Many thanks to Paul Evans for putting us up for the night in Chamonix and feeding us. According to Chris the addition of curry to his pasta sauce was a delicious discovery – despite being complete sacrilege. The curry itself however was definitely excellent – and the glacier view in the early morning inspiring…
Fasting to go faster
This was a bit of an experimental race for me having been fasting earlier in the week to lose weight – and being low on overall training mileage. Most people have managed close to three times my 1500km training. My focus however has been on weight loss – managing to lose 10kg in around 5 weeks. Intermittent fasting – either two or one day periods each week – seems to be very effective for weight control. One day fasts have no impact on overall energy levels even when maintaining training – but two day fasts have a serious impact and prevent training for most of the week. The two day fasts bring weight down faster. My strategy was to workout hard the day before fasting – add another good workout on the first day of the fast – and then rest on day two. Following the workout on day one there would be a real dip in energy which would remain from then on – both during and for a while after the fast. The first two two-day fasts caused vision trouble (ophthalmic migraine) as the body started to detoxify due to the dramatic cellular cleansing effect of fasting. Since then this has not recurred and there have been no more headaches or odd feelings. If feeding commenced the morning after a one day fast (32 to 36 hrs) then energy would rapidly return to normal – but if another day was added (approx 60 hrs total) then even after recommencing feeding there would be no energy available for training on either the first or second day.
For this race three days were available to re-stock glycogen levels and this seems to have worked. On day one after the fast I did a 2hr bike ride and felt dizzy and asthmatic on stopping when very low on energy. Day two was used for an 11.5 km run – resting up the cycling muscles. Energy levels had recovered somewhat but were still below par. Saturday – day 3 was a day of physical rest. Throughout the three days there was a deliberate attempt to replace glycogen – eating lots of unrefined complex carbohydrates and dried dates (glucose and fructose 2:1 - plus many metabolic nutrients).
Preparation appears to have been spot on for the race. It could also be that the depletion of carbs in the body permitted even more carbs to be loaded for the race – this being a carb-loading technique used commonly by endurance athletes.
Recommended reading: “Eating and Fasting for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease.” Dr Joel Fuhrman.
Fasting was only one aspect of the experiments going on for this race. There were several other nutritional efforts going on too. I’d used sugar mixes before in races but found them to be more noticeably effective in training for avoiding post exercise fatigue. The 2:1 maltodextrin:fructose mix definitely works to keep away headaches, nausea, stomach cramps, leg pains and bonking – but not leg cramps! I had the distinct impression from other races that the sugar improved performance but that this improvement created even greater demand on the muscles resulting in even greater exposure to cramps.
The ingredients in the sugar mix are maltodextrin, fructose, Multi-vitamin/mineral, sea salt, lemon juice and caffeine. The body can absorb 90g of carbs per hour due to the balance of available glucose and fructose in this mixture (each using a different metabolic pathway) - with the maltodextrin version of glucose reducing water requirements to 1/6th for digestion. The vitamin/mineral supplement is for aiding metabolism and the sea salt is to maintain electrolyte levels when hydrating. During the race there was serious heat to contend with – but despite that I drank only about 2 litres of water during 4hrs 28mins and this did not appear to have any adverse effect. Cramps are clearly systemic and are caused by combinations of factors – making them very difficult to avoid. They are not caused by electrolyte levels in general because most of the time people actually dehydrate significantly during exercise and this increases electrolyte levels overall. It’s only when a lot of water is being consumed that electrolyte levels can be diluted from sweating.
Pre race nutrition was supplemented with amino acids: Di Arginine Malate, Citrulline Malate, Taurine additional vitamin C and the special sugar D-Ribose which directly increases ATP production. Those supplements were used properly for at least a week in advance as their effects are somewhat cumulative.
Coordination and Breathing
During the race the other strategy for avoiding cramps would be to maintain form with alignment during pedalling. The “chi” mechanism is now completely integrated into my movements with the hip being actively pushed back during the down-stroke. Initially I was actively pulling the hip back during the push until spotting that there was no need to as it was naturally pushed back during the stroke if permitted. Previous cramps on the inside of the legs appear to be connected to a tendency to pressure the outside of the feet and perhaps turn the toes inwards slightly – so the effort here was to align the legs with the heels being held in and the quads being used more accurately. This alteration was easily made without altering cleats on the shoes.
