Sunday, September 28, 2014

La Drômoise 2014–Improved Ketosis.

Ketosis Paradigm

Each long distance race adds to the amount that can be learned about ketosis. It’s one thing being in a ketogenic metabolic state for daily living but the entire theory is abruptly put to the test when applied to athletic events. There is a form disbelief that appears to accompany results with ketosis, perhaps due to a lifetime of being brainwashed to expect the opposite. Each positive result reinforces the reality and value of ketosis and slowly you can feel a true paradigm shift taking place.  It takes a lot to push aside a lifetime of cultural conditioning and beliefs.  Science at its very best only gives us an approximate model of the world and every theory (or fact) is provisional – until replaced with a better one – that makes prediction more reliable and accurate. Those who fervently believe in current science and “conventional wisdom” are often entrenched in progress stifling dogma without realising it – effectively making a religion out of science and scientific authority. Real science is about change, curiosity and learning – endlessly. “Ketosis” is a prime example of where conventional wisdom and connected commercial interests combine to stifle progress and understanding. The current advances in privately funded nutritional science in this particular area are however quite stunning. There is a lot to learn here. Meanwhile to help to deal with all the unanswered questions people are taking to experimenting for themselves – with their own bodies – and with only a few basic guidelines to go by the results are impressive. I have no pretension of contributing anything new of specific value here other than confirming (or otherwise) the real value of ketosis when experienced for myself. There is so little known about this subject however that anyone messing around with it is likely to stumble upon new ideas.

One objective for the Drômoise race was to start the race in a measurable state of ketosis. For all the previous races I’d not eaten enough fat to be able to register a strong ketosis levels prior to the races. My 9€ Chinese breathalyser however only shows up a reading from 1.7 mmol/L and “nutritional ketosis” is already happening at 0.5 mmol/L. This morning, for once, the meter was reading 0.01% BAC (1.7 mmol/L) so that confirmed strong ketosis. I’d also consumed a breakfast cooked in loads of coconut oil and eaten coconut oil treats with my coffee. Supplementing  MCT oils (found in Coconut fat) would provide an exogenous source of ketones along with those being produced by the body. More than ever before carbs were strictly avoided in preparation for this race.

For consuming during the race there was a supplement made up from blending desiccated coconut powder into a cream, diluting it with water and then adding a small amount of zero carb stevia for sweetening. Some low carb blackcurrant and apple puree was also added for flavouring. The idea was to make the mix tasty to encourage the eating of it during hard exercise – where eating is very difficult. The mix was fluid enough to be delivered though a drinking nozzle and kept in a small drinking flask. I carried about 350 grams of this in total during the race but found when in action that it wasn’t sweet enough and only managed to consume perhaps 100 grams altogether. It wasn’t liquid enough either. More experimentation is needed.

The idea here is to have a supplement that will directly provide ketones once the Medium Chain Triglyceride oils are processed in the liver – and a low level of carbohydrates to compensate for carb-debt in the body and to stop the body from consuming its own protein (muscle) to create glucose to replace and stabilise basic glucose levels. This is an uncertain area though because I know that adventurers Ranulph Feinnes and Mike Stroud – when they walked across the Antarctic – taking blood samples every few days – ended up with stable blood glucose levels so low that nobody had previously believed this possible – by a large margin. They were on a ketogenic diet getting 75% of their calories from fat – though they hadn’t quite realised this). That was only  a short while ago – in 1992/3 – so it demonstrates the absolutely astonishing ignorance of the medical world in this extremely fundamental area.

During the actual race – after about 3 hours I drank some Coke – a small amount – and repeated this at two more feeding stations – to deal with carb debt and to add caffeine for improved fat metabolism. I didn’t eat anything during the race (almost 6 hours) other than the small amount of coconut supplement mentioned. In all very few calories of any kind were consumed during the event.

Immediately after the race my BAC was at 0.02% (3.4 mmol/L) and it has stayed there constantly  since (48 hours and counting) – even after eating some pasta at the post race lunch. This consistency once again proves that carbs can be eaten to address a carb-debt without causing the person to come out of ketosis. (It’s only the concept of “carb debt” that needs to be questioned – and whether accepted stable minimum glucose levels are really ideal) The most benefits from ketosis are supposedly found at between 0.5 and 3 mmol/L so with me reading 3.4+ mmol/L this was clearly in weight loss territory from fat metabolism. The keto-adapted body (about 5 weeks of adapting now) gets more efficient at producing ketones during fat metabolism and also specifically the right sort of ketones for muscle use – those which break down through respiration into acetone and can be measured with a cheap breathalyser unit.

