Sunday, September 28, 2014

La Drômoise 2014–Improved Ketosis.

Ketosis Paradigm

Each long distance race adds to the amount that can be learned about ketosis. It’s one thing being in a ketogenic metabolic state for daily living but the entire theory is abruptly put to the test when applied to athletic events. There is a form disbelief that appears to accompany results with ketosis, perhaps due to a lifetime of being brainwashed to expect the opposite. Each positive result reinforces the reality and value of ketosis and slowly you can feel a true paradigm shift taking place. 

It takes a lot to push aside a lifetime of cultural conditioning and beliefs.  Science at its very best only gives us an approximate model of the world and every theory (or fact) is provisional – until replaced with a better one – that makes prediction more reliable and accurate. Those who fervently believe in current science and “conventional wisdom” are often entrenched in progress stifling dogma without realising it – effectively making a religion out of science and scientific authority. Real science is about change, curiosity and learning – endlessly. “Ketosis” is a prime example of where conventional wisdom and connected commercial interests combine to stifle progress and understanding. The current advances in privately funded nutritional science in this particular area are however quite stunning. There is a lot to learn here. Meanwhile to help to deal with all the unanswered questions people are taking to experimenting for themselves – with their own bodies – and with only a few basic guidelines to go by the results are impressive. I have no pretension of contributing anything new of specific value here other than confirming (or otherwise) the real value of ketosis when experienced for myself. There is so little known about this subject however that anyone messing around with it is likely to stumble upon new ideas.

One objective for the Drômoise race was to start the race in a measurable state of ketosis. For all the previous races I’d not eaten enough fat to be able to register a strong ketosis levels prior to the races. My 9€ Chinese breathalyser however only shows up a reading from 1.7 mmol/L and “nutritional ketosis” is already happening at 0.5 mmol/L. This morning, for once, the meter was reading 0.01% BAC (1.7 mmol/L) so that confirmed strong ketosis. I’d also consumed a breakfast cooked in loads of coconut oil and eaten coconut oil treats with my coffee. Supplementing  MCT oils (found in Coconut fat) would provide an exogenous source of ketones along with those being produced by the body. More than ever before carbs were strictly avoided in preparation for this race.

For consuming during the race there was a supplement made up from blending desiccated coconut powder into a cream, diluting it with water and then adding a small amount of zero carb stevia for sweetening. Some low carb blackcurrant and apple puree was also added for flavouring. The idea was to make the mix tasty to encourage the eating of it during hard exercise – where eating is very difficult. The mix was fluid enough to be delivered though a drinking nozzle and kept in a small drinking flask. I carried about 350 grams of this in total during the race but found when in action that it wasn’t sweet enough and only managed to consume perhaps 30 grams altogether. It wasn’t liquid enough either. More experimentation is needed.

The idea here is to have a supplement that will directly provide ketones once the Medium Chain Triglyceride oils are processed in the liver – and a low level of carbohydrates to compensate for carb-debt in the body and to stop the body from consuming its own protein (muscle) to create glucose to replace and stabilise basic glucose levels. This is an uncertain area though because I know that adventurers Ranulph Feinnes and Mike Stroud – when they walked across the Antarctic – taking blood samples every few days – ended up with stable blood glucose levels so low that nobody had previously believed this possible – by a large margin. They were on a ketogenic diet getting 75% of their calories from fat – though they hadn’t quite realised this). That was only  a short while ago – in 1992/3 – so it demonstrates the absolutely astonishing ignorance of the medical world in this extremely fundamental area.

During the actual race – after about 3 hours I drank some Coke – a small amount – and repeated this at two more feeding stations – to deal with carb debt and to add caffeine for improved fat metabolism. I didn’t eat anything during the race (almost 6 hours) other than the small amount of coconut supplement mentioned. In all very few calories of any kind were consumed during the event.

Immediately after the race my BAC was at 0.02% (3.4 mmol/L) and it has stayed there constantly  since (48 hours and counting) – even after eating some pasta at the post race lunch. This consistency once again proves that carbs can be eaten to address a carb-debt without causing the person to come out of ketosis. (It’s only the concept of “carb debt” that needs to be questioned – and whether accepted stable minimum glucose levels are really ideal) The most benefits from ketosis are supposedly found at between 0.5 and 3 mmol/L so with me reading 3.4+ mmol/L this was clearly in weight loss territory from fat metabolism. The keto-adapted body (about 5 weeks of adapting now) gets more efficient at producing ketones during fat metabolism and also specifically the right sort of ketones for muscle use – those which break down through respiration into acetone and can be measured with a cheap breathalyser unit.

The most immediate interest for me however would be the start of the race – with the ketosis level being higher than previously. Until now ketosis (and or daily intermittent fasting) – or poor ketosis levels and poor keto-adaption - had cause me to feel at least psychologically quite a lot of difficulty getting going in every event and in training. It’s all quite tricky to sort out due to the number of variables so a lot of experimentation is needed. Competition is the perfect backdrop for this experimentation because the appropriate motivation levels are guaranteed.


I slept peacefully overnight right next to the race registration and post-race reception area in a camping car park. There were big police signs forbidding ordinary (estate) cars from parking under menace of being towed away – but correctly I assumed this aspect of the growing European Fascist Police State would be suspended for this particular weekend. The location was perfect and everything went like clockwork the next morning during registration and preparation.carte_des_parcours

Getting to the race start was another story! The start had combined all the 119 km and 147 km racers and all the hundreds of cyclotoursits in the same place – in very narrow streets. What a mess! Eventually an official cleared a way through the mob for us and we at least got onto the right street for the start – but I was right at the back. The only alternative would have been to have gone there an hour early and just wait – but that was an even less appealing option. The solution to dealing with the timing issues for the start used by the organisation turned out to be incredibly stupid. It took about 5 minutes to get all the racers through so they used the median time as the start time for everyone. The positive side of this is that  you would place in the results exactly in the order that you crossed the finish line – but it also meant that the starters in the front had 2.5 minutes deducted from the real overall time and those at the back had 2.5 minutes added – plus they were not able to get access and the protection of the fast pelotons near the front without destroying themselves in an almost useless attempt to catch up – which is exactly what happened. The simple solution in this sort of situation is to have a rolling start with a control car neutralising the event until out of town on the wide open road. Matters were worsened by the leaders having  priority start numbers in the first place – so even if the timing chips were used at the start when individuals cross the start line (as they usually are on non professional events) the leaders would not have suffered.

