Sunday, 21 September 2014

Water affairs

I have started weighing myself before and after my hour long lunch rides to get a sense of how much weigh I lose through sweat and respiration. The figures are rather alarming. Currently I average a weight loss of 800g over an hour. (Water/weight ratios are 1:1 - 1 litre of water weights 1 kg.) For my typical Magaliesburg rides I don't take any form of hydration apart from a mid-ride bullet coffee at the Wimpy. Those rides typically take 3 hours. So my water losses are probably 2.5 litres and I replenish that with 350 ml. That's a deficit of 2.15 litres. Over 3 hours that's all well and good as a glass or two of water and a pot of tea over the next few hours and it's fixed. Also, as noted in a previous link, there are performance benefits to be gained from running a little dehydrated in training. 
Now fast forward to the Karoo in December. Temperatures in the 40's. Hourly hydration losses of ???  I guess a conservative guess would be 1 litre an hour moving at a moderate pace. Over 14 daylight hours that's 14 litres. Then add in the nighttime hours albeit at a lower rate. It's fine to do a 3 hour ride and get slightly dehydrated but over the long haul you will need to retain a good hydration at all times particularly if you intend to cycle 20-22 hours of every day. Research suggests that the max safe oral hydration is 1 litre per hour. Beyond that there is an increased risk of electrolyte imbalance that could lead to hyponatraemia (decreased blood salt levels) in which case you turn into a human sponge and you can absorb plenty of water before you drop down dead. Hyponatraemia is a real risk and this needs to countered through supplemental sodium intake. There are lots of electrolyte replacement options like Rehydrate and the new fizzy pills like High5 and a myriad of other brands that you can pop into your water. Unless informed otherwise it would be safe to assume that you will need to start the race with enough supply to get to the finish as there won't be any at the support stations. Riders in the habit of taking specialised race nutritional supplements would be better served ditching some of that and include more electrolyte additives unless they want to carry everything from the start. Normal food will do the trick from a nutritional standpoint as you pass through support stations but not specifically supplementing electrolytes can lead to disaster. 
Lets make some assumptions starting with an average traveling speed of 15km/h. Water points on The Munga are roughly 60 Km's apart. So you only need water for 4 hours. So the simple maths with my current hydration guesstimate makes the requirement 4 litres. That's a 2 litre Camelbak and 3 bottles. Carrying an extra 4kgs is huge. Endurance race experience has highlighted that my hydration requirements are a lot lower than the average rider so for some it could be upwards of 6 litres. It's logistically challenging. Stronger guys will ride a lot faster and might get through water points every 3 hours. Some will be slower and take 5. Add a headwind and it starts to get interesting. Above 35 Celsius normal sweat functions are impaired. Smart clothing choices that maximise evaporative cooling effects become imperative. It is primarily the electrolytic losses through sweating that needs to be replenished. In a 1 hour spin class you can drip out 3 litres of sweat but it takes a few hours for you body to effectively replace that volume. Go for a hike and you sweat a lot less and can easily keep your hydration in balance. I think it's going to be interesting to figure out the right pace to ride at. That pace will be informed more by establishing a hydration balance than how am I doing on the leader board. 
Anyway, this is all based on my initial measurements. Will continue to study the losses and see if they improve. Will also ride at different intensities and see how that impacts on losses. 

This race format is new and exciting. No one, including the race organisers know how this is actually going to play out. Riding is riding but the extreme endurance and challenging environmental aspects combine to make this one huge science experiment where we are the guinea pigs and the public are the observers. Certainly not going to be boring. 