The most immediate interest for me however would be the start of the race – with the ketosis level being higher than previously. Until now ketosis (and or daily intermittent fasting) – or poor ketosis levels and poor keto-adaption - had cause me to feel at least psychologically quite a lot of difficulty getting going in every event and in training. It’s all quite tricky to sort out due to the number of variables so a lot of experimentation is needed. Competition is the perfect backdrop for this experimentation because the appropriate motivation levels are guaranteed.

Race

I slept peacefully overnight right next to the race registration and post-race reception area in a camping car park. There were big police signs forbidding ordinary (estate) cars from parking under menace of being towed away – but correctly I assumed this aspect of the growing European Fascist Police State would be suspended for this particular weekend. The location was perfect and everything went like clockwork the next morning during registration and preparation.carte_des_parcours

Getting to the race start was another story! The start had combined all the 119 km and 147 km racers and all the hundreds of cyclotoursits in the same place – in very narrow streets. What a mess! Eventually an official cleared a way through the mob for us and we at least got onto the right street for the start – but I was right at the back. The only alternative would have been to have gone there an hour early and just wait – but that was an even less appealing option. The solution to dealing with the timing issues for the start used by the organisation turned out to be incredibly stupid. It took about 5 minutes to get all the racers through so they used the median time as the start time for everyone. The positive side of this is that  you would place in the results exactly in the order that you crossed the finish line – but it also meant that the starters in the front had 2.5 minutes deducted from the real overall time and those at the back had 2.5 minutes added – plus they were not able to get access and the protection of the fast pelotons near the front without destroying themselves in an almost useless attempt to catch up – which is exactly what happened. The simple solution in this sort of situation is to have a rolling start with a control car neutralising the event until out of town on the wide open road. Matters were worsened by the leaders having  priority start numbers in the first place – so even if the timing chips were used at the start when individuals cross the start line (as they usually are on non professional events) the leaders would not have suffered.

My attempts to recover some ground at the start led to the first 10 km being covered at an average speed of 36 kph despite it being a gradual climb. The only way to make this possible is to hook onto a small bunch of fast guys who are passing by in their attempts to recover some ground too. Once you accelerate to stay with them then the drafting takes over – but all the same your heart rate will  remain very high and even when drafting this is pushing the limits. Right from the start there seemed to be a better keto-adaptation, or a better level of ketosis because this start felt like it used to when I was consuming carbs and experienced that addictive “carb buzz”. Energy levels felt good and strength felt good. After about 13.5 km we were getting into the first and biggest climb of the day  - the Col de Pennes - and so I resigned myself to losing touch with the fast group that I’d been using to reel in hundreds of cyclists and several large pelotons by now. Transitioning from rolling to steeps always seems to present me with much greater problems than most people – so I watched the others disappear up ahead while my legs were sorting themselves out. My heart rate was close to maximum – around 169 to 172 bpm (max is 176 bpm) for nearly all of the climb. When the legs got going then I sped up, caught up with and then overtook the guys who had dropped me – and just kept on going reeling in hundreds more on the way up. Anyone planning a race strategy properly would not attempt to sustain close to maximal heart rate like this  – but when you have no choice due to an atrocious start then there is not much left to lose. I was however also curious to see how the body would cope with such effort levels over a long race. While burning ketones you don’t generate lactic acid – and the heart prefers ketones to glucose. If there was little lactic acid produced then keeping this up for another hour wouldn’t be too detrimental – other than perhaps just some muscular and general fatigue. There were photographers on the Col some distance before the summit but even by then, going by the timing of the photograph, I’d overtaken roughly 2/3rds of the people in the combined races to place about 1/3rd of the way through the entire pack. That would definitely cost me later on.