My attempts to recover some ground at the start led to the first 10 km being covered at an average speed of 36 kph despite it being a gradual climb. The only way to make this possible is to hook onto a small bunch of fast guys who are passing by in their attempts to recover some ground too. Once you accelerate to stay with them then the drafting takes over – but all the same your heart rate will  remain very high and even when drafting this is pushing the limits. Right from the start there seemed to be a better keto-adaptation, or a better level of ketosis because this start felt like it used to when I was consuming carbs and experienced that addictive “carb buzz”. Energy levels felt good and strength felt good. After about 13.5 km we were getting into the first and biggest climb of the day  - the Col de Pennes - and so I resigned myself to losing touch with the fast group that I’d been using to reel in hundreds of cyclists and several large pelotons by now. Transitioning from rolling to steeps always seems to present me with much greater problems than most people – so I watched the others disappear up ahead while my legs were sorting themselves out. My heart rate was close to maximum – around 169 to 172 bpm (max is 176 bpm) for nearly all of the climb. When the legs got going then I sped up, caught up with and then overtook the guys who had dropped me – and just kept on going reeling in hundreds more on the way up. Anyone planning a race strategy properly would not attempt to sustain close to maximal heart rate like this  – but when you have no choice due to an atrocious start then there is not much left to lose. I was however also curious to see how the body would cope with such effort levels over a long race. While burning ketones you don’t generate lactic acid – and the heart prefers ketones to glucose. If there was little lactic acid produced then keeping this up for another hour wouldn’t be too detrimental – other than perhaps just some muscular and general fatigue. There were photographers on the Col some distance before the summit but even by then, going by the timing of the photograph, I’d overtaken roughly 2/3rds of the people in the combined races to place about 1/3rd of the way through the entire pack. That would definitely cost me later on.

The early morning decent from the Col de Pennes was chilly and I was glad to be wearing the windbreaker that we had been presented with from the race organisers as a memento. My arm warmers were pulled down to the wrists by now – easily done because having lost so much weight they fall down by themselves anyway.  I need to get a new pair and go down a size from medium to small. Carrying momentum over from the climb I went on the attack during the descent and even though the roads were very narrow managed to squeeze past the more cautious types. Very few cyclists can judge a good line in a turn and it’s shocking to watch them from behind. They just don’t have a visual pattern or the right feeling to follow. Eventually I was overtaken by a good descender and then just stuck on his tail – his lines were good and he judged the road surface very well too – anticipating and compensating for gravel and dampness in the shade. I’m happy to tail someone like this downhill but hate getting stuck behind a clown who gets it all wrong and is one step short of an ambulance ride. The second ascent began soon after at about 1 hr 20 mins (km 34) into the race, lasting until 2 hrs 35 mins (km 57) – Col des Rousetons - and from the start of this climb I was not going to push anything like as hard – keeping my heart rate during climbing at around 160 bpm. What was surprising however was that this was still possible after having spent around 40 minutes on the first climb with a heart rate averaging close to 170 bpm. 161 bpm is still red-lining above anaerobic for me so other than the descent practically all this time had been anaerobic and without eating any carbs. Anaerobic activity is supposed to burn 70% glucose so there is something far wrong with standard theory here. A good chunk of this time had even been spent red-lining the heart. When you burn ketones you don’t produce lactic acid and nobody seems to know what to call this state (at least I don’t know) – but it seems to do an excellent job of replacing the aerobic/lactic threshold/anaerobic system. During this second climb although I was still working “anaerobically” this drop in output caused a lot of stronger people to start to overtake me – but there was nothing to be done about that. 

At the Col des Rousetons at 2 hrs 35 mins into the race with most of the time spent climbing I stopped at at feeding station to refill water bottles and to drink a few small cups of Coke. There had been a cheerful band playing at one of the earlier feeding stations but this one was quiet. Knowing that the body was in significant carb-debt I also knew that this wouldn’t affect ketosis. So far nothing had been anything. The next two hours would be the most uncomfortable – with a feeling of general struggling.chart (2)

After the descent from the Col des Rousetons there was a plateau where a small peloton formed and we covered about 8 kilometres fast against the wind by rotating the lead constantly. This was taking us close to the separation point for the two courses at 77 km. Once again on arriving at a steeper section the transition was not happening automatically for me so I had to let the group go – although it fragmented anyway at this point. Most people went straight on for the short course and once again I found myself isolated when branching onto a long course. The next climb up to the Col du Fays and then the Col de Rossas (87.5 km) would take until 4hrs 02 mins and all of this climb would be in isolation with some strong headwinds at points. About one kilometre from the summit I was overtaken by a young woman but couldn’t stay on her  tail. I realised that I could actually keep up but didn’t want to extend my effort level so high. By now my working heart rate had gone down to around 155 bpm. This is still supposed to be anaerobic for me – so even though the speed was not competitive at all by now I was still able to work relatively hard. There was another feeding station at Valdrôme (km 94) after the descent from those twin cols and once again I stopped to fill two completely empty water bottles and slug down some coke. I’d tried to eat some coconut mix from one of the flasks I was carrying but couldn’t get it to come out easily enough – and it didn’t have an attractive texture or taste so I gave up on that by the time I reached this feeding station – perhaps eating about 150 grams in total. There were many people out in the small villages cheering, clapping and encouraging us all. In this tiny village there was a musician singing “la Bicyclette” and playing an accordion – same as Christiane does – but not quite as well! Taking the road again I just missed a small peloton that didn’t stop at the feeding station and ended up on a gradual descent, solo once again and having to pedal to keep up speed. 1600_00806






















Arriving on the flats and a much straighter main road there was someone ahead at km 100 who had dropped out of that peloton and when I passed him it was clear he had stopped due to cramps. He had just mounted his bike again as I went past and so next thing I knew he was behind me drafting. This was number 708 – Yannick Aunette – who then worked in rotation with me for the next 5 kilometers up a “faux-plat” against the wind until we arrived at the final major climb of the day to Lesches-en-Diois. Before starting this climb – at exactly 4 hrs 29 mins I noticed that I was feeling a lot better again. This resurgence has been happening at around 4 hrs 30 mins now in several races – but I have no idea why. For the final 1 hr and 20 mins my speed increased and never once dropped back down – exactly as it had done at Marseilles a week earlier. It’s as if the fat burning system suddenly ramps up to another level altogether. I let Yannick pull away ahead at the start of the long climb to give my legs time to make the transition and then at about 4 hrs 45 mins I just stepped on the gas brining my speed up to between 18 and 23 kph. Yannick was quickly overtaken but held on behind me for most of the remaining 5 km to the top until losing it near the end. However there was another feeding station there where I’d stopped so he caught me up and we left together for the descent- once again having drunk a few glasses of coke.

