In this blog entry I recall the GI issues I experienced in February and March including related stories, such as my reasons for discontinuing my use of Hammer Perpetuem. That story naturally spills-over into my first race for the year, the Austin Rattler. I finally discovered what was making me sick only days before I flew to Texas with two teammates from Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders.
Throughout the first two months of training in 2016, February and March, I experienced a lot of queasiness on the bike. Often, the queasiness subsided after about 1-1.5 hrs, but it never went completely away. On the worst days, queasiness persisted and even escalated. Desperate to keep riding and training, on those 'worst days' I thought my best option was to stop the bike and cram a few fingers down my throat, hoping to puke and relieve the sick feeling. It never worked, I never threw up, and the problem continued. By April 4th, a few days before I was scheduled to fly to Texas to compete in my first mountain bike race of the year, I was still routinely getting sick. Unfortunately, I'd made a classic error since initiating training on 3 February, I'd changed TWO parts of my cycling diet simultaneously. Prior to making these changes I experienced no problems; after these changes I was getting sick. In order to track the effects of one diet change, it's advisable to make just one change at a time, assess the results for a few weeks, then conclude before making any other changes. By the way, I suspected the more complex 'whole food' portion of my diet but as you'll see, that suspicion effectively distracted me from a far simpler explanation.
Formerly, all of 2013-15, I'd fueled in-part using Hammer Perpetuem, during training and racing, and the results were always excellent. The product always provided me with stable nutrition (no bonking, etc) on the bike and no negative side effects. While riding in Germany the previous Autumn I'd run out of Perpetuem and was unsuccessful finding any product vendors in the city of Hamburg. It was the off-season so I didn't panic. Instead, I decided to experiment with whole food, something I'd been thinking about anyway, such as a variety of sandwiches made at home and bakery rolls, croissants (sometimes filled with chocolate!), and other goodies purchased in countryside villages. I experienced no issues, and soon made plans to bring the whole food trial back to Fort Collins and my 2016 training schedule
In hindsight, I'm embarrassed that I didn't determine the source of my GI issues much sooner, such as the first week that I experienced the symptoms. Looking back, there were two, not just one, highly likely possibilities that could explain why, in February and March 2016, I was all of a sudden experiencing regular queasiness on the bike. Unfortunately, I locked-on to just one of them, whole food which varied from one day to the next on the bike, and hardly took a moment, all it would have taken, to consider another possibility: the product that I had started using shortly after I returned from Germany, Skratch Labs Hydration Electrolyte Mix. Unlike Perpetuem, this product, from Skratch Labs, was a simple mix of electrolytes (no protein, lipids, or carbs).
In January and February, as I was thinking about and then reintegrating into training, I was also communicating with friends and asking questions. At that time, a lot of them were using an electrolyte hydration mix available in many flavors from Skratch Labs, a product that I anticipated would be harmless, as far as possible side effects, healthy, and effective for replacing lost electrolytes during training and racing. I tried it out, enjoyed the flavor(s), and quickly, without much thought, made a large purchase of the product.
I mentioned 'harmless' because that must have been part of what I was thinking when I began introducing the product to my water bottles. Since that time I've had many more conversations. A couple of those conversations raised the same question, something I hadn't considered, such as what's the source of each electrolyte in the product? Apparently, our bodies will not necessarily respond well to just any source of an electrolyte. So that's one possibility why the product didn't work for me, as I'll explain in a moment it seems that my body / GI rejected one or more of the electrolyte compounds in the mix. Interestingly, a brief internet search didn't lead to any discussions about queasiness and this product. I'm guessing that's legit, evidence that my response to the product is unusual. Let me back up and finish the story ...
On Monday, April 4, I serendipitously ran out of Skratch Labs Hydration Electrolyte Mix. It was a scheduled e-z spin, average watts 150, so I decided to ride on with just water and a couple of Gu gels (my primary means of fueling these days along with, often but not exclusively, Honey Stinger Waffles). I rode from Dartmouth Trail to Old Town Fort Collins at a leisurely pace, passed New Belgium Brewery, and rode on towards the Anheuser-Busch plant north of town. I was taking a route I knew well, one of my favorite loops for an e-z ride. By the time I reached Old Town the first flag had been thrown, something seemed 'normal', the normal that I had enjoyed before I began having GI issues. But at that point I was barely pedaling, maybe it was my easy pace. If I picked-up my effort surely I'd start feeling queasy? As I approached the Anheuser-Busch plant I sped-up, raised my heart slightly, still no issue. Now I was intrigued, what happens next is the e-z ride on the schedule is jettisoned and soon I'm giving it full power trying to make myself sick.
