Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
Boy oh boy, where do we begin?
2015 was about as epic a year as we’ve ever had at Le Mans. Lots of skaters, suntans, skinsuits = PRs, and more PRs!
But woah, not so fast there… let’s rewind a bit.
Tapering was an ordeal – an outright ordeal, I tell you! 3 weeks of early nights, no booze, no coffee, no sex, no drugs, and certainly no rock ‘n roll — all the things that make life worth living. But I was a good boy and stuck to the plan. Now that I’ve firmly embraced middle age I always stick to the plan.
Taper is the time of reckoning where you say “this is the vehicle that I’ve built.. this is the fitness that I carry with me into race day… there’s nothing more to come.” Such a clear mental demarcation line allowed me to let go of the potentially destructive “more is better” mentality, and instead spend the time more productively on resting and getting heat acclimated.
In the week before the race I spent a lot of my time re-listening to a lot of the old episodes of Trail Runner Nation (TRN). I listening to this one in particular about 4 times. Trail running and speed skating don’t appear to have much in common at first glance, but that just shows you how thinking outside of the box can help take you to the next level. TRN is a community podcast for trail runners and is a veritable goldmine of information on all aspects of ultra-endurance. However, what is perhaps really outstanding about the show is how they are always talking about the mental aspect of ultra distance. For all the training miles you may or may not have logged, mastering your mind is more often than not the difference between a good and bad day. Top quality banter, highly recommended.
Race weekend rolled around – I traveled out on Thursday, 2 days ahead of the race. That would allow me to dedicate Friday completely for rest, and not have to worry about travel the day before.
After checking in with the hotel, I strapped on my HRM and went for a gentle jog around the river. It was 5pm and still blisteringly hot (you’ll hear my say this more than once), and I had very much planned this as my final pre-race heat acclimation session. I didn’t plan to run very fast, and just as well… the heat made it very difficult to keep my heart rate down. Good – at least I firmly knew what to expect on race day. Up until now all my heat training had consisted of sweaty turbo trainer sessions under a couple of thick layers of clothing, with a heater fan blowing full blast on me, but this was at last a chance to exploit the warm weather. Shame I had to visit another country in order to do it.
After mainly resting all day Friday, Race Day on Saturday came around. Food preparation facilities are limited once you are in the pit area, so before we left the hotel I prepared a thermos flask of minestrone soup, which would serve me with some nourishment in the small hours of the night. We took a taxi to the circuit at around midday. The next 4 hours before the 4pm race start would mainly consist of establishing our base in the pit box, soaking up the atmosphere, saying hi to as many friends as I could, and of course suiting up and getting my game face on ahead of the race. I opted to skip the qualification sprints – absolutely no point in wasting energy on this!
With each passing hour the excitement cranked another notch to match the rising temperatures on the circuit.
Le Mans is all about personal challenge, and last year’s campaign had given me a lot of confidence that I could hit a century of laps. I could well even have done it in 2014 had it not rained for most of the race. For this year I had a publically stated target of “10 marathons”. As each LeMans lap is handily 4.2km, a marathon is 10 laps, and 10 marathons is 100 laps. My publically stated stretch target was 11 marathons – ie 110 laps! I was not willing to publically aim for more, but 113 (George 2010) & 117 (Hans 2006, British record) were in the back of my mind as blue-sky goals. This may have sounded crazy as George & Hans are Block-A marathon skaters, but you just never know what can happen with a good plan where everything comes together and you have the race of your life…
So what exactly was the race plan?
I met and quickly hooked up with Jason, another soloist who had come from California to do the race. We immediately connected and agreed to skate together at the start and take it easily, with a target of perhaps 12 minute per lap. The klaxon sounds to signal the start of the race, and as if by providence the TRN theme song plays across the PA system; everyone rushes across to jump into their skates, buckled up, and set about the task of skating as many laps as possible for the next 24hrs. By whatever means we did that was up to us!
The first couple of laps I did not feel good at all. Despite the hot day, it took me a while to warm up (having not skated for 4 days!), and Goddammit, I was having trouble keeping my heart rate in check… not just up the hill but all around the circuit; it would spike above 170bpm climbing Dunlop, and not fall below 150bpm even on the back straight despite just standing in a paceline and barely doing any work at all. Remember that in training I was used to keeping my heart rate very strictly to 140bpm on the flat and 155 on hills. What on EARTH was going on? I was not pushing hard at all – I was sticking to the plan, just that my ticker was not cooperating. Of course, the heat was some of that, but my numbers were probably 15-20bpm higher than my perceived effort at that point. I put it down to adrenaline – it could only be adrenaline. I tried not to think about it and instead to focus on the things that I could more easily manage – my water, nutrition, breathing and technique.
Jason & I were still together early on and we quickly fell into a nice paceline – I noticed that it was the DanSolo/ChickenSolo line. Sweet. I knew these guys were a model of consistency, and would just keep going around all day at a very steady pace. This is exactly where I needed to be. The line would take it pretty easily up the hill, but being made up of so many skaters and presenting itself as a super long singular entity, it moved around the back of the circuit like the proverbial freight train – the participants barely having to do any striding at all from the left hander after the downhill all the way around to the penultimate corners before the start/finish straight. Half a lap each lap where we were doing nothing more than holding the tuck position and working the draft with skaters in front and behind, allowing us to overtake single skaters and even shorter lines who were working harder than us but simply didn’t have our numbers. It was FANTASTIC.
