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…

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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.

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

 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier – Ketosis Experiment

Yesterday I was hiking around the “Cinq Lacs” until 8pm so today’s 5:30 am rise to go cycling was difficult – especially when considering the logistics involved. The cols we would be climbing are in the Maurienne valley – not the Tarrantaise where we live – so that would be a 115 km car ride before even starting. Chris had organised it all and he really does enjoy the whole logistics process – including the route planning and creation with GPS route/track files being shared for mobile devices.  The more people who have the exact map route on their Garmin or mobile phone system the better.

Breakfast at 5:45 am was another cooked ketogenic delight – with no carbs. I’d have nothing else to eat now until we stopped at lunchtime as part of an on-going experiment in ketogenic nutrition. Last week I’d participated in the “Les 2 Alpes Granfondo” and survived the first scary test – but had fed myself with carbs after the first two hours. That race was seriously daunting as a debut for racing in a ketogenic state. Success from that experiment had encouraged me to remain with ketosis and continue the experiment. During the week it had been very difficult to recover from the extreme demands from the Sunday race. Both running and cycling efforts had been sluggish and tired. Hiking on Saturday – almost a week later – was also affected and devoid of energy. Twice during the week I gave in to temptation to eat more carbs than I should have – it was a bit of a struggle altogether. Although I justified the carbs under the pretext of filling a “carbs debt” due to exercise – that was not the reality. Once you start eating carbs that old sweet tooth immediately takes over again – a bit like a recovering alcoholic being given a drink. When the alarm clock went off at 5:30 am I had no idea what state I’d be in physically – especially having been struggling with hiking the evening before. The cycling would be with fit people – all cycling club members and endurance sport enthusiasts – and all chugging down carbs galore all the way!

For once my personal organisation was good. Wearing the cycle clothing beneath street clothing gives protection from the cold in the morning but makes it simple when arriving at the departure point for the cycling. All my stuff was placed in one shoulder bag and the bike was fully prepared – with magnesium/sodium rich mineral water already in the bottles –just one bike and one bag! On arrival at St. Michel en Maurienne (at the foot of the Télégraphe climb) my bag went into Richard’s van – which would meet us half way around the 220 km circuit. My plan was to only go this far and then to return to the start in the van – due to predicted tiredness and to respect the deeper nutritional experiment that was about to be carried out. My objective today was not only to cycle a very long and demanding climb while in ketosis – but to not eat at all during this –even after the first 2 hours. The theory is that if you are keto-adapted then you are “bonk” proof. I know exactly what everything from mild hypoglycaemia to extreme central fatigue (bonking) feels like. The four other guys would be pacing themselves for the entire 220 km route so they wouldn’t be racing up to the cols – but they are fit and so they wouldn’t be hanging around either. Chris had about 5,500 km in his legs already this season where I was at around 2700 km. Performance is strongly related to quality mileage. Chris also trains with a power meter – which brings an interesting dimension to it all.

Views from Col du Galibier

Right from the start of the climb up the Télégraph, to my great surprise I felt strong. Chris had chosen 230 Watts as his sustainable power output so he set the pace with this. I was comfortable with this workload and had to slow myself down on the steeper sections. It was interesting to see how we had a tendency to let the power drop dramatically on the flatter sections and that this was unconscious. The power meter gives a new objective perspective that is very informative. Stephan was dropped near the start and fell several minutes behind. The Télégraph is 12 km long and we were at the top in 1 hr 3 mins – a good time by any standards. While Stephan was catching up we went into the café for our morning coffee. I’d had  mug of coffee in the morning – but several hours earlier. Stephan didn’t stop at the top but carried on at his own pace to descend into Valloire ski station and then begin the long climb of the mythical Galibier. Catching up to Stephan meant ramping up the power band to around 270 Watts (related to Chris’s weight). This is a level difficult for me to sustain at any time but surprisingly I could hang in there. Stephan had managed to pick up his pace so it was like chasing a hare – for about 10 km. I was surprised at my resilience at this pace so everything was positive so far. We caught Stephan just on arrival at the plateau before the steep sections began. I could feel myself exploding with the effort of the past 10 km so elected to accompany Stephan for the remainder of the climb. This was a good choice as together we could ride at a pace that permitted conversation. The very top section of the Galibier above the car tunnel is steep and tough – with altitude now being factored in at 2642 m. When we arrived at the top a few minutes after the others I was feeling good. Stephan had been eating gels and energy bars on the way up. Despite having both a sugar mix and cashew nuts with me I’d eaten nothing. I’d experienced no hypoglycaemia symptoms at all. Towards the summit I was getting a bit low on power but that could have had a lot to do with overdoing in while chasing Stephan or it could have been due to not feeding. Either way the ketogenic principle of “bonk” immunity was holding up. The total time spent climbing was around 2 hrs 40 mins.

One other benefit of ketosis is that by burning fat you only produce 0.7 litres of Co2 per litre of O2 consumed – instead of the 1:1 ratio when burning carbs. Also you do not create lactic acid. When you generate high Co2 and Lactic acid levels the body makes you hyperventilate to lower blood acidity levels and keep acidity in it’s critically extremely tight functional range. This is why you breathe hard during anaerobic exercise – whereas the hard breathing from aerobic exercise is just to supply O2 as a metabolic catalyst (O2 supplies no energy). It’s quite difficult to sense the difference between the two aspects of breathing but I’m starting to recognise the difference. The dramatic difference for me was felt on this final stretch  - there was no panting or gasping for air and no sense of being at altitude. After stopping there was none of my habitual “post exercise asthma”. Until now I’d been forced to use nasal breathing to prevent hyperventilation in such situations, but here there was no need. It seems that the key to all of this is to develop the fat burning metabolism and be careful with overdoing the anaerobic, carb based metabolism.

Views from Col de la Madeleine  (Short cut driving home)

From the Galibier it was a fast and long descent via the Col du Lautaret towards Briançon. This ended up on long flats along the valley plains – where Chris did all the pulling. I was able to stay with him all the way and felt mentally alert and physically fine – though felt a bit hungry and as if this hunger was bringing a drop in motivation or strength. It can take a year for a body to become fully keto-adapted so it’s a bit ambitious to expect to get very far without eating anything at this stage and asking the body to supply all the necessary fat and ketones for the job from its own reserves.

