100% Keto Racing
Today was going to be my first pure ketogenic race – with no carbohydrate drinks or any food at all for that matter during the event – only plain water. Having participated in the 2013 version of the event (Les Trois Cols), at which time I was obliviously addicted to carbohydrates, there would be a great opportunity for comparison.
True to form, with Chris as a companion there was a significant amount of stress in the build up to the race. Now that I know to expect this it’s much easier to ignore. The evening before we arrived at the race registration building at 7:57pm just 3 minutes before closure when they were packing up and just managed to get our timing chips and numbers for the race in the morning. At least this spared us the horrible queuing process in the morning – which was just as well because despite a relatively late morning start (9am) we were about to end up at the sharp end of the stress zone again as usual. Chris had a couple of plastic bottles with glucose liquid in his pocket and shortly after starting the drive from the hotel to the race start he felt the liquid leaking through his clothing. Nothing is more distracting when driving than goop flowing through your clothing and all over the seat so this then provoked the missing of a turn off and getting lost. My Sony Z1 telephone GPS came to the rescue rapidly as the car GPS system was not so great and we made it there with 5 minutes to spare after getting the bikes ready. Chris was on the long 150km course and I was on the short 100km course and the long course start was 15 minutes earlier at 8:45am. Once Chris was gone I decided to make use of a handy public toilet right there on location. It was one of those awkward “hole in the ground” French jobs that you can’t easily squat on with cleated shoes. (Even worse with ski boots on!) I needed to go because I was having an attack of the “runs” and so this was a great opportunity to deal with it. Cycling bibs require you to remove your shirt and in this case place it on the ground – near the door entrance. Half way through the operation the lights went out completely and I couldn’t find the switch. I probably even missed the target not being used to squatting. Before opening the door I pushed the button for the water to clean the toilet but it came out explosively and soaked my feet even though I was standing already at a distance. The flood surged forwards and I just managed to grab the shirt and telephone before they were soaked – only my right foot being drenched. Finally getting out of that room I was glad to see that everything was still clean and more or less intact. I’d not have thought it was possible to have any more stress after Chris had gone but somehow it was just continuing. Next thing is that my ANT+ cardio system seemed to be picking up everybody else’s signal instead of mine – so my heart reading was not displaying the same on the telephone app as it was on my watch (Mio Fuse Optical wrist HRM). It seemed to dump the signal from the Fuse and take the signal from whoever else was closest. Still, it was too close to the start of the race to mess with anything. ANT+ is not supposed to do this. I could have switched to Bluetooth 4.0 but that could have brought another set of problems so I didn’t bother even trying. In the end I only forgot two relatively minor things – sunscreen and anti-friction cream for the bottom. I had two full water bottles – with just plain water - and this turned out to be perfect for the 100km permitting me to go to the end without stopping.
The 100km course had two main climbs the first of which would be timed. Overall climbing was claimed to be around 1700m. The mountains to the South West of Lyon (Le Tour de Salvagny) are considered “middle mountains”. They aren’t as high or steep as the Alps and the altitude in general is lower with the temperature higher. The course was changed from the 88km course two years before but the new course is a better distance and with more climbing as it used to be only 1300m.
The start of a race is always tough. You always think that if you start near the front it will help – but catching up with them by slipstreaming others fighting their way forwards is probably no more difficult than just trying to hold on with the guys up front anyway. Those races always start out full bore – probably with a bunch of dopers in front. My start was a bit slow as I was quite far back in the crowd due to the distractions that had been occupying my attention up until that point. When we got going I started my own clock on the start line and then set about catching up.
