Friday, 14 March 2014

Pre-race simulation ride, March 2014

Less than 4 weeks to the Graperide and my coach (Jay Waters) had a 400 km simulation ride on the training programme.  The idea was to simulate race conditions, especially in regard to nutrition.  I was also going to use it to give one of my two Graperide support teams (Iain and Brent) their first experience in such a role.

I’ll give a brief account of the ride itself, which was a really scenic one, then get on to describing the main lessons learnt.

In case you didn't realize!
(Thanks Brent for this and the other photos)

The ride

I had the alarm on for 2:30am for a 3:00am departure, but woke up early and left at 2:35am.  There was no sense in the crew getting up this early, so they were going to join me around 7:00am.  The route was: 40 km up the No.1 highway to just before Levin, then turning off and cycling 50 km to the outskirts of Palmerston North, where I would go up and over the Pahiatua Track to Pahiatua, a further 25km.  It was then 50 km up to Dannevirke, taking the country roads as much as I could.  After that, the route was truly country, sweeping eastwards then south, going through the small villages of Pohanga and Alfreton before coming out at Masterton after a further 150 km and some 315 km from the start, then through to Martinborough and doing whatever extra would take me up to the full 400km.  (Having just used Map My Ride to measure the distances, I see that I only managed 385 km!  Hopefully it short-changed me.)

The ride to Palmerston North was uneventful to the point of being tedious.  A light cloud cover meant no moon or stars, the route was pretty flat, and I had done it before.  This, combined with the early hour and odd physical niggle, meant that I had to focus on keeping negative thoughts at bay.  A slight diversion was provided on the outskirts of Palmerston North, when I passed about 10-12 cyclists coming the other way, all lit up brightly with their lights.  No doubt some event was on, but I still don’t know what.

The day’s first light began to make a hint of an appearance as I hit the beginning of the Pahiatua Track.  I’ve never done this climb before, so was somewhat worried about it, but it proved to be no problem.  I would love to do it in the daylight some time.  It was too dark to see much at the start, although I was aware of the lovely smell of pine as I continued to climb.  It slowly got lighter and I could see more.  About three quarters of the way up, Iain and Brent passed me, a wee bit earlier than expected.  We exchanged a brief greeting at the top, agreeing to meet in about 30 minutes time.  I don’t like stopping at hill-tops, as I get really cold on descents.

By now it was day-light and I could enjoy the marvellous countryside of the Wairarapa.  When I’m on these sorts of rides, I tend to be in race mode, focusing on efficient riding and keeping my speed as high as I can sustain.  Views tend to be peripheral to my attention, but I try and force myself to take the odd moment to look around and take it in.  For the moment it was dairy country, but when we turned eastwards from Dannevirke, we would be travelling through hillier sheep country.

Just past Pahiatua, the support car came up and I stopped.  I didn’t waste time, quickly taking off my night gear, lights, and discarding the now surplus water-bottles and extra equipment I was carrying.  We’d have a more substantial stop at Dannevirke, where I’d get some more Perpeteum (liquid food) and have more of a chat with the crew.  As it was, I had about 15 minutes wait in Dannevirke before the crew turned up.  They’d stopped for breakfast in Wellsford, but then under-estimated my progress and not been able to find me.  With the wonders of cell-phone technology, they eventually worked out where I was.  It’s flattering being under-estimated.  Indeed, the crew continued to be surprised at the fast pace I kept through most of the ride.  Very motivating for me!

At Danneverke - consulting with the route-meister
I didn’t rush the Dannevirke stop, as it was important to have some down-time with Iain and Brent.  But then I was off again, with the crew meeting me every 45-60 minutes for bottle changes.  Every few hours, I would stop for some food (creamed rice or jelly & peaches) and there were a couple of times where I just sat for around 2-3 minutes totally relaxing body and mind – quite invigorating!