Lesley met us with the van at the entrance to Briançon but we then went altogether by bike through the outskirts of Briançon to a restaurant for lunch. I chose to have a salad based meal with no carbs – drinking only mineral water and coffee. The others all had spaghetti bolognaise, cokes, sweet deserts and sweet coffee – with only Lesley avoiding the Cokes. After lunch I felt a bit recovered – but still not highly motivated. In the morning my breakfast had been cooked in coconut oil to give access to ketones directly – but here I was doing nothing to either recover my carbs debt or supply ketones or fat for metabolising. I agreed to climb the next col – a 20 km climb – before returning to the van and heading home. This next climb was a gradual, steady climb, led against the wind by Chris at a strong pace. Only the final 2.7 km would be properly steep and here I found that the break we had for lunch had sort of switched off my fat burning metabolism. It was a struggle to find strength to climb now, though I know that if the climb was longer I’d have recovered. As it was i got to the top only about 30 seconds behind Stephan – but even mentally and motivationally I was struggling. This was however only happening after 4 hrs 30 mins of exercise without any appropriate nutrition for either carb loading or ketosis. Resisting the invitation to continue I said my goodbyes and headed back off down the mountain. There was still a need to push on the gentler slopes of the descent and I was surprised at the work I could still output when not digging too deep for strength. Mentally there was no carbs “buzz” driving me along – and there was a desire to get to the end – but not all that bad.

Once again the ketogenic theory had clearly stood up to experimental scrutiny. There was no bonking or even any hypoglycaemia despite going completely against the current dogma of stuffing yourself with high energy carbs even days before the event. With this second test in the pocket it became clear what the next one would have to be. I would have to find out how to feed properly for a sustained ketogenic state during exercise. When Ranaulph Feinnes walked across the Antarctic pulling a sled loaded with his food he carried only fat. This decision was taken because it is less than half the weight of the carbs necessary to provide the same caloric energy. Fat provides 9 calories per gram and carbs only 4.  Feinnes had blood samples taken daily and eventually had blood glucose levels so low – practically zero – that a non keto-adapted person would have not only been comatosed a long time before but would be dead. In contrast to this Feinnes was able to burn 12,000 calories per day – a level only normally attained in extreme ultra-endurance events by elite athletes. The point is that FEEDING is necessary. One obvious advantage here on a bike is that if you need to carry food then it is only half the weight! That now implies both a weight advantage and breathing advantage. Over time this should also bring a body weight advantage – something that for me was not attainable when eating carbs for energy. I’m currently down to 65.4 kg when fully hydrated – compared to 77 kg only 3 months ago. Removing the deepest and longest stored body fat is proving to be slow but gradual.

Experiment number two appears to have been another success for ketosis.

Briançon (Napoleonic era fort)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Les Cinq Lacs, Bourg Saint-Maurice

Having lived in the region of Haute Tarantaise for almost 20 years now it’s amazing how little of it I’ve managed to explore! Earlier in the week the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail run came through town and took a route back up to high altitude that I didn’t know existed – so today I decided to go and have a look. The temptation is always to go somewhere else – another region or valley – and to assume that there is nothing interesting in the neighbourhood.

Both Christiane and I were on a ketosis diet (or lifestyle really) and we had both gone through a rough patch during the week – which appeared to have been triggered by a brief lapse of discipline when we both had a snack of sweet carbs in a boulangerie! We both went through a phase of constantly having the munchies and seemingly bloating as a consequence. Christiane didn’t feel good and only wanted an easy walk and likewise I found that I had no energy. I’m getting used to this ketosis adaptation effect though and know that I can make myself work quite effectively despite this apparent tiredness – it’s just that the energetic buzz from carbs is not present. Already I’ve found out that the positive side of this is that there is never any subsequent energy crash and in contrast there are often very positive feelings that emerge during the exercise.

In any event we discovered an amazing and massive expanse of Alpine pasture that is entirely invisible from the valley below. It’s like walking through a door into another universe and it’s right here at home.

The most impressive sight of the day concerned the sheep grazing on the steep mountain slopes. The sheep seemed completely at ease grazing freely just above vertical cliffs that they could easily tumble down to. Sometimes it was almost impossible to see how they even got there. Later on we came across a shepherd running downhill but avoiding the footpaths. He had two sheepdogs and a huge rucksack but was flying down the mountain! To control his descent he used a sturdy pole – leaning on it and dragging the end of it behind him on the slope – exactly like the original downhill skiers did. Impressive! He looked like he was having fun. Those guys must be phenomenally fit and fearless to look after animals in this terrain.

 

The sheep here are in the middle of the distant mountain – above the obvious cliff near the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to walking we drove all the way up to Fort de la Platte at 2009 m altitude – built in 1894 and operational until 1916 - it housed 100 soldiers, one officer and one medic. Today it is inhabited during the day by farmers and resembles a pigsty more than anything else. It looks like something out of the film “Deliverance” with hillbillies overrunning it. Hygiene looked non-existent and this is where they make cheese! Not a good advertisement for “artisanal” products.

 

 

 

 

This tiny critter is a frog living at high altitude. It was very small and Christiane wouldn’t believe it was a frog – much smaller than the tadpoles in the pond nearby.

 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Granfondo Cannondale Les 2 Alpes 2014–Ketosis Experiment

The Granfondo course is the last in a summer series of monster races that include the Marmotte. This course is 167 km long with 4100 m of climbing. For the last few years I've not felt up to this sort of challenge - largely due to feeling that it is too demanding. These races are in the heart of the Alps in very rugged terrain with long and sometimes very steep climbs over many hours. Every tactic I'd tried in the past more or less failed and I ended up plodding around in relative discomfort and only took satisfaction from finishing - usually in a certain amount of distress and unable to breathe properly. They always finish at high altitude with a large proportion of climbing at towards the end. More "user friendly" races try to have a 20km descent and plateau at the end so that you can get some oxygen into your brain and enjoy the finish at least.  I might add however that even just the satisfaction of finishing is great - but not quite great enough to encourage a return on a regular basis. This series of races however is marketed heavily in Holland and Germany to a very keen set of club racing enthusiasts - and the Dutch being completely deprived of hills are are more than enthusiastic, turning races like this practically into a religion... if only religion was as friendly and civilized! Perhaps it's because hard cycling is such a great leveller and relates to the great outdoors that it's an infinitely more valuable and human way to spend a Sunday than being brainwashed in a church. Unlike the Marmotte which has several thousand entrants the full length Granfondo would be lucky to reach 200! (in fact it ended up with only 183). The other race in the Alps close to this category is called the Vaujany - and it's early in the season - likewise limited to a few hundred entrants – but not quite a “Granfondo”. Personally I don’t like those massive events like the Marmotte and the Etape du Tour - which are extremely commercialised. The excessive number of participants is just unnatural and disturbing. Sure there's no chance of being isolated - but there is a serious chance of bicycle traffic jams and claustrophobia even in a location where agoraphobia is normally the rule. You can also be sure at those massive events of the gigantic fleet of busses and articulated trucks coming up the rear to collect the thousands of abandons! The Vaujany and Granfondo races are just the right size so that they become "personal" - but this is also intimidating because there is a certain level of both confidence and ability required - so they are perhaps not for the person who might take 12 hours to get around isolated on their own followed closely by the famous "voiture balai" (sweeper up van).

