The on-bike training was only a part of my overall preparation, I had an awful lot to learn about other aspects that could make or break the ride.
I had always assumed that the only way you could get enough calories down your neck during extended exercise was to rely heavily on specialist energy products such as bars, gels and carb drinks. The current South Downs Double record holder consumed only gels and energy drink during his 18 hours of riding and it seemed that this was the norm amongst other endurance racers. This wasn't good news for me as I really struggled with this approach - on longer rides my stomach would rebel and I’d end up feeling very nauseous. I think this is fairly common but I had real concerns about how I’d feel after 20 hours of consuming this stuff.
And then I had chance conversation with Lou Walker, my sports massage therapist. She is an endurance athlete herself and had a strong interest in the whole area of sports nutrition. Her eyes had been opened when she attended a seminar run by a top coach who spoke of reducing the reliance on carbohydrate intake alone and aiming for a more even balance across carbs, protein and “good” fats.
This was what I wanted to hear, if this approach worked it should mean that I could include plenty of real food in my fuelling strategy, using the sweet gels and bars only when I really needed them. I did further research which seemed to support this idea, including stories of people doing 12 hour rides chewing a piece of biltong! I didn't believe all that I read but I did experiment by progressively reduced the carbs I consumed on longer training rides, using electrolyte drink (no sugar) and munching on nuts and the odd protein rich sandwich. I also carried this over into my everyday diet, trying to reduce my pasta, rice, bread etc intake and aiming for a more even balance across carbs and protein and fat rich foods.
I couldn’t ride with the same intensity the first few times I went out but it wasn’t long before I was doing fast 3-4 hour rides on nothing but electrolyte drink and a handful of nuts with a gel in my bag in case I got into trouble. I took a mix of sandwiches and gels on my 120 mile training ride and this balanced approach worked a treat – no nausea and good energy levels throughout.
I tracked everything I ate on every ride, took all this information and put the numbers into a calorie planning spreadsheet. I calculated that I needed to take about 6000 calories in solid or liquid form and I ended up with this in my rucksack for the Double itself:
- 6 rounds of sandwiches (mix of chicken, cheese and peanut butter)
- 1 bag of almonds and raisins
- 4 Clif bloks, 2 caffeinated
- 8 gels – 3 caffeinated
- 8 ziploc bags with 1 litre Torq carb drink powder mix in each
- 3 ziploc bags with ½ litre serving of Rego in each
- Nunn electrolyte tablets
I carried a litre bottle of Torq and ½ litre bottle of Nunn electrolyte drink in cages on the bike and this was enough to get me from one water tap to the next.
I knew from experience how easy it was to take a wrong turn. The route is signposted for much of the way but there are still many points where signs are absent or where the trail makes a counter-intuitive left or right turn. I also knew that navigation became a lot more challenging at night and when fatigue set in.
My two big out and back training rides meant that I had covered the whole of the South Downs Way twice in daylight. By the time I set off for the real thing, I’d also ridden from Winchester to Eastbourne overnight during my first, failed attempt. This helped a lot but I was still worried about getting lost – the last thing I needed was to add more miles to the 200 I already had to ride.
So I set about memorising the whole route, focusing in detail on the section I expected to ride in the dark. I spent an inordinate amount of time on www.bikedowns.co.uk (a fantastic resource), combining this with Google maps and the Harvey Map of the South Downs Way. I made detailed notes of all the tricky sections and went over the route again and again until I could visualise it every turn of the way.
I also studied profile maps of the ride so that I knew the sequence and severity of every climb. This level of preparation made a huge difference on the ride itself. I could focus entirely on the riding without worrying about route decisions and I was mentally prepared for every climb, I knew what was coming and could simply get on with it.
My night time illumination was provided by Exposure lights http://www.exposurelights.com/ who very kindly loaned me two Diablos (one for the bike and one on my crash hat) and a single cell piggy back battery, a configuration that worked perfectly. My local bike shop (Peter Hansford http://www.peterhansford.co.uk/) arranged this for me and were fantastic in sorting out all my last minute panicky needs.
|Garmin tracking before battery dies|
I set off wearing bib shorts, a light base layer and a short sleeve jersey, adding knee and arm warmers for the night section. I also carried a very lightweight gilet and waterproof and an additional base layer in case it got colder than forecast.
I used a Deuter Speed Lite 15 litre backpack which was just big enough to carry my food, spare clothes and other bits and pieces. I also had a Topeak tri bag attached to the top tube to make food easily accessible. Accessories stuffed into my backpack included: a Topeak Race Rocket mini pump; Lezyne V-10 Multi Tool; 2 spare chain quick links; 2 spare tubes; tube repair patches; 2 mini tubes of chain oil; plenty of chamois cream; iPod nano; reading glasses (can’t see anything close up without them); Harveys map; plasters; mobile phone and a credit card plus £20 in case I ran into trouble.