Dealing with disappointment

It’s been months since my last post, I’ve been busy racing, managing illness and injury, working full time, writing my regular column for Cycling Tips Ella and doing some side projects for Bike Exchange. I thought it best that I give you an update on what’s going on in my life. Apologies in advance, I brain dumped this post – tried to be grammatically correct and coherent, yet full of emotion.

The second half of the NRS season has been run and won, unfortunately, my performances in these races has been for whatever reason, less than impressive. The last few months for me has been full of bad luck and disappointment. I have struggled to find positivity out of training and racing, and to be honest, they have been hard, really hard, both mentally and physically. It all really starts with the fact that I have also been sick too many times this year to count, I’ve had annoying injuries, and the latest, I got hit by a car (just when I was starting to feel good again). I’ve had more DNFs this last three months due to injury or illness than you can poke a stick at. In fact, they’re the only DNFs of my short career and all happened within a short 3 months period.

I’m not good at dealing with disappointment, even though I’ve been sick and injured, trying to rationalise what has been going on with me felt impossible. I was feeling out of my depth and frustrated at what was happening with me and my body. That I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted, I couldn’t train and race at my peak. Getting hit by the car, was just the icing on the cake. I sustained an injury to my lower back, which meant that I couldn’t ride at all for two weeks, and then lingered – it put me off the bike for longer than I wanted, put a huge dint in my training… it was just another thing that was holding me back. For all of you that know me, I’m impatient, I wanted to be fixed and better yesterday, and it was not working that way.

All these together, I had not had a solid block of training in my legs in months. Hampered by injury and illness, I’ve just rolled on, trying to be positive, hoping that everything would straighten out.

As an athlete, I strive to be at my best. To give everything I have and it is incredibly disappointing when I don’t perform or can’t for whatever reason. My expectations of myself seem to override any rational thought and as my coach reminds me often, I quickly forget legitimate reasons for under performing or not performing as I would have liked.

A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption. This explains so much of what has been going on in my life, why I’ve been constantly sick, why my race performances have been less than impressive, weight gain, frequently upset stomach and generally explains why I’ve been feeling like crap for some time now. This news is almost like a proverbial weight off my shoulders, relief that I have an answer for the way I’ve been feeling for a long time now. I’m seeing a dietician to help me with a plan going forward. I’m feeling really positive that a few dietary changes here and there will help me on the way to good health again.

Everything has straightened its self out, it just took time. My injury sustained after the car accident has settled down and after much soul searching and enforced rest (thanks coach), I’m back training.

I’m rolling along now, back on track. It’s been a two solid weeks of training, and you know what, it feels great!  My power numbers might be down, my lungs and legs hurt every training session, but do you know what… the pain is strangely satisfying!

I am coming to terms with everything that has gone on and feeling positive about the my changes in diet.Most sports nutrition (and delicious food) contains fructose, so cutting them out and finding alternatives will be challenging. So interesting times ahead whilst I try to manage this fructose malabsorption thing, that is another blog…

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the past three months, dealing with disappointment has been one of them. I’m excited to work towards future goals.

Bring on the summer of cycling!

PS. Follow me on Instagram (@lowercasev) and watch out for some product reviews coming soon. I’ve tried and tested the new Specialized S-Works 6 women’s road shoe and some of the new women’s kits on the market from MaapRapha and Specialized.

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So, was it the juice?

Beetroot face

As I’ve mentioned earlier (here) BRJ is known to reduce the oxygen cost of excercise and improve high-intensity excercise tolerance – perfect for cyclists, particularly climbers or TT’s.

One body of research says that dietary supplementation with a single 0.5-L dose of nitrate-rich BRJ improved 4- and 16.1-km TT performance in trained cyclists. 2.8% improvement in 4km TT and 2.7% improvement in 16.1km TT, 7-11% improvement in power output with no increase in oxygen cost of excercise, which means an increase in oxygen economy. Plasma nitrite was significantly increased 2.5 h after BRJ supplementation, and blood pressure was reduced, consistent with an increased nitrate bioavailability within the blood.

Blah blah…The results indicate that acute dietary nitrate supplementation with beetroot juice may lead to a significant and practically meaningful enhancement of 4- and 16.1-km TT performance in subelite cyclists (Lansley et al 2011).

So…In the lead up to the Mansfield Crit and Mt Buller Road Race I was suffering from accute Beeturia. No, nothing was wrong with me! Beeturia is a symptom of eating a lot of beetroot, it turns your pee red or pink. Hence beet-uria.

Why… Because I had started some serous beetrootdoping. All in an attempt to get those 2% increases in my own cycling performance (what a wank) #beetrootbonanza. I was going to test it for myself, or try to.

I needed to be at my nitrate prime to fend off fatigue and get my body using oxygen the most efficiently. Remember I’m still frightfully anaemic, so my oxygen is not being transported efficiently to start off with (thats another story)… The weekends racing was going to be hard, energy efficiency key (not solar power) to sprint around a hot-dog-on-roids style crit course and back it up by racing up a mountain, Mt Buller.

So how did I beetrootdope?

Well I almost turned into a beetroot that’s how.

I drank huge amounts of beetroot juice, beetroot shots, cooked it, ate it raw, had it in sandwiches… The more beetroot the more nitrates – the better, the better high-intensity excercise tolerance! I knew I was on the right track when the beeturia set in!

So, the Question: Did beetroot actually improve my cycling performance?

Well judging my results on the weekend, and on face value, I did quite well… and maybe, yes, it did increase my performance?

The results…

The crit = 4th B Grade

Nutrition

Normal day, racing at 3pm. Drank beetroot juice throughout the day.
1 gel, 15 mins before race start

How I felt in the race?
Good 8/10. Was able to keep up with the pace, stick close to the front, bridge gaps when we strung out, sprinted well. My heart-felt good, kept breathing under control and was not panicked. Lost points for not going faster in the bell lap. Was it the legs, bad gearing?

The RR = 1st C Grade

Nutrition
Normal breakfast at 7:30am- banana, muesli and yoghurt, cup of tea, 1/2 cup of beetroot juice with 1/2 cup ginger, