With a 5-hour ride coming up the next day, I like to increase my potato consumption just a bit to top off those glycogen stores. In this case, sweet potato and butter, topped by a whole lot of pacific salmon.

IMG_2186

In case you are wondering whether it is really possible to do long-distance riding or touring while following the Paleo diet, I thought you might enjoy looking at the blog Cavegirl, End to End. This woman rode from one tip of Britain to the other, putting in over 12 hours per day. Here is her report on what she ate:

My daily eating was as follows; breakfast – scrambled eggs, some fresh fruit (strawberries/blueberries) and where they had provided it, natural full fat Greek yoghurt. For the designated Pitstops they provided me with cans of tuna, meat and cheese, sometimes some natural yoghurt and apples if I wanted them. During my cycling I consumed between 4 and 6 Nakd bars – these provide around 14 g of carbs per bar from raw compressed dried fruit and nuts. At the evening meal I ate the meat/fish dish with vegetables (no potatoes) and salad drenched with olive oil. On arriving back after each day I snacked on some nuts and very dark (85%) chocolate. When I weighed myself on Monday morning I was exactly the same weight as when I set off although I’ve dropped a kg since so I’m busy eating as my body repairs itself. I’ve also developed some impressive abs, must be leaner and all that climbing helps too!

I gotta hand it to her–I’m not sure I could be that disciplined on a long trip like that!

One of my goals this year had been to earn the California triple crown by riding three double centuries. But after I tweaked tweaked my knee and managed to create a few other soft tissue issues by training for and completing my first double of the year in February of this year, I pulled way back on the mileage.

Since then, I’ve pretty much stuck to riding 2-4 hour rides and have done a lot more cross-training. Seems to be working, more or less, as long as I don’t try to get too heroic with the mileage.

So it was with a bit of hesitation than I decided to ride the San Diego Randonneurs Kitchen Creek Brevet this last Saturday with my friends Esteban, Aaron, and Joe. At 200 kilometers and 11,000 feet of climbing, maybe this ride wasn’t exactly what most people would call knee-rehab friendly! But I figured there were a few good bail-out options, so if my knee and other issues started to flare up, I could always call it a day.

The other thing that made this ride hard to resist is that I know from experience that the whole route is just stunning, winding over low-traffic country roads that take you through a number of different ecosystems, from desert chaparral to pine forest.

Foolish decision perhaps, but sometimes you gotta heed the call of the open road:

open road

fork

Esteban in full aero tuck:

aero

Me and Aaron riding, photo by Esteban:

open road

At the checkpoint about 55 miles in, we were feeling high energy. My knee was doing OK, even if my left calf kept threatening to cramp up. I had ideas that I might even finish the entire 200K rather than bail out early. So it was a bit sobering to look at my Garmin and realize that 55 miles in we had actually descended slightly more than we had climbed!

That was about to change.

Kitchen Creek road is an epic piece of narrow mountain road beauty. If you close your eyes and wear enough Rapha, it’s almost like a mountain pass in Europe. Call it the Col du Ruisseau Cuisinier. In 14 miles, it climbs unrelentingly from the desert up to the pines at grades of 5-12% (and even steeper in a few short pitches). It starts as a two-lane road:

KK 1

But after a few miles and a gate that prevents car traffic for a good section of the road, it narrows quite a bit:

kk2

Kitchen Creek is a challenging climb in the best of times, but this one was especially tough due to high temperatures. I think the ambient air was only high 80s or so, but the heat radiating off the pavement can create a heat index that is much higher. My Garmin was claiming 104 degrees, and it felt like it:

heat

Looking back down after the initial part of the climb:

view

Suffering as I was, I did stop a few times to smell the flowers:

flowers

As we neared the top after a good 1.5 hours of climbing, we finally hit pine trees. They don’t look like much, but the smell and cooler air above 5000 feet was very welcome.

pine

mt laguna

Once we finally got to the checkpoint at mile 70 near the Mount Laguna summit, I was feeling pretty cooked. The knee was doing OK to so-so, but I didn’t want to push it, and my left calf was still feeling crampy. Since the car was only 10 miles away, all down hill, and completing the ride would involve anther 50 miles and 5000 feet of climbing, it wasn’t a tough decision to call it a day. The fun had gone out of it, and I didn’t want to risk injury after not having done a long ride in 3 months.

With the heat and cramping issues faced by others, I was in good company: Joe, Esteban, and Aaron decided to pull the plug too. Aaron probably coulda and woulda finished (he is wearing Rapha after all), but decided to show solidarity with the rest of us:

aaron

The payoff for the Kitchen Creek inferno was a screaming 10-mile descent back into Pine Valley that at least allowed all of us to finish the ride with a little adrenaline rush and a smile. The view from Esteban’s cockpit on the descent:

descent.

Coming down, I had a number of bugs splatter on the windshield of my glasses:

bugs

That, my friend, is why we wear eye protection. Nothing like bug guts on your eyeball!

In hindsight, perhaps this isn’t the ideal time of year to do this particular 200K with the possibility of heat that exists inland. But go too much earlier, and you risk not being able to climb Kitchen Creek due to snow. I found this out the hard way in February of this year when we pushed our bikes through 2 miles snow near the top, feet frozen into numb, wet bricks for the ride down. High times:

snow on kk

snow on kk 2

All in all, it was good to get out, the company was superb, and I’m glad a did it. But I think I’ll be putting my long-distance “career” on hold for a good number of months yet. That’s OK, as the 3-4 hour mountain bike rides are a lot of fun, and the hiking, core work, and other aspects of cross training aren’t too bad either.

Full photo set here. You can read Esteban’s ride report on his blog here and see his full photo set here.