Just before getting to the feeding station there was a little boy at the roadside and he called out “What’s your name?” in French of course. Behind him was a small group of kids and once that had the name they would all shout “Allez Ian, Courage!” etc. One of the little boys made me laugh  when he shouted “You remind me of my dad!”.  Yannick took the lead on the way down and he was going for it – but his line wasn’t too great. The hairpins were quite sharp and some were blind too. Eventually he got it wrong on one and did a “tout droit” braking in a straight line right to the far apex of the corner. Fortunately he anticipated this and didn’t crash. It was good for me to slipstream and recover from pulling him up the climb. At the bottom Yannick described the descent as like being on a mountain bike – which was not far off the truth. Only a few seconds later he was hit by cramps again – exactly the same type of cramps that were affecting me earlier in the season – so I understood this issue relatively well. His cramp was on the inside of the right upper leg and struck when he started to use the muscles again for pedalling after the descent was over. I slowed down to encourage him and told him to keep moving but only push very lightly on the pedals – I wasn’t going to drop him so he could take the necessary time. Once the worst was over I told him to slipstream me until he was sure that it was gone. There was a lot of fast road ahead but with faux-plats and headwinds so we would both benefit greatly from working together – as much for the morale as for the legs.

My main goal now was to complete the long course in under 6 hours – so it was going to be a close call. We had no idea where our overall placing would be. Now all the courses had joined back together so we were rapidly catching people from the 119 km course and the cyclotourists. We couldn’t tell now if we were catching anyone from the 147 km course.  We worked well together with me using my restored power to pull up the hills and defend against the headwinds and then Yannick relieving the pressure from me by taking the lead on all the descents so we could keep up a high speed. On the long flats we managed a good rotation that was completely spontaneous and worked very well. The final 10 km was averaged at 46 kph but we couldn’t catch a peloton ahead that we had been slowly gaining ground on – there were just too many of them sharing the work that despite our best efforts they remained out of range. When we arrived at the finish line I knew I was stronger than Yannick but didn’t want to turn that into a race between us so I just eased off and let him take the line – making no difference whatsoever to the result at this stage of the game. We had ended up doing almost 1/3rd of the entire course as a team and thankfully that was the case because otherwise we’d both have slipped back a lot. Yannick needed the motivation to get up the climbs and some protection from the headwinds and I needed the rest on the descents to recover. Had the “afterburners” not switched on at 4 hrs 30 mins then I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this. There must be an explanation for this phenomenon but like most things to do with metabolism and nutrition there is no sensible relevant information out there. The science in general is complete rubbish and clearly motivated by commercial interests and not by intelligence or genuine scientific principles.


Surprisingly, despite being strong for most of the race my placing was 171 out of 205 - (59 in age cat. out of 71).

Actual time   05:56:57

Official time 05:59:18. (At least they let me remain under the 6 hours!)

Very annoyingly, both myself and Yannick who had also started near the back both had 2 mins 30 seconds added to our actual time of crossing the start line – due to the stupidity of the organisers giving an average single start time for everybody. That makes a difference of anything up to potentially 20 places so it’s a seriously stupid system. Those starting at the back are already handicapped by having to work much harder to catch the field of riders – which is almost impossible. Being philosophical about it all it doesn’t really matter of course because it’s all about having a great workout – but motivation is the key here and issues like this can’t really be ignored.  Almost 4 hours were spent at supposedly anaerobic levels of activity – so I couldn’t have done much more than that. There were no cramps and no bonking – despite being in ketosis and the only carbs being involved being a few glasses of Coke. My BAC was 0.01%  (1.7 mmol/L) before the race and 0.02% (3.4 mmol/L) immediately after (it is still at 0.02% 48 hours later). Either I’m no good at long distance racing or the others – starting advantage aside – were very much fitter and have much greater mileage in their legs. I suspect that Yannick had a similar or lower level of training – hence his cramps problem. He was 9 years my senior however and he was tempted to blame his cramps on that – but I know that cramps have no bias in that respect.

Red Line      23% 01:20:21

Anaerobic  44% 02:36:56

Aerobic       22% 01:20:15

Fat Burning  8% 00:29:02

My serious red-lining had been on the first two climbs and as expected this biased my heart rate averages over the race, slipping from averaging around 170 bpm on a straight line (graph) down to about 147 bpm towards the end. I normally train at around 152 bpm so this is still quite amazing and a phenomenal endorsement for ketosis. It was clear from the start that sustained red-lining would have to be paid for – but the negative impact was temporary and not too deep. Somehow – even though average heart rates continued to decline as a result of this – my power actually increased. That’s the part I don’t understand here. The final hour and a half along with my new partner were enjoyable – mentally, morally and physically. Any relative dip and hardship in the middle section was rapidly forgotten. After the race I felt a deep tiredness in my legs that I’ve only felt once before – the week before after the “Bosses du 13” race. Mentally I was fully alert and fresh so the 3 hour drive home after lunch was  absolutely no issue. There was no tiredness when driving. Sleeping at night however was a bit restless and the following day there was a deep general tiredness. Now, almost 48 hours later (and still deep in ketosis) I already feel recovered and fresh.

Amazingly, despite my background both academically and professionally in navigation I believed that I was going around the course in a clockwise direction – but it was anti-clockwise! Realising that after the race removed quite a bit of confusion! Thankfully the roads were almost totally empty of traffic and the organisiation and signalisation were excellent. I’ll be back! Despite the toughness of the long courses and large amounts of climbing, thanks to ketosis I’m starting to really enjoy and look forward to them. Before ketosis I used to only find them demoralising.