The early morning decent from the Col de Pennes was chilly and I was glad to be wearing the windbreaker that we had been presented with from the race organisers as a memento. My arm warmers were pulled down to the wrists by now – easily done because having lost so much weight they fall down by themselves anyway.  I need to get a new pair and go down a size from medium to small. Carrying momentum over from the climb I went on the attack during the descent and even though the roads were very narrow managed to squeeze past the more cautious types. Very few cyclists can judge a good line in a turn and it’s shocking to watch them from behind. They just don’t have a visual pattern or the right feeling to follow. Eventually I was overtaken by a good descender and then just stuck on his tail – his lines were good and he judged the road surface very well too – anticipating and compensating for gravel and dampness in the shade. I’m happy to tail someone like this downhill but hate getting stuck behind a clown who gets it all wrong and is one step short of an ambulance ride. The second ascent began soon after at about 1 hr 20 mins (km 34) into the race, lasting until 2 hrs 35 mins (km 57) – Col des Rousetons - and from the start of this climb I was not going to push anything like as hard – keeping my heart rate during climbing at around 160 bpm. What was surprising however was that this was still possible after having spent around 40 minutes on the first climb with a heart rate averaging close to 170 bpm. 161 bpm is still red-lining above anaerobic for me so other than the descent practically all this time had been anaerobic and without eating any carbs. Anaerobic activity is supposed to burn 70% glucose so there is something far wrong with standard theory here. A good chunk of this time had even been spent red-lining the heart. When you burn ketones you don’t produce lactic acid and nobody seems to know what to call this state (at least I don’t know) – but it seems to do an excellent job of replacing the aerobic/lactic threshold/anaerobic system. During this second climb although I was still working “anaerobically” this drop in output caused a lot of stronger people to start to overtake me – but there was nothing to be done about that.  At the Col des Rousetons at 2 hrs 35 mins into the race with most of the time spent climbing I stopped at at feeding station to refill water bottles and to drink a few small cups of Coke. There had been a cheerful band playing at one of the earlier feeding stations but this one was quiet. Knowing that the body was in significant carb-debt I also knew that this wouldn’t affect ketosis. So far nothing had been anything. The next two hours would be the most uncomfortable – with a feeling of general struggling.chart (2)

After the descent from the Col des Rousetons there was a plateau where a small peloton formed and we covered about 8 kilometres fast against the wind by rotating the lead constantly. This was taking us close to the separation point for the two courses at 77 km. Once again on arriving at a steeper section the transition was not happening automatically for me so I had to let the group go – although it fragmented anyway at this point. Most people went straight on for the short course and once again I found myself isolated when branching onto a long course. The next climb up to the Col du Fays and then the Col de Rossas (87.5 km) would take until 4hrs 02 mins and all of this climb would be in isolation with some strong headwinds at points. About one kilometre from the summit I was overtaken by a young woman but couldn’t stay on her  tail. I realised that I could actually keep up but didn’t want to extend my effort level so high. By now my working heart rate had gone down to around 155 bpm. This is still supposed to be anaerobic for me – so even though the speed was not competitive at all by now I was still able to work relatively hard. There was another feeding station at Valdrôme (km 94) after the descent from those twin cols and once again I stopped to fill two completely empty water bottles and slug down some coke. I’d tried to eat some coconut mix from one of the flasks I was carrying but couldn’t get it to come out easily enough – and it didn’t have an attractive texture or taste so I gave up on that by the time I reached this feeding station – perhaps eating about 150 grams in total. There were many people out in the small villages cheering, clapping and encouraging us all. In this tiny village there was a musician singing “la Bicyclette” and playing an accordion – same as Christiane does – but not quite as well! Taking the road again I just missed a small peloton that didn’t stop at the feeding station and ended up on a gradual descent, solo once again and having to pedal to keep up speed. 1600_00806

Arriving on the flats and a much straighter main road there was someone ahead at km 100 who had dropped out of that peloton and when I passed him it was clear he had stopped due to cramps. He had just mounted his bike again as I went past and so next thing I knew he was behind me drafting. This was number 708 – Yannick Aunette– who then worked in rotation with me for the next 5 kilometers up a “faux-plat” against the wind until we arrived at the final major climb of the day to Lesches-en-Diois. Before starting this climb – at exactly 4 hrs 29 mins I noticed that I was feeling a lot better again. This resurgence has been happening at around 4 hrs 30 mins now in several races – but I have no idea why. For the final 1 hr and 20 mins my speed increased and never once dropped back down – exactly as it had done at Marseilles a week earlier. It’s as if the fat burning system suddenly ramps up to another level altogether. I let Yannick pull away ahead at the start of the long climb to give my legs time to make the transition and then at about 4 hrs 45 mins I just stepped on the gas brining my speed up to between 18 and 23 kph. Yannick was quickly overtaken but held on behind me for most of the remaining 5 km to the top until losing it near the end. However there was another feeding station there where I’d stopped so he caught me up and we left together for the descent- once again having drunk a few glasses of coke.

