Friday, August 19, 2011

Well, best laid plans sometimes go wrong. My training was going great, then life, as it often does, through a wrench in the works. I found myself having a huge garage sale, packing everything into my travel trailer and moving to California. The result, three and half weeks without once setting foot on my bicycle.

Today, I rode for the first time. I took off for what I thought was an easy 20 mile (32.2 Km) jaunt through the hills.  I left expecting rolling hills. It started that way. Then, 13 miles (21 Km) into the ride it hit me. I found myself on what the Tour de France would call a Category 2 climb. I felt like Cavendish on the Col du Tourmalet. I loved every minute of it.

I was glad that I minimized my fitness loss during those 3.5 weeks, or this would have been hell. I will share these secrets with you all later. Until then, keep riding.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Interview: Catherina Berge of the 4 Raw Milk Cats RAAM Team

One of the great things about working with Naturally Sports & Wellness is that I often get to meet and speak with very interesting people. Recently, I was able to have an interview with Catherina Berge. Catherina is a world class Swedish ultra-distance cyclist. Currently she is the veteran member (2005 RAAM 1st place Woman) of the 4 Raw Milk Cats, a team of age 50+ woman that are riding in the Race Across America (RAAM) this June. The other team members are Lori Cherry, Jeanine Spence,and  Isabelle Drake. Together, they plan to set a new course record for women aged 50-59 by finishing in less than 7 days 10 hours and 35 minutes.

NS>You mentioned that while studying in the USA that you could not understand why someone would want to ride their bike 100 miles. What made you decide to ride the RAAM in 2005?

CB>I started road biking in 2000, before that I was just a regular bike commuter. In 2001 I did my first ultra-distance race, the Furnace Creek 508 in California. I came in first woman and second overall with a time under 32 hours. Immediately ultra cyclists started to talk with me about RAAM. I was overwhelmed. I had just biked further than I thought it was humanly possible and was very proud of my performance. Then when peers start to talk about a race even more insane, I tried to tell them I was sane. “I have just raced the race of my lifetime, tell me why I would want to sit 10 non-stop days on a bike?”, I asked. Well, the seed had been planted by famous ultra cyclists such as Steve Born (who phoned me right after my 508). It lay there dormant for a few years during which I discovered the wonderful family of ultra cyclists, the special camaraderie and the sense of belonging and the form of racing that suited me, where the competition is not against other but against yourself and the course. Then in 2004, the RAAM seed started to sprout. I remember a day in February, my professor and I were bike commuting home from work, and we were talking about insane and extreme things. He looked at me and said ‘You are going to race RAAM, are you not? I can see it in your eyes!’. Then I just knew, I had to do RAAM, and I call it the day of conception of RAAM. From that day until the starting gun of RAAM in 2005, there was not a day that baby RAAM was not on my mind, and the RAAM pregnancy was sometimes even more intimidating than the race itself!

NS>What made you decide to ride it again?

CB>The solo Race Across America required that I dedicated a whole year to preparation of logistics, equipment and body. I had decided to do it only once, since life is too short to keep repeating adventures. Furthermore, no experience will ever be as special as the first time. 

Last summer, Jeanine Spence, a woman that I am coaching, contacted me about participating in their team RAAM. One of their team members had bailed out, and they needed another rider. The thought of going back to USA to race with a 3 great team members, Jeanine, Lori and Isabelle, and the fantastic crew (many of which crewed for me in 2005) was too tempting to resist. My answer yes, was based on the social aspects, ie. just to be able to share this experience with my California friends, to be back in the USA (I now live in Belgium), and to experience the completely different form of racing that team relay presents.

NS>How did you get connected to your current team members? This is the first RAAM for them.

CB>I have been coaching Jeanine Spence, a California endurance cyclist, for 3 years. Jeanine has soared to the elite in woman ultra cycling in California, and I am very proud of her. I knew Lori Cherry because we lived in neighbouring cities in California and often raced with Jeanine, and Isabelle Drake is a renown ultra cyclist and 508er.

NS>Your team is sponsored by Organic Pastures. How did you come to be involved with them?

CB>When I joined the team, I realized that finances would be a major issue, especially since I have very little personal funds to be used. I therefore started to contact lots of potential sponsors. I contacted sponsors that helped me in my RAAM in 2005, and Organic Pastures came to my mind. I had worked with Organic Pastures dairy in California while I was doing veterinary PhD research in California, and loved their products and concepts. They were sponsors in 2005, and this time, they immediately wanted to become key sponsors. Organic Pastures saw our team as a fantastic message to get  ‘raw milk’ across USA.