Ketosis Analysis

Analysing the overall situation regarding Ketosis I found that three main points emerged which I have posted as questions on the personal bog of Dr Attia. Here is a copy of the comment that is currently awaiting moderation…

Hi Peter,

I assume you have your reasons for not specifically answering my previous question about what supplements you would now choose to use during training session – given the (positive) effect of exogenous ketone (or more accurately MCT) supply. (Peter Attia’s blog post was regarding ketone supplementation Exogenous Ketones)

I have a few observations to add. Bear in mind that I am supplementing both ketones and carbs in low quantities when training or racing.

Observation 1

You appear to be correct in that any carbs consumed during an event – at least when consumed a few hours into the event – do not impact ketosis. You describe this as being due to a “carb debt”. (I have measured approx 1.7 mmol/L before a competition and 3.4 mmol/L after despite eating carbs) Reading about the Ranulph Feinnes/ Mike Stroud 1992/3 expedition to be the first ever to walk unaided across the Antarctic however raises a question mark over the “carb-debt” idea. The two adventurers – in a bid to reduce their carrying weight ended up with a high concentration of fat for their food – which I calculate to have provided 75% of their calories. They were burning over 11,000 Kcal per day – every day for 6 weeks – measured using radio isotopes. They took blood samples every few days. By the end of their trip their blood glucose levels were so low they would normally have been dead at 0.2 mmol/L. When the readings were analysed the medical experts initially thought they were simply in error – but they were not.

My point is this: What is a “Carb-debt” when the body can apparently normalise to 0.2 mmol/L? Would it not be better to aim for this than feed a system (with carbs) that assumes 4 mmol/L minimum is “normal” and necessary?

Observation 2

During cycling competition I can maintain an anaerobic level for over 4 hours with much of this apparently “red-lining”. So if I’m now not actually burning carbs and burning ketones instead then is this actually correct to call this “anaerobic” in the sense of being 70% carb burning – which it now clearly is not?

Observation 3

At almost exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes into an event – no matter what I’ve been doing in terms of effort up to this point – there is an effect like a switch being thrown that brings a strong resurgence of energy. This doesn’t affect heart rate but it allows much more power to be accessed without a raise in average heart rate. So far once this has started it remains constant until the termination of the event – from two to three hours later. I have absolutely no idea why this happens – but I can almost set my watch by it because the timing is so precise.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bosses du 13, Marseilles 2014 (or–how to go from an XXL to M shirt size in three months!)

One of the main benefits of both fasting and a ketogenic life style is that it gets you from a size XXL jersey down to a size M in a matter of a few months! The size M even looks slightly baggy here! Today would be another test of ketosis over a long course of 166 km. The “Bosses du 13” (department 13) is a tough race with lots of climbing even though it takes place close to the Mediterranean sea. In the past I’d only attempted the middle distance of 134 km and always finished it suffering – so it was relatively scary going for the long course and on a very low carb diet.  Every time I put ketosis to a test like this I expect it to fail. One of the rules of this race is that a Voiture Balai (sweeper up van) would come along at an average 20 kph and eliminate anyone that it passed. With steep climbs totalling close to 3000m that might include me! I’ve had one close encounter with a friendly Voiture Balai in a smaller competition before but this one appeared to be particularly aggressive and needed to be avoided at all costs.

I arrived in Marseilles at the University “Campus de Luminy” on Saturday to register for the race. There is a large amount of secure parking area there so that makes an overnight sleep in the car the idea solution for this event. My eventing meal was just bought from a supermarket because I wanted to eat “high fat” and to avoid carbs as much as possible – which is not easy in a restaurant. Eating this way also left me a lot of time to relax and organise everything without stress – and to get to sleep very early for the anticipated 5:45 AM early morning rise. We needed to be at the start for 7:30 AM but although getting up at 5:45 seems like ample time it really isn’t!  There’s always a lot more to do for good preparation than expected. The night was mild – around 20°C – which made a relaxing change from the cooler temperatures of the Alps. This also made me decide to wear only one layer for the race and to not carry any additional clothing. During the eventing meal I ate lots of cream, cheese and nuts and in the morning I would eat a full breakfast cooked in coconut oil (for MCT –Medium Chain Triglyceride fats) and eat a good quantity of nuts. I had my coffee mug ready with its ground coffee inside and built-in filter – with a glass bottle supply of filtered tap water (to remove chlorine). I use our old stainless steel pans for this type of cooking as they are less toxic than aluminium camping pots – but not as good as iron – which would just be too heavy for on-the-go cooking in front of the car. It was still so dark that everything had to be done with a head-torch. One of my two extremely powerful Chinese head torches is still working after several years!  Careful eating didn’t prevent my ketosis (acetone) breathalyser from registering zero just before the race! This was slightly annoying because earlier in the week I’d been registering a very high level of ketosis and would have preferred it to remain this way for the race. I suspected a few dietary issues weren’t adding up too nicely regarding the proportion of carbs, despite strong efforts to avoid them as much as possible. The breath testing unit that I use isn’t designed for low levels of detection and a zero reading can represent anything from 0 up to 1.7 mmol/L of acetone (blood content) – with 0.5 mmol/L being already inside the Nutritional Ketosis range – so I was no doubt still well within ketosis (producing ketones from fat burning) and the large dose of MCT oils would ensure ketone production within the next few hours regardless. It would be over 3 hours into the race before I would attempt to eat anything so it was important to get this right.

Race Start

Before the race start I saw Jacques Matt who was entering the 134 km race but there was no sign of Chris who was cycling to the start from his hotel about 10 km away. I knew Chris would arrive either at the last minute possible or be late. It’s extremely difficult to juggle all the balls he keeps in the air – business, entire family with him and race demands – all simultaneously. Unfortunately the organisers here left no margin of tolerance as everyone had to be manually checked in at the start from the campus.  Despite the start being delayed there was still no sign of Chris. I had waited at the back of the hundreds of participants but couldn’t spot his distinctive Macot jersey anywhere. The 94 km race had its own separate start lane with about 1000 entrants and would start about 10 minutes later than us. The 134 km and 164 km (166 km in reality) started mixed together and the bifurcations for each separate course was at 58 km the 94 km peeling off to the left first and the 164 km peeling off to the right about 100 m further on. Plan-Bosses-2012

The start was in two parts – everyone just had to get going and ride downhill out of the campus for about 3 km and then along the main road for a bit to the “official” start at the foot of the Gineste climb. I decided to start my own timing from the moment I went through the campus gate – which would give me sensible kilometre readings. This was a good move because the organisers did the same – matching our times almost to the second – despite their claims of an official start 8 km away. I’d pause the counter at the stop for the official start – but that was only a 2 minute stop anyway – not even enough time for a last minute pee! (I then went through the entire race sort of wanting to pee but not quite getting there.) My intention was to hop up onto the pavement at this point and move right up towards the front – and sure enough Chris was right there in the middle of the bunch right up were I’d expect him to aim for. No point starting way at the back and missing all the advantages of a fast peloton! There are a lot of people start with “priority numbers” to try to claim this advantage – but asserting your way forward in confusing situations like this is much more efficient. I knew I wouldn’t see Chris again until after the race but it was good to know that he made it. While we were heading down the hill to the official start there were numerous individuals cycling as hard as they could uphill against us to try to get to the manually recorded start. Hopefully they were all signed in. The tolerance level of the race start combined with the vicious Voiture Balai makes for a less than friendly event for some.