The amino acids work largely with respect to nitrogen oxide production and its vasodilatory effect – improving circulation and the clearing and metabolism of lactic acid. Controlled breathing has a similar effect – especially when deliberately avoiding hyperventilation due to lactic acid build up. I made a conscious effort at all times to avoid big breaths and avoid clearing out the CO2 in the lungs – CO2 itself having a strong vasodilatory effect – though I couldn’t manage nasal breathing for this race. Nasal breathing gives the additional advantage of producing even more nitric oxide.
One major contribution to cramping has been coming from the 36 tooth Rotor oval chain ring that replaced the standard 34 tooth compact one on my bike. The problem here being that on the push part of the cycle the axis of the 36T is equivalent to 38T and it only becomes equivalent to 34T through the dead spots. After the Time/Mégève race in June where cramping was once again an issue I asked myself whether it would be more sensible to return to a standard 34T or whether I should focus on losing weight to improve the power to weight ratio – and focus on coordination, training and nutrition. Having opted for the latter this JPP race would let me know if it was working.
The result has been pretty spectacular on a personal level at least. Nearly all of the race was spent either anaerobic or even red-lining – close to maximum heart rate – approx 1 hr 50 mins red-lining and 1 hr 50 mins anaerobic – with only 35 minutes aerobic. There were no physical problems, cramps or issues either during or after the race and at night no trace of post exercise discomfort. Next morning there was no post exercise discomfort or fatigue. Despite low training mileage I placed 21st in age category out of 63 and 118th out of 257 finishers overall. The final climb of the race was littered with the victims of cramps – walking or stretching having dismounted at the roadside. It was a very hot day with no wind, clear skies and sunshine.
Late afternoon electrical storm building up over La Plagne (back home!)
The race started with a neutralised section from the main assembly point to Cluses town centre – where the real depart would take place. There were four separate departs corresponding to each of the four distances – 60k, 90k, 110k and 130k. Chris was going for the 130k despite suffering from a painfully blocked lower back and I was respecting my current limits and only going for the 110k. The 130k was the first to depart with the 110 next. Participants had different coloured numbers to indicate which course they were on – a very useful distinction.
The race commenced with the immediate spectre of the Col de Romme – a 9km steep climb rising up out to the valley floor like a wall. A few years ago during the Grand Bornand race I came across this climb for the first time and when starting up this wall, after a descent and easy section on the flat, both legs cramped instantly forcing me straight off the bike!
In a way the JPP was merciful in that this climb was right at the start when it was cool and everyone had fresh legs.
I decided to just go with the flow and if I felt like going hard I would. The result was that the first hour was spent with a heart rate above 160 bpm – clearly red-lining the whole time. Normally this should lead rapidly to complete exhaustion but I felt OK so continued. Unusually (for me) I was constantly overtaking people all the way up the climb. Normally I get the sensation of going in reverse during climbing – so it’s amazing what losing 10 kilos can do! At the top of the Col de Romme a couple of guys I’d just overtaken during the final kilometre came flying by me and although initially I was just going to let them go there was another thing to consider. After the descent back down to Cluses there would be a very long faux-plat which would lose a great deal of time if isolated or stuck in a slow group. After a couple of minutes of relaxing and recovering from the climb I went in pursuit quickly bringing the heart back up to 161 bpm again even on the descent behind the strong rider with fluorescent orange wheel rims.
There was an earpiece in my left ear relaying audible feedback from the Runtastic app on my smartphone. It would signal each kilometre the current distance, pace and time for the previous km plus current heart rate – so I was fully aware of all the parameters and also used this to time feeding from the sugar flasks in my back pockets. Feeding was extremely difficult to cope with while the body was red-lining with heartrate so close to maximum. During the entire race I swallowed less than half of the sugar that was really necessary – around 180 grams – while the body can assimilate 90 grams per hour and I had 360 grams with me. Around the 100km mark there was a slight headache that came from not eating enough sugar – but it was rapidly resolved with a swig of syrupy sugar from a flask – washed down with water – because blood sugar obviously still hadn’t slipped into an unrecoverable deficit. Towards the end of the race my heart rate was still anaerobic during effort and had dipped only to 150 bpm – which is normally what I’d be aiming for from the start of a race!