Training observations

In the last 8 days I have cycled 430 Km's on my MTB over 7 rides. That's 23 hours of riding. On the face of it it's a reasonable amount of training but in context of the upcoming race it's an average effort. What is worrying is how tired I feel.
Last Saturday I rode 200 Km's on a Mini Munga ride with a handful of other Munga entrants. I struggled. If Anne Robinson was around she no doubt would have quipped "You are the weakest link, goodbye!" To add insult to injury she may well have recycled one of her more acerbic but fitting insults, "Who, alas, has delusions of adequacy?"
I am grateful to have a job and while it puts food on the table and pays the bills it makes it challenging to rack up significant saddle hours. To make up those hours I have been riding during my lunch breaks as well as riding at night. The lunch rides are of a short duration, 1 hour, but should slowly get me more heat adapted.
My performance riding at night is in stark contrast to my day time rides. Once the sun goes down and the mercury follows suit I am invigorated and ride a lot faster and harder. Perhaps my cold adaption over the last few years is deeper than I thought. My inability to ride strongly in the heat needs serious attention. Hopefully the ride at Mankeke in a fortnight will help this adaption.
The constant tiredness is also concerning. Over training comes to mind but is that really the case? Exercise gurus will advise you against increasing your training load by more than 10% per week. Going from a single weekend ride of 50 Km's and increasing it slowly in accordance with good sense guidelines can get you all the way up to 156 Km's a week over 3 months - whoop whoop!!
That won't work. The answer, I suggest, it to deliberately over reach without over training. Most people are familiar with the idea of over training but haven't heard of over reaching. Over training in a nut shell is training so hard that performance becomes progressively impeded to the point of requiring weeks if not months of rest to recover. Over reaching by contrast requires one or two days rest to recover. When you are training regularly it's hard to take a day off. The idea of two days without training seems completely insane. Balanced carefully with adequate rest overreaching can help you increase your weekly training hours without pushing you into an overtrained state. For me it means 2 rest days at the end of each week. It seems to work as I have increased my workload a few hundred percent and after a few days rest my small time trial rides show my speeds are increasing. If they were headed south I would need a serious rethink. As I sit here now wishing I could go for a ride I know that being off the bike today is in fact the best form of training possible right now.
By the way, after a 2 day rest following the Mini Munga ride thoughts of Anne Robinsons trenchant criticisms no longer haunted me.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Let The Munga show begin.

The Munga, a non-stop race from Bloemfontein to Stellenbosch approx 1000km, through the Karoo mid summer. Teams of 2. Daily cut offs and US$1 Million in prize money. A race conceived and presented by Alex Harris. The race has its genesis in an obscure corner of Alex Harris's cerebral cortex probably as a result of an overload of intertwined decades long extreme adventuring experiences. Alex is no ordinary adventurer and The Munga will be no ordinary race. I am teamed up with Tread Magazine editor Sean Badenhorst.

A few years ago over a cup off coffee Alex casually mentioned the concept of a race with a big purse that would change the face of endurance riding as we know it. We are both Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa veterans with 3 finishing blankets apiece. Alex has managed 2 wins and a second place while I have managed to roll through the finish in 7th place on my first two attempts and 5th on my last. Alex is gnarly while I am your average mountain biker. One thing we have in common is the experience of suffering on a bike. It just takes a lot more effort on his part to get into the suffer zone.

Having set his sights on a big purse ride he tried and failed to secure consent to race the length of the Sishen-Saldanha Bay iron ore railway line. His plan for The Ironmonger race were scuppered. Undeterred he dropped the "Iron" and morphed the "monger" into "Munga" to create a name that will in time epitomise the ultimate mountain biking vasbyt challenge.

Alex has come up with a race concept that draws on his personal experiences in conventional stage races as well as the Freedom Challenge and Tour Divide. Evident in his race model is the need for serious grit. The off bike pampering that is typical of the well healed or professional multi day stage racer will not be a part of The Munga. Equally, 12 hours a day of slow grinding that will see you finish the Freedom Challenge or Tour Divide will be hopelessly inadequate in Alex's race format.

What makes it tough are the conditions and time constraints. Routing from Bloemfontein to Stellenbosch over 1000 Km's the terrain won't be a serious issue but the heat will certainly present a challenge. The Karoo is a desert and a hot one at that. The race timing will ensure the challenge of desert heat will have full effect. Regular cut offs will force riders to push on relentlessly or face disqualification. The race distance will require riders to complete at least 200 Km's per day. Anything less will be a sub par performance and result in an early bus trip home.
There are many challenges that competitors need to gear up for. Heat and hydration easily come to mind. Riding in the cold requires an extra layer or two. Heat is not about a layer or two less. You need to protect yourself from the suns rays and be able to tolerate the heat. That tolerance only comes from physiological adaption. You need to train in the heat to get used to it.
To be continued....