This was a lovely piece of countryside and was the main part of the ride.  It was quite hilly in parts, but I just adjusted my pace accordingly.  The only nasty thing was the wind, which was against me a lot of the time.  The other noteworthy event was coming across the randonneurs.  They were doing a 400km unsupported ride around the Wairarapa, leaving Martinborough at 5am.  The first one who passed me coming the other way was Jeremy Rowe, a tall, strong and very fit, friendly guy in his mid-twenties.  He was really gunning it and eventually finished the course in 15 hours 40 minutes.  It must have been about an hour or more before the next two passed me, with the remaining six being similarly spread out.  I had previously raced with two of the randonneurs – Tim O’Brien and Craig McGregor – and it was good to stop and have a chat with them.  Randonneuring is definitely something I want to get more into.

Chatting with Craig McGregor, President of the Kiwi Randonneurs.
Look at Iain conscientiously checking my bike out while I'm just slacking around!
Once at Alfreton, I turned away from the wind and the going got a lot easier.  At last it was the town of Masterton.  Iain and Brent stopped at a shop to restock water and food and I enjoyed the jelly-tip they got me.  The last leg of the ride was a mixed bag.  Conditions were definitely lovely, with the wind having mostly died down and a beautiful dusk and night descending.  However, being so close to the end, I slipped up on my food intake and rests and especially found the last 20-30 km a real struggle.  In fact, so much so that I finished the ride in a very negative frame of mind.  I had done 400km and felt spent, but this wasn’t even half way through the race I was preparing for.  I just couldn’t imagine how I could do it and even briefly wondered whether a Did Not Start (DNS) might be a feasible option.

Country roads!
It's alright for some - Iain with lunch outside the Pongaroa Hotel
Iain had worked out every hill of the route!
What can I say?

Strange spectators!
Looking like my Dad!
The lessons

Every long ride and race gives me so many learning opportunities and I definitely learnt a lot on this one.  In no particular order, these are the lessons I gained.

Crew support.  This was my first time with a crew that wasn’t Helen.  They learnt really fast and by the end were extremely proactive in their support.  By the end, Iain was actually telling me what to do!  This is exactly what I wanted to happen, so it was perfect. My crew are going to be crucial to my success at the Graperide.  Many thanks to both!

As an aside, it was interesting speaking with them afterwards.  Iain said that after a while I became a comic book character, not a real person.  I think that Brent used the term computer game, with Iain and Brent in the console (the car) and me, their game-character, outside.  Several times I’ve heard and read about a similar disconnect of reality between the crew and rider.  The crew can get quite carried away in pushing their character onwards and upwards.  Luckily Iain and Brent have the intelligence to do this really effectively.  Perfect!

I can be fast!  Definitely a cocky thing to say, but I continue to be surprised at how fast I can be.  If I can get down on the aero-bars, I can keep up a good speed for ages.  If it gets too hilly or windy though, I get fatigued.  However, what is especially surprising for me now is how much stronger I've become.  Definitely all the time I've spent on the bike, aided by Jay Water’s coaching, have helped my fitness and strength.  Having said that, I know that I tend to slow down considerably as a long race proceeds.  I managed to delay this a lot during this ride but have to work on it some more.


Using that brain!  The last point leads naturally to this next one.  If I feel tired and begin to flag, the first thing I need to do is use my brain.  What is it that is causing the tiredness?  I used this to good effect on Saturday.  Around the 200 km mark, I found my speed and energy levels slipping.  When I realized this, I began to analyse.  The first question I asked myself was whether my slower speed was because of tired legs.  The answer was a resounding “No!” so I upped the effort and increased the speed.  This fact alone helped considerably.  I then worked out it was just a combination of things that had caused me to falter, such as discomfort in the neck, general weariness, and losing my focus, but with none of these being big in itself.  I could then do my best to deal with the problems directly or just to ignore them.  I continued at a good pace for ages after this.

At around the 350 km mark, I again felt myself flagging.  Again, it definitely wasn’t my legs as they still felt relatively strong.  I checked the other possibilities and worked out it wasn’t discomfort, fatigue, or lack of focus.  Then I worked it out – I was really tired.  I felt I could easily stop and just fall asleep beside the road.  But, again, there are ways of dealing with this, as it is surprising how much you can do with little sleep.  Two things were contributing.  Lack of caffeine was one, as I usually have a lot of caffeine over the course of a long ride but had only had one coke.  However, it was too late in the day for caffeine now.  The other possibility was a lack of food.  I needed quick energy and didn’t have any gels, so the next time I saw the car I stopped and consumed peaches and jelly.  Problem solved.