Following the strong guys downhill to Cluses was a real battle. I knew that I had to stay with them but eventually they got away. Rather than worry about it I knew that my cornering skills were a bit better then theirs so just waited until the road tightened up into hairpin bends near the bottom and so right at the end – without trying – ended up back together again with the fluorescent wheel rims for the start of the long faux-plat.
Those guys were on a mission but unfortunately they wanted me to share the work up front. That would have been fine but my heart was already close to maximum revs and there was no turbo to engage. I was cornered into doing two relatively painful spells in front. Despite the fact that we were tanking along and reeling in others at a rapid pace some fortunately managed to hold on to our train and were then able to rotate up front and take the pressure off me. This scenario continued for about half an hour until the next sharp climb began and then I could just let the strong guys go and return to a more manageable pace. All along since during the Col de Romme a woman with number 540 kept appearing and disappearing. She climbed faster than me but typically lost time on the descents though she was hovering around my level in general. There were also a couple of guys close to 70 years old with legs that looked as hard as tree trunks who kept appearing. They were from the Pringy cycling club and obviously had a few kilometres under their belts – but unlike most people in cyclosportives they were smart enough to work together as a team. I tucked in behind those guys a few times but ended up doing rotations there as well and eventually dropping them. They got past me again when I stopped at the last feeding station and beat me to the finish line.
After parting company with the strong guys, the second climb, which was much more gradual, was done mostly in isolation. Too big a gap had been opened with those behind to make it worthwhile waiting for anyone to appear and I couldn’t keep up with the others. With this situation in mind I stopped at a feeding station and properly dismounted the bike to get a drink and fill a bottle. Just those few minutes made a major difference and getting back on the bike there was a sensation of complete recovery. By this time I’d expected to feel destroyed due to red-lining but instead it all felt surprisingly good. Starting off again several others had caught up and so for the next long stretch of varied terrain there were people to work with. I never saw the strong guys again but Woman 540 and the old Pringy guys kept popping up. On the stretch before the final feeding station I was surprised to find myself pulling along other riders that I somehow imagined to be much stronger than me.
Starting the last climb from Chattons to Les Carroz I unexpectedly came across Woman 540 again up ahead – but she had obviously cracked and was going in reverse gear up the hill now. More and more people were lining the side of the road dealing with cramps. Not only had practically the whole race kept me anaerobic but very surprisingly there were no signs of cramp even at this late stage. For a short while around the 100km mark on this last climb I could feel my head starting to fug up – but that just encouraged me to eat some more sugar and the problem was rapidly resolved. The completion of the race was fine – with no physical issues and reasonable strength all the way. The final stretch up to Les Carroz was lined with people walking off cramps or on foot stretching – including some relatively strong riders who had left me behind some 15 kilometres earlier. The finish is right at the top of a steep climb and the end is abrupt so there is no warm down. This is where I’m likely to be hit with slight exercise induced asthma for a few minutes. This time there was none of that, despite the heat. For the first time ever I was even able to enjoy eating the post race meal! It appears that the combination of nutrition, coordination and weight loss completely changed the outcome. Interestingly “training mileage” was not the issue. Despite being relatively undertrained there were no detrimental physical issues experienced. I was also pleased to finish before the leaders of the 130k race arrived.
The scenery and surrounds were stunning over a wonderfully varied route and the traffic control and organisation of the event were extremely well done. The only negative was that the post race meal location was extremely poorly indicated and Chris left without eating – after doing really well on the 130k course while fighting a significant lower back problem. We ended up both turning up at the car in Cluses within minutes of each other – Chris’s phone being left in the car so no communications being possible up until then. Before lunch I realised that I’d left my helmet where I’d been sitting to recover from the race – so went back and fortunately found it still on the bench. Later, after lunch it dawned on me that I’d also lost my hifi earphones and they had been missing for over and hour. I cycled back to the finish line and someone had placed them on a bench in full view safely behind a barrier – so thanks to good people I recovered them. I’d also lost a retaining clip for the earphones at the last feeding stop during the race but when I calmly looked over the ground before setting off again it was just sitting there. Seemingly it was my lucky day!
Supplements (Collection of abstracts…)
Taurine is an amino sulfonic acid, but it is often referred to as an amino acid, a chemical that is a required building block of protein. Taurine is found in large amounts in the brain, retina, heart, and blood cells called platelets. The best food sources are meat and fish.