Mont Pourri (Savoie) – no photos yet from Les 2 Alpes so I took this from the balcony this morning at home.

Preparation

My entry for this race was very last minute. Still recovering from the Tour de l'Ain exploit the previous Saturday I was initially in no mood for a return to such extreme events as the Granfondo. Chris Harrop set the ball rolling with the suggestion, but when eventually I made the decision to go for it he had already backed out due to family pressures. Once you decide on things like this though you start to become motivated so there is no going back. The weather would be fine - no rain - so no obstacles. The massive descents and high altitude would not be sensible in cold, wet weather. It turned out that I was too late to register online so would have to do so in Les Deux (2) Aples on the Saturday afternoon before the Sunday race. Despite starting preparations early on Friday evening - sorting out the bike and every little thing imaginable - I still managed to leave for Les 2 Alpes the next day without a jacket or fleece and without a pillow or my overnight battery charger for the telephone - which is used for feedback and recording during the race. The intention was to sleep in the estate car. The most important thing I did remember however was to print out my medical certificate - without which entrance would be refused. The bike was cleaned up, checking for any problems. The chain was relatively clean so only needed a wipe and re-oiling with ceramic oil and the rear tyre needed to be swapped for a fresh - still "round" - one for the race. Food and supplements for the actual race had to be prepared and then bedding and cooking stuff, plus food for the "car camping" - including water and coffee etc. Cleaning gear for the morning and a million and one details have to be sorted out. Just one thing left at home can cause a big disruption. Part of my "fog" during preparation was due to the added complication of having spent the entire week in a "ketosis" diet - with no carbs! Not that the low carb effect was causing a fog - just that it was much more to think about and uncertainty was generating indecision.

Ketosis - No Carbs!

Granfondo races are a big enough challenge - as I well know from miserable experiences in the past. Having started the summer discovering the incredible benefits of fasting I'd now moved on to a full "ketosis" diet - where the effects of fasting could be maintained even without caloric constraints. Currently though I manage a 12 hr daily intermittent fast and also one period of 36 hr fasting each week. Endurance exercise also generates “post exercise ketosis” and only a few days before the race I’d done a 22 km run – fasting straight afterwards. The race and the ketosis were now meeting each other in a head-on clash. What should I do? Abandon the diet or risk abandoning during the race? With complete indecision at this stage I prepared food for returning to pre-race carbohydrate loading and also for remaining carb-free. Perhaps it was during the drive to Les 2 Alpes that the decision was made. I was going to attempt this race with the body as empty of carbs as possible at the start. The only reason for not putting this to the test would be a combination of fear and ego - but also perhaps because it is such a radical departure from "conventional wisdom". There is always intense but invisible, unconscious pressure to conform – even despite good scientists overtly disagreeing with this conventional wisdom.

When the body has been working hard for about 2 hours then it incurs a carbohydrate debt - below normal levels – and that allows you to replace the carbs without impairing the fat burning metabolism. My strategy would be to go into the race with no significant carbs having been eaten all week and then after 2 hours into the race to start supplementing with carbs. The recommended approach is to eat salty Cashew nuts. When the body is in ketosis the kidneys excrete more salt so more salt needs to be eaten. Cashew nuts provide many nutrients and a slow release of carbs - so I prepared about one pound of nuts to carry in the race. In addition I prepared two flasks of 180g (dry weight) of maltodextrin/fructose mix - so that I'd have the option of going heavily on carbs if necessary. The maltodextrin is actually recommended by Dr Peter Attia - one of the best Keto experts around currently. This would mean carrying a lot of stuff but as I'd already lost 24.5 lb in weight this summer that wasn't too worrying.

Capture

Les 2 Alpes

The trip to Les 2 Alpes only took 2hrs 30 minutes and registration was fast and simple. There was a surprise "gift" from Cannondale of a tiny but very neat pressure control valve and two CO2 canisters - for tyre inflation. I had bought food down in the valley to cook for the evening meal and breakfast - to use coconut oil for a direct supply of ketones and to avoid restaurant food that is packed with cheap carbs. First thing I noticed however when arriving was how chilly it was even in the sun - which is when I realised my warm clothing was left at home. End of season summer sales are everywhere just now so I managed to pick up a decent fleece for 10 euros. Fortunately I'd put a windproof polar cycling top in my bag too and it was sober enough to wear as normal clothing over the fleece later on. In town there was a small coffee shop with pure Arabica organic coffee and a quiet atmosphere - so I could hang out there for a while when the sun went down.

My only problem in Les 2 Alpes was that the car lock failed - for the second time. I had to remove the rear driver side window panel to get in. Fortunately I keep this panel a thin transparent plastic for exactly this sort of problem - breaking the original window after a complete locking system lockdown three years ago. This time a penknife was used to prise the rubber and remove the window in minutes without damage. Peugeot doors and locks are seriously rubbish.

For eating I'd need to find a place to cook so drove to the far end of town - which terminates in a cliff which can be used for paragliding take-off. Here there was some green space and practically nobody - just a bench and table that could be used in privacy for preparing a high fat meal and eating it without any hassle. This is also where I'd return for parking up for the night and sleeping - just to escape the lights and noise in the town - which actually has an incredible amount of parking available on almost every street. Les 2 Alpes is very "parking friendly" and this is so smart compared with the hostile imbeciles who pretend to run Val d'Isère and Tignes. This resort is absolutely buzzing in the summer and there is a massive mushrooming mountain-bike culture. The coolest thing I saw however was a lady on a skateboard being pulled by her dog. The dog was really into it and each time she slowed down a bit it would take up the strain and go for it. If I ever get a dog I'll need to take up skateboarding.

