The Unintended Consequences of Training for the 2017 Haute Route Rockies

Tags

, , , ,

Anyone who has ever considered or ridden an Haute Route knows that it entails riding the highest and toughest cols of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia for seven consecutive days. Now the organizers are bringing this unique amateur cycling event to America in June 2017 with the creation of the Haute Route Rockies.

I have committed to participating in the event with a group of friends from Atlanta, Tucson and Wisconsin. We have two goals: (i) finish the event and (ii) raise $200,000 for the Team Type 1 Foundation. The Team Type 1 Foundation, of which I am a founding director and volunteer, is a nonprofit organization pursuing a mission of education, empowerment and equal access to medicine for everyone affected by diabetes. As an example of what we do, the Foundation recently donated a year’s supply of test strips and 1,400 glucose meters to Rwanda. These are common tools that people need to manage their diabetes and they are readily available in most countries but not in Rwanda and other African countries. Without the funds we will raise, many people in Rwanda will suffer and eventually die because they will not be able to manage their diabetes effectively.

I started my formal training on September 23. Having done the 2013 Haute Route Alps, I have a very good idea of what it takes to get ready for the most challenging cycling experience available to amateur cyclists. It takes time, planning, structure, commitment, the right gears on your bike and the right weight at the start line.

The first five items are pretty straightforward. But what’s so key about having the right weight? In a way, with the right weight – and training – as I will demonstrate, you can almost turn the Haute Route from a seven day event into a six day event in terms of efforts on the climbs. Not too shabby.

We all know that lighter riders climb faster that heavy ones. So keep an eye on weight: both your own weight and the weight you are carrying on the bike. It’s called the laws of physics. Going uphill adds gravity to the forces that must be overcome. Since the cyclist has a finite power supply, he or she must necessarily slow-down in proportion to the steepness of the hill, if the same effort – or power about calculated in watts – is to be maintained.

When a rider fights gravity while going uphill it is the power-to-weight ratio, not total absolute power output, which becomes the dominant factor. The more watts a rider can produce for his body weight, the faster that rider can climb. To improve climbing, you must either lose weight or increase your sustainable wattage – or, ideally, do both.

Here’s an example. A strong rider who weighs say 85 kilos (or 187 pounds) and who can produce 425 watts for 20 minutes has a power-to-weight ratio of 5.0 watts per kg. The top climbers in the Grand Tours can achieve ratios of 6 to 7 watts-per-kilo. For comparison, a lighter rider, let’s say 60 kilos climber (or 132 pounds) who can only produce 360 watts for 20 minutes would achieve 6.0 watts per kilo or twenty percent more than the heavier rider. In this scenario, the lighter rider will overcome the effects of gravity more easily as it is the power per kilogram that is important in overcoming the resistance of gravity. In other words, at their 20 mins power (425 watts versus 360 watts), the lighter rider who pushes less watts will always get to the top first. It’s mathematical.

So let’s apply these laws of physics to an average Haute Route rider and calculate how long he will spend climbing the mountains of the Rockies next year. We already know that the 2017 Haute Route Rockies will include 16,000 meters of climbing (52,500 feet). We also know that the climbs in the Rockies are not as steep at the Alps. So let’s assume an average climb gradient of 5.1%. If the average gradient of 5.1% equals a total ascent of 16,000 meters then the total distance of climbing will be 314 kilometers (16,000 meters/314,000 meters = 5.1%)

As a benchmark of how long our rider will spend in the saddle climbing next June, I have used the Puerto de Navafria climb in Spain which is 11.48 kilometers in distance and ascents 584 meters, giving us an average grade of 5.1%. For the purpose of my analysis, I am ignoring wind, road surface and altitude. That being said, even by excluding these factors, you will clearly see the benefits of paying attention to your weight between now and June 24th, 2017.

Using the following website, I have calculated that at a weight of 82 kilos (182 pounds), it would take a rider 45:51 mins to climb the Puerto de Navafria at a power output of 240 watts:

http://www.cyclingpowerlab.com/ClimbAscensionRates.aspx

If the rider was able to lose eight kilos (17 pounds) between now and June 24th (that gives him 26 weeks to get to his weight goal) he would be able to do the same climb in 42:34 mins or an economy of 3:17 mins. Since the Puerto de Navafria is 11.48 km and the total climbing at the Haute Route Rockies will be 314 kilometers, the total climbing at Haute Route is 27.4 times longer than the Navafria. In other words, at 82 kilos (182 pounds) our rider will spend almost 21:00 hours climbing compared to about 19:24 hours at 74 kilos (163 pounds). You will save 1:36 hours of effort just by paying attention to your weight. A good start.