Ever since going ketogenic I’ve missed the “carb buzz” that carb loading had provided at the start of any race. Basically the carb buzz appears to let you start off strongly without even warming up. Today the lack of a warm up was really evident as the legs just felt like they were partially seizing up. This feeling is now normal for me as it happens in every training session. Perhaps some people are like this even when loaded up with carbs but I never used to feel any need for a warm up before. Prior to the race I’d managed 19 consecutive days of training alternating daily between running and cycling. The entire time I’d felt tired during training – though once in running there was a fast and strong performance. There had been one or two strong cycling days too but most training was in a slightly fatigued state. I’d chosen to have a rest day on the 20th day – the day before the race. Already by evening of that day the legs were starting to feel like they had some strength so it seemed that the actual race might not be the total nightmare I was anticipating.
In the event it only took ten minutes or so for the legs to be warmed up and for my heart rate to be in the anaerobic zone (160+ bpm). That just doesn’t happen unless you are properly recovered and ready. The first 31km would just be a non stop battle of catching up and trying to hold on to a fast group. This included the first timed climb which I managed in 21’23” and came 33rd in age category out of 78. There was a constant problem caused by catching up with the group just as one or two were dropping off the back. I’d then be stuck with the guys falling off the back and have to begin the solo struggle all over again – or just ignore them completely and continue alone. Eventually the group whittled down to nine and then five. The final five were flying and I went with them for the next 20km – never going in front. There were two riders in front of me who were terrible at cornering – a guy and an girl. They would slow down on the bend and then sprint to catch up with the others. Constant accelerations were killing me so in the end I had to force past them to ensure a better line and less loss of speed.
When we arrived at the second of the two main climbs I was a bit shocked to find myself dropping all of the others. Normally it’s the complete opposite and I’m the one who is dropped. This turn of events was completely unexpected. However, just before the end of the climb there was a brief plateau and descent and the others caught me up – my strength beginning to fade now. There was no “energy” crisis and I wasn’t hungry but physical tiredness was creeping in and the power to stay with the others was waning. The difference wasn’t great but when they took about 100m on me during the last bit of the climb I couldn’t recover the gap. From then on until the end this would be my mode – a reduced power setting. The body wasn’t doing this to conserve fuel or tyres as in Formula One but to conserve some physical homeostasis that can probably be best related to a lack of training and mileage. In total I've only accumulated 1067km on the bike this year and 380km running. What saves me is that most of the cycling has been on climbs.
From then on there was a small collection of individuals who seemed to come and go around me. Each had a strong point and weakness. Some were light and so good climbers and others would struggle on the climbs or descents and then be strong on the flats. The net result was that most of the time there was somebody either in front of me for slipstreaming or someone behind getting a much needed tow.
About 8km from the end there was a sharp turn with a sign saying 14% gradient. This would destroy anyone who didn’t have a decent climbing gear ratio available (as was the case for Chris!). The climb was not terribly long in real terms though it felt interminable as most torture probably does. That climb didn’t do me a lot of favours and then I started to lose some of the guys around me as they pulled ahead. Then around 4km from the end I came around a tight corner to the sight of a whole bunch of guys stuck at a closed level railway crossing. Fortunately I was only cornered there for a minute but they had been held up long enough for me to catch up and there were not many people directly behind me for them to be able to catch up too. I certainly came out of that glitch well and had recovered enough with the minute long break to be able to go ahead and stay ahead of most of them all the way to the end. There was nobody chasing me to the finish line.
2013 88k, 1300m climb, 3hrs 20’, 26.4 kph, Hr Avg 158, Max 174, GC 209 / 251, Age cat 37 / 55
2015 99k, 1700m climb, 3hrs 34’, 27.8 kph, Hr Avg 159, Max 183, GC 258 / 382, Age cat 41 / 78
5.5% Speed increase.
17% General Category improvement.
15% Age Category improvement.
There are so many factors involved in racing that it’s almost impossible to draw any accurate conclusions. The main interest here was whether or not the long term ketogenic diet was having a positive effect or not. Well, a 5.5% increase in speed is very significant. It’s for certain that if all the signs were towards poorer results it would be the ketosis that would automatically receive the blame – so it might as well in this case receive the credit.
My only consumption during the race was plain tap water – with two 600ml bottles. There was no need to stop for refills despite temperatures up to 25°C in the sun. Breakfast at 7am had been a high fat ketogenic meal and nothing was eaten during the race or post race (until 6pm). There was no hunger or energy dip experienced.