The missing pillow was sorted out by using an extra sleeping bag rolled up - with half of it spread over the inflatable mattress and the other half rolled up under the head. It was perfect. The tiny Mammut mattress is absolutely excellent for comfort. You can pay a fortune for a stupid hotel but will never find a mattress as comfortable as this. Pushing the passenger seat forwards gives me more than a fully extended body length for stretching out. Yes! Sometimes it pays in life to be short!  The bike, fully prepared for the course with numbers, electronic timing chip and extra battery for the telephone all attached had the wheels removed and was placed across the front seats. About 20 minutes into trying to get to sleep there was a visit from the Municipal police to put a notice on the car windscreen to say that parking was prohibited there between 10pm and 7am. They didn't bother me though. Looking out of the window while lying there the stars were filling the sky and were properly visible thanks to being away from the glare of the town. Almost immediately a meteor shot out of the central area. A few minutes later there was a bight flash in the same area - just a point of light this time - as if a meteor was coming straight towards me. First time I've ever seen that before. 10 minutes later it happened again and then again but further east and then again even further east but this time with a very small trail. It was definitely interesting to watch but not helping me get to sleep. Eventually sleep came and seemingly instantly afterwards so did the alarm clock for 6:30am. I knew that even this early would leave a minimal time to get ready for the 8am race start – which is why I eventually got there with 2 minutes to spare. Coffee, cooked breakfast with loads of coconut oil, everything packed up in the car, all the cycling gear worn under warm clothing and all the cycling bits a pieces sorted out, telephone put on charge from the car and the bike prepared and then slid into the back - and it was off in the car and into town, parking close to the amazing fully automatic public toilets - an essential element for any last minute duties before a race.

Somehow my brain fog was clearing and I didn't forget anything. Last week I'd forgotten to put water in my bottles - this time I had magnesium and salt rich gassy (CO2) mineral water in both. To deal with the cold I'd put on thicker socks and a base layer beneath the jersey, with warm removable sleeves and a full thin “water-resistant” windbreaker layer on the outside. The electronic timing chip was beneath the saddle and a number on the handlebars for the photographers - but no jersey numbers - which is good if you have to wear a jacket. At the start however it was surprising at how few the participants were - perhaps even fewer than on the Tour de l'Ain the week previously. That's not a lot of people for such an internationally promoted event. It’s also pretty scary when you realise how long the course is and how spread out people can become over 100 miles of mountains when you need partners to help work against headwinds and long rolling sections to have any hope of a good time.

Race Start

The evening had been cold – except when sleeping because the down summer sleeping bag was too warm – and this coldness persisted outside in the morning. The start of the race would be a long descent all the way down the valley from 1650m altitude to 720m altitude at La Paute - 3km  beyond Bourg d’Oisans. With temperatures around 6°C this was going to have a real effect. I’m generally not good at getting going in the cold. The start would be neutralised until Freny d’Oisans at km 11 – with a reassembling of everyone together before the official timing start. I set my own clock from the very start in Les 2 Alpes because it was my personal goal to complete the entire 167 km circuit in under 8 hours and the KM markers on the planning were related to the this location. Anything under 8 hours would make me happy!

Prior to the start I was very apprehensive  because not only were we dealing with the cold but I’d committed to remaining carb free all the way until at least 2 hours into the race. This was scary because if it didn’t work I could end up in a real mess with complete exhaustion and a lot of discomfort. I’d read contradictory reports of some people suffering terrible cramps and performance losses when this approach hadn’t worked for them – so anything was possible. The coconut oil in the morning was to supply pure ketones direct to the brain – in substitution for glucose. Hopefully my body was now fabricating its own ketones by now – but I currently have no equipment for measuring that (cheap semiconductor based alcohol breath testers can measure acetone in the breath so I have one ordered from China for 9 euros!). The problem is that during keto-adaptation – which takes a minimum of 3 weeks – the muscles themselves don’t get much of the ketones supplied to them as they are reserved to keep the brain working. My feeling was that even the modest level of physical training I had was enough to ensure that I was at least burning fat to a reasonable degree so that should keep the muscles going and any ketones that I made should be probably enough to keep the brain running and avoid bonking. Ketones are a by-product of fat burning and can directly replace glucose in the brain and it is the preferred fuel for the heart. It’s a mistake to accept the common “official” view that the brain is dependent on carbs for fuel – it simply is not.

When we arrived at the dam junction, still a few miles from the official start, the control car had to stop to let traffic through and a white van charged up the outside right up to the junction. This idiot was trying to overtake the entire mass of cyclists, dozens of security motorbikes, ambulances and security vehicles! One French cyclist was chasing it because he must have had a close shave and he was yelling at the people in the vehicle and slapped it hard when he caught up. Out of the vehicle stepped a hysteric French girl and she started screaming and pushing the cyclist – forcing him to defend himself. This led on the silly boyfriend who was also in the vehicle and he came out with fists flying all over the place. It developed into a real fight. At least one cyclist had his bike damaged. Personally I felt the van people should have been arrested and locked up. However, we all went on out ways after security intervened. I forgot to stop my clock so about 5 minutes needs to come off the overall time for that incident alone. Before we got to Freny and the start I was shaking on the bike from cold during the descent. While waiting at Freny some people were shivering violently – depending much on how much they were wearing.

From the actual start there was a climb of 150m in altitude which sorted out the shivering but it would be 5 hours into the race before my feet stopped feeling cold. This climb told me that my legs did not feel great. Was it the cold or the ketosis? I could maintain a reasonable pace but not go fast. In a way that’s not too bad because I always make the error of pushing too hard at the start and ending up in a group that is too fast – wearing me out prematurely. I’d noticed when running three days earlier (22km run) that the ketosis made the start of exercise seem sluggish – probably because that’s when the body tends to be heavily into carb metabolism. After about a half an  hour to forty minutes when the body has warmed up and then fat burning works well. This is probably why pros warm up for 40 minutes before a time trail. In contrast we had been descending and freezing so I think I collected all the negatives in one basket. Mentally I just wasn't into it either – probably due to cold and poorly adapted ketosis together again.

I used my descending skills to catch up a bit before reaching the valley floor and so fell in behind a fairly strong rider for drafting along the 7 km valley plateau into a slight headwind. Three of us did rotations on the front and this was a good place to test the legs. It was hard getting the legs to cooperate but they still functioned. It was only when reaching the turn off at La Paute up to the first climb that I realised we we pulling along a peloton of 17 in total. All my references to subjective feelings are null and void with this developing ketosis experience. It’s impossible to judge subjectively which is why measuring it in competition is so important.

Hitting the bottom of the climb the entire peloton passed me. I’m quite used to that even though it didn’t happen last week. The cold legs and glucose starvation left me very unsurprised as I watched the peloton disappear into the distance. This was just the start of a 10km climb – the first of many. Needless to say I felt slightly worried and demoralised at this point and not at all buzzing as I’d been the week before at Ain when pumped full of carbs.