Add to that proper training and your Haute Route experience will be different. Different here means faster as we all know that in cycling, it never gets easier, only faster. The Haute Routes are, after all, the Highest and Toughest Cyclosportives © in the world. Using the same weight data as above, let’s add an achievable 8.3% increase in sustainable power output (20 watts increase over the 240 watts used in my analysis). At the new power output and at the same 74 kilos (163 pounds) weight target, you will spend 18:10 hours going uphill, an economy of 2:50 hours.

In conclusion, if you show up at the Haute Route weighing 82 kilos (180 pounds) and pushing 240 watts, you will spend a total of 21 hours or about 3 hours a day trying to reach the top of the multiple climbs along the route. By cutting your weight by 8 kilos (17 pounds) and getting fitter by 8.3%, you will save 2:51 hours of climbing and you will almost turning the Haute Route into a six day event in terms of time climbing.

I guess the obvious question is “how does one lose 17 pounds in 26 weeks in a safe manner that doesn’t affect health and fitness”. While this may be a good topic for a next blog post (I was 176 pounds on September 23rd and I’m now 157.6 pounds), let me share with you that my recent weight loss has not only put me on track to achieve my Haute Route weight goal but it has also improved my love life and could help me save about $22,000 if I live to be 90.

How? High-fat, low-carb, gone gluten free. What I discovered over the last month is that “we truly are what we eat.”

As an endurance athlete I have always followed a diet with lots of carbs. I love bread and I love pasta. While I have always been able to maintain a pretty healthy weight it has never been easy. Watching portions, calculating calories in vs energy expenditures, skipping the odd meal and pretty much always feeling a bit hungry takes a lot of discipline.

I have recently heard some of teammates talk about the “high-fat, low-carb” diet and the results seemed to be so phenomenal that I decided to try it out. Among other things, I switched my breakfast from a-half a bagel with peanut butter and a yogurt to a one egg omelet with lots of bacon, ham and cheese. I completely eliminated bread and pasta from my diet. In three weeks of “dieting” – I saying “dieting” as I am actually eating full meals and never go hungry – I went from 166 pounds to 157.6 pounds while my power on the bike went up 3%. I’m not attributing my power gain to the diet, I am barely illustrating that the diet didn’t negatively affect my level of fitness. And that’s when my love life and financial outlook improved…..

How? Let just say that I have been fighting acid reflux since the age of about 30 – I’m 53. With the diet? Acid reflux gone. I have also had restless leg syndrome while sleeping for as long as my wife can remember. Most nights it is so bad she can’t sleep the whole night with me. With the diet? Restless leg syndrome gone.

And then three days ago I had bread and tortillas and unfortunately I had to “welcome” back acid reflux and restless leg syndrome. I spent a while trying to figure it all out and I eventually found research that showed that gluten intolerance causes acid reflux and restless leg syndrome. So for twenty-three years, I probably spent $40 per month on medication to control the acid reflux (that is $11,040 and probably would have had to do the same for the rest of my life had I not found the cause, 47 years at $480/years equals $22,000) for no good reason. That is a total of $33,040. I do must admit that waking up every morning with my wife next to me, that is priceless!!!

I have discussed this with a lot of friends and I have heard stories like this over and over again. Whenever we get older and have a little pain, ailment or discomfort, we rarely think about our diet, stretching more or making changes in our life habits. So what started out merely as another nine-month journey to achieve yet another far-reaching cycling goal ended up having unintended consequences on my life which I must admit, I more than welcome. It has also opened my eyes to the fact that sometimes, we look at health only through our past experiences while there is actually a lot we need to learn about our well-being, our fitness, our nutrition. I have made a ton of friends through cycling in general and through Haute Route in particular. I never thought though that the voyage to the Haute Route Rockies 2017 finish line would have such a positive impact on my life. What else will it bring? Stay tuned.