Taurine supports neurological development and helps regulate the level of water and mineral salts in the blood. Taurine is also thought to have antioxidant properties. taurine is important in several metabolic processes of the body, including stabilizing cell membranes in electrically active tissues, such as the brain and heart. It also has functions in the gallbladder, eyes, and blood vessels.
Taurine promotes cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, electrolyte balance, hearing function, and immune modulation. In animal research, taurine protected against heart failure, reducing mortality by nearly 80%.
Its benefits are so broad and extensive that scientists have described taurine as “a wonder molecule.”
Taurine is found abundantly in healthy bodies. However, certain diets, particularly vegetarian or vegan diets, lack adequate amounts of taurine. Disease states—including liver, kidney, or heart failure, diabetes, and cancer—can all cause a deficiency in taurine. And aging bodies often cannot internally produce an optimal amount of taurine, making supplementation vital.
Because of taurine’s essential role in the body, supplementing with taurine can provide numerous health benefits, including restoring insulin sensitivity, mitigating diabetic complications, reversing cardiovascular disease factors, preventing and treating fatty liver disease, alleviating seizures, reversing tinnitus, and more.
Human studies show that 3 grams per day of taurine for 7 weeks reduced body weight significantly in a group of overweight or obese (but not-yet-diabetic) adults. Subjects saw significant declines in their serum triglycerides and “atherogenic index,” a ratio of multiple cholesterol components that predicts atherosclerosis risk. In adult diabetics, supplementation with 1.5 grams of taurine daily for just 14 days can reverse diabetes-induced abnormalities in arterial stiffness and in the ability of the vasculature to respond to changes in blood flow or pressure.
Taurine has powerful effects on the heart and blood vessels. People with higher levels of taurine have significantly lower rates of dying from coronary heart disease. Additionally, they have lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of dangerous lipids. Many different mechanisms account for these powerful effects on the heart and blood vessels.
In animal models of hypertension, taurine supplementation lowers blood pressure by reducing the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessel walls and by minimizing nerve impulses in the brain that drive blood pressure up. Oral taurine supplementation has been found to reduce the arterial thickening and stiffness characteristic of atherosclerosis, to restore arteries’ responses to beneficial endothelial nitric oxide, and to reduce inflammation (a direct contributor to cardiovascular disease).
Taurine is the most abundant amino acid you’ve never heard of. Strong evidence suggests that groups with the longest life spans consume higher amounts of taurine than those of us in the rest of the world. High intakes of taurine could be the underlying factor in the world’s longest-living populations—and for good reason.
Taurine supplementation can mitigate the damaging effects of fat, glucose, and excess insulin. Taurine strengthens and protects heart muscle cells and the system of blood vessels that supplies blood throughout the body, helping to protect against atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
And taurine protects vision and hearing. (http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2013/jun2013_The-Forgotten-Longevity-Benefits-of-Taurine_01.htm)
You may see taurine referred to as “a conditional amino acid,” to distinguish it from “an essential amino acid.” A “conditional amino acid” can be manufactured by the body, but an “essential amino acid” cannot be made by the body and must be provided by the diet. People who, for one reason or another, cannot make taurine, must get all the taurine they need from their diet or supplements. For example, supplementation is necessary in infants who are not breastfed because their ability to make taurine is not yet developed and cow's milk does not provide enough taurine. So taurine is often added to infant formulas. People who are being tube-fed often need taurine as well, so it is added to the nutritional products that they use. Excess taurine is excreted by the kidneys.
Some people take taurine supplements as medicine to treat congestive heart failure(CHF), high blood pressure, liver disease (hepatitis), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), and cystic fibrosis. Other uses include seizure disorders (epilepsy), autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eye problems (disorders of the retina), diabetes, and alcoholism. It is also used to improve mental performance and as an antioxidant.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why taurine seems to help congestive heart failure (CHF). There is some evidence that it improves the function of the left ventricle, one of the chambers of the heart. Taurine might also improve heart failure because it seems to lower blood pressure and calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is often too active in people with high blood pressure and CHF. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that responds to stress.
Citrulline is a substance called a non-essential amino acid. Your kidneys change L-citrulline into another amino acid called L-arginine and a chemical called nitric oxide.
