Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Lessons from the Ultimate

The GrapeRide Ultimate was a big step for me.  The 640 km Taupo Maxi Enduro will be yet another step up.  What are the lessons from the Ultimate that can help me successfully complete the Maxi?

Fuel.  Good fuelling has always been on the top of my list of what is needed to reach the finish line.  It was foremost in my mind during the Ultimate, but successfully so only for the first 3-4 laps.  After that, fuel intake fell, which was probably the main contributor to my drop in performance.  One reason for the reduction may have been that I was taking longer to complete the laps but still only taking 4 bottles of Perpeteum.  Another was the difficulty of drinking when physically exhausted and also feeling slightly nauseous and getting sick of the taste.  I really need to crack this problem if I’m going to finish the Maxi.  I’ll stick with Perpeteum, as I think that it definitely meets the food requirements of an endurance athlete.  Two suggestions of Colin Anderson are worth considering – keep it chilled and, as the laps mount, add Gel to it.  The latter will help with flavour and will keep the carb intake up when I begin struggling.  I’ve got to get this right!

Emotional exhaustion.  This one really took me by surprise.  My sudden weeping and unplanned sleep only 50 km from the end cost me 30-40 minutes, maybe even longer.  It wasn’t a failure in will power; I was in a state of exhaustion and just went with the flow without even thinking.  I don’t think that this will be such an issue again, as I now know what to look out for.  This doesn’t mean that I won’t have emotional downs, especially as I continue to increase my distances.  Many endurance cyclists talk about crying.  It just means that I will be conscious of it and not allow it to divert me from my game plan without me realising it.  I've got to watch out for this though!

Pain.  Pain is inevitable with such long rides and has the potential of considerably reducing performance.  I need to develop ways of reducing the extent of its onset and managing to deal with it when it comes.  I was actually very lucky during the Ultimate.  The only pain I was aware of was very sore arms.  This probably slowed my pace by distracting me, making my style less smooth, and forcing me into less efficient riding positions.  The key thing here is for me to continue working on improving my style so as not to use my arms as much.  I would also like to include pain management more in my training rides, such as continuing to ride at pace despite burning legs and, while doing so, focussing on keeping my mind above it all and on retaining that smooth riding style.

It was not until after the Ultimate that I was aware of other sources of pain – acutely sore knees, painful hamstrings, and bruised and burnt bum (although thankfully no broken skin).  But, for one reason or another, they did not bother me on the ride.  Thank goodness!  For the Maxi, I’ll continue to watch my style, especially in sheltering my knees from unnecessary stress.  I’ll also wash myself and change my pants at the half way mark, so as to reduce the chance of infection and to change (hopefully) the areas of pressure.

Resting.  I’m not sure about this one.  I didn’t plan any rest in the Ultimate, and it wasn’t until the 340 km mark that I started having the odd one.  My theory is that what makes or breaks endurance races is the time off the saddle; i.e. the less the better.  However, it is also possible that a short rest may make a difference and actually recharge flagging physical and emotional energies.  The trick is to know the correct balance.  The rests that I remember taking at the Ultimate were at the 340 km, 370 km, 400 km, 440 km and (the long) 450 km points.  I suspect that I should not have taken the first three of these and that the last one, if taken at all, should have been later and a lot shorter.  It will probably only be experience that will teach me what is best.

Sleep.  Sleep was just not an issue at all, at least not to the extent that I had feared.  Sure, I fell asleep for a short spell 50 km from the end, but this was more a side product of emotional exhaustion than anything else.  Excitement, drive and the sense of urgency that comes with racing may have helped.  Meeting Helen every now and then may have also helped.  I also suspect that a key part may be that Perpeteum has caffeine in it.  Will sleep be a problem in the Maxi?  I don’t know, but plan to ride it without sleep.  I imagine that there will be a great temptation to sleep on the last leg, especially because of absolute physical tiredness, but this probably needs to be resisted.

Sense of urgency.  Don’t stop; keep the legs going; don’t rest; don’t waste time; keep moving forward!  I found keeping the sense that the thing is a race and that no time should be wasted to be crucial.  This is especially so for such a long race.  That energy and sense of urgency should never flag!  I felt that I did this very well in the Ultimate, but obviously there is room for improvement for the latter part of the race.

Fitness.  Surprisingly, my level of fitness was adequate for the Ultimate.  Not bad for only one bike ride and two 40 minute spin sessions a week.  I managed to not only keep up with but also to pull my weight in the bunch for the fast 40 km that there was a bunch.  I also managed to keep a good speed for 350 km before I started to flag.  Following the above mentioned strategies should enable me to do considerably better on my next Ultimate, even without doing more training.  However, the Maxi is another beast altogether.  I will definitely need to up my training if I’m going to complete it.  My main change will be more hours on a bike.  This will be through adding a group ride on Sunday morning and one or two nights doing 2 hour rides during the week (with the latter replacing the 40 minute spins).  The short, hard spurts of riding involved in group riding will be a useful addition to my fitness training and I will include interval training in the night rides.  Recovery will need to be a vital part in all this, as well as keeping up the fun levels and making sure that I don’t get stale and lose energy and commitment.

Cramp.  Cramp was an issue with the Ultimate and also with my last Enduro.  The hard work with both would have been one reason.  But I probably was not taking enough electrolytes to replace what I was losing.  Easily dealt with!

Final comment.  While the first laps will be important in setting me up for the final lap, it is that final lap that will be the make-or-break one.  It is the one that should  be the focus of my training efforts.  All of the above points will be important if I am to complete it and do so with a good time.  I need to keep the fuel up.  I need to keep up that focus, that sense of urgency and desire to compete!  I've got to watch out for the traps of sleep deprivation and emotional tricks.  Most of all, I've got to manage pain and basically tough it out.  In the end, it will be a case of HTFU (i.e. Cycling Rule No. 5)!

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