Using that brain can take you a long way, especially when combined with knowledge and experience.  I still have a lot of experience to gain, but will definitely need to keep my brain engaged during the Graperide!

Rests are important.  I found that short rests worked wonders for me.  I would have short stops for solid food, maybe every 2-3 hours.  At a few of these, I informed the crew that I was going to take 5 minutes time-out and would just sit down, totally relax physically and (most important of all) just empty my brain.  I rarely used the full 5 minutes and found these breaks invigorating and re-energizing.  I’ll definitely make them a conscious part of my Graperide race.

A 400 km ride is not long enough to contemplate longer rests, but I’ll definitely keep an open mind on this at the Graperide.  Maybe a longer time-out period every 200-300 km would help my eventual progress.  They definitely need to be focussed though.  If I’m not gaining from them, I need to hop back on the bike and continuing riding.  I’ll mention this to my crew.

No helmet - it must be a rest stop!
Discipline.  At the end of the ride, I became seduced by the fact that there were only 40 km or so to go, and slackened off with my eating and stops.  I should maintain my discipline and self-control throughout the ride, as there will be many occasions where my attention could slip and things turn to custard.  Again, the crew will be vital in ensuring that this does not happen.

Breathing.  In a previous blog, I mentioned the importance of breathing properly.  I’ve definitely got this under control now and it’s not going to hamper me.  Interesting though, there was one occasion where I was feeling rather sick, tired, panicky and ineffective.  I went through my list and none of them fitted as an explanation.  Then I worked out that my breathing was fast and shallow.  I deliberately slowed it and forced myself to use my diaphragm.  Things quickly improved.

Motivational support.  It’s not only the physical support that will be important, but also the motivational support.  I’m looking forward to having Raewyn there, as she is really enthusiastic and inspiring with her support.  This support can even be at a small, seemingly petty level.  One example is that after a while I asked the support crew to toot encouragement whenever they drove past me.  This made me feel a lot better, especially when I noticed them also waving and giving the thumbs up.  I get similarly motivated when other passing cars toot or strangers wave and shout encouragement.  Every bit helps, both as a distraction and as encouragement.

Motivational support from the support crew!
Massage.  I’ve never tried massage while racing before, mainly because Helen tends to have quite sore wrists from her work.  However, Raewyn is good at it and Iain also offered to do it for me.  I worked out that the sorest part of my body tends to be my upper and lower neck muscles, especially after extended time on the aero-bars.  If I could relax them through massage, it could mean that I can hold the position for longer periods of time and benefit time-wise.

Nutrition.  It is amazing how important this one factor will be to the success of my venture.  Iain has taken my various notes and logs and put them together in a very useful way for the crew to use at the Graperide.  I only asked for a couple of changes, one of which was to put in bold at the top of the whole thing something along the lines of “Nutrition is the factor that will make or break the race”.

However, this is easily said than done.

The first thing I need to do is make sure that I eat and drink frequently.  One way I do this is have a timer beep every 20 minutes, which reminds me to take a sip of my Perpeteum, followed by water.  Half way between these 20 minutes reminders, I tend to have a bite of banana or energy bar.  My stops for solid food should be more frequent, maybe every 2 hours, at which time I’ll consume a small can of creamed rice or some such thing.

The other thing I have will be my crew continually reminding me to eat food and constantly offering it to me.  Helen has proved very effective at this and I’ve sometimes found myself saying no but then almost gorging myself when she puts something in my hand, a definite sign of being hungry!