My ketosis level before the race was a BAC (body acetone concentration) of 0.04%. After the race for 3 days this went up to 0.05%.
There were no cramps, leg pains, abdominal discomforts, bottom irritation, back pains, neck/shoulder pains or any of the usual problems that can arise during a long race.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference for me was a constant positive state of mind throughout the race. There were no dips in morale and it was all enjoyable and competitive. There were a few moments of shared teamwork with strangers and a great atmosphere altogether.
Long term ketosis isn’t only a dietary state – it’s an epigenetic mode. The aim is to modify the external environment – food supply, exercise circadian cycles and temperature – so as to influence the cellular environment (hence altering hormones). In response to the cellular environment changes there is an alteration of the DNA molecule. DNA code doesn’t change – it isn’t re-written! The code is simply interpreted differently – some genes being switched off and other switched on. This switching alters the state of the DNA molecule. Some foods manage to do this very rapidly – such as coffee! Coffee causes a cascade of events resulting in a massive production of the body’s own antioxidants. The upshot is that when in long term cold adapted ketosis you feel like you are in a different body – especially if you are previously used to carbohydrates and addicted to the energetic “buzz”. Getting used to this new system is not necessarily easy (even after adaptation). Most of the apparent performance benefits of ketosis are not immediately obvious. High carb comfort eating is also paralleled by high carb comfort sports performance – giving the illusion of fitness while simultaneously leading the body towards rapid degeneration. Ease off on the exercise and stay with the carbs addiction and you end up like Maradona with half your stomach being cut out to control your weight. There’s plenty of well paid doctors around willing to cut you apart – rather than just tell you the obvious – to dump the sugar and wheat.
If there is an apparent absence of elite medal winners in ketosis it’s perhaps due to two things. First of all the ketogenic athlete probably won’t be doping. Secondly the vast pool of athletes from which natural selection is taking place is vastly inclined towards selection from the sugar consuming population. Those with real talent in a ketogenic state may simply remain completely hidden and they may never even know it.
Last year due to misleading information – particularly on the part of Dr Fuhrman and other “low fat” vegan medical protagonists – I lost a lot of excess body weight through fasting each week and then returning to a low fat/high carb diet. This meant my body was never in ketosis. Ketosis is a natural antioxidant state wich protects the heart and major organs while at the same time protecting muscle from wasting in a fasting state. During the summer last year I lost 30lb in weight but saw absolutely no performance improvement in cycling – even for climbing. Weight loss in the low fat/high carb mode is a complete disaster. Had I remained with this disturbingly difficult diet on a restricted caloric level afterwards not only would it have been seriously difficult I would have given up for sure and due to all the muscle loss all the fat would have returned but very little muscle. Fortunately I became wise to this nonsense (which I now believe is a deliberate misguidance) and found out about ketosis. Over the winter ketosis prevented any more muscle wastage, allowed excellent dietary and weight control without caloric restriction, suffering or more muscle loss. Now that Spring is here and Summer is arriving it appears possible to properly rebuild the muscle lost last year – without all the fat reappearing. I may even fast on occasion but when in a fully adapted ketogenic state – to protect muscle tissue. When training I’m noticing that I have an impulse to train every day – even when a bit tired. Science shows that training in a fatigued state is every bit as beneficial for final performance as training in a fully recovered state. When on carbohydrates I felt forced to take at least two rest days per week. After this race the following day it was snowing and miserable but I had no great trouble getting out for a 10k run. The run wasn’t fast but the legs felt good. Next day on the bike – same thing! The legs, body and morale felt great – even though in recovery mode it was still impossible to raise the heart rate. Even on the third day, when running felt better, heart rate was still relatively low. It should take about 4 days for recovery from a hard race anyway – but it’s nice to be able to exercise your way through this period. (4th day I did manage to get back up to 160 bpm on the bike)