Friday, June 10, 2016

Five Day Water Fast as an Athlete

I stopped eating for 101 hours - sound crazy?

Well, as a guy that tends to do things that sound crazy (actually, it is crazy) and having spent a huge amount of time since 2011 delving deep into the world of cutting edge nutritional research (hint, eat similar to how we did years ago - Barry Murray of On4Sport was an additional guide) one of the things that keeps popping up is sporadic fasting in relation to metabolic disease control and general well being. As years go by, it seems more and more diseases, as the research is maturing, are being classified as some form of metabolic dysfunctional condition.

I’m not too interested in trying to evangelise this approach, defend myself on why I’m doing this, give a complete review of current literature or yabber on about autophagy. For me, I have spent enough time in this area that I believe the probable benefits (way) outweigh the possible negatives from a long term health point of view. Also, until recently training and performance took my highest priority - a five day fast with associated down time from training and possible muscle catabolism doesn’t go hand in hand (or maybe Team Sky have learn’t something new) so I had to push something like this back until now. Having spent lots of time doing intermittent fasting and fasted training (one of many tools in the toolbox) I felt/hopped I could even do it...

So what does it all entail?

Day Minus Two:

From a cycling point of view, I’m in a somewhat semi-retired state. I have no big over arching goals outside of feeling great and enjoying myself whenever I ride/race. I have cut my riding down by about 50% (focusing on non-cycling things) but somehow I’m still riding fast. If I race, I race races that I really want to - there will be no flat 80km Irish road races in my future. Fortunately, the Red Hand Trophy in Antrim was on so Mel and I headed up (she rode around the course as I raced) and I gave it a go. In a chase group of eight riders from 15 kilometers in I never caught the remnants (four riders) of the front break of nine until the line. I finished fifth but enjoyed the racing and seeing that beautiful area of the world. Some touristy stuff after (despite being within ten kilometres of the Giants Causeway many times I had never seen it) and not much food until I arrived home around 9pm (mackerel and huge salad).

Day Minus One:

As I got home late I hadn’t had time to get my bike ready for an easy group spin in the morning. Coffee, switch wheels and I was on the road for a three hour easy spin followed by an Irish Sunday dinner tradition - “Turkey and Ham”. The rest of the day was standard.

Day One:

I had a busy day planned so at 7:30am I had my final meal for five days - a three egg omelette with tomato, half an avocado cooked in butter - low carb and so tasty. Water, herbal tea, coffee (black) from here on out. The rest of the day went well, I have being doing Intermittent Fasting for years so the first day was never going to be a problem. Around dinner time I was a little hungry but that soon passed.

Day Two:

When I woke, I was getting close to the longest time, while healthy, I have gone without any food - just over 24 hours. During the day I could tell my brain was foggy - I was switching from powering my brain via sugars to ketones and it was annoying - I could do research, read, but keeping a constant train of thought was more difficult. Before our evening work meetings I went for a 45 minute very easy bike ride - I rode the road bike over to a park close by and rode around the trails - beautiful sunshine, nature - it was the best I felt all day and came home energised.

Since returning to Ireland I have been loving Mojo Coffee
Around 10pm I started to get very sleepy and went to bed shortly after - not really sleeping until after midnight. The only dream I remember - I was going to a restaurant with friends.

Day Three:

A bit of a hungry stomach for the first 30 minutes but a cup of Mojo (black) coffee and sitting on the grass in the sun got me going. I have known hunger before and this really is no different - it is kinda like when you have been traveling all day (across multiple time zones) and not eaten anything. Mel commented that I looked a little jet lagged - that is how I felt. Work was mostly normal only a little slower and muting the microphone for tummy rumbling sessions was the highlight. Like yesterday, I went on a 45 minute bike ride through the forest - easy easy and close to nature. I have always had a low resting heart rate (and low blood pressure if I get up to quickly) and this has been a very noticeable aspect of the fast - I have seen my heart rate at 30 and when I get up from sitting/lying I have to do so SLOWLY. This process isn’t exactly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to finishing up.

Day Four:

Mel did a five day fast a few weeks ago and suffered through poor sleep (even getting up to work for a few hours in the middle of the night) - I have been a little more fortunate and slept well for eight hours. When I get up, I’m a bit dizzy but okay once moving. I have energy for doing organisational tasks but mental focus is still a bit of an issue. Working in the abstract world (software developer) takes lots of concentration and motivation but funnily enough, on my 30 minute easy ride I feel fine, I even decide to see if there is any power in the legs, I clip over a 1,000W for a second or two. My body is able to deal with this situation significantly better than my brain - I guess by body has had practise being in this state over the years of chronic endurance!

Fresh roasted/ground coffee - two a day - I wasn't doing a caffeine detox
Day Five:

Up at seven after eight reasonable hours of sleep - low blood pressure so I take a few minutes to get out of bed but once up I’m pretty normal - a little hungry, mostly the same as a normal day though. I sit out in the garden for a bit, have another mojo coffee - it is actually no worse than day three or four (maybe a little better). I am finishing the fast around lunch time and am looking forward to it - an avocado to start off (tastes incredible) and then home made soup with local/organic carrots/onions and bone broth. This goes all down perfect and a few hours later I’m eating normally as if nothing ever happened. In the evening, only a few hours after finishing the fast I went on an hour spin with Mel, we average 32kmph

Day plus One:

A very busy day of house hunting in Dublin (feeling perfect) with a quick evening road ride with accelerations - feeling about 90% normal on the bike.