Climb 1

The first proper climb was 10km to the Col d’Ornon. I’ve always been terrible at transitions between flat rolling terrain and hills. I have no idea why this is the case but it is clear and obvious. Two young Germans had taken the lead of the peloton in the climb. They were very pro looking with well developed thighs and very slick looking altogether. One other fit looking guy had the head of a lion roaring tattooed on his left calf muscle. Other than Bradley Wiggins’s recent horrible arm tattoos you don’t see many people silly enough to make this sort of blunder. Anyway it makes it easier to recognise people so it can be useful.

The climb progressed and the peloton fractured into bits up ahead with the Germans and Lion leg disappearing out of sight eventually. My heart rate was sitting around 154 bpm so there wasn’t much that could be done to change the situation. Something strange then happened. We were now around one hour into the official race and with about 2 km left of this first climb. I suddenly started to feel different, the head clearing and legs working. Over this 2 km I went form being dumped by the entire peloton to catching up even those who had previously vanished out of sight and ended up leading the group again by the top of the col. It appears that the fat burning metabolism had started to kick in properly. Not being properly keto-adapted it was inevitable that I might have to wait for this to happen.

There would be a very long descent and rolling flats ahead so I let the two German “pros” take the lead and do the work – which they seemed very happy about. This is very stunning countryside and national park (Ecrins) area so by drafting there was enough time and energy to allow a bit of looking around – though not much as attention has to be kept on the other cyclists for safety. We continued like this heading generally South West until km 53.4 at Les Angelas. This would mark the start of what was easily the hardest climb of the day.

Climb 2

Right at the bottom of the climb up the Col du Parquetout I was once again overhauled by an invisible peloton that had been hiding right behind me – this time the 17 had been reduced to 14. The problem now was that the start of this climb was a 4 km stretch of between 11% to 15% gradient – and my gearing was far from ideal. The small 36T oval chain ring is just too hard at this gradient – even with a 28T cog on the rear. Perhaps it’s the “oval” making the push phase more like a 38T. I was wishing for my old 34T circular chain ring back again. Predictably everyone disappeared ahead and though I struggled with the gearing the gaps didn’t grow too much. It was very demoralising though and at times I had an internal voice suggesting to me that I should really stop. When the head goes into this dark area it’s not nice. Eventually, despite all of that we popped out at the summit to find a ravitaillement (drinks supply) stall where water bottles could be refilled. There were no feeding stations yet – just water supply. More than a few were probably annoyed about this but it was marked so on the planning. Lo and behold the Germans were just ahead getting their bottles filled – so I hadn’t lost any significant time. One minute’s stop to take on water was enough to chill the sweat soaked body for the next descent. When I set off to chase after the Germans (who were gone already) the reality of how tired that climb had left the legs suddenly set in. There was no force there to be used. We were now 2 hours into the race and it seemed that it might be game over for this little experiment already. The mental and physical clarity that had appeared on the first climb had more or less vanished by now. Remembering the plan to eat carbs from the 2hr mark I just got out the flask and swallowed the first carbs of any sort for over a week. The rest itself during the start of the descent was actually enough to surprisingly bring the legs back – so instead of giving up I went on the attack – reeling in the Germans and a good handful of others right at the bottom of the descent – just in time for a short climb and then a long plateau where the advantage of drafting and being in a group was necessary. So far so good. The next real climb would commence at km 77.6 and I was still in the race. Last week when heavily on the carbs I was already done by km 69! (In fact I’d last until  km 86 today on the Col de la Morte – appropriately named!) Around about now though the reality of the immense amount of climbing still ahead was beginning to sink in and thoughts started wandering towards devising a “plan b”. After considering abandoning and hitching a lift or waiting for the “voiture balai” I eventually decided that this was silly as this thinking was mostly based on fear and I could always slow down and plod to the end enjoying scenery if necessary. I was still fully covered with the wind breaker and cold feet so perhaps morale was just a bit low. The task ahead did seem daunting though.

Climb 3

The next climb (a series of two) began at Sevioz km 77.6. Just before reaching this turn off most of our original peloton had regrouped but about 30 seconds before arriving at the turn off I saw another peloton numbering about 20 already at the turn off. We must have gained a good bit of time on the last section but  unfortunately we never actually caught them. This is in fact where it all started to fall apart. The shorter part of the climb was about 6.5 km then followed by a short descent and another 12 km climbing up to the Col de la Mort. The Col de la Morte (Pass of Death!) has been likened to a mini Alpe d'Huez with numerous switchbacks up to the ski resort of Alpe de Grande Serre. However, on the first climb the slightly heavier set German very surprisingly started to crack. His friend went ahead but as we reached the short descent and plateau I waited for a moment to see if he could draft me into what was now a strong headwind. He was going through a bad moment because he didn’t make it. This meant that the entire plateau had to be traversed solo against an intense headwind. Close to the end of the plateau I saw a shadow of someone behind me and it was the German who had recovered and caught up – probably some time back. He was drafting me against the headwind and as a result was able to pull ahead slowly on reaching the actual climb up to the Col de la Morte. Now I was getting tired and about 5 others overtook me on this climb. This is about the point where my morale was at it’s lowest and thoughts of not finishing were quite persistent. Fighting not only uphill but against a powerful gale funnelling head on down the valley was not, according to my still cold and tired legs, any idea of fun. The important thing was to push on as best as possible. There was a proper feeding ravitaillement at the the top of this climb and right there were the two Germans again – the faster one having waited for his friend. I dismounted the bike properly this time and had some Coke to drink, just a little banana and a date but very little else. After stopping for a pee and then topping up on water I was off but now quite happy to just let the two Germans go.  It was now an extremely fast 1000 vertical metre descent down to 376m at Séchilienne- km 113.5. The difference in temperature as it warmed up during the descent was extremely welcome as my feet had been cold for almost 5 hours now since leaving Les 2 Alpes.

Climb 4

Right at the bottom of this descent, when taking up pressure on the pedals, I got my regular as clockwork “5th hour” cramp welling up on the inside of the right leg. I tried shaking it loose but this time it got me –though only for a moment and then with light pedalling it died away. Lucky! Now – also very lucky – that strong valley wind was coming from behind so it didn’t really matter being isolated. In fact it was really enjoyable being able to set my own pace and just feel the wind pushing gently from behind and warming up the body. We were set for a long 14 km climb on the main road – likely to be a solo time trial and then another 7 km on a faux plat up to the base of Alpe d’Huez. The tail wind removed the pressure to worry about drafting anyone. Oddly enough the descent, prior to the cramp, was also very enjoyable being so fast and with the temperature going up. Those were the first positive thoughts I seem to have experienced all day. Having felt borderline miserable for 5 hours this was a surprise.