When the race kicked off I could feel that not only was I not warmed up properly – but there was no “carb buzz” to help me over that and the legs didn’t feel strong. This is clearly partly an illusion (or I have lost a lot of muscle from fasting) because my heart rate was hitting 172 bpm within minutes and I even hit 176 bpm for the first time in three years. (So my max cycling heart rate has to go up from 174 bpm to 176 bpm). When Jacques Matt overtook me before the top of the climb I resisted any temptation to chase him – thinking of the long game and the fact that I was on a longer course with more climbing. It’s easy to blow up at the start by overdoing it. The problem here is that if you don’t move you don’t get in a fast peloton – and I was about to pay the price for that. Once over the initial 3 km climb there is a long faux-plat which is always hard work. I ended up isolated with one other guy. We automatically started to work hard together in rotations to catch up with a substantial peloton about 100 m ahead but no matter how hard 164we tried it was impossible. Close to the end of this stretch we were then swallowed up by another peloton coming from behind us – so all that work was simply wasted. You have to treat those things philosophically – it was all a very good workout!

From this point onwards I managed to keep a fairly steady heart rate of around 160 during climbing but my speed of climbing was steadily dropping. Despite a good cardiovascular effort the legs didn’t feel very strong. This is probably due to the muscles still at some level not being fully keto-adapted. When you first go into a ketogenic state the appropriate ketones produced are used by the brain and the muscles can’t make use of them. The more acetone that is detected in the breath then the more ketones of the right type are also supplied to the muscles. I’m not sure of the fine details of this process – but there again I’m not sure if anyone is. The tail off in speed can be seen during the first hour and twenty minutes of the graph below…

When speed picked up after 1 hr 20 mins as the gradient leveled off then a peloton started to form around me and grow – so when we hit the next small climb at about 1 hr 40 mins then we kept a good speed up this climb. It was at this point, going up that hill, that I heard a security motorbike coming up quite fast from behind. Nothing unusual with that – but as he went flying past there was a bunch of cyclists right behind him! The speed was unbelievable! This was clearly the lead group for the 94 km race which had caught us up just a bit before the course bifurcation. When we arrived at the first bifurcation it was announced by a man with a crappy Tannoy – in French numbers – which made him completely unintelligible. Fortunately the tiny road signs clarified the situation and I went straight on and so did the entire peloton. The next bifurcation was only a short distance ahead and this time it was a policeman on the Tannoy and luckily I did hear the words “Soixante Quattre” and “Droite” – but it didn’t sink in quickly and I couldn’t turn off anyway because I had a big peloton of about 30 individuals mostly on my right side all going at about 35 kph! I had to stop and wait for the group to pass then make a U turn. The entire peloton had continued and I was the only one to go on the long course! That felt pretty weird!  For the most part of the course then – over 100 km – it would turn out to be mainly a solo time trail. chart (1)I’m used to doing workouts like this anyway so that’s not a problem – but it felt a bit lonely nonetheless. Fortunately one or two guys were visible up ahead in the distance so it wasn’t a complete ejection from the race atmosphere and motivation. Those guys somehow seemed to be affected by this too because they had slowed down significantly – as if they had decided that the race was over. My momentum was still going strong here so I caught them up but eventually – on this longest climb of the day – it ground down to an eve slower pace than earlier in the morning. On the graph from about 2 hrs 10 mins to 2 hrs 50 mins the slow climbing pace can be seen as a continuation of the steady decline in speed from the very start of the day. The air temperature had been fine the whole way – slightly warm but chilly in places. By the time the first big climb was over 3 hrs into the race all my water was gone and I was getting thirsty. I knew there as a feeding station somewhere on the plateau at the top so kept an eye open for it. It was now about 3 hrs 10 mins into the race and I managed to eat the first small chunk of coconut just before the feeding station. Coconut is not easy to eat as it doesn’t dissolve in the mouth and if you breathe at all through the mouth you inhale the bits of coconut in your mouth and spend the next five minutes coughing them out. I could feel that I needed to eat but had no actual energy dip. My heart rate and effort level had remained very constant despite a very gradual slowing down in climb rate. The guys I’d caught up earlier on managed to overtake me again and disappear before the top of the big climb (Col de l’Espigoulier)– but I’d see them again at the feeding station. Given that my body now had a significant “carb debt” I knew that carbs could be consumed at the feeding station without impairing ketogenesis. I must have drunk about seven cups of fairly strongly concentrated Isostar while my water bottles were being filled by some kind helper. The carbs did seem to buck me up. When your body has a large carb debt during endurance exercise then eating some carbs will apparently not interfere with fat burning or ketone production within the body. Apparently you get the advantage of both fuels.

Our course now had a descent and a loop ahead before climbing back up to the same feeding station and the summit following that. The guys who had overtaken me were not strong descenders and as I felt quite lucid I was able to attack the descent quite strongly. One guy remained not far behind so at the bottom of the descent – realising that there was a fairly long faux-plât against the wind I waited for him to catch up to share the work. He gave a big smile as he caught up – fully appreciating the gesture. Drafting allowed us to keep up a high average speed for the next twenty minutes or so. From the bottom of the second big climb of the day, returning homewards from our loop I just signalled my thanks to the other guy and told him I’d slow down and take my own time on the climb. Off he went ahead and disappeared from view – catching a few others on the way. Although there weren’t many on this long course there were always one or two others visible.  One thing that struck me at the bottom of this climb was that my thinking was still clear and effortless. Normally, on a high carb diet, the brain is in a fog by this stage. When the 100 km distance was announced in my earpiece it was bang on 4 hours from the start. This meant that after 5 hours this is where the Voiture Balai would be. If I made it to the top of the big climb before 5 hours then I’d be safely on a long fast descent away from this dreaded van before it had even arrived at the start of the climb. It was important to have worked this out because I did not want to be declassified. After about 4 hrs 30 mins , before getting over the steep part of this climb something odd happened. On the Granfondo even in Les Deux Alpes the same thing happened – there suddenly seemed to be more energy and strength available – and so I accelerated – rapidly finding, catching and overtaking the other guys who had pulled away from me half an hour earlier. From this point onwards until the end of the race the shift in energy would remain constant.

