Monday, 1 September 2008

One lump or two....

With only six days to go until our final triathlon of the season I’m pleased to report that my cycling legs and I are once again friends :) A bit like spoilt child at a supermarket checkout, they’d thrown a massive fit and lobbed all their toys well and truly out of the pram the second I stopped feeding them refined sugars… I’m sure Super Nanny would have reprimanded me for caving in to their demands so easily but all it took was a few flapjacks and some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!!!

If you’ve read my recent posts you’ll know that since experimenting with removing (completely) refined sugars from my diet, although my swimming and running were great, I was losing power on the bike almost by the day. Following a couple of really poor sessions where I couldn’t raise my heart rate out of the 140s I found myself rapidly approaching the National Long Distance Championships in the worst bike form of my life…

Although it’s not necasarily the best idea to make radical lifestyle changes so close to an ‘A’ race, my intention was to see how it would affect my performance through training and racing for a long distance event so that I could possibly apply the same principle to my build-up to Lanzarote. Although I would have liked to stick with my plan right through to the Vitruvian the evidence against it seemed so clear so quickly and convinced me that without refined sugar I am unable to refuel effectively when training up to three times per day. What led me to this conclusion…?

In the table below you can see my heart rate and times for the 12.65 mile hilly cycle time trial that Hels and I do on a Wednesday night. The first ride is where I set my pb (30:31) and you can see that my heart rate gradually increased throughout, to a max of 170. The second ride was two weeks later and at 32:51 was the slowest I’ve ever ridden the course. You can see from the heart rate that, although I can assure you it was a maximal effort, I was unable to raise my heart rate even to 150. This lead me to believe that my cardiovascular fitness was good but my legs had suddenly been sapped of their usual strength which they use to challenge my heart and lungs. Over the same period Helen had followed an identical training and lifestyle strategy to me, with one key difference… she had continued to include refined sugars in her diet, particularly during training. Also during the same period, she produced a massive pb to win the LBT club time trial and pb’d twice at the Pool Triangle, on the second time smashing it to pieces taking it from 35:09 to 33:58… where I was clearly doing something wrong she was even more clearly doing something very right, and with only one real difference in our lifestyle the answer to that was staring me in the face… successive high intensity bike sessions followed by a diet high in complex carbohydrates but low in refined sugars had seen my cycling muscles become depleted in glycogen (carbohydrate) and without this essential fuel they were unable to produce significant power…

That was my best educated guess at least, but there was only one way to find out the truth… in order to allow my legs to recover I reintroduced refined sugars through things like energy bars, sports drinks and flapjacks and although continuing to run and cycle my challenging sessions where confined to the swimming pool. Following ten days of this I would then return to the Pool Triangle with the hope of seeing my heart and lungs once again pushed to their limit… If my theory was incorrect however, I’d be ten days out from the Vitruvian with a serious problem….

Warming up on Wednesday night, listening to the most motivational tracks my ipod had to offer, I was as focused as I have ever been. Although I don’t really get nervous I was really apprehensive about how the session would go and knew that within the first mile my heart rate monitor would give me all the information I needed… Within a minute or so of the start my legs were screaming but my lungs were also burning and my heart rate was 160… it was great to be back at top speed and loving the feeling of pushing myself to the limit. Crossing the finish line after 30 minutes and 40 seconds I’d ridden my second fastest time ever and beaten all of the times I rode last year. My target for this year has been to maintain my bike speed whilst building on my swim and run… it’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but as the season comes to an end I seem to have achieved that goal… we’ll find out on Saturday ;)

I like to state my goals prior to a big race as it helps me to commit to them on the day. My performance at the Vitruvian last year was (and still is) probably, in terms of time, my best ever in triathlon. However, I am a stronger athlete this year and am therefore looking for improvement in at least two out of the three disciplines… last year I swam 32 minutes, biked 2:17 and ran 1:25 for a 4:16 and 20th overall. Depending on conditions, this year I’m after 30 minutes, 2:15 and 1:23 respectively for something close to 4:10 and a top 15 placing.

I’ll leave you with a great quote from AJ Acosta on a recent Competitor Radio podcast

“I don't care if he's the inter-galactic champion of the world, I'm still going to give it my all"

See you next week,


p.s. apologies for any typo's etc but as you can see it's not 3am on Monday morning, we've only just walked in the door (massive traffic jam on the M25) and we're up for work in just over four hours.


Anonymous said...

If you really want to keep the refined sugars low, try playing around during the off season with how long before / after exercise you need them for optimal performance.

a 20 min TT on a turbo should suffice as a benchmark and each week try varying how long before and after you have them - might be a good starting point.

and god luck for the vit!

Russ said...


All the best for the Vit, almost wish I was racing it myself. Hope the conditions work in your favour and you can knock out the times you're after. Think they should be achievable after the year you've put in.

As for the refined sugar - I've never been entirely brave enough to try completely cutting them. At my dietary best I keep them pretty low except during training. The post training sugar craving though can be a bit much and with recent volume increases I'm hitting the fast sugars way too much!