About 5km into the climb I was getting hot for the first time. It was easiest just to pull over and take off all the weather gear – rather than faff around and risk falling doing it when cycling. One guy passed me while stopped but it didn’t matter – it was nice to get the warm air drying the sweat drenched clothing now. Slowly I started to close up on the guy who’d passed and then someone else – wearing a camelback appeared on my tail and he drafted for a while. I could feel the warm air and sun infusing my body and seemed to be getting stronger and faster as a result. We caught the guy ahead and he tagged along and then Camelback went in front and took over for a while. We started to do rotations and gradually picked up speed and eventually the other guy joined in. Suddenly we were back in business and reeling people in from quite a long distance ahead. Very unexpected. My dark mental state had gone away but I’d only eaten a small amount of sugar so it wasn’t that.

Climb 5

At last we were at the foot of Alpe d’Huez. We would be climbing the lower section – which also happens to be the steepest section and about 3 km long. Suddenly when hitting this wall we encountered the familiar heat that always seems to be present in this special corner of France. I’ve never climbed this in anything but heat. Once again I was dropped by the new posse as I battled to cope with the transition from flats to steeps. Camelback had gone way ahead and the other guy from our original trio also pulled away. There were a few obstacles to negotiate as a large team of people were actually skating up the hill and some were struggling right from the start and before the first hairpin bend. It was the only other section of climbing today between 11% and 15% – but blissfully that gradient would only last one kilometre and not four again. Surprisingly this time I seemed to click into place and by moving the upper body slightly more over each pedal stroke I noticed that I could ensure  more weight on the appropriate pedal and a lightening of the other side – a bit like when standing up and pedalling. When I started doing this I found that it caused an acceleration and noticeably higher speed so I just kept at it and gradually wound everyone back in again. By the time the 3 km climb was over I’d caught and left behind all the others who had pulled ahead at the bottom and remember saying to myself how strange it was to be now feeling like I was really enjoying this – the start of the section I’d anticipated earlier on in the day never even reaching. Shortly after this climb there was a final feeding ravitaillement. Once again I dismounted and both ate and drank as well as charge up the water bottles again and managing another pee. When heading off a guy in orange (Dutch presumably) pulled ahead by about 150 m. We had a 7 km climb ahead and he remained 150m ahead the whole time. The climb was stunning with the narrow single track road cutting across a sheer cliff face above Bourg d’Oisans. At one section the roadside barrier was perhaps a foot high and there was a vertical 300m drop to certain death on the other side. I stayed away from that! There were tunnels to go through and a truly spectacular view which I was now in a state of mind to properly enjoy. Although we were climbing up to 1336 m we would have to descend back down to Freny d’Oisans at 933m before the 11km climb back up to the finish at Les 2 Alpes. Nobody had overtaken me and stayed ahead now since that cramp attack right at the lowest altitude of the day.

Climb 6

Going into the final climb of the day was slightly intimidating. This is where it can easily go pear shaped. I’d kept the legs turning on the last descent to avoid any recurrence of cramps and that seemed to have helped and the cramps never returned. From Freny I calculated that it was still possible to get to the end within the 8 hours if I kept each kilometre of the climb beneath 6 minutes – so it was a battle from now on to hear “5 minutes…” at each km from my telephone – and surprisingly I was managing it. The Orange guy was still 150 m ahead even when we reached the dam and started the real climb up to the ski station. Another Orange guy was there now and he had dismounted, probably due to cramps and was obviously struggling. Strangely once again I started to feel even better and felt some more power in the legs and began to pick up speed. The new Orange guy was picked off rapidly and about 3 km later I finally caught the original orange guy and was getting stronger. Another group of 3 cyclists had to pull over and stop as a girl in their group was having some sort of crisis. All the time I was getting faster. 3 km from the top I suddenly came across one of the Germans – this time the thinner one – who was now very slow. He was rapidly overtaken and then next appeared Lion Leg from the original peloton and he was overtaken too. Only one guy stayed with me on the climb and refused to be overtaken – unlike 8 others.

The Finish

The final kilometre was mentally very tough because you just keep imagining that it’s already over – but you have to keep on pushing and keep the rhythm and power flowing. Crossing the line was just a sense of relief. I continued on directly to the car and felt perfectly fine dismounting. No breathing problems and other than feeling tired no physical problems at all. I organised everything in the car, sorted out a clothing change and packed the bike. That still left time to see some of the prize giving and then have the meal. The meal was mostly carbs but the immediate “ketosis” task was already accomplished so I was quite happy to eat them under the circumstances – especially as the standard and quality of food has risen slightly – probably due to people complaining about the horrible food they used to provide. When you have a large “carb debt” from exercise then it doesn’t interfere with ketosis to eat some carbs.

When eating the meal and looking out over the closed off reception area near the race finish I had seen that there were quite a few gendarmes hanging around. Then I spotted the hysterical girl from the fight in the morning. Apparently she was still hysterical and managing to wind up the gendarmes and her gullible boyfriend was being led deeper into trouble. It appeared that the gendarmes had confiscated their vehicle which was parked now in the reception area and they where clearly upset at not being allowed to have it back. Nice to see the gendarmes doing their job properly!

Conclusion

It took a day to realise that this is the first time I’ve ever completed such a gruelling endurance event without feeling completely destroyed by the end. In contrast the last three hours felt really good both mentally and physically – with the final climb being strong.  My overall goal of being under 8 hours was achieved – 7 hrs 57 mins on my clock – (without subtracting the delay time for the fight). The official time was 7 hrs 35 mins from the Freny start and this was 25 minutes inside the “gold” category for my age group – and also comfortably inside the gold category for the 40 to 49 group.  My placing in age category was 28th (out of 42)and overall 137th (out of 183 participants). I hadn’t touched the pound of cashew nuts that had been carried the entire distance and a full heavy flask of sugar mix remained untouched. During the entire final descent and final climb I ate nothing – but felt stronger all the way. The main limit that could be felt was simply fitness due to lack of training and mileage. It’s three years since tackling such an event and this is easily my best performance of this type by a long way – so I guess that makes ketosis a winner.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ain – Jura Mountains

Distant Mountains visible left to right include The Matterhorn (Switzerland), Mont Blanc (Haute Savoie), Mont Pourri, Grande Casse, Bellecote (Savoie)

Before leaving the department of Ain (01) we decided to forego all the usual tourist rubbish in the valleys and just take advantage of a sunny day to hike up to a panoramic vantage point – which we had no idea actually existed? We also had no idea what we might see if we eventually found something. To help we switched off the GPS navigation and followed our noses – going first up to a small but completely dead ski station then taking forest trails that became more and more obscure and dodgy in appearance. Instinct of course does work in such situations and we got it spot on – finding the most stunning location by hiking up for an hour or so after parking. We were right on the tail end of the Jura mountains on a narrow ridge and peak that provided an almost 360° view of a vast area of France and Switzerland. The location is just to the North East of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

In fact we did attempt to hike in the Valserine gorge to look at the river erosion of the limestone – but it was so horribly polluted and stinking of everything from excrement to plastics and chemicals that we had to give that a miss. I actually couldn’t smell anything but Christiane has a nose like a bloodhound so she gives the advance warning signals.