For the final two hours of the course I would catch people and pull them along – against the wind - until eventually dropping them on climbs. Speed remained consistently higher than in the morning even on steeper climbs. I had taken more Isostar at the feeding station at the top of the big climb – but the acceleration had started before that. I also drank some more when we had to go through an obligatory control point at another feeding station later on. The main thing however was to avoid dehydration. Each time I drank Isostar when stopped and then just pure water on the bike. Altogether I managed to get about three pieces of coconut in my mouth – usually when actually feeling hungry. It was just too difficult to get the stuff out of a pocket and delivered to the mouth! On the final two kilometres of the big climb I’d spotted a guy about a kilometre ahead and could see that by staying on the big front chain-ring he was being  reeled in rapidly. He remained ahead when starting the descent but before long I’d caught him on the technical and tight descent. He then drafted behind me for the next 25 mins as I kept the power on going up more faux-plâts – until with no real drop in speed the gradient really started to ramp up. He was dropped there and then someone else came in sight – and he was swallowed up on the next climb.

The toughest part of both the 134 km and 164 km courses is the final hump back over the Gineste to the end. This section starts with a steep climb up from the resort of Cassis then tapers into a very long gradual climb –always against a strong wind. I felt great! I was catching one guy after another and only one managed to stay in my slipstream and get relief from the relentless headwind. He stayed with me right to the top and when he came alongside he made a point of thanking me for helping him up the climb. I had tired myself pushing against all the elements so just let him pull away on the descent back down to the university. The final 3 km is a gradual climb, finishing with a short steep climb right at the finish line. Slowly I started to reel the other guy in again and then coming around one bend there was a sudden strong headwind that had almost stopped the guy in his tracks again. This meant that I caught and overtook him just before the entrance to the university. Once through the gates it was a bit of a confusing maze of signs to follow to the finish line but I was determined to use what strength remained to stay ahead – crossing the line 5 seconds ahead of my immediate rival. Later on I’d hear from Chris that in a similar battle for the finish line he had been hit by cramp 100 metres from the line and had to get off his bike – losing about 10 places to a whole team that was behind him! Chris had an amazing result about one hour ahead of me. My official time was 6hrs 40mins for 166 km with close to 3000 m of climbing – and the horrible Voiture Balai was over an hour behind! Only 196 people were in the classifications with anyone under 20 kph eliminated. There is no figure given for the number of eliminations. 196 for such a well publicised course is a very small number. There were close to 1000 on the 94 km course and 400 on the 134 km course – but on a fine day like this those numbers are even quite small.


170th out of 196 classed (no figures give for DNFs) in 6hrs 40 mins. 166km. Chris came 76th one hour ahead – the long course being his usual choice at this event.


After the race I ate a small amount of crappy pasta at the race meal but mainly just ate the cheese off the top. Likewise I ate the apple from an apple pastry and then went for a coffee. I felt very, very physically tired from the enormous effort over the final two hours – but oddly this didn’t feel like an energy drop. Ketosis has enormously altered the range of sensations that accompany endurance exercise and I’m still in very unfamiliar but extremely interesting territory here. Before, when burning carbs as the primary fuel I’d have been destroyed at the end of a race like this – in fact I never even attempted the long course at Marseilles and always hated the final Gineste climb. The feeling of power, mental strength and clarity over the last two hours is completely alien to me – excluding other recent similar experiences with ketosis.

After spending a brief moment with Chris and family at lunch I headed straight off to the beach at Cassis to go for a swim. The beach has been destroyed in the past three years with more and more noisy beach bars being allowed to eat up space on the the tiny beach front. This must be due to corrupt officials because no reasonable people would allow this to happen. The parking is now paying and expensive – it was free the last time I was here – but I tried to put all that nonsense out of my head – changed into swimming gear after parking up and walked under the road (tunnel) straight onto the beach and into the water. The water was great – soothing and delicious to float in after such a monster effort on the bike. I swam for about 10 minutes but decided not to tempt fate because violent leg cramps can strike at any moment after a bike race and that could be a problem in the water. There is a lifeguard station on the beach – but I’d rather not put them to use.

My final acts in Cassis were to shower, dress and then sit down at a café across the road from the beach and buy a coffee and Magnum ice-cream. Then I started to feel both recovered and good. My BAC was back up to 0.02% (above the legal driving limit if it was ethanol!) so my body was now strongly back into ketosis – despite any carbs that may have been consumed. At this point I was able to call Christiane and let her know that all was well and that I’d drive home (500 km) that night rather than hang around Marseilles. That way the Monday traffic would be avoided and I’d not have to waste a whole day driving. When I’d raced on carbs before I was not capable of driving that distance home afterwards simply due to overwhelming tiredness – even from the medium course!

View of Cassis Port

View of the little pebble-stoned beach being overrun by stupid, noisy beach bars.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Grimpée du Semnoz (vélo) 2014 (10th edition). Final Ketosis Experiment.

This event was shaping up to be the ultimate test for ketosis – a “make or break” situation. The race is simply 14 km as hard as possible uphill – with roughly 1km vertical - organised by the Vélo Club Annecy (Founded 1888). For once at least the weather was good – last year had been a torrential downpour. Often the dates conflict with the Marsielles “Bosses du 13” but this year they were apart.

Semnoz is the long wedge of a hill in the far distance - middle of the image – climbing from the far end of the lake - right to left with the summit in the clouds.

