Fuelling for endurance sports? There is so much information out there on how to do it right, how to carb load correctly, hydration, enough salt, enough sleep, suggestions on waking up at 2am to have a smoothie, pasta is good for you, pasta makes you gain weight. The conflicts in the media and proven methods are a minefield. But having run countless half marathons, two marathons, cycled long distances and all the other events I have taken part in over years I should know better about what works for me and what doesn’t. For many years I had major intolerance to starchy carbohydrate to the point that I had been on an elimination diet to see what was causing my issues, had tests for coeliac which came back as neither here nor there and subsequently spent 11 years eating low carb foods and complimentary health foods that my friends said looked and tasted like cardboard. The intolerance was so sensitive at one point that even if my fork had been in contact with mash potato before touching my fodder I would be clutching my left side in agony. Slowly I started to introduce starchy carbs back into my diet with the odd occasion causing discomfort but now I can eat anything more or less. The choice to start doing this was merely because I wanted to be more active, I wanted to run, I wanted to play football, I wanted to cycle but I couldn’t do more of it for longer and sustain myself without introducing the potato and rice back on to my plate and I had to try and make it work.
Fuelling and hydration for endurance is something that is easy to get wrong and even more so during a heatwave. If it’s not worrying that what I am eating is pointless junk (as I plough my way through the chips on Fatboys plate while I stab my fork into my salad) its worrying that what I have eaten is even enough to sustain me on the next long distance or fast paced ride, fuelling my body with quality rather than cheap and cheerful and getting the nutritional balance right. Then there is the conundrum of burn more calories than you eat to not eating enough to replace calories burned. My head spins. There are times I can head out for a fasted ride or a run and feel great and then there has been the odd occasion where I am so busy with home life that if I am out of the house running errands I forget to eat adequately and I pay for it and this was what happened in the days leading up to Ashby’s 100, a 105+ mile ride that last year had been a well-attended ride just for fun within the cycling club and was then made an official event this year. Having spent a number of days before the event being woken at witching hour attending to ‘Gizzard Puke’ the youngest member of the household, I was fitting in time to train for my impending triathlon, followed by shopping for a holiday and busying around trying to pick up any last-minute essentials and assisting with bike maintenance ready for Ashbys 100 and so not only was I lacking in sleep over the days leading up to the ride, I hadn’t really eaten substantially let alone consider just HOW hot it would be on the day.
The morning of the ride I was up and dressed in my Primal Ambassador Custom kit, ditched the Neon Crush Arm warmers as it was set to be a hot day and sat on the edge of the bed staring at my sock pile contemplating which over pair to wear, Electric Shock socks or the Panda, its always a tough choice but ended up with the Icons. Sipping on my black coffee my brain and stomach couldn’t really coordinate, I was still waking up while failing to finish my breakfast. I had packed some gels, flapjack and salt tablets in my jersey pocket, enough to see me through to the feed stop at 50 miles and headed off to meet the other riders for the 8.30am start. There were around 20 riders taking part in the event. Coach Matt gave us a pep talk including the one on making sure we had an adequate breakfast. You know when you were in school assembly and the head teacher would call the pupils out on something, in a bid to detect the guilty culprit, that’s how I felt at that point and my inner self let out a little sigh “oh!”. Following on from that he reiterated the intervals on when to take the gels and to keep hydrated, “If you feel thirsty it’s too late” he said, to which I felt relief as I was one up on that and we only had 50 miles before the 1st feed stop, how bad could it be.
We set off at a comfortable pace, chatting away as we headed out into the open landscape towards St Ives and Warboys, it was beginning to get quite warm for that time of the morning. As we turned into one road a few of us slowed down to wait for a few others who were a way back to make sure they had seen us before trying to play catch up with the pack ahead. Riding through the rural landscape with fields of bright yellow rapeseed, the riders resembled a snapshot in the Tour De France riding through the sunflowers. A few riders who had come back from injury were just starting to feel the effects at mile 40 of the ride as we pushed on into the headwinds with some dropping back, I was feeling okay but my bike was feeling quite heavy and this was partly due to changing the tyres over from my usual SWorks Gripton which were starting to wear, to a set of temporary road tyres that came as a spare set with my CX bike and I wasn’t getting on with them. The roll of the tyres were noticeably different and felt heavy in comparison, this in turn started to make hard work on my legs as the group began to push into the fen headwinds. Despite sitting in the middle of the pack I found myself suddenly dropping off the back and then working harder again to keep the pace of the group who were now sitting around 19mph, yet nothing unusual about the speed. Dropping off again in frustration I rode to the stop point where everyone had gathered for a quick drink and re-group. We only had 4 miles to go until the feed stop and that I thought would be a good point to assess what I wanted to do, carry on or call it a day at 50 and I didn’t want to quit.
