The Chicken Run – Solo

Bad weather predicted, feeling tired and ill on Saturday – decided to cancel racing at Morzine on Sunday. Mistake! Woke up to sunshine and feeling good! Rats! 
Barefoot Running Improvement.
Decided to take advantage of the situation to go for another “barefoot” style run. The last one on Monday had given me 5 days of DOMS due to accelerating a bit but that had now recovered. The relative rest during the week due to bad weather must have been doing me good because without trying I slipped into nasal breathing straight away and maintained it throughout the run. Working on avoiding lifting the knees up in front and only lifting the feet up behind the body I found that for the first time ever it was possible to sustain a cadence of over 180 strides per minute. Basically the required low stance with flexed knees only happens naturally if you avoid lifting the knees up in front of the body – then this feels correct – without even feeling low. It’s just really avoiding stretching the leg out in front of the body. In the event it felt like running slower – or pedalling a bike in a lower gear – but amazingly the overall time was over a minute faster than last Monday when I had actually tried to speed up! Despite going faster this time there were no pains and no DOMS. That sounds like progress. This time I’d run in the lighter Vibram Five Fingers and appreciated the greater sensitivity than the Merrells – which helps feel better how the feet are landing on the ground – the feedback is clearer.

Chicken Run

Savoie is shaped by its great valleys into the shape of a chicken. The toughest route around this chicken is to cut its head of by cutting over the Col de la Madeline. Despite running I was still feeling frustrated at developments during the previous week so decided to motivate myself to do this monster solo workout over 230km (148miles) and at least 4,000m climbing. Good weather presented a good opportunity.

Glaciated wilderness at 9,000ft on the Col de l’Isèran

Off The Scale
I’d meant to get up early and set off giving plenty of time to complete the route – but didn’t drag myself out of bed until 8:30am! Everything had been prepared so it was only a question of eating breakfast and getting out the door – but for such a big day it was a late start and not ideal. Such a monster workout is a bit daunting – especially setting out on your own with no support or backup – let alone setting out late. The two mountain passes (Cols) I’d be going over are rated “Hors Categorie” in racing – meaning “off the scale”.

Clothing and Gear
Basically you want to get out the door with everything you need in your pockets and nothing else. Air temperature would be low in the shade so I had an extra T-shirt, arm covers, wind/rain layer and that’s it. In my pocket was the Android phone running Endomondo and the Garmin unit was mounted on the bike. There was also a small extra USB battery in a pocket for charging both of them on the go. I set up the phone to have the right volume for MP3 playing and audio feedback of the split times from Endomondo. Other than credit card, some cash and CO2/tube kit, the pockets were filled with sports food supplements to eat along the way – and a couple of Carbo/protein powders to add to water refills. Everything was correct for the day and while it was boiling hot in the valleys it was freezing at high altitude – but never unbearable.
Col de la Madeleine PB
Setting off I spotted another cyclist dressed in Bourg St Maurice colours about half a kilometre ahead. 20 kilometres or so later he was still the same distance ahead but then disappeared from view. The Col de la Madeleine is a 26km climb and very tough. At 7km from the top, on rounding a bend, there was the cyclist from Bourg – struggling. His legs had gone! That particular kilometre is steep and there is another killer at 4km from the summit. The poor guy was reduced to a crawl and by the time I was close to the summit he was about 3km behind. My goal was just to work on form – keeping focussed on using the core muscles to avoid lactic acid build up in the legs. I noticed when passing the other cyclist that his core was being held rock steady and he was looking for power from his legs only – power that wasn’t there and probably never will be. Despite pacing myself for the long haul and keeping my heart rate max to around 155bpm I ended up with a personal best time for this climb and went under 2 hours for the first time. 
Technology Limits
Stopping at the top of the Col to put on layers for the descent I must have done something to the telephone because although the sports tracking stuff and music continued (later also photos) the communications died completely without my knowing. There had been several attempts to contact me during the day but I was oblivious to this. This is where this amazing technology hits its current limits!
Maurienne Valley
At the bottom of the descent I stopped to refill a water bottle at the fountain right at the junction with the main road up and down the valley. From this point it is basically an amazing 100km climb right to the top of the 9000ft Col de l’Isèran – with a few additional bumps in between. The valley floor from Saint Jean de Maurienne to Saint Michele de Maurienne is one extended “faux plat” climbing all the way and having experienced this before I was wise to it! The temptation is to attack and accelerate along this stretch, but when another cyclist overtook me I just let him go. The “Marmotte” race uses this section of road too and last year I made the mistake of pushing hard along this section – to then find myself completely wasted at the bottom of the Cols de Telegraph and Galibier! It’s not that you go mad here it’s just that you don’t realise that it’s climbing and it catches you out by draining you. It’s very illusive. 
The scenery along the sides of this valley is simply stunning – really wild and dramatic with shear and spectacular, impossible looking rock faces . I would have loved to spend time taking photographs but knew there was no time available for that. A car trip will have to be taken just for the camera. 
All the water was gone on reaching Modane which was now in Haute Maurienne territory and looking incredibly similar to Haut Savoie territory which lies on the other side of the Col de l’Isèran. No public watering spots seemed to be available so I was forced to stop and ask a bar to fill the bottles – and of course buy a Coke to keep them (and me) happy. I sat down for 5 minutes to drink the coke and was amazed at how much this allowed my legs to recover. For some weird reason I find that my legs go though a period of pain around the 90km mark and this disappears later on. The short break more or less got rid of the pain that had been with me for several kilometres now. The pain is mainly in the quads and this isn’t a problem when the legs are loaded when climbing – it’s more when there is less load that there is an issue. Working the core muscles I was able to overcome the problem and not let it slow me down.