5 years ago I set my best ever time of 57 mins 25 secs and had the surprise of an average heart rate of 167 bpm sustained over this period. It’s a surprise because my maximum heart rate on the bike was just 176 bpm at that time (tested physically – no formulas used) and that meant 95% max had been sustained. The British Cycling coaches and Sky Team currently define 94% and above as “maxing out” and so only sustainable for a very short burst – however they do say that pros can sustain over 94% effort – so it’s not so unusual.  This was the one and only time ever that I’d averaged within this heart rate zone for any sustained period. The effort was so violent that I had a post exercise asthma attack immediately after stopping when crossing the finish line. The physical pain of such an effort etches itself into your brain with each and every corner and change of gradient of the road – so that when you travel that road again it replays like an old record in your head.

Views from  the Semnoz



During the week my preparation had been a long hard ride on the Thursday covering 120 km and 2800 m climbing. The trip went clockwise around the Tarantaise valleys from Aime to Albertville then climbed up to Beaufort and the scary “Col du Pré” – which is one of those endless 11% gradient climbs (11 km). This would entail about 6 hours of cycling (not counting stops) but from the moment I started pedalling it was clear there was no power in the legs. Dealing with headwinds and hills when the legs feel empty is quite a challenge. It appeared that the problem was being caused by ketosis – or rather the body struggling to adapt properly to ketosis. My diet which was by now almost completely free of carbohydrates and other insulin stimulating factors appeared to be leaving me fundamentally short of strength. I qualify this carefully because it wasn’t an “energy dip” as happens with insulin spikes and crashes – it actually felt like there was not much power in the legs. My head felt fine and the answer was to drop down a gear and just use less force on the pedals – but also pedal at a higher cadence. This of course only really becomes a bit of a problem at 11% gradients when there isn’t a small enough gear ratio left to step down to. I made a stop at Beaufort village to refill the water bottles but also drank a fresh orange juice. Drinks containing sugar are permitted when in ketosis once you have exercised hard for a few hours and have built up a “carb debt” in the body. This was just prior to the Col du Pré climb and just that one drink made a significant difference as I’d been starting to struggle to stay motivated and focused. Just over the top of the Col du Pré 90 minute climb is another café and so I stopped there and repeated this exercise with an apple juice. This drink would help to resist the cold as the sun was hiding behind clouds and it would see me up to the top of the Cormet de Roselend at 2000m altitude. I didn’t have time to hang around due to the sun going down so it was non-stop the rest of the way – arriving home at 7:58pm, exactly the moment the street lights switched on. By this time I was now pretty convinced that ketosis (or poor adaptation) was leaving me pretty weak at times – but something didn’t quite add up!

Sky when crossing the Cormet de Roselend

One week earlier I’d cycled up the Galibier with Chris and friends in a ketosis state and had felt even stronger than usual – but I’d gone through the same tiredness during the week before that too. It suddenly dawned on me that the tiredness was perhaps not due to ketosis but to intermittent fasting. This was obvious because the evening before the Galibier I stopped the fasting to make sure I was eating enough. On the days I’d done training rides on each occasion I’d been fasting until lunch time from around 8pm the evening before. Fasting for more than one whole day – when exercise is continued – leads to a general fatigue but it hadn’t dawned on me that consistent intermittent fasting could have a similar effect – but only actually noticeable when exercising. On each occasion during training for both running and cycling everything felt great until starting the workout – where it would be discovered that there was no strength. With running however I could get up to fast sprint intervals or a consistent fast pace after about a 20 minute warm up. Running can be influenced enormously by technique though – which once again masks certain issues here -  whereas cycling needs leg strength.

Taking everything into consideration the plan was to remain fully in ketosis for the Semnoz climb but to ensure enough calories were consumed both the evening before and in the morning a couple of hours before the race. No carbohydrates would be used. This felt like a very scary proposition considering how brutal the race is and that any effort above or including “upper aerobic” level (zone 4) is supposed to be fuelled at least 70% directly by glucose. My expectations were that it was going to be a disaster and that I’d either be last or abandon in disgust. I anticipated my legs just not working right from the start. The experiment had to be done though – it’s the only way to learn.

Here is a table of recently revised heart rate performance zones from authorities on bike training such as the coaches of British Cycling and the Sky racing team, which now use different heart rate percentages (from crude standard steps of 10%) to determine their training zones.  They consider that these percentages more closely relate to when and where physiological changes are actually occurring during exercise.

These revised zones are:
  Zone 1,  60 / 65%  Easy Ride/Recovery
  Zone 2,  65 / 75%  Fat Burning
  Zone 3,  75 / 82%  Lower Aerobic
  Zone 4,  82 / 89%  Upper Aerobic (Threshold)
  Zone 5,  89 / 94%  Anaerobic
  Zone 6,  94%+        Maximal

Having parked up for the night just about 50 metres from the start line and next to the Semnoz camp site I was set for a very peaceful sleep and a relaxed preparation in the morning. Along with a cooked breakfast on a camping stove I had some special ketone supplements (pictured below). The chocolate and coconut “fat bombs” were made principally with coconut oil which is especially rich in MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) which convert directly into ketones for fuel in the body. I couldn’t eat carbs but at least I could add ketones to those my body might or might not be producing. The ketones would be produced from the MCT oils and be made available directly from the liver as the most preferred fuel for both the brain and the heart.

Prior to the actual race I had a very brief warm up along with Chris and true to expectations the legs took a moment or two to get going. There was definitely no “carb buzz” and when pushing hard on the pedals it felt more like the legs might seize up rather than loosen up.  Chris was planning to use his power meter but ran into technical difficulties when his batteries ran out before the start. His plan however was to save energy by pacing the start and then to finish strongly over the last three kilometres. As for me there was no plan other than to avoid carbs and hope for the best. The race begins with a mass start and I made sure not to be at the front so as not to be flattened as everyone overtook!

