This is the third in my series of blog posts about my training leading up to Ironman Staffordshire 70.3. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
After crashing and burning during the Manchester Marathon I realised that there were other issues that I needed to resolve when It came to taking part in endurance events. I knew that simply training more in the way that I had been doing wouldn’t resolve the issue and had been looking into the benefits of strength training, improving my flexibility and losing fat as ways to get my body working more efficiently than it had been. Ultimately I was almost resigned to the fact that maybe my body wasn’t set up for endurance events and was ready to swallow that bitter pill.
I was lucky enough to meet a representative of sports nutrition company SiS, who saw me whilst I was with my bike and kindly offered me some free samples. “Of course” I thought, “I’ll take anything that’s free”. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t a fan of sports gels and their like! I’d never seen the benefit and thought that they all tasted sickly.
The week after meeting the SiS chap I went on my first trip on my bike to the fabled Box hill in Surrey.
The planned route to Box Hill and back was well over 100km would squarely place me in my endurance Dark Place. My “Dark Place” is categorised by decreasing lack of power in-spite of the desire to keep going, headaches and consistent cramps. In addition to this the ride out to Box Hill was on a cold and extremely windy January day so it would take more effort normal.
Box Hill Cherry Popped
The ride started out well through the Northside of London, the wind quickly stepped up a couple of notches and it was like grinding through quicksand. I had two water bottles with the SiS “GO Energy” and filled my pockets with and array of bars and gels. I had been sipping from the water bottles since early on in the ride and on a quick pit stop decided to break out a gel. I’d steadied myself for the worst as I tore the end from the sachet and was pleasantly surprised as the Citrus Energy gel glooped into my mouth. “That’s actually nice”, I commented to my riding compadre Cameron. I used my thumb and forefinger to “squeegee” the rest of the gel into my gullet before popping the empty sachet into cycling jersey and carrying on.
In spite collecting a puncture on the way up to Box Hill, getting cold and suffering in the relentless headwind I had another gel and kept sipping on the energy drink and never strayed into the Dark Place. I was surprised at how spritely I felt when I got home and how great I felt the next day.
It seemed I had finally broken my endurance training curse. Could it have been that simple? I looked back on the times when I had really suffered over long distances, the Manchester Marathon, 100k + bike rides, it all adds up. Sure I was fitter than I had been in those a cases but sorting out my nutrition has been the single biggest positive factor in my training! It’s easy to solve and it works straight away.
“you need to aim for an intake of 60g of carbohydrate per hour to avoid completely depleting your glycogen stores”.
One Man’s Dark Place is another Man’s Bonking
I remember the first time I went on a 100k ride back when I used to live in Norway, I actively turned down food! I found myself in a horribly dark place about 70K into the ride and took days to recover. I had the will to turn the pedals, but my legs refused! So strong were my legs desire for me to stop that they forced a cramp attack so strong that I was effectively clamped to my bike. I made it to a lampost and leaned on it until that particular episode subsided!
In my naivety I hadn’t realised that my Dark Place was simply me “Hitting the Wall” or “Bonking”. I had read about this phenomenon before but the was my first time experiencing it.
Put simply Bonking/Hitting the Wall/ Dark Place happens when you run out of your most efficient natural energy reserves for exercise, glycogen, and starts to burn fat. When this happens is different for everyone but I have found that an effective fuelling strategy whilst training and racing is to start chowing down about 30 mins after the start of any long event.
In talks with the the SiS Head Sports Nutritionist, I was told that “you need to aim for an intake of 60g of carbohydrate per hour to avoid completely depleting your glycogen stores”. This 60g can be made up pretty much how you want it. I chose to have a combination of Gels, energy drink and homemade flapjacks or ricecakes and aim to eat something every 30mins or so.
An important part of the sports nutrition is ensuring that you keep hydrated and top up on the electrolytes lost whilst exercising, mainly sodium. If you keep hydrated and keep taking carbs on board you’re onto a winner!
The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is to get some food onboard after you finish to aid your recovery. The ideal time to do this is within 30mins of exercising as this is the point when your body’s metabolic activities are at it’s peak.
What you eat after training or a race should be something simple, quick and contain a mix of complex carbohydrates and protein. I tend to favour porridge with milk, yoghurt and bananas as well as SiS’s recovery drink ReGO.
Using this strategy my ability to train has sky-rocketed! I’ve been on 100mile + (160k) bike rides making sure I fuel, hydrate and recover properly, then been up early the next day to hit the gym hard.
Proper nutrition has been the single biggest positive influence on my training. I recommend that if you’re not currently fuelling properly then you should seriously consider it!
Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 Nutrition Plan
My nutrition strategy for Ironman Staffordshire is to start eating as soon as I get on the bike and get 30g of carbs into me every 30mins. The plan is to decant 4hrs worth of energy gels (8 SiS Gel sachets) into a water bottle and top this up with water to make it more runny. This should be able to fuel my bike and run in itself.
A second water bottle will be filled with electrolytes and this will be replaced at every available feed station at which point i’ll grab half a banana. Anything to avoid hitting that wall!
The fantastic people at Science in Sport (SiS) sports nutrition have been kind enough to support me in my training throughout this year with sports nutrition and indispensable advice. Without their help this would have been a far tougher mountain to climb!
If you are interested in seeing how great sports nutrition can have an immediate and powerful impact on your training and competitions feel free to visit their website or follow them on the Twitter. If you have any questions about sports nutrition you can get in touch with a real person here:
In competing in Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 (and Ride London on August 2nd 2015) I am taking the opportunity to raise money for 3 very special charities:
- Francis House Children’s Hospice
- COSMIC (Children of St Mary’s Intensive Care)
- MacMillan Cancer Support
If you have a moment and the kind inclination, please do take a moment to donate to these causes. If you wish to donate and to find out more about why I’m supporting these charities please visit my fundraising page. Thanks for your time!