The Following Week:

After finishing the fast I rapidly returned to normal - the only difference that I notice is that my stomach seems a little smaller (for now) - I get full when eating quicker than usual. No noticeable weight change, no real difference in focus/mental clarity - basically, from the outside it is as if the week never happened (although hopefully internally there were many benefits). Five days after the power/endurance on the bike is back to where it was pre fast, so as an athlete, plan ten days of non-optimal performance.

If I were to do the fast again (which I probably will, possibly yearly), I would schedule it so that days two to five I didn't have to work (at least with my brain - physically I had good energy throughout) - what would be perfect for me would be staying in a log cabin, in the middle of nature with no technology in sight - possibly in a tent or bivvy for the full stoic effect.

As I mentioned earlier, Mel wrote a piece about her experience fasting for a full five days.

Additionally, outside of this fast I eat a diet with very high nutrient density. A staple would be Irish (grass-fed/organic) rib eye steak with a massive mound of varying types of salad (with some additional carbs depending on activity). I would not recommend doing anything like this to someone who is already dieting.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Finding Enlightenment - Exposure Lights

I’m writing several posts about the main pieces of equipment that powered me through my first 24 Hours Solo. Leading into the race, probably the biggest gulf in my experience was riding when the sun ain’t shining - although I would have night ridden many years ago in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, it had been at least six years since my last time riding off-road at any sort of pace at night (it was Bontrager 24/12 where Mel and I raced in the 12 hour pairs race - two to three hours total at night between us).

In 2008 we had both raced in the UK, and Mel being who she is (always seemingly super fast) won the “Queen of the Night” competition in a 12 hour race we paired up in (basically, fastest female night lap) - the prize - a shiny new engraved Exposure Maxx-D light which to this day she cherishes. We played with it, experimented with some other lighting systems and decided to go all in with Exposure Lights. For the next while (and any time we were on the road at night ) a Maxx-D and Joystick was on our bars and helmets - indeed, many of our friends loaned those same lights as they did 12 and 24 hour races themselves. Those lights from 2008 are still “on the go”!

Middle of the night
For the Worlds, I wanted to upgrade to the latest and greatest - everything I could reasonably optimise I would - for me (due to also working in the real world) I don’t believe in being “sponsored” by a company unless that company would be the thing I would have bought anyway - saving a few hundred Euro is nothing in comparison to the personal investment I have put into the sport - I will always go for the best equipment whether sponsored or bought. 

That is where Exposure came in - for the race I had two 6 Pack (2000+ lumen on full) and four Axis (bigger brother of the Joystick) for the race. They all fitted into one 6 Pack carry case and safely into my hand luggage for the flights to New Zealand.

My setup was simple - I ran the 6 Packs on the six hour mode and changed every four hours (never cutting it fine, although in fairness, I could turn them down to twelve hour mode and it was still enough light for the tight single track). With the Axis, I changed their program from the standard 1.5 hours on high to 2 hours and switched them out every two laps as lap times were around the hour mark during the night.

Early morning
The mountings I left on the bike and helmet from start to finish as at only a few grams, it wasn’t worth switching them on later (and I only had one helmet/bike with me anyway) to save weight.

Throughout the race, there is not a thing that I could fault with the lights - worked exactly as expected with no surprises. Now I can’t wait to get home and do some night riding before the nights get too short :)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lovin Schwalbe Thunderburt

I have had a relationship with Schwalbe for many years now - at the start, it came out of Mel and I trying a massive bunch of tires from every manufacturer I could find and then settling on using Schwalbe before I ever started a personal relationship (i.e. some form of sponsorship). Since then, their tires remain at the head of the rubbery field and have evolved in cool ways (I talk about riding their Tubeless road tires here). The thing that I wanted to mention in this post was my exact tire setup I used in the Mongolian Challenge, the World 24 Hour Championships and almost all my training in between from Ireland in the winter to 3,300 meters above Addis Ababa (where you really don’t want things to go wrong). 

Racing Ralph on the front,  Thunder Burt on the rear (in either 2.1 or 2.25 depending on what I could get my mitts on).

At the WEMBO 24 Hour MTB World Championships
The Thunder Burt has been a revelation for me - it has a reasonably specific set of use cases but within that, it has continually blown me away. First off I’ll get it out of the way, it is not for wet mud, wet dirt or anytime there is a lot of water and you are not on stony (or tarmac) trails or road. Basically, since Mongolia (aside from the Crocodile Trophy which I used a Racing Ralph on the rear) it has been the only rear tire I used. Why, well, in the dry it rolls super fast, more than enough grip and did I say super fast? Over the last few months as I rode my road bike much less getting ready for the World 24 Hour Championships I still rode a significant number of kilometres on the road (don’t beat up my body all the time), but with the ThunderBurt on the rear, I can more than stay up with the fast roadie rides I join into and at the end of that, tear off into the mountains for more punishment on the fire roads and trails - it has almost left my road bike dormant. In the past, I hated riding my MTB on the road, so draggy, so much noise and so much fast (and expensive) wear on the tires. My last Thunderburt (the one I rode in Mongolia) finally gave up the ghost after 5,000 kilometres of training/racing across dirt, trail and road - yeah - 5,000km and no punctures (it was the 2.1 Snake Skin one - the riding in Ethiopia was very rocky at times so fragile it is not).

Pushing it in Mongolia with the setup
As I say, it wouldn’t be for general Irish/UK winter forest riding, but for trail centres, fire road (any season), road and trails when they are at least somewhat dry it has been magic.

This is how they looked after 1,000km of hard racing (rear)

2016 WEMBO 24 Hour MTB World Championships - 5th

I'll have a multi part posts up about the race sometime in the next few days. Below is a video I recorded a few hours after finishing (I look very rough) and the Strava file for the race below.

Sticky Bottle Interview
Another Piece

Going out on another lap