulation of lactic acid and all the reactions that entails. I cracked and went to McDonalds and had a fish burger with fried potatoes! First time this summer.

Had a slightly sore throat in the evening. Not sure if it's from really overdoing it over the last two days - especially with the cold at altitude yesterday - or if it's a slight effect of inhabitual "extreme" nasal breathing. It feels a bit like a bug though.