Sunday, 8 June 2014

The necessity of sleep and rest

While attempting a long period of non stop activity such as the Race to Rhodes one needs to bear in mind the necessity of sleep and rest. Far be it from me to present hard scientific data on this subject. Instead, I draw upon previous experiences on the Freedom Trail.

One cannot under estimate the necessity of both sleep and rest. Firstly, they are not the same thing. The moment you stop exercising you are resting your body and muscle recovery begins. Sleep on the other hand has little to do with muscular recovery and everything to do with cognitive recuperation. I like to think of the relationship between sleep and the brain as a chunk of computer memory that gets loaded up and only sorted and downloaded to the hard drive once you power down the device. Without sleep the available memory fills up and chaos ensues with trying to load more data. My experiences of sleep deprivation have resulted in hallucinations, both visual and auditory. I have seen Energizer Bunnies stalking me during a 24 hour race event. I have seen people walking toward me offering me refreshments while I "mowed the lawn" only to realize that the "person" was in fact an approaching car. I have heard people calling me when I have been alone and many kilometers from anyone else. After a while all your brain wants to do is shut down so it can sort and clear the memory buffer. Eventually you have no control over your wakefulness as parts of your brain cycle down. This results in you falling asleep while riding your bike. It is exacerbated when the lack of sleep coincides with your circadian dips such as 4-5 o'clock in the morning. It is incredibly debilitating. One stretch that should have taken me no more than 3 hours took over 4 with me battling sleep monsters. In hindsight I should have taken a 30 minute power nap which would have resulted in me completing the stretch in less time. The secret is the power naps. When you are battling to stay awake sleep comes quickly. Curling up in a ditch results in near instant deep sleep with the associated cognitive recovery. It's hard to oversleep in a ditch as it is uncomfortable and cold. After 30 minutes you are able to move on with a refreshed mind.
Rest is another matter. The truth is that on a race like this it is a luxury you can't afford. In 2012 I wrote about a rest day of just 160km's. It followed an arduous 270 km, 20 hour day of pain and suffering. By riding slowly and well within myself I was able to recuperate sufficiently to get up the following day and put in a 39 hour effort to cover the last 370 km's to the finish.
To get to Rhodes in under 71 hours I need to factor in the essential requirement of sleep which should total somewhere between 2 and 3 hours as well as the requirement to factor in some "active rest". When and how to fit this in will be the challenge.

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