Just before getting to the feeding station there was a little boy at the roadside and he called out “What’s your name?” in French of course. Behind him was a small group of kids and once that had the name they would all shout “Allez Ian, Courage!” etc. One of the little boys made me laugh  when he shouted “You remind me of my dad!”.  Yannick took the lead on the way down and he was going for it – but his line wasn’t too great. The hairpins were quite sharp and some were blind too. Eventually he got it wrong on one and did a “tout droit” braking in a straight line right to the far apex of the corner. Fortunately he anticipated this and didn’t crash. It was good for me to slipstream and recover from pulling him up the climb. At the bottom Yannick described the descent as like being on a mountain bike – which was not far off the truth. Only a few seconds later he was hit by cramps again – exactly the same type of cramps that were affecting me earlier in the season – so I understood this issue relatively well. His cramp was on the inside of the right upper leg and struck when he started to use the muscles again for pedalling after the descent was over. I slowed down to encourage him and told him to keep moving but only push very lightly on the pedals – I wasn’t going to drop him so he could take the necessary time. Once the worst was over I told him to slipstream me until he was sure that it was gone. There was a lot of fast road ahead but with faux-plats and headwinds so we would both benefit greatly from working together – as much for the morale as for the legs. My main goal now was to complete the long course in under 6 hours – so it was going to be a close call. We had no idea where our overall placing would be. Now all the courses had joined back together so we were rapidly catching people from the 119 km course and the cyclotourists. We couldn’t tell now if we were catching anyone from the 147 km course.  We worked well together with me using my restored power to pull up the hills and defend against the headwinds and then Yannick relieving the pressure from me by taking the lead on all the descents so we could keep up a high speed. On the long flats we managed a good rotation that was completely spontaneous and worked very well. The final 10 km was averaged at 46 kph but we couldn’t catch a peloton ahead that we had been slowly gaining ground on – there were just too many of them sharing the work that despite our best efforts they remained out of range. When we arrived at the finish line I knew I was stronger than Yannick but didn’t want to turn that into a race between us so I just eased off and let him take the line – making no difference whatsoever to the result at this stage of the game. We had ended up doing almost 1/3rd of the entire course as a team and thankfully that was the case because otherwise we’d both have slipped back a lot. Yannick needed the motivation to get up the climbs and some protection from the headwinds and I needed the rest on the descents to recover. Had the “afterburners” not switched on at 4 hrs 30 mins then I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this. There must be an explanation for this phenomenon but like most things to do with metabolism and nutrition there is no sensible relevant information out there. The science in general is complete rubbish and clearly motivated by commercial interests and not by intelligence or genuine scientific principles.

Results

Surprisingly, despite being strong for most of the race my placing was 171 out of 205 - (59 in age cat. out of 71).

Actual time   05:56:57

Official time 05:59:18. (At least they let me remain under the 6 hours!)

Very annoyingly, both myself and Yannick who had also started near the back both had 2 mins 30 seconds added to our actual time of crossing the start line – due to the stupidity of the organisers giving an average single start time for everybody. That makes a difference of anything up to potentially 20 places so it’s a seriously stupid system. Those starting at the back are already handicapped by having to work much harder to catch the field of riders – which is almost impossible. Being philosophical about it all it doesn’t really matter of course because it’s all about having a great workout – but motivation is the key here and issues like this can’t really be ignored.  Almost 4 hours were spent at supposedly anaerobic levels of activity – so I couldn’t have done much more than that. There were no cramps and no bonking – despite being in ketosis and the only carbs being involved being a few glasses of Coke. My BAC was 0.01%  (1.7 mmol/L) before the race and 0.02% (3.4 mmol/L) immediately after (it is still at 0.02% 48 hours later). Either I’m no good at long distance racing or the others – starting advantage aside – were very much fitter and have much greater mileage in their legs. I suspect that Yannick had a similar or lower level of training – hence his cramps problem. He was 9 years my senior however and he was tempted to blame his cramps on that – but I know that cramps have no bias in that respect.