Reaching the food stop, we met up with some of the members of the club who had made cakes and sandwiches, providing drinks and a supply of sun cream. It was getting even warmer and many of the riders were already sporting a cycling tan by 11.30am. I felt much better after eating and was ready complete the 2nd half. All was going well until poor Bill, who was the organiser of the event had a freehub mechanical 10 miles into the 2nd half of the ride. Waiting for a replacement bike, the riders took a break and set out on the grass, a good chance to top up the sunscreen, hydrate and crack some awful jokes before setting off for our 2nd stop at Denver which was about 80 miles in. I was starting to feel better having eaten so now was just the issue conserving my energy, ignoring the tyre situation and the rising temperatures. 5 miles before we reached our 2nd stop, with the sunshine beating down on us and wanting to get to our destination, Coach Matt was getting bored and I needed a distraction as the heat was getting to me so we began to play I Spy, its funny how the most obvious thing takes the longest to guess. Finally arriving at The Jennings Arms, a riverside pub in Denver, we parked our bikes in a huddle and headed to the bar for salty snacks and drinks and then made our way off for the final stretch home.
Riding along the river bank we passed the riverboats and exchanged waves, poor Bill suffered a 2nd and 3rd mechanical within minutes with a puncture. Setting off again I could feel myself feeling a bit out of sorts. The heat had got to me big time and I was losing the power to push my legs around and began to drop back and pootle. The main pack had gone ahead and it was just Bill and I for company. Coach Matt had been ahead of the pack but noticed myself and Bill were not in the group, heading back to us he could see I was struggling. Having saved his Cherry Bakewell Torq gel for a “special occasion” he handed it over to me along with his half pack of Dextrose sweets and told me to eat that with the gel. Meanwhile as I was pedalling along and doing as I was told, I was also expected to answer a number of his questions including the answer to the letter ‘D’ from our I Spy earlier. Talking was made harder by the fact that the dextrose and Torq gel had begun to mix and foam almost like a magnesium tablet. This was making me laugh and laughing was all I could do. Handing me a Soreen Malt loaf, Matt told me to eat that, as well as digesting the Torq gel and Dextrose sweets, I couldn’t stop laughing as the malt loaf stuck to my teeth while the foam was subsiding. Within a few minutes the combination of all three began to kick in and Matt explained the three levels of energy reserve to me and likely, coupled with the heat and my pre-ride fuelling had probably put me in the 3rd energy reserve quite quickly. I carried on riding for a further 9 miles before the group called in at another pub for a top up of water, another puncture repair and the sweeper car to take me home. I had well and truly hit the wall at 91 miles!!!!!!!
The next day I decided I needed to make up for the miles I hadn’t completed the day before for no other reason than it was unfinished business. Taking it easy on another baking hot day, I headed off into the sunny countryside, well fuelled and hydrated in my Theta shorts and Jersey with the intention of just enjoying the views and letting the legs spin over for about 10 miles… 27 miles later I arrived home. It was so hot that the rest of the week was a case of taking it easy. It was too hot to exert myself with the training for my triathlon and I didn’t want to cause myself an injury. Sitting still for too long though, is not in my nature but I put my resting time to good use while the weather was good and did a spot of shopping with the intention of buying a tri belt and laces, however, I arrived home empty handed but had ordered a new road bike. Its similar to the time I went to the shops with Fatboy’s bank card for coffee and tomato sauce and came home with 10 bags of shopping and no sauce or caffeine.
The following week my new bike, a Liv Envie Advanced 1 was ready for me at Rutland Cycles, after the bike fit and the addition of the aero water bottles I could then take the bike home. Its been a real joy to ride this bike and practising the swim to bike section for the triathlon has made me smile a lot. So, with lessons learned on eating right, taking into account the weather and with a fuelling plan well under way I am looking forward to my 1st Triathlon, I just hope it’s not too hot otherwise I’ll just keep swimming.
Until next time…