NS>What did you do to prepare yourself for this years RAAM?

CB>My preparations for RAAM started in January this year. Due to winter weather in Belgium, I had to log some hours on the trainers indoors. Since I hate trainers, I cross-trained with running. I also preferred biking outside in the freezing cold than sitting indoors on trainers. I have trained between 20 and 30 hours every week since January. I am currently riding between 500 to 700 km per week. Every day I do about 30 min of various exercises including sit-ups, crunches, push-ups and I am always on the go.

NS>What do you eat while on your trek across the USA?

CB>We have been sponsored by Hammer Nutrition and I am very happy about this, since I have used their fuels and supplements since 2001 with great success in races and training. But, to simply use these energy products becomes very monotone and boring. I do like to eat a lot of natural foods. At home I cook and bake everything from raw ingredients and I never buy ready-made stuff. During this race, I plan on using Organic Pastures raw chocolate milk (that I used successfully in my previous race) when I am off the bike. I like bread such as whole grain breads and bagels. I have a home-home made energy bar that all my friends call Catbar (and they all think I should market this bar) and it is a raw bar made of almonds, oat bran, dried fruits and berries and dark chocolate. I avoid too much fatty foods, and after a few days I do not want anything acidic or strong, because it is common for the mouth the stress that the body is in during the event.  I am very sensitive to blood sugar hypoglycemia, so I make sure that there is always some hammer gels or fast sugars available, since I get light-headed if I run low. Proteins are thereby important to stabilize the blood sugar levels, and I like peanut butter, turkey ham, hummus, cottage cheese and chicken.

NS>Thank you for sharing. We wish you the best of luck in you ride next month.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Today I rode the first section of the Race Across Oregon

Today, I rode the first section of the Race Across Oregon. I went from Hood River, over Mt. Hood, and down to the first Time Station, and I never left my house. How did I do it? with my Computrainer. My Computrainer has been a valuable tool during my winter training, and now it becoming a tool to prepare me for the RAAM.

 I entered the course into The Bike Route Toaster. This program is easy to use, and can export the course as GPX file (the kind used by Garmin GPS systems). I was able to then convert the GPX files into a file that can be used by the Computrainer 3d program. Map My Ride is also able to export GPX files, but I was not able to import its format. it also appeared not to have elevation data.

After importing all the data. I was ready to ride. Now if I could just beat the Metal Man to the top of the climb.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Paleo Diet for Endurance Athletes

OK here it is, my big announcement. As a Sports Nutrition Adviser, Naturopath, and Master Herbalist, I have been doing a lot of research about the food we eat and our health. I have come to the conclusion that the Paleo Diet is better than the traditional high carbohydrate, high grain diet eaten by many endurance athletes today. I can hear all of you cringing under your breath. Saying to yourself "how can he give up pasta and breads. How will he ever survive a long ride like the RAAM let alone a small qualifier race."  That is ok. Think about it. Our primary food source is fat. Carbohydrates come in play later as intensity increases. I still get carbohydrates by eating low glycemic vegetables (some exceptions will allow high glycemic. more on that in a future post).

Johanna in her health blog gave many reasons why we do not need grains. I recommend everyone to read her blog post Do we Really Need Grains. I do not feel the need to go down this path. Instead, I would like to focus on why I think the Paleo Diet is good for an athlete. This diet as a way of life is extremely ergogenic. Lets look at four basic reasons why this type of diet is ergogenic.

Animal protein is high in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA).  BCAA (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are potent stimulants for building and repairing muscle especially when consumed in the post workout window. Consuming BCAA is important because aerobic workouts are high catabolic on muscle tissue. Lean meats and fish are the best sources of BCAA. You can get them form your sugary grains, but a 1000 calorie serving of lean beef yields about 33.7g of BCAA. The same serving of whole grains yields only 6g. By consuming high amounts of BCAA after work out, it is possible to reverse the breakdown of muscle after the workout and improve recovery time allowing us to train at higher intensities in the next workout

The paleo type diet is a net alkaline. What does that mean? When we digest food, it reports to the kidney as either acid or alkali. the typical high grain, highly processed diet is net acid forming in the body. Add this to the fact that blood acidosis is a by-product of exercise, and you have an environment that is ripe for muscle loss. One way the body neutralizes the acid in the body is by breaking down muscle tissue. Diets that are rich in fruits and vegetable, on the other hand, are net alkaline forming thus offsetting the acidosis and preventing muscle loss.