The rest of the race was a bit of a shock and surprise. Despite the initial reluctance of the legs to work I quickly settled into a rhythm about 50 metres behind Chris and then kept him well in sight for the next 9 kilometres – catching up more people than were catching me. This was not what I expected. Since committing to a proper ketogenic diet almost a month earlier my heart rate had never managed to climb above 165 bpm on any occasion and I was beginning to believe that this is how it would be with ketosis. I had one earphone in to hear my heart rate information and very shortly after the start the voice said “170 beats per minute!”. OK, well that was a surprise – especially as I was not breathing anything like as hard as that would normally entail. I used the lesson learned from accompanying Chris up the Galibier when he was using his power meter (and Chris Froome on the Vuelta!) and so when arriving on flat sections kept up the power and accelerated – this being where most time is gained. One guy spotted this and used me for drafting – then each time I had to slow down for the next climb he would shoot off ahead leaving me behind – which was a bit annoying to say the least. Eventually I’d had enough of this cyclist from the Pringy club (they always beat me anyway!) and so on the next flat bit I crossed over to the other side of the road and sprinted away – heart rate going up to 172 bpm on the flats. My maximum recorded heart rate in the past few years has been 174 bpm. Only in the last kilometre of the race was I overtaken by two guys who I’d previously overtaken a few kilometres earlier. The Pringy club guy fortunately never caught up again. In the end my accurate time was 58:53 (officially recorded as 58:57) so it was only around 90 seconds off my record from 5 years earlier. My average heart rate was 166 bpm – this being 95.4% max!!!!!! Overall I came 45th out of 74 starters “scratch-classement” and 8th in age category out of 22 aged 50 or over. Most importantly I felt much better during the event than I’d ever felt on any previous occasion. There was no post exercise asthma. This is only the second time ever that I’ve had a sustained heart rate as high as this – and when in full ketosis this time – completely contrary to everything that was expected.

Chris managed to end up with an photo but apparently I was too fast for the camera…
















After the race I drank some orange juice and ate a little cheese – but couldn’t face too much food at the reception. Chris and I then headed off for a 70km tour taking us around Lake Annecy and over the Col du Forclaz which is much more vicious than the Semnoz – with most of its 9km at between 10% to 11% and with some ridiculously steep parts. It was also hot by this time and I was running purely on ketones as I had no sugar. There was no energy dip – but my leg fitness was being stretched to the limit with only 3000 km of training this year. At the top of the monster Forclaz – 2  hours after leaving Semnoz - it was a stunning view and we found a very friendly café where I indulged in extremely inappropriate eating – with a cheese and egg filled crèpe, ice cream, fruit drink and a coffee. Chris had exactly the same as me but insisted on paying for everything. After a relaxing meal we then climbed up the road even higher to the paragliding take off zone – going up 18% gradients! The following view is from there as is the view of Semnoz at the very top of this post…

Annecy is on the left of the above image just at the other side of the lake and it was fast and downhill most of the way there (helped by Chris pulling from the front of course!) The lunch break set us up with plenty of energy to fight with the horribly aggressive motorists in overcrowded Annecy and that rounded off a perfect day. When I got home I checked my ketosis level on a digital breathalyser unit and found it to be very high at 0.03% BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) – which would put me in jail for driving in France if the device was detecting ethanol (alcohol) instead of acetone in my breath (from ketones). At night I was still at 0.03% BAC and next morning the same. Only after a late lunch on Monday did ketosis go down to 0.02% BAC. This proves Dr Attia’s observations that when a carb debt is generated during exercise you can eat carbs without coming out of ketosis. Phinney however warns people never to deviate from a strict ketosis diet because once carbs are eaten it takes one or two weeks to get back into ketosis. Phinney must be referring to sedentary people though. Attia is definitely referring to sports and recommends supplementing with carbs during sport – but usually not for the first two hours. I can certainly now tell when I’ve not eaten enough but there are no energy crashes comparable to those produced by carbs and insulin spikes – and there is no bonking. The mental state remains strong even when low on food and there are no headaches or any other physical complaints other than lack of strength when calorie intake is too low.

This last test has proven to me categorically that Attia, Volek and Phinney are correct. There was nothing vague about the very surprising outcome.

(An acetone level of 1 mg/dL is 0.172 mmol/L and 10mg/dL = 0.1g/L = 0.01% BAC)

0.01% BAC = 1.72 mmol/l
0.02% BAC = 3.44 mmol/l

0.03% BAC = 5.16 mmol/l

0.04% BAC = 6.88 mmol/l

0.05% BAC = 8.60 mmol/l

From Volek and Phinney:

Nutritional ketosis begins at 0.5 mmol/l and up to 3 mmol/l

Post exercise Ketosis is around 2.5 to 3 mmol/l

Starvation (Fasting) ketosis is 3 to around 10 mmol/l

A good guide seems to be that if your objective is to lose weight you are aiming for 3.5 mmol/L or over but for most purposes and most benefits between 0.5 and 3.0 is ideal.

Apparently I didn’t escape the camera after all…

P1080549   P1080485


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

La Rosière Training. Ketosis Breathalyser Tested!

The first training ride after a hard ride or event is always a “recovery ride” – whether you want it to be or not. Chris keeps pointing out that “active recovery” is required to get circulation going for repairs – so it’s better to get straight back out on the bike for an easy session than to rest up completely. For me it’s early getting back on the bike with only one day’s rest! Although I felt keen there was no strength in the legs and I could feel that this was made worse by the ketosis. Once warmed up I could keep a reasonable pace despite the tiredness and lack of sugar driven energy.  It was hard work though – mentally more than physically. Unfortunately I’d chosen a 22 km climb up to La Rosière for an “easy” recovery session.

My 9 € digital breathalyser arrived from China today  I tried it before lunch and was pleasantly surprised. If the police used the same technology I'd be arrested for drunk driving in every country in Europe except the UK. My reading was 0.5 g/l or 0.05% BAC(Blood  Alcohol Concentration). Only in the UK is the legal limit above that at 0.08%.  In other terms this is measured in mmol/l which is equivalent to  g/l. Between 0.5 mmol/l and 3 mmol/l is the level required to be considered in "nutritional ketosis".

Semiconductor based breathalyser units can't distinguish between acetone and ethanol (alcohol).

Now I'm pretty sure that I'm in ketosis. What will be important is to watch the trend - whether or not there is accuracy is irrelevant to some extent - precision in following trends is more important - as when weighing oneself on the bathroom scales.

The system can be fooled if someone is eating a lot of carbs because that also causes a release of acetone in the breath - but you know if you are eating carbs or not. Also, an athlete can burn all his ketones and measure very low as a result - so that has to be considered too - but is not likely to be an issue pre-exercise. Also – anything causing increased breathing can probably affect it. Shame I don’t drink alcohol because I could train myself to fool police breathalysers.

After this  2 hour session I was very tired and fell asleep early – getting up still dopy in the morning. One coffee and the world was new and shiny once again!

View from La Rosière along the Tarantaise valley towards Les Menuires / Val Thorens


Views towards Les Cinq Lacs