Sandwiched between land and sky
However, there is a real problem with nutrition, which is that after a while the rider gets really sick of the food … sometimes quite literally!  A common complaint about Perpeteum is that it tastes awful after a while and the body reacts to it (wind, bloating, nausea, etc.).  I will persist with it, as it has everything I need and is used by many of the endurance greats.  However, I might reduce the quantity a bit and definitely supplement it with other foods.  I’ll also have a stand-by substitute in the form of Horley’s Replace.  The main thing about food, however, is that after hours and hours of exercise, it’s the last thing your stomach wants in it.  Following Nick Dunne’s advice, I’m going to have to have a wide range of food to choose from to keep up my appetite and make sure I get something in me.

Definitely, nutrition is the thing that will make or break the race!

Caring for the rear end.  For a while, I've had a sore backside from being on the saddle for too long.  Nothing too bad, but I'm always conscious of a slight level of discomfort.  However, you're asking for more trouble on a longer ride, especially if you're not careful with hygiene.  Hygiene is not something I've even thought of in that regard and I was surprised when Iain handed me some hand disinfectant after I'd (privately!) applied shammy cream.  Apparently he'd read of RAAM riders getting serious stomach problems from not washing their hands.  Great idea!  However, after discovering a small boil after the ride, now I'm also going to wash my hands before applying the cream, as your hands can get full of bacteria with all the sweet stuff you're eating.  Showers and changing trousers every few hundred kilometers will also help.

A jelly-tip ice-cream in Masterton
There is a cost!  There are many costs to this business.  Some are obvious – the long hours of training, things you can’t otherwise do, people you can’t otherwise be with, feelings of continual tiredness, and the discomfort and anguish of racing.  However, I again became aware of an even greater cost when I returned home from the ride.  Brent and Iain had driven all the way home from the Wairarapa, which was some distance.  I got home after midnight or even later, setting the dog off which woke up Helen.  She stumbled down the stairs, fully clothed – she had been waiting for me.  After greeting me, she quickly heated up some food while I prepared to have a shower (I was filthy!)  I then carefully got into the shower, washing and eating at the same time.  I was really tired, barely able to keep my eyes open.  After a while, I noticed that Helen was sitting there looking at me.  “Go to bed”, I said, but she just shook her head and remained.  As I showered, I continued to notice her just sitting there staring.  I was too tired to quiz her, but the next day she told me that she had stayed because she thought I might stumble and hurt myself in my tired state.  However, what I found puzzling and what really moved me was the look in her eyes.  There was a lot of love and concern there, but it was imbued with an overwhelming shade of sad resignation.  How many times had she seen me similarly shattered and half destroyed by a ride and how many times would this happen again!  These feelings were no doubt brought to the surface and exaggerated by her own tiredness, but they were upsetting to see.

I was too tired to do anything but stumble into bed after that, but I locked that look away in my memory to think it over when I was in a better condition.  Basically, I’ve taken up this sport despite what I know the costs to be.  I’ve alluded to why this might be in a previous blog.  Rather than adding years to my life, I’m pretty certain the sport is taking them off.  More importantly, I have deliberately continued despite knowing the huge cost to Helen, especially in terms of all her worry for me.  What is worse, I know that I will continue doing this, at least until I have finally achieved what it is I want and have got it all out of my system.  I don’t quite know when this will be, it might even be after the Graperide, although there may always that next distance that I have to achieve.  It all comes down to me making the cold-hearted, selfish decision to proceed with my own obsession and to consciously decide to do this knowing full well the effect on my loved one.  This sport costs and I saw it again in Helen’s eyes the night I finished the ride.


So, being realistic, what can I expect from the race.  The truthful answer is that I really don’t know.  When things go well, they go well.  But there are so many places that they can go wrong.  Nutrition will be vital, but so will many other things.  I can’t let any of them trip me up.  And in the end, when all else fails, it will become a case of just turning those pedals.  Time-wise, I was initially planning for 51-52 hours, but I suspect that this might be too optimistic.  Sadly, the time cut-off is 51 hours, so a DNF (Did Not Finish) is not an inconceivable outcome in the official results.  However, my intention is to finish no matter what.  It’s going to be hard.  Bloody hard!

1 comment:

  1. sounds like you are really working out that top 4 inches now. The legs will find their own way, the grey matter is were your at now. I know you can do it. Just wish I could be there to see it.