This will not be news to those who follow other Paleo blogs, but it might be new for a lot of cycling types out there. According to one story recently reported, marathon running may not be as heart healthy as Americans have come to think in the last 40 years:

ATLANTA — A group of elite long-distance runners had less body fat, better lipid profiles, and better heart rates than people being tested for cardiac disease, but, paradoxically, the runners had more calcified plaque in their heart arteries, according to a study reported here.

In other words, marathoners look like the picture of health:  skinny, low cholesterol, low resting heart rate. But cutting against the grain of conventional dietary wisdom, they have more artery clogging plaque than more more sedentary types. Whether this is due to the actual stress associated with marathon running, or the high-carb diet that is typical of marathon runners, is unclear.

This comes on the heels of a german study that indicated that marathon runners are more likely to have heart problems than their otherwise low weight and “good” lipid profiles would suggest. You can find a much more detailed discussion of these studies over on Kurt Harris’s PaNu Blog here and here. Kurt is an MD, and does a much better job outlining them than I could.

The point is that there seems to be an increasing amount of evidence (at least for this layperson) to suggest that our bodies consider “ultra” and long-distance cardio activities to be stressful and traumatic events (and not in the good way that all exercise stresses the body). At the least, excessive cardio is not making you healthier. At worst, these long-distance activities might actually do damage over the long term.

That might be obvious to some–moderation almost always seems like the way to go in health matters–but it’s a bitter bill to swallow for exercise junkies who have been trying to go stronger and longer in their quest for fitness, personal challenge, etc.

The good news is that there is also an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that when it comes to fitness gains, quality/intensity may be more important than quantity. Sprinting, intervals, and shorter periods of ass kicking have many of the same (positive) physiological effects on your body as doing the long miles, as per this admittedly limited study.

Applying this to cycling, it would suggest we should all do a lot more casual riding at a mellow, fat-burning pace (say under 75% of max heart rate). The human body was designed to move slowly over long distances with little harm, and this sort of riding is the equivalent of a brisk walk. The everyday, practical sort of riding being promoted by the good folks at Rivendell comes to mind.

When you want to kick it up a notch, hill work, intervals, and other intense forms of training for briefer periods will keep you in top form. But for many, “intervals” have all the regimented appeal of going to boot camp. Biking is supposed to be fun, right?

Well, there is a form of biking that incorporates a lot of these principles while still being exciting: it’s called mountain biking. It involves short bursts of power and sprints to clean hills and other obstacles, often followed by downhills and periods of rest. Call them “intervals” or “hill work” if you like, but most of us just call it fun.

To be sure, you can overdo it in mountain biking just like anything else: 24 hour events and hardcore XC race training come to mind. But in the long run, the kind of mellow mountain biking that most of us do on the local trails every weekend is probably more heart healthy than long-distance road cycling, or a 4-hour club ride done at 90% of maximum heart rate.

The other advantage to mountain biking– getting yourself “out there” and into places like this:

palm canyon
That’s me doing the Palm Canyon epic outside of palm springs.

For those not into distance events, “Perpeteum” is a powder you can mix up with a little water and, in theory, it can serve as your only fuel for long-distance events. In essence, you can get your 250-300 calories per hour from the water you drink. It’s quite convenient, even though it can be a strange feeling not to take in any solid fuel.

I’ve used the stuff for a number of long-distance rides, including double centuries, and it works quite well. It’s basically a carb-based fuel so you can sustain aerobic outputs for long periods of time, but unlike junk like Gatorade, it includes a little fat and protein. Fat is important fuel for long-distance efforts that involve time spent in the sub-aerobic zone. Protein is essential to endurance events unless you like cannibalizing your own muscle tissue.

So what could be more paleo than slurping a sugary cocktail for hours on end while performing chronic cardio? That’s a joke, folks.

But it does raise the question: Can the Paleo diet and fitness principles be reconciled with moderate to high amounts of high-octane aerobic exercise?

Well, not 100%. But for those of us who can’t give up longer rides, there are a few principles we can follow:

(1) Even for substantial amounts of cardio, athletes really don’t need the insane amounts of carbs that many eat. Buckets of pasta just aren’t necessary to train for and do well in something like a double century bike ride. This can be a conceptual hurdle for athletes accustomed to constantly porking out on carbs, but try cutting back and see how you do.

(2) For moderate training rides, I find that sticking to the normal paleo diet and adding a banana or two works just fine. You don’t need to add gels or other sports products.

(3) On the day before a big event, eating a sizable portion of potatoes or sweet potatoes seems to work wonders. If you are eating low-carb much of the time, your body absorbs glycogen at a faster rate when it experiences a potato bomb. You will gain weight since your body stores water with each gram of glycogen, but this goes away after the big event if you go back to a paleo diet. You can read more about this in the Paleo Diet for Athletes.

(4) On the day of a big event, all bets are off. My thinking is that if you are doing aerobic activity for 10 hours, you can eat a steady diet of sugar because you are burning it all off. Thus, you don’t have to worry about insulin spikes, weight gain, and all the other insidious effects of a high-carb diet. If I’m riding a century, Perpetuem is on the menu for that day. But if I am riding at an event where I can choose things like bananas and potatoes at rest stops, I’ll take them over Perpetuem and gels.

(5) Right after a big event, try to take in some carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing. You have a short window in which your body is especially receptive to replenishing its glycogen stores. Eat a baked potato in this window and you’ll feel a lot less depleted the next day.

(6) Let experience be your guide. If you are on the Paleo diet, doing a lot of training, and finding yourself feeling lethargic and depleted all the time, add some potatoes/sweet potatoes and a little more fruit into your diet. You’ll find the balance required for the level of training your are doing. But get over the habit of thinking that you need to suck down a few gels every time you do a 1-2 hour workout.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 196 other followers