01phy

 

Juras on the left, Geneva and lake Léman in the middle – Alps on the right.

Mont Blanc closer up.

Looking to the South – on the right is the Grand Columbier. Middle is the Rhone – coming from Lake Léman and towards the left is the Lac du Bourget leading to Chambery.

Driving home later on in the day we stopped by the side of the Rhone at the hyrdo-electric dam at Génissiat on the Rhone. The most impressive thing to see however was the stunning level of pollution in the water. In 1949 this was the most powerful hydro-electric dam in Europe.

 

Further down the Rhone we found a widening where there was a port for pleasure boats and a small and friendly café still open and selling excellent coffee – the “Lac du Lit au Roi”. Thankfully most of the obvious pollution seems to have been backed up by the dam and this place was charming and clean in appearance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Le Tour de l’Ain–Craft Challenge Cyclo

Pre-Race

Bad weather continued this month – even for this key “August 15th” French holiday weekend. The professional Tour de l’Ain is quite a big event now and attracts all the top World Tour teams. It seems that a short 4 day event at this time of year is quite useful for bridging between the big “Grand Tours”.  Ain is a river that joins the Rhone not far downstream and it is the name of the “department” – like “Isère”. It’s a place that is easily missed as people scoot south to the Alps but it has some excellent cross country skiing and ski touring in the winter and is peppered with small downhill ski resorts. Despite the great beauty of the valleys this area is heavily overshadowed by industrialisation, aggressive Islamisation, pollution, general degradation and serious poverty. The overriding memory however was of meeting extremely joyful and friendly people. The actual race was excellent and a real privilege to participate in. The entry fee of 15 euros is a complete give away and a breath of fresh air considering how the Tour de France severely exploits people for it’s vastly over subscribed “Etape du Tour” with 13 thousand people each paying about 90€. In contrast we numbered only 200 including the riders who were involved in the entire 4 stages. Actually, it’s is little bit scary knowing there are only 200 and you will be covering 140km over mountainous terrain. The potential for doing a complete solo trip is pretty high. The pros numbered just under 100 for their afternoon race (ours started at 9am) – so there wasn’t a great difference in numbers but in our group the ability to remain protected and helped within a peloton was not as certain by a long way.

Leaving Savoie on Friday afternoon to head for Ain we were confronted with torrential, cold rain. Later, talking to one of the top cyclists in stage 3 that day, he said it was the worst day of his life ever on a bike! We ourselves were heading for a campsite so that was a slight worry but the weather forecast was for it to clear. I use the “WeatherPro” app (basic purchased version) on my tablet and telephone and it’s amazingly good – with radar tracking of clouds and satellite cloud tracking – so we were fairly confident that it would be fine – and it did clear up as we were en route. The real worry was that on Google maps satellite images the campsite in Nantua looked like a dump in the middle of an industrial zone surrounded by ghettoes. In effect it was all of those things – except that after going through the gate it was like a complete transformation into a peaceful, calm and protected natural and green haven. The couple running the campsite were bright and creative artists, spotlessly clean and attentive to detail. This made the stay a real pleasure – sleeping in fresh air to the sound of distant animals through the night – in particular a pair of owls who decided to hoot to each other until daybreak. Natural noises like that are more comforting than disturbing – in comparison with machinery and road noise – which is just about everywhere these days. In addition I absolutely hate hotels – they are vastly overrated nonsense to be avoided if at all possible.

The building for registering for the race was only a few hundred yards from the campsite so around 7:20 am I was there to register. Having gone to bed early – as is the way in campsites with lights out at 10 pm. I had already been up before 7 am and cooked a breakfast of porridge, banana and coconut oil so that I’d have a couple of hours to digest it all before the race. I made a big pot of coffee and filled a travel mug to take to the registration. Christiane remained in bed during all of this – but was up when I returned from registration in time for the campsite café opening where she could get a much better coffee and a really good croissant. Christiane invited me for a coffee and it was a mistake accepting because I still had to prepare for the race and this left me running a bit short of time. In the event all worked out well and I was lined up at the start with about 10 minutes to spare. Knowing the course was over 140km doing a warm up seemed pointless as it would only add to the inevitable tiredness later on in day.

Race

The first 7 km of the race was neutralised and controlled by a security car and motorbikes until we were well past the lake at Nantua and out into the countryside – where a panel displaying “KM 0” was positioned. The timed race itself was over 133 km so this first 7 km turned out to be an excellent warm up anyway. During this warm up I suddenly realised that my distraction with Christiane during preparation had caused a slight problem – I’d completely forgotten to put water into the water bottles! Turning to Chris Harrop who was beside me I said ‘Chris, I have to ask a REALL BIG favour of you!”. Chris gave me one of his full bottles in exchange for one of my empties. It was a lifesaver for me but could potentially seriously screw up his race. If you are in a peloton then you really can’t stop to pick up water during the race or you get completely dumped! I was sorry to have put Chris in this situation but unfortunately had no choice. If he had refused I wouldn’t have held it against him – it was my stupidity after all.

Shortly after the official start we began the first proper climb of the day and this separated out the different levels immediately. I saw Chris pushing hard to get into the first peloton and I settled into the second which was also going pretty hard. For the next couple of hours of climbing and descending I remained hovering around two or three of the same cyclists. They impressed me with their strength and it felt weird being able to stay with them. It was clear to me that I was punching well above my weight here but I decided that as long as it was working I’d make the most of it. What surprised me most was simply being able to stay with the people when climbing. When I was a little heavier (a lot heavier actually) I’d just be going backwards on those climbs relative to those guys. Staying with those guys and being in the fight was a very good feeling. Some guys would lose it on the climbs and then battle to catch up on the descents – each making best use of his strengths. Most often I found myself beside an extremely athletic looking young guy with a solid square and muscular build – no 2038 – and wondered how the heck I was keeping up with him.