The Col de l’Isèran
1700m altitude and approaching the long straights leading into Bonneval at the the foot of the steep 13km climb up to the Col, this was the moment I was waiting for. Rats again! There was suddenly a powerful headwind belting straight down the valley turning the beautiful long flats into a hard slog where careful focus on core muscle use was once again required. Well on my way to drinking a record 7 bottles of liquid in a day I was forced to buy an expensive coffee in Bonneval to have the water bottles refilled. Again, no time was wasted and the sweetened coffee was probably not a bad move for what lay in store. All the way since the first Col I’d been eating isotonic jelly “drops” to top up my blood sugar levels and still had a few left for the climb. This was still only one small packet for the whole day – so not a lot altogether. I’d mostly relied on the original powder in the drinks bottles and then two additional sachets that I’d added to refills. There is no doubt that this was correct feeding because at no point did my energy dip and there was actually a progressive increase in heart rate over the 8.5 hours of climbing. If you get it wrong and start to bonk then the first sign is that your heart rate dives and won’t come back up again.
Climbing the Col the wind grew in force and this made the final 7km very hard work. I passed one Italian guy climbing with his bike laden with luggage and he didn’t respond at all to my “boujour”, probably not out of rudeness but due to being focussed as if his life depended on it. The final 2km has a few short stretches where the gradient hits 12% but this felt more like 24% with the powerful headwind. It’s the closest I’ve come yet to having to dismount and walk. Frantically, on each blast of freezing air, I’d look to see if by some miracle another gear had materialised for me to drop down into. Ultimately there was no solution other than to slog it out and focus on good form. At the summit I quickly sought shelter from the freezing blast of air forcing it’s way over the Col and took the photo of the bike with the glacier right behind the Savoie flag (red and white). There was no hanging around here due to the cold so clothing layers were put on quickly and the descent started. This part of the Col – descending to the Signal cable car is always terrible – summer or winter. I liken it to a localised “Bermuda Triangle” where all your equipment goes crazy and the micro climate has a life of it’s own. On reaching Val d’Isère (1800m) my feet were like blocks ice and it took more than an hour until they thawed out properly in the valley below. The cold and tiredness from climbing combined at this point to make it the most uncomfortable period of the day.
Leaving the chain of tunnels linking Val to Tignes I had just about recovered from the low spell of cold and exhaustion. The rest of the trip home was more of a blur than anything else and I was surprised to find it relatively easy maintaining good form and use of the core muscles. 
Arriving home it was still possible to smile but it felt better on the bike that off it! 20 minutes of lying down sorted this out. Stomach complaints had started towards the end and water had seemed to worsen them – but a few bites to eat seemed to calm this down. I’d risked using new NorthWave cycling shorts and they had felt incredibly comfortable with no bottom pain the whole 10:15hrs on the bike. The only physical problem encountered all day was a cramp – of the jaw! The jaw had apparently been clenched during a climb and must have been overdoing it. Later on in the evening sleep came easy but didn’t last long. There was a weird recurring dream that I was software programmed to turn onto different parts of my body and that certain things would happen if I didn’t. Eventually at 3:55am I gave up that lark and got out of bed, head remaining fuzzy until about midday – the same as the day after a big race. I’d like to know what causes the headache – probably a lactic acid issue – but extra sugar during the effort seemed to clear it up during the workout. 
I used the extra battery to keep the phone running but at Modane it was still at 63% and may have lasted the whole way. In the event the Gramin died at the top of the Col de l’Isèran – very annoyingly. Endomondo however was impressive. The only snag with it was when exporting the “.tcx” file to bring into SportTracks analysis software. When stationary for any reason during the workout the data recording had been paused and this is accounted for in the Endomondo software – but it fails to export the pauses in the “.tcx” files. Other than that Endomondo was great for motivation through clear and accurate audio feedback the whole way.

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