Around the 3hr mark into the race, I was feeling great. My muscles had warmed up, and my heart rate, although still a little high, wasn’t quite as all over the place as it was earlier. I found myself chewing on a melted 9-bar while sipping on my bottle of Ucan & Hornet Juice. This was like a prolonged training session and I could keep this up until the cows came home.
Half way up the hill one on one lap another solo line passed alongside us. It looked enticing. “Do I stay here, or do I jump across to the other faster line?” I had a few seconds to decide, and went with my gut, making the jump across to test myself on the faster line. I’m feeling good, and perhaps I would barely even notice any difference if they were only going slightly faster, but it all adds up, and we’re racing after all, right? However, immediately things didn’t go very smoothly – they faster line was reluctant to let me just jump in, and I had to scramble at the top of the hill in order to make some space and insert myself into the line. “This is faster, isn’t it? Oh yes, this is quite a bit faster…”
Not only faster, but they were considerably more aggressive – weaving more tightly through single skaters as they passed by, sometimes splitting up to go around other skaters before reforming, and taking the tighter inside line whenever possible. I noticed that Philippe Coussy is in this line – so therefore I’m in the leading solo/duo line (despite being a lap or two down on most of them). Yeah, that’ll be why, then.
My HRM was confirming what my legs and lungs already knew, beeping angrily to let me know that I was redlining above 180bpm. Fuckity Fuckballs. “I’m going to DIE if I say in this line for much longer.” I said to myself… Still, it’s was nice to be there – when you’re pacelining with the great Philippe Coussey then you know that you’re improving.
The line attacks the hill and is actually getting FASTER with each lap (confirmed by a 8:55 best lap chip time). This is a competitive paceline, not a cooperative one; they want to break and drop the weaker skaters. I don’t play their game for too much longer and drop off after about 4 laps. Not sure what damage I had done to myself for later on, but maybe it was worth it — that was a lot of fun!!
I took a breather and passed through the pits on the next lap, where Nati handed over a new drink bottle and a packet of cashew nuts. We were about 4 hrs in and I was still feeling great. As planned, I hadn’t really stopped and felt that I wouldn’t need to for a long while yet.
It was also starting to get slightly cooler as the dusk settled in, and I think everyone was feeling better for it. I took one more easy cruise lap while waiting for the next suitable line to come along that I could hop onto. Better not be quite as fast as that last one, however…
I had no idea of my position in the race, but now was the time where endurance started to matter, and I was quietly confident that I would be climbing up the solo leaderboard over the next few hours.
The next few hours passed by as a blur. I remember catching the back of the leading solo line again (one further lap down), only this time it was considerably more thinned out – looks like the earlier attacks worked, and they dropped the weaker skaters (I guess I was one of them). I take the opportunity to draft off Philippe for another lap or so, until dropping in with two slightly slower soloists from Reims – the 3 of us formed our own little group, and continued for a decent stint of about 10 laps at what is still a very good clip. The guy on the front seemed happy to do all the pulling (hey, if you’re reading this, thanks man!), and I noticed that he was sporting a 3x125mm setup that seemed to help him glide forever on each stride. 125s are clearly the future and once enough skaters make the switch to them such that you have pacelines where 125s are dictating the rhythm, then those staying on 110s or smaller will be even more disadvantaged. However, such thoughts were for the future — a future that didn’t yet exist – because my job at that point was to Be In The Moment, control what I could, and focus on the here and now. Being in the moment is the coping mechanism that gets you through anything.
At some point we pass the 6hr quarter-way point. I start to think about taking a short break, but by now the suffocating heat has now completely given way to a refreshing evening breeze, so I soldier on. The Reims guys eventually peel off to take their own scheduled breaks. It’s finally 8 hrs – midnight – when I pull into the pitbox for my first real break. Just a quick stop of 5 minutes to take on some food, stretch and put my feet up. I needed to pee, but didn’t want to waste energy making the trip to the bathroom – instead I planned to pee at the top of the hill on my next lap (a tip that all seasoned soloists know.. the men, anyway).
The soup that I had prepared earlier was now paying back for itself many times over. My nutrition strategy had been a bit messy up until that point – some of it has worked, but the heat had melted the energy bars and I found that the trail mix more akin to eating raw sawdust. Who the hell thought Brazil nuts were a good food to chomp on the go??
I put in another 2 hr stint to take me to the 10hr mark, rejoining a line that is lapping in sub-12, and as I’m planning to take another stop again in 2hrs, I decide to tag along. At one point on the downhill the line split multiple ways to avoid other bodies, and when it regrouped I somehow found myself in P2, which quickly became P1 when the leading skate was too cowardly to hack it. Bugger. So I gritted my teeth and towed the line around for a couple of laps, before another skater from the Pari Roller duo very kindly took over and pulled us around for half a dozen laps. Some skaters are more than happy to skate at the front and do more of the work; it does have its advantages such making the hill easier by virtue of avoiding the clattering skates and mismatched strides.
10 hrs (2am) have now passed, and I roll into the pit box again as planned. Again, it was just for a quick stop less than 10 minutes. By now things were starting to go south. Physical deterioration is inevitable, and it’s just a case of who manages it the best. That’s what endurance is all about. Still, I’ve had plenty of energy left. The absolute worst thing is getting yourself going again and back up to speed after a stop, no matter how short. That’s when it hurts the most, so best to keep stops to a minimum if you can. I told Nati that the plan now was to do a longer stint at a very relaxed paced, so she could try to get some sleep without needing to look out for me on each lap.
My next goal was to make it to the halfway point…