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of trace nutrients like antioxidents, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. Mix this with lean meats (good sources of zinc and B vitamins) and you have a diet that supports and improves the immune system. Refined grains, sugars, and oils are nearly void of these nutrients. that is why they have to add them back in. by improving the immune system, it is possible to reduce the frequency and duration of colds, flu, and upper respiratory infections that are prominent with endurance athletes. This allows the athlete to train more consistently and intensely.

The last reason is glycogen stores. We all know it. High storage of muscle glycogen is necessary for high level performance. You will get no argument from me here. However, the norm for athletes has been to eat a high starch, cereal-based, carbohydrate base diet nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I have news for you though. Research says that glycogen synthesis occurs most effectively in the immediate post exercise window. This means that any of these foods eaten outside of this window do more harm than good. I will be restoring my glycogen with net alkaline producing starches found in bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams, but only after exercise.

There is my plan in a nutshell. I know a lot of you are still be skeptical. That is OK, it is hard to let go of the norms we have been taught. Think of this as a big experiment to prove that a Paleo Diet can be beneficial for endurance athletes. My hypothesis is it will.

This post is linked to:
The Primal Den hosted by the Primal Toad

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Race Across Oregon

Mount Hood as viewed from Trillium Lake (photo by Kevin Noone)
Training is going well. I have finally found a race for my first attempt at qualifying for the RAAM. Since my father lives in Oregon, I have chosen to race the Race Across Oregon (RAO). The RAO is a 527 mile jaunt through some of the prettiest parts of Oregon. The race begins with a 35 mile 4,700 ft climb over Mt Hood. In fact, the race promoter boasts that there will be over 40,00 feet of climbing overall. This will be the major challenge for me. I have never considered myself a great climber. So, I will be switching some of my training focus to help me sustain long climbs at a steady pace.

In order to qualify for the RAAM, I will have to finish with 15% of the first finisher in my category. I am not sure what the finisher did in 2010, but in 2009 the first place finisher was Kenneth Philbrick with a time of 32h:46m. If I use this time as a basis, I would have to complete the race with maximum time of 37h:40m. That is an average speed of about 14 mph. Definitely doable if I can get my climbing speed up.

2010 Race Across Oregon Route
Well, I am off to do some hill work. We do not have mountains in the Texas Hill Country, but I have enough rolling hills do some good hill work.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Time To Ride

Photo Credit
As many of my friends know, unforeseen circumstances have kept me from riding over the past couple of months. Being away from the bike has not only left me frustrated, but I am now 2 months behind on my training for this years road racing season. To make things worst, I am nowhere near being in shape in time for this years Hill Country 600, my chosen RAAM qualifier.

The good new is that I have once again found my bicycle. It has been like being reunited with a lost love. The problem is that between work and studying, I only have 15 hours a week to train. However, not all is lost. It is actually possible to have a competitive season with training only 15 hours a week. The secret is to increase your intensity.

Many times, the time  I have to ride occurs after dark. therefore, I ride my weekday rides on a trainer. I know that it sounds boring, but I have found by using my computrainer along with videos from The Sufferfest, That I get very specific interval training at intensities much higher and controlled than I would on the road in the given amount of time.

As work hard to salvage my season, I will be doing high intensity interval training during the week and getting my distances in on the weekends. I will not make the Hill Country 600 in March, but do not count me off yet.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Qualifying for the RAAM

the first step in preparing for the RAAM is to identify qualifying events. There are several throughout the year. Some are RAAM style races, and others are 24 hour events. I have identified 3 events that may suit my needs

The first event , The Texas Hill Country 600K is a new event and was held in March this year. If it is held next year, and also offered in March, it would be a perfect event for me to Qualify on. I am currently living in the Texas Hill Country. I already ride many of the roads and would have opportunities to train on the roads prior to the event. It also has the advantage of being in March allowing me to miss the blistering summer heat.

The next event of choice is the Race Across Oregon. The Race Across Oregon hits its competitors with over 40,000 feet of climbing in their 527 mile campaign to reach the finish line at Mount Hood and Cooper Spur Resort approximately 30 hours later.That is averaging a little more than 17.5 mph. It would be a tough one especially for this sprinter that is not at home on the hills at all, but I grew up on the west coast and feel home there.

The Texas Time Trial is my 3rd choice. It is held up in the northern part of the state on a closed circuit. It appears to be a little flatter than the other two events, but it is in September with big potential of being hot.

Another ride that I would like to do is the V├Ątternrundan. It is not a qualifier for the RAAM, but it is the biggest annual bicycling event in Sweden. It is a great ride around V├Ąttern, one of the biggest lakes in Sweden. I almost was able to ride it a few years ago when I lived in Sweden. I still plan to ride it with some of my friends from Sweden. Maybe I will see you in Motala!