Red Line      23% 01:20:21

Anaerobic  44% 02:36:56

Aerobic       22% 01:20:15

Fat Burning  8% 00:29:02

My serious red-lining had been on the first two climbs and as expected this biased my heart rate averages over the race, slipping from averaging around 170 bpm on a straight line (graph) down to about 147 bpm towards the end. I normally train at around 152 bpm so this is still quite amazing and a phenomenal endorsement for ketosis. It was clear from the start that sustained red-lining would have to be paid for – but the negative impact was temporary and not too deep. Somehow – even though average heart rates continued to decline as a result of this – my power actually increased. That’s the part I don’t understand here. The final hour and a half along with my new partner were enjoyable – mentally, morally and physically. Any relative dip and hardship in the middle section was rapidly forgotten. After the race I felt a deep tiredness in my legs that I’ve only felt once before – the week before after the “Bosses du 13” race. Mentally I was fully alert and fresh so the 3 hour drive home after lunch was  absolutely no issue. There was no tiredness when driving. Sleeping at night however was a bit restless and the following day there was a deep general tiredness. Now, almost 48 hours later (and still deep in ketosis) I already feel recovered and fresh.

Amazingly, despite my background both academically and professionally in navigation I believed that I was going around the course in a clockwise direction – but it was anti-clockwise! Realising that after the race removed quite a bit of confusion! Thankfully the roads were almost totally empty of traffic and the organisiation and signalisation were excellent. I’ll be back! Despite the toughness of the long courses and large amounts of climbing, thanks to ketosis I’m starting to really enjoy and look forward to them. Before ketosis I used to only find them demoralising.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bosses du 13, Marseilles 2014 (or–how to go from an XXL to M shirt size in three months!)

One of the main benefits of both fasting and a ketogenic life style is that it gets you from a size XXL jersey down to a size M in a matter of a few months! The size M even looks slightly baggy here! Today would be another test of ketosis over a long course of 166 km. The “Bosses du 13” (department 13) is a tough race with lots of climbing even though it takes place close to the Mediterranean sea. In the past I’d only attempted the middle distance of 134 km and always finished it suffering – so it was relatively scary going for the long course and on a very low carb diet.  Every time I put ketosis to a test like this I expect it to fail. One of the rules of this race is that a Voiture Balai (sweeper up van) would come along at an average 20 kph and eliminate anyone that it passed. With steep climbs totalling close to 3000m that might include me! I’ve had one close encounter with a friendly Voiture Balai in a smaller competition before but this one appeared to be particularly aggressive and needed to be avoided at all costs.

I arrived in Marseilles at the University “Campus de Luminy” on Saturday to register for the race. There is a large amount of secure parking area there so that makes an overnight sleep in the car the idea solution for this event. My eventing meal was just bought from a supermarket because I wanted to eat “high fat” and to avoid carbs as much as possible – which is not easy in a restaurant. Eating this way also left me a lot of time to relax and organise everything without stress – and to get to sleep very early for the anticipated 5:45 AM early morning rise. We needed to be at the start for 7:30 AM but although getting up at 5:45 seems like ample time it really isn’t!  There’s always a lot more to do for good preparation than expected. The night was mild – around 20°C – which made a relaxing change from the cooler temperatures of the Alps. This also made me decide to wear only one layer for the race and to not carry any additional clothing. During the eventing meal I ate lots of cream, cheese and nuts and in the morning I would eat a full breakfast cooked in coconut oil (for MCT –Medium Chain Triglyceride fats) and eat a good quantity of nuts. I had my coffee mug ready with its ground coffee inside and built-in filter – with a glass bottle supply of filtered tap water (to remove chlorine). I use our old stainless steel pans for this type of cooking as they are less toxic than aluminium camping pots – but not as good as iron – which would just be too heavy for on-the-go cooking in front of the car. It was still so dark that everything had to be done with a head-torch. One of my two extremely powerful Chinese head torches is still working after several years!  Careful eating didn’t prevent my ketosis (acetone) breathalyser from registering zero just before the race! This was slightly annoying because earlier in the week I’d been registering a very high level of ketosis and would have preferred it to remain this way for the race. I suspected a few dietary issues weren’t adding up too nicely regarding the proportion of carbs, despite strong efforts to avoid them as much as possible. The breath testing unit that I use isn’t designed for low levels of detection and a zero reading can represent anything from 0 up to 1.7 mmol/L of acetone (blood content) – with 0.5 mmol/L being already inside the Nutritional Ketosis range – so I was no doubt still well within ketosis (producing ketones from fat burning) and the large dose of MCT oils would ensure ketone production within the next few hours regardless. It would be over 3 hours into the race before I would attempt to eat anything so it was important to get this right.

