Today was primarily a “day out” on the bike – the first time this year cycling on new roads that I’d never seen before. The trip would cover both mountainous sides of the valley leading from Chambery to Grenoble – with the main (hard) part being on the West side – the Chartreuse Massif. This would mean finding an apparently invisible road up a vertical 3000ft wall. I think I’d driven up that road in 1993 and went mountain biking once up at the top – but got lost and miserable. There was no public GPS in those days and I remember it was misty with low cloud. The bike was a useless Marin steel mountain bike from close to the first generation – with no suspension and weighing half a ton – which was still considered pretty good in those days. Those bikes were not cut out for real mountains, being perfect only for trails in reality. I gave it away to a friend in Les Arcs eventually – but he only used it once and seriously hurt his nuts so never used it again. Hint! – never give a bike away because you will always regret it eventually! I’d cycled across the whole of the Pyrenees from West to East on that bike so it’s sad to think it is not appreciated now – however technology moves on and today’s technology is one whole lot better and far more reliable.
Leading our group was Chris – who had ridden the route last year – the route being planned by a local French cyclist named Richard. (Route can be seen here in full: http://www.openrunner.com/?id=3928653 ) i downloaded the planned route from openrunner.com and uploaded it into runtastic.com online so it became a selectable route on my Runtastic (Road Bike Pro) telephone app. It was the first time I’d actually used a mapped “route” with Road Bike Pro so that in itself would be interesting – to see if it actually helped with route finding etc. Lesley and Rob were the other two cyclists and like me were not accustomed to such distances or such big accumulated ascent totals in training this year (147km and 3600m climbing on this route).
The photo of Chris, Lesley and Rob has the Chartreuse Massif in the background. This striking geological feature extends all the way from Grenoble to Chambery. At the Chambery end it was the source of one of the worst disasters in the middle ages when a partial collapse killed between 1000 and 2000 people. Mount Granier collapsed near midnight, on November 24th, 1248 and the debris covered an area of approximately 20km sq – the rockslide being 7km long with maximal width 6.5km.
This was only a training ride so stops and photos would be possible. The racing mentality has the unfortunate side effect that you don’t really notice anything other than your intense effort. At least today we would be able to take some time out to enjoy the new surroundings. None of that would lessen the intensity overall however – and Rob was unfortunately soon to become a victim of that fact.
Myself, Chris and Lesley were all using a sugar mix of 2:1 maltodextrin to fructose – but Rob wasn’t! Following shortly after the climb up to the Chartreuse Rob bonked. Oddly, this hit him on the descent which although tricky and largely on a single track road, shouldn’t have been the point at which he slumped. “Central fatigue” is the technical name for bonking and it’s when the brain is not receiving enough fuel to function properly. Rob ended up stopping and laying his bike down – but only after dismounting with difficulty, putting his hand on the ground to help. he then lay flat for 15 minutes and eventually crawled on all fours to a river to get some more water. This is the difference between those with a nutritional plan and someone without one. The fact is that “superstarch” or “maltodextrin” when used along with fructose, keeps Central Fatigue at bay regardless of the intensity and duration of exercise. Other fitness issues will be exposed but bonking won’t happen.
Meanwhile, we were all waiting near the bottom of the descent wondering what had become of Rob. I was sure he had a puncture or something. When Rob did turn up we were all out of water but fortunately only a few hundred metres further on there was a public water supply in a small village – and nearby there was a restaurant open so happily we all agreed to have lunch – and all plumped for the “plât du jour”. This is SO much more enjoyable than racing! OK, it’s different – racing is also very enjoyable.
It was slightly chilly during the descent though we all had windbreakers to wear. Rob ended up shivering and shaking all through his meal – but this was clearly coming from the Central Fatigue. We still had a good 1000m of climbing to do and about 70km to cover so I was a bit concerned about how he would cope.
Each person was effectively climbing at his/her own rate and then we would meet at the top of each climb. The climb up to the Chartreuse that destroyed Rob was quite impressive with very long stretches of over 11% gradient, long dark and wet tunnels and finishing up at the top with the “Col du Coq” – a word play in English which clearly amused Chris. No doubt the rest of us were having slight humour failures by this point as basic survival was probably more important. Chris – shepherding everyone, was no doubt staying well within his limits.
Two more cols would have to be climbed before our final descent into the valley near Chambery – the Col de Couzon and the Col de Granier. Couzon was steep but only about 4km. Granier was not so steep but it went on for about 8km. Granier is quite a famous climb but that must be from the other side – which is really steep and goes all the way to the valley floor. The best part was that at the top of the Granier there is a big café so we had our final rest stop of the day and could prepare for the descent and then the 35km hike along the valley floor back to the cars. Rob had impressively recovered and was back performing every bit as well as he was before bonking. That was interesting to observe.
The important thing to know about Central Fatigue is that there are two ways of preventing it. You can either load up with carbs before a workout and then supplement with appropriate carbs during the session – or go the other way and train the body to burn fat very much more effectively through either fasting or eliminating carbs and most protein from the diet. The jury is still out on the question of which is best as very little research has been done on the second option – the “ketogenic” state.
In my own case I’d supplemented on this day with ketones consumed directly in the form of coconut oil – and had been loading up with carbs pre-workout – plus using the maltodextrin/fructose supplement during the session. For about three months I’ve also been using one or two day weekly fasts and more recently daily intermittent fasting – to get the body better adapted to ketone use. The body, being subjected to post exercise ketosis, fasting ketosis and also training while low on glycogen - plus eating ketones directly – tends towards using fat more efficiently as an energy source when exercising – hence sparing the glycogen in the system. On this day I’d only taken enough sugar for two hours supplement at 90g/hr – and instead spread this out over 6hrs 33 mins. The large meal in the middle no doubt helped though as I finished the day feeling stronger than when starting out.
Altogether it was a great day on the bike. From now on I’ll be making up new routes myself and getting out there. The Road Bike Pro app worked perfectly and the map really helped with navigation – until the battery ran out. I need a new battery – but as the app allows a power down and then picks up again from were it left off I can change batteries during a long day if carrying a spare. Recently I bought an “original” Sony battery from the internet but it was a con – obviously being original – but used and useless! Cheap Chinese batteries are also a false economy as they too come from recycled dead batteries and they are very poor quality. Don’t buy Chinese unless you enjoy being ripped off. Next battery will unfortunately be an expensive but new Sony original.