These compounds are important to your heart and blood vessel health. They may also boost your immune system.
Citrulline boosts nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which improves blood flow throughout your body. This can be helpful for treating or preventing many diseases.
Citrulline, like arginine, is important in vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels, resulting from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, especially in the large arteries and veins and smaller arterioles. The endothelium (inner lining) of blood vessels uses nitric oxide to signal the surrounding smooth muscle to relax. This results in a relaxing of the blood vessels, and increased blood flow.
In the body, citrulline is converted to the amino acid arginine, which goes on to make another important substance—nitric oxide. When citrulline enters the kidney, vascular endothelium and other tissues, it can be readily converted to arginine, thus raising plasma and tissue levels of arginine and enhancing nitric oxide production.
Additionally, nitric oxide works as an antioxidant that reduces the possibility of immune cells adhering to artery walls. This helps keep down inflammation.
As we get older there is a decrease in nitric oxide production because the body makes less citrulline and arginine.
Di Arginine Malate
Arginine-rich foods include red meat, fish, poultry, wheat germ, grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy products.
Arginine, also known as L-arginine, is involved in a number of different functions in the body. They include wound healing, helping the kidneys remove waste products from the body, maintaining immune and hormone function.
In the body, the amino acid arginine changes into nitric oxide (NO). Supplemental arginine helps the body produce more nitric oxide, and it helps with conditions that improve when blood vessels are relaxed, such as atherosclerosis.
Even more importantly, new studies are showing that supplemental citrulline also assists in nitric oxide production by boosting blood levels of arginine. It does this because it is more readily absorbed and bioavailable than arginine alone, and it bypasses metabolism in the liver and gastrointestinal tract and is readily absorbed in the kidneys.
In the first study to show that oral supplementation with citrulline raises blood levels of arginine, 20 healthy volunteers were given 6 different dosing regimens of placebo, citrulline, and arginine.
After one week of oral supplementation, the citrulline dose increased plasma arginine concentration more effectively than arginine alone.
A study in humans also showed the citrulline supplementation’s “time release” effect on arginine production. In this study an oral dose of 3.8 grams of citrulline resulted in a 227% peak increase in plasma arginine levels after 4 hours, compared with a 90% peak increase with the same dose of arginine.
Thus, acute oral administration of citrulline appears to be considerably more efficient at raising plasma levels of arginine over the long term than arginine itself.
Ribose (d-ribose) is a type of simple sugar, or carbohydrate, that our bodies make.
It is an essential component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which supplies energy to our cells.
People take extra ribose for several reasons, most of them related to exercise and sports performance.
Manufacturers claim that ribose: Increases endurance and energy, reduces muscle fatigue , speeds up post-workout recovery.
The pathological defect in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome is slow recycling of ATP. Normally there is enough ATP in a heart cell to last about ten beats - this means that roughly speaking ATP needs to be re-cycled every ten seconds. Top athletes like Steve Redgrave probably recycle ATP every five seconds, but patients with fatigues may only be able to recycle ATP every minute. Therefore I can do in ten seconds what Steve Redgrave can do in five seconds, but it might take one of my fatigue syndrome patients a minute to achieve the same!
ATP in releasing energy is converted to ADP (2-phosphates) which is recycled back through mitochondria to ATP (3-phosphates). However, if the system is really pushed then the body can extract energy from ADP by converting it into AMP (1-phosphate). The problem is that AMP is very slowly recycled, if at all, and most is lost from the cell. This means that the body has to make brand new ATP. This it does from D-Ribose and this it can do very quickly. The trouble is the body making D-Ribose. Normally this is made from glucose. However if the cell is lacking in energy then any glucose lying around can be converted to lactic acid to generate energy. The problem here is twofold - first of all the lactic acid causes pain. Secondly any glucose that is swilling around is not available to make D-ribose.
Even when glucose supply is plentiful, production of D-ribose in the cell by the glucose pentose shunt is very slow.
D-ribose as a nutritional supplement is therefore useful because it is immediately available for the generation of new ATP
Because D-ribose is a simple sugar, it is extremely well absorbed. The clinical experience of cardiologists using D-ribose to treat heart failure due to mitochondrial failure is that it is very effective and free from side effects (http://www.drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/D-ribose)