Sunday, August 19, 2007

23rd June 2007 Aviemore Merida MTB Marathon

After a week working away from home, I decided a night at home and an early start was a better idea than a night in a tent - especially since this event was part of "The Outsider" festival. Promoted as an outdoors/music fest, most of the promo I saw was very much music festival oriented so I was a bit pensive that the dominating theme would be crusty, muddy, insanitary etc.

Arriving at 8am it seemed onsite security was only just waking up and it would probably have been possible to arrive, camp and get into the arena at that time without challenge. Signposting wasn't all that clear for Merida participants and security staff had to be sought out to get directions/info. Most went blank at any mention of Merida, mountain bikes etc.

Anyway, bitching aside ... nice drive up the A9, sunny on arrival, get signed in and set up.

At the start, not a massive turnout and I start near the back. The first few km of tarmac seem to go off at a blistering pace and I'm trying to spin easy to keep cramp and knee pain at bay. result is I'm falling further behind even at this early stage.

Having entered the 75k, it's clear to me at the split that my knee isn't going to welcome an extra 25k so I divert on to the 50k route, getting the damning blue spot on my race number to signify.

At the feeding station, the skies open and from then on it rains and rains and rains for the rest of the day, making everything off a path or road into a very muddy slog.

Last part of the day dominated by 75 and 100k riders coming through on technical sections and not wanting to hold them up - so lots of time lost stepping aside.

Performance still very disappointing at something like 5hrs 30min. Don't get me wrong - delighted to have finished, I finished ahead of some younger and thinner people - but still very far away from where I need to be.

Stuff that worked:

Elete water. Didn't completely fend off cramp, but it was much, much better than Penrith.

Flat pedals. Sure, they're not as efficient as properly-used SPDs, but they're a lot better than riding SPDs but not being clipped in!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

DIY Sports Drinks

I'm too mean to pay the money for sports drinks in liquid or powder form, and it didn't take too much research to confirm that the core ingredients and composition of these products isn't that special. Granted, they make have some extra finesse in terms of proportions, ingredients etc at the margin, but it seems possible to get at least 80% of the benefit for less than 20% of the price (I do like my Pareto's Law).

So now I tend to fill my hydration pack with:

  • 100ml concentrated orange squash OR 100ml sugar free equivalent plus 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt OR now - the recommended dose of Elete Water

... made up to 1 litre with water. This makes up to an isotonic drink which provides some calories as well as water and salt (plus other electrolytes if you use Elete) in "body" concentration for optimum absorbtion. You can increase the juice/sugar concentration to get more energy per litre (but may compromise hydration) or reduce it to emphasise hydration.

Caveat: I have seen recipes that claim to be similarly "substitutes for big buck brands" that have much higher and much lower concentrations of both sugar and salt - but the proportions here seem to be the most common agreed. Please make sure you're happy about the makeup of what you're drinking before following any of these recipes.

If you want to get a bit more sophisticated, you may want to look at using calorie sources other than granulated white sugar - glucose, fructose, maltodextrine etc - like this and this.


I've had cramp a couple of times after rides - usually driving into the outskirts of Edinburgh after a Glentress trip is the timescale for it kicking in.

But it hasn't affected a ride like it did at the Penrith Merida MTB Marathon where it was a serious limiting factor. Reading up on cramp, it seems it isn't fully understood exactly why it happens, but there are a number of contributory factors:

  • Temperature
  • Hydration
  • Fitness/fatigue
  • Electrolyte imbalance
The first two aren't really factors for me, but I'd readily concede that fitness IS - and was almost prepared to accept that until I was fitter, cramp might be a perpetual problem.

Then I found out about Elete Water - mainly because their UK distributor Fine ADC have (had) an office in the same campus as my work office and James there gave me a few of their sample packs.

I used these during training rides over the next few weeks - I knew it wouldn't be a great test because I wouldn't normally get cramp then, but I wanted to be sure it wasn't going to cause any new problems.

... which it didn't. It has a salty-ish taste concentrated (which is not how you use it) but when diluted even in plain water there is no taste. I tended to add it to my DIY sports drink instead of the salt component.

The big trial came at the Merida MTB Marathon in Aviemore. I started to use Elete a couple days before hand in water throughout the day, and added it to the juice and water in my hydration pack on the day. I also took a small runners water bottle with concentarted juice and Elete Water in it so that 100ml of this would make 1litre DIY sports drink when topped up at the water/food refill stations.

I can't pretend that I had absolutely no cramp problems in this event, but they were massively better than at Penrith. My conclusion is that Elete Water dalt with the electrolyte imbalance part of my cramp problem ... now I just need to deal with the fitness part (which includes stretching) to get rid of it altogether.

Confirmation of that came when I did the same route again a couple of weeks later with Neal. Using Elete as before - and with a pace/gear choice that protected a niggling knee problem - I had absolutely no cramp during or after the ride.

It's not an inexpensive product - especially when you start buying the bigger bottles - but you use very little of it per litre of water. I got a couple of the little dropper bottles initially then a big bottle as you can (apparently) refill the droppers from the big bottle which is handy to take out on the trail with you for top-ups. I actually got a good price (esp with £1 P&P) from UK Bike Store but you should check for yourself.

Monday, June 25, 2007

15th May 2007 Penrith Merida MTB Marathon

Is 5+ weeks enough perspective for your first mountain bike marathon?

I'm not sure. Or maybe I'm just a vv lazeee blogger.

Penrith, May 2007 - first ever MTB marathon to be held in Engerland.

Main lesson 2B learned: 7Stanes, tarmac, "mountain bike centres" ... none of them are adequate preparation for real, natural trails. No human being would create roads, tracks or trails with the terrain, inclines, texture, obstacles, etc etc that natural trails present.

My main problem was cramp. After an hour or so of do-able riding (on the 50km route), we hit the big climb. Contours on the map suggested this would be mainly rideable; a slog but rideable. But the texture of the ground - very wet, grassy, muddy after rain - reduced this greatly. Pushing, my muscles obviously cooled down, thought the day's effort was over, and transitioned into post-ride cramp mode. I reckon many of us pushed for 6km or so.

From then on it was a fight for survival - fending off cramp, stopping to stretch and using low gears to avoid anything that meant "pushing" - the cramp trigger. That in turn led to walking bits I would hav expected to ride, and riding parts slowly on low gears that led to instability, lack of momentum, etc etc.

The other big issue was pedals. I've almost become comfortable with my Crank Bros egg-beater style clipless pedals on my regular routes, but spent most of this unfamiliar route unclipped - both uphill and downhill. Between the variability of the terrain and the threat of unclippable-from cramp, I was rarely confident enough to be clipped in. This was the worst of all worlds; not only did I not get the benefit of the clipped pedals, I actually spent most of the ride with my feet in unatural, less than ergonomically perfect positions on top of the clips.

Bottom line = 5 and a half hours of living hell. :)

Lessons learned:

1) Cramp - prevention and cure.

2) Pushing vs carrying. Discuss.

3) Pedals - there has to be a better way.

Merida Bikes MTB Marathon - Penrith Course Profiles

Ordinary not Special

Having now done my first two Merida MTB Marathon events, I realise that not only am I not "special" I may not even be ordinary or average, so this blog (such as it is, and with the usual apologies for infrequent updates etc etc ) now takes a bit of a twist and acknowledges that this kwest is a real tough challenge. Not a "look at me I'm doing the TransRockies" but more of a "holy shit I can't even do 45k offroad without problems how the hell am I going to do several 100k days on the run hahahahahah kinda thing".

Several backlog catchup type updates to follow in that vein.