Everything was going well until KM 69. Ironically my race number was 2069 – so this may have been programmed! We arrived at a 3 km climb and by this time our ever accelerating peloton had amassed at least 30 people. The problem was that it didn’t stop accelerating on this climb. By the top the peloton had completely exploded into pieces – and I in particular was spat out of the bottom. My energy levels were fine, it was just that the legs were starting to “ping” and “twang” feeling one step away from cramping. The legs had reached their limit. I actually couldn’t increase power in them when I wanted to. The energy and motivation were both still intact and the legs didn’t even feel tired – they just couldn’t mechanically handle it. This is purely and simply the result of undertraining and not enough mileage in the legs. In July I’d barely reached 500 km total due to awful weather and circumstances. On the positive side I did manage to grab a water bottle (bidon) on the fly that someone was holding out. I don’t know if it was intended for me but I grabbed it anyway. After emptying it into my own empty bottle I stuffed it into a back pocket to return at the end – but it popped out somewhere along the road. I was hoping that Chris had the same luck with water. In fact I’d missed the first “ravitaillement” completely so without Chris’s help I’d have been out of water until KM 70. While occupying myself with the water the few other remaining stragglers from the exploded peloton managed to from a small group ahead of me and pull away – soon to be out of sight. I was not interested in chasing them as I understood that the legs were already in the red zone. Interestingly the three guys that were dropped along with me were all about the same age as me too – so that probably played a big part in it. The younger guys probably had a bit more reserve whether properly trained or not.

The next 40km ended up being a solo time trial. Our peloton had been so fast – averaging over 30 kph for over 2 hours with considerable climbing involved – that there was nobody for miles behind me that I could even consider waiting for to team up with.  For example – the winner of the pro race was predicted to average 38 kph – so for a bunch of ragtaggle complete amateurs that speed was pretty good. The moment I was on my own I could feel the loss of speed but not a loss of energy and effort. It was necessary to pace myself just slightly under the level I’d been operating at but in reality I was probably working just as hard and my heart rate graphs proved that in the end – sitting on average around 152 bpm – which is my normal training level. My feedback was coming every kilometre through an earphone in my left ear connected to my telephone, running GPS and the “Runtastic” app, along with Ant+ heart rate monitoring thanks to Sony technology in my trusty Xperia Arc. What surprised me was the kilometre times on the climbs were not dropping by more than a few seconds – which was very encouraging. When you are isolated it’s easy to become detached from the entire process but the audio feedback is a great point of reference – a bit like having your own coach in a car behind you urging you on. Only one guy caught me from behind about 500m from the end of a big climb and very frustratingly I couldn’t respond to stay with him without risking too much. During the entire 40km time trail this was the only person to overtake me. Once again I watched him progressively disappear into the distance. On the next climb when near the summit I spotted another two guys closing up on me – but I got the the top before them and when the caught up on the descent I was able to speed up and get in behind to draft and let the legs recover a bit. There was a long descent and this gave a good break and time for proper recovery – especially as I could easily stay with them without pedalling. During the descent I lowered my heels to stretch the calf muscles as much as possible. Stretching is a great protection from cramping – if you can manage to do it. There were still two of the biggest climbs of the day to come so I didn’t expect to stay with those guys. in addition they were both participating in the whole 4 days tour so they were confidently strong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly, right from the start of the first of the two climbs I took the lead and  ended up pulling the two other guys the entire way up the climb. My legs had completely recovered and were back in fighting mode even though we’d been going for almost 4 hours by now. It was extremely hard mentally holding that pace right to the top of the hill – but then I repeated the same exploit on the next and final hill too – the biggest climb of the day! On that last hill we caught up with and overtook two of the guys who had dumped me from the peloton that had exploded earlier on. They had both completely cracked by now. One was the guy who I’d almost held on with during the explosion and the other was a young guy I didn’t expect to see again. They were now dropped in turn. Just after passing the summit another guy caught us from behind – he too was participating in the 4 day tour. Now I was with 3 guys who were fighting for overall placing in the tour – so they meant business. This new guy put on the pressure so that my heart rate was the same during the descent as it was in the climb and with only 10 km to go there was now no letting up – with constant pace changing and sprinting to stay together. Coming up to the finishing straight I knew the game that would be played out. My concern was to get the best overall time that I could but their concern was position in the competition. I decided to keep the pace up and lead them in. Sure enough about 300m from the end they all sprinted past me flat out. The funny thing was that when I stepped on the power – just intending to stay together with them – the legs went straight back into “empty” mode and wouldn’t function. It felt like operating a set of bones with broken elastic bands. I found that amusing more than anything else – and disturbing considering that the others managed to vanish completely from sight in such a short space of time. How I managed to pace them up those hills and then for this to happen I really don’t understand.

The time from “KM 0” was 4 hrs 37 mins. This was about an hour slower than Mark Cavendish would manage in the afternoon – so pretty satisfying from my point of view as a seriously undertrained amateur more than twice his age. Unfortunately the cyclo results have not been published anywhere yet so nobody knows where he came in the race. (I say “he” because there was not a single woman participant.)

During the week building up to the race I’d been on an almost complete ketogenic diet – with almost no carbohydrates at all. This had been an experiment and was extremely interesting. On the Friday I cut out the intermittent fasting and started carb back-loading  - because I wasn’t confident about performing in a ketogenic state. It takes a body three weeks to become properly keto-adapted so there was no way I was ready for a competition without the use of carbs. The advantage here however is based on the “train low – race high” theory – of depriving yourself of carbs in training and then carb loading even more strongly as a consequence of this for the actual competition. There is still a lot to learn about the ketosis state but it feels very good as the body starts to adapt to it – so from now on that will be my objective – at least as an experiment. Carbs can be supplemented for competitions without destroying the ketogenic state once it is properly established – so it’s not a all back or white. You can create a “carb debt” and then eat carbs to compensate afterwards without ever leaving a keto-adapted fat burning metabolic state.

After the race Chris had to be driven back to Nantua to collect his car (22 km from the finish) and when back at the campsite I had a shower and change. Unfortunately on the return journey back to  finish I was too late and the motorway closed and trapped everyone on it as the pro peleton went through town – so I missed seeing the finish. One consolation was that at the only commercial stand at the finish line – an Ekoi stand- I was able to pick up a newer and more modern helmet for only 35 euros – so that was a nice compensation. Most importantly I had really enjoyed the race  - especially the first 70 km where our peloton was marshalled by a security car and motorbikes and ambulances the whole way – literally clearing the road in front of us. The last part also turned into an exciting battle and once again earned us a motorbike escort and support – with an ambulance following us across the finish line.

I spoiled myself after the race with a well cooked “hamburger maison” and chips in a restaurant and loved it! Sometimes diets need to be forgotten!