By Simon Wegerif
Every year I have to do something that tests the limits of my endurance. Two years ago it was the Haute Route challenge of cycling from Geneva to Nice in 6 timed stages across the Alps, and last year it was the Etape TdF stage with 4500m of climbing (in temps up to 41C).
This year it’s the Mallorca 312. Yes, a one-day cycle sportive challenge of 312km (200miles) around the Spanish island with 4400m of climbing thrown in as well. It’s a timed event for over 2000 people with a cut-off of 14 hrs.
At 11+ hours, this is a much longer event than I’ve done before, so what I want to focus on is efficiency in order to stand the best chance of making it round. I’ve prioritised the following items as ones that I believe will best help me not only get to finish, but also to enjoy the day – company, scenery and all!
As I see it, the efficiency I need falls into two categories:
A) Physiological – how can I produce the most sustainable power over a prolonged period?
We carry about 2000 kCalories of carbohydrates stored in our muscles and liver, which can fuel only a couple of hours worth of tempo cycling, whereas even skinny people have >60000 kCal of fat stores. So it makes sense to develop fat burning to the max (FATMAX). This is best done by training steady miles at the top of Zone 2, just below the aerobic threshold. The MAF formula gives an easy to apply heart rate for this intensity. There is also evidence that training fasted can further stimulate fat burning, and I often do my morning rides before breakfast. Without really getting my body into nutritional ketosis though, I expect still to need carbs during the event and my favourites are fig rolls and cherry tomatoes for longer distances.
2. Training a high cadence.
I have to thank Alan Couzens for alerting me recently to this one. Although highest metabolic efficiency is achieved at quite low cadences (50-60 rpm), Alan pointed out in his blog that Type 1 (slow twitch) muscle fibres are much better adapted to fat burning than Type 2 (fast twitch) fibres that rely primarily on glucose. The Type 1 fibres produce only modest torque however, so what you have to do is develop a higher cadence of 90+ rpm to ensure minimal recruitment of the sugar hungry Type 2 muscles. This can be done with one legged and spin drills on the turbo trainer (or rollers if you’re feeling brave) as well as lengthy outdoor spinning rides in Z1/2.
B) Biomechanical – which aspects will give me the most speed for my limited watts:
I want to get as aero as possible (its free speed after all!) without compromising comfort or safety. I already have an aero (Felt) road bike, to which I am adding light weight aero wheels and for the first time, and a semi aero helmet that still provides cooling in case the weather is warm at the end of April.
2. Bike fit.
As well as getting the handlebars as low as I can comfortably manage, I’m gradually adjusting my cleats further back on the shoe soles, as this reduces calf strain, and the calves tend to be the first to cramp and give up on longer events (in my case at least).
3. Pedalling action.
I’m trying to refine this as well as increasing cadence to make it really smooth and efficient using one legged and spin drills.
4. Strength training.
There is good evidence now that strength training improves cycling and running efficiency as well as reducing the chances of injury. I’m concentrating on body weight exercises – lunges, pistol squats and plenty of planks and core work.
C) Staying healthy during training and the run up to the event
1. Avoiding seasonal colds & flu.
Nutrition and hygiene are both important – eating a variety of bright coloured fruits and vegetables to bolster the immune system, and taking a vitamin D supplement to make up for the lack of sunlight at this time of year. Making sure to wash my hands properly before preparing and eating food and to avoid close contact with others who have colds.
2. Avoiding physical injury.
As well as making only small changes at a time to any bike fitting aspects, I will be doing my best to avoid crashing during training rides! I usually do one or two fast group rides every week, and there are inevitably occasional spills, so I will be cutting down on these rides and doing long slow distance instead, which is what I need to develop the aerobic capacity for this ultra event.
3. Using ithlete HRV to guide my training.
ithlete has been my key training tool for the past 5 years, and I strongly believe has enabled me to perform better and more consistently than I ever did before. I will be using ithlete (and especially the Training Guide inside Pro) to alert me to imbalances of training, stress and recovery, and to ensure my immune system remains strong. In particular I will be avoiding periods of overreaching, which are unnecessary when performing aerobic training anyhow. Together with sufficient quality sleep monitored using Beddit, this should result in my HRV baseline rising almost continuously during the next 90 days.
If anyone who has done 12 hour or double century events would care to comment on what has worked for them, that would be great. I’ll provide an update or two as I get closer to the event, and of course a post mortem afterwards!