Race Start

Before the race start I saw Jacques Matt who was entering the 134 km race but there was no sign of Chris who was cycling to the start from his hotel about 10 km away. I knew Chris would arrive either at the last minute possible or be late. It’s extremely difficult to juggle all the balls he keeps in the air – business, entire family with him and race demands – all simultaneously. Unfortunately the organisers here left no margin of tolerance as everyone had to be manually checked in at the start from the campus.  Despite the start being delayed there was still no sign of Chris. I had waited at the back of the hundreds of participants but couldn’t spot his distinctive Macot jersey anywhere. The 94 km race had its own separate start lane with about 1000 entrants and would start about 10 minutes later than us. The 134 km and 164 km (166 km in reality) started mixed together and the bifurcations for each separate course was at 58 km the 94 km peeling off to the left first and the 164 km peeling off to the right about 100 m further on. Plan-Bosses-2012

The start was in two parts – everyone just had to get going and ride downhill out of the campus for about 3 km and then along the main road for a bit to the “official” start at the foot of the Gineste climb. I decided to start my own timing from the moment I went through the campus gate – which would give me sensible kilometre readings. This was a good move because the organisers did the same – matching our times almost to the second – despite their claims of an official start 8 km away. I’d pause the counter at the stop for the official start – but that was only a 2 minute stop anyway – not even enough time for a last minute pee! (I then went through the entire race sort of wanting to pee but not quite getting there.) My intention was to hop up onto the pavement at this point and move right up towards the front – and sure enough Chris was right there in the middle of the bunch right up were I’d expect him to aim for. No point starting way at the back and missing all the advantages of a fast peloton! There are a lot of people start with “priority numbers” to try to claim this advantage – but asserting your way forward in confusing situations like this is much more efficient. I knew I wouldn’t see Chris again until after the race but it was good to know that he made it. While we were heading down the hill to the official start there were numerous individuals cycling as hard as they could uphill against us to try to get to the manually recorded start. Hopefully they were all signed in. The tolerance level of the race start combined with the vicious Voiture Balai makes for a less than friendly event for some.

When the race kicked off I could feel that not only was I not warmed up properly – but there was no “carb buzz” to help me over that and the legs didn’t feel strong. This is clearly partly an illusion (or I have lost a lot of muscle from fasting) because my heart rate was hitting 172 bpm within minutes and I even hit 176 bpm for the first time in three years. (So my max cycling heart rate has to go up from 174 bpm to 176 bpm). When Jacques Matt overtook me before the top of the climb I resisted any temptation to chase him – thinking of the long game and the fact that I was on a longer course with more climbing. It’s easy to blow up at the start by overdoing it. The problem here is that if you don’t move you don’t get in a fast peloton – and I was about to pay the price for that. Once over the initial 3 km climb there is a long faux-plat which is always hard work. I ended up isolated with one other guy. We automatically started to work hard together in rotations to catch up with a substantial peloton about 100 m ahead but no matter how hard 164we tried it was impossible. Close to the end of this stretch we were then swallowed up by another peloton coming from behind us – so all that work was simply wasted. You have to treat those things philosophically – it was all a very good workout!

From this point onwards I managed to keep a fairly steady heart rate of around 160 during climbing but my speed of climbing was steadily dropping. Despite a good cardiovascular effort the legs didn’t feel very strong. This is probably due to the muscles still at some level not being fully keto-adapted. When you first go into a ketogenic state the appropriate ketones produced are used by the brain and the muscles can’t make use of them. The more acetone that is detected in the breath then the more ketones of the right type are also supplied to the muscles. I’m not sure of the fine details of this process – but there again I’m not sure if anyone is. The tail off in speed can be seen during the first hour and twenty minutes of the graph below…