I rode on, 10, 15, 20 miles into the route. Along the way I ate everything I had in my pockets, quickly and without concern, I was deliberately trying to make myself sick. Nothing worked. No matter how hard I pushed or what I shoved in my mouth the GI issue never surfaced. After two months of suffering I had my answer, a seemingly simple, harmless, electrolyte mix was being rejected by my GI and the result was queasiness ... and no doubt, a loss of power on the bike (I'll get back to that). I had suspected whole food, something I often varied from day-to-day, and been dead wrong, at least that's the way it seemed after one queasy-free ride. To be cautious, the same week that I was packing my bags to fly to Texas, I decided to abandon whole food in favor of trusted / tested products, Gu Gels and a few others, especially Honey Stinger Waffles. Once I made these changes, I had absolutely no GI issues. These days, for each race or training ride I head-out with water-only in my bottles and the products I just mentioned in my pockets. Looking ahead, I may reconsider whole food in the Fall, do some more testing, but for now I'm not taking any chances!
On Thursday, April 3rd, I rendezvoused with RJ Morris and Mick McDill, two rockets from Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders, and we carpooled to Denver International Airport. A few hours later we were on the ground in Austin, Texas and driving east into the suburbs. In attractive downtown Bastrop. It's worth a visit if you're ever in that part of Texas, we feasted on tacos not far from the Colorado River. The next morning we comfortably made our way, not too early, to the race venue in Smithville, Rocky Hill Ranch, for a low-intensity pre-ride of the 16 mile course. In the Austin Rattler, the next day, we would repeat the loop four times for a total of, roughly, 100 km. During the pre-ride, I had an issue with my chain and rear derailleur that would result in some unwelcome stress that evening. Fortunately, those problems were resolved by about 6 pm. Following another feast in Bastrop, I went to bed with a clear head, ambition, motivation, and excitement. I was ready to wake-up the next morning and throw-down in the Rattler.
The Austin Rattler was a sold-out event, over 800 riders including about 75 teams. In Lifetime Fitness - Leadville Race Series style, the Rattler starts in a single, massive wave of riders inspired to pedal by an exploding shotgun shell. A neutral start for about 1/4 mile then the race is on. RJ gapped Mick and I heading down the jeep road that leads to the first single track. Mick, aka 'the vanilla gorilla', dropped-back to run sweep, he's a good friend looking after his little monkey friends. I settled-in with a group of roadies no doubt, based on their furious pace on the flattish jeep roads and their reluctance on the tight, winding, single-track. By lap two I was past most of them; eventually, on the same lap, I caught-up to RJ.
He was kindly pulling a group of about six guys across the ranch. After big smiles and a few words, I was generously propelled forward by an R-Jangutan sling-shot to the next rider. About that time, still well within view of RJs group, I caught an edge and swerved far-off the trail into the trail furniture (shrubs, ruts, tall grass, etc). I managed to ride it out, back onto the single-track, disaster averted. Within a few miles, my race was a two-man effort with Marc-O, a local rider from Austin, We stayed together nearly all the way to the finish line.
Historically, the start of a race has always been a limitation for me, my metabolism and the muscles that system supports are slow to warm-up. The Rattler was no exception, but somewhere into the first lap I settled into what must have been a fast pace. For the remainder of the day, I was catching and picking-off my competitors. In hindsight, I wonder if I had put a little more in the bank than anticipated because of the queasiness I experienced in the weeks leading-up to the bike race? The queasiness could have acted as a governor? Alternatively, maybe the way I felt in Texas, outstanding, was a function of elevation (sea level), excellent preparation (training), and the boost of confidence my mind experienced when I finally broke through the queasiness, to a happy GI, and rode-on just a few days before the race. Unfortunately, this example involving uncertainty is far too often the case in bike racing, an unhappy reality for the curious scientist within me. The truth, the why, for my performance in Texas will never be known ... despite my suspicions.
At the end of the day, after 4 hours and 10 minutes on my WTB Volt bike saddle, I rolled over the finish just 1 minute and 19 seconds off the 2nd and 3rd place, age 40-49 male, podium positions. For a C Race, a race intended only to test my legs and provide a quality (fun) training day, my finish couldn't have been better. Overall, 18th out of 575; and 5th age 40-49 male. The 4th place finisher was just 19 seconds ahead of me.
Nearly a disaster, because of the Skratch issue, but then a major success, the Austin Rattler proved to be a great decision to launch my enthusiasm for what remained, the majority of the 2016 racing season including A Races (highest priority) in May, July, and August. In my next blog entries I'll recall spring racing, my successes and disappointments (not many!), and other experiences ...