When speed picked up after 1 hr 20 mins as the gradient leveled off then a peloton started to form around me and grow – so when we hit the next small climb at about 1 hr 40 mins then we kept a good speed up this climb. It was at this point, going up that hill, that I heard a security motorbike coming up quite fast from behind. Nothing unusual with that – but as he went flying past there was a bunch of cyclists right behind him! The speed was unbelievable! This was clearly the lead group for the 94 km race which had caught us up just a bit before the course bifurcation. When we arrived at the first bifurcation it was announced by a man with a crappy Tannoy – in French numbers – which made him completely unintelligible. Fortunately the tiny road signs clarified the situation and I went straight on and so did the entire peloton. The next bifurcation was only a short distance ahead and this time it was a policeman on the Tannoy and luckily I did hear the words “Soixante Quattre” and “Droite” – but it didn’t sink in quickly and I couldn’t turn off anyway because I had a big peloton of about 30 individuals mostly on my right side all going at about 35 kph! I had to stop and wait for the group to pass then make a U turn. The entire peloton had continued and I was the only one to go on the long course! That felt pretty weird!  For the most part of the course then – over 100 km – it would turn out to be mainly a solo time trail. chart (1)I’m used to doing workouts like this anyway so that’s not a problem – but it felt a bit lonely nonetheless. Fortunately one or two guys were visible up ahead in the distance so it wasn’t a complete ejection from the race atmosphere and motivation. Those guys somehow seemed to be affected by this too because they had slowed down significantly – as if they had decided that the race was over. My momentum was still going strong here so I caught them up but eventually – on this longest climb of the day – it ground down to an eve slower pace than earlier in the morning. On the graph from about 2 hrs 10 mins to 2 hrs 50 mins the slow climbing pace can be seen as a continuation of the steady decline in speed from the very start of the day. The air temperature had been fine the whole way – slightly warm but chilly in places. By the time the first big climb was over 3 hrs into the race all my water was gone and I was getting thirsty. I knew there as a feeding station somewhere on the plateau at the top so kept an eye open for it. It was now about 3 hrs 10 mins into the race and I managed to eat the first small chunk of coconut just before the feeding station. Coconut is not easy to eat as it doesn’t dissolve in the mouth and if you breathe at all through the mouth you inhale the bits of coconut in your mouth and spend the next five minutes coughing them out. I could feel that I needed to eat but had no actual energy dip. My heart rate and effort level had remained very constant despite a very gradual slowing down in climb rate. The guys I’d caught up earlier on managed to overtake me again and disappear before the top of the big climb (Col de l’Espigoulier)– but I’d see them again at the feeding station. Given that my body now had a significant “carb debt” I knew that carbs could be consumed at the feeding station without impairing ketogenesis. I must have drunk about seven cups of fairly strongly concentrated Isostar while my water bottles were being filled by some kind helper. The carbs did seem to buck me up. When your body has a large carb debt during endurance exercise then eating some carbs will apparently not interfere with fat burning or ketone production within the body. Apparently you get the advantage of both fuels.

Our course now had a descent and a loop ahead before climbing back up to the same feeding station and the summit following that. The guys who had overtaken me were not strong descenders and as I felt quite lucid I was able to attack the descent quite strongly. One guy remained not far behind so at the bottom of the descent – realising that there was a fairly long faux-plât against the wind I waited for him to catch up to share the work. He gave a big smile as he caught up – fully appreciating the gesture. Drafting allowed us to keep up a high average speed for the next twenty minutes or so. From the bottom of the second big climb of the day, returning homewards from our loop I just signalled my thanks to the other guy and told him I’d slow down and take my own time on the climb. Off he went ahead and disappeared from view – catching a few others on the way. Although there weren’t many on this long course there were always one or two others visible.  One thing that struck me at the bottom of this climb was that my thinking was still clear and effortless. Normally, on a high carb diet, the brain is in a fog by this stage. When the 100 km distance was announced in my earpiece it was bang on 4 hours from the start. This meant that after 5 hours this is where the Voiture Balai would be. If I made it to the top of the big climb before 5 hours then I’d be safely on a long fast descent away from this dreaded van before it had even arrived at the start of the climb. It was important to have worked this out because I did not want to be declassified. After about 4 hrs 30 mins , before getting over the steep part of this climb something odd happened. On the Granfondo even in Les Deux Alpes the same thing happened – there suddenly seemed to be more energy and strength available – and so I accelerated – rapidly finding, catching and overtaking the other guys who had pulled away from me half an hour earlier. From this point onwards until the end of the race the shift in energy would remain constant.

For the final two hours of the course I would catch people and pull them along – against the wind - until eventually dropping them on climbs. Speed remained consistently higher than in the morning even on steeper climbs. I had taken more Isostar at the feeding station at the top of the big climb – but the acceleration had started before that. I also drank some more when we had to go through an obligatory control point at another feeding station later on. The main thing however was to avoid dehydration. Each time I drank Isostar when stopped and then just pure water on the bike. Altogether I managed to get about three pieces of coconut in my mouth – usually when actually feeling hungry. It was just too difficult to get the stuff out of a pocket and delivered to the mouth! On the final two kilometres of the big climb I’d spotted a guy about a kilometre ahead and could see that by staying on the big front chain-ring he was being  reeled in rapidly. He remained ahead when starting the descent but before long I’d caught him on the technical and tight descent. He then drafted behind me for the next 25 mins as I kept the power on going up more faux-plâts – until with no real drop in speed the gradient really started to ramp up. He was dropped there and then someone else came in sight – and he was swallowed up on the next climb.

The toughest part of both the 134 km and 164 km courses is the final hump back over the Gineste to the end. This section starts with a steep climb up from the resort of Cassis then tapers into a very long gradual climb –always against a strong wind. I felt great! I was catching one guy after another and only one managed to stay in my slipstream and get relief from the relentless headwind. He stayed with me right to the top and when he came alongside he made a point of thanking me for helping him up the climb. I had tired myself pushing against all the elements so just let him pull away on the descent back down to the university. The final 3 km is a gradual climb, finishing with a short steep climb right at the finish line. Slowly I started to reel the other guy in again and then coming around one bend there was a sudden strong headwind that had almost stopped the guy in his tracks again. This meant that I caught and overtook him just before the entrance to the university. Once through the gates it was a bit of a confusing maze of signs to follow to the finish line but I was determined to use what strength remained to stay ahead – crossing the line 5 seconds ahead of my immediate rival. Later on I’d hear from Chris that in a similar battle for the finish line he had been hit by cramp 100 metres from the line and had to get off his bike – losing about 10 places to a whole team that was behind him! Chris had an amazing result about one hour ahead of me. My official time was 6hrs 40mins for 166 km with close to 3000 m of climbing – and the horrible Voiture Balai was over an hour behind! Only 196 people were in the classifications with anyone under 20 kph eliminated. There is no figure given for the number of eliminations. 196 for such a well publicised course is a very small number. There were close to 1000 on the 94 km course and 400 on the 134 km course – but on a fine day like this those numbers are even quite small.

Results

170th out of 196 classed (no figures give for DNFs) in 6hrs 40 mins. 166km. Chris came 76th one hour ahead – the long course being his usual choice at this event.

Recovery

After the race I ate a small amount of crappy pasta at the race meal but mainly just ate the cheese off the top. Likewise I ate the apple from an apple pastry and then went for a coffee. I felt very, very physically tired from the enormous effort over the final two hours – but oddly this didn’t feel like an energy drop. Ketosis has enormously altered the range of sensations that accompany endurance exercise and I’m still in very unfamiliar but extremely interesting territory here. Before, when burning carbs as the primary fuel I’d have been destroyed at the end of a race like this – in fact I never even attempted the long course at Marseilles and always hated the final Gineste climb. The feeling of power, mental strength and clarity over the last two hours is completely alien to me – excluding other recent similar experiences with ketosis.

After spending a brief moment with Chris and family at lunch I headed straight off to the beach at Cassis to go for a swim. The beach has been destroyed in the past three years with more and more noisy beach bars being allowed to eat up space on the the tiny beach front. This must be due to corrupt officials because no reasonable people would allow this to happen. The parking is now paying and expensive – it was free the last time I was here – but I tried to put all that nonsense out of my head – changed into swimming gear after parking up and walked under the road (tunnel) straight onto the beach and into the water. The water was great – soothing and delicious to float in after such a monster effort on the bike. I swam for about 10 minutes but decided not to tempt fate because violent leg cramps can strike at any moment after a bike race and that could be a problem in the water. There is a lifeguard station on the beach – but I’d rather not put them to use.

My final acts in Cassis were to shower, dress and then sit down at a café across the road from the beach and buy a coffee and Magnum ice-cream. Then I started to feel both recovered and good. My BAC was back up to 0.02% (above the legal driving limit if it was ethanol!) so my body was now strongly back into ketosis – despite any carbs that may have been consumed. At this point I was able to call Christiane and let her know that all was well and that I’d drive home (500 km) that night rather than hang around Marseilles. That way the Monday traffic would be avoided and I’d not have to waste a whole day driving. When I’d raced on carbs before I was not capable of driving that distance home afterwards simply due to overwhelming tiredness – even from the medium course!

View of Cassis Port

View of the little pebble-stoned beach being overrun by stupid, noisy beach bars.

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.

Apparently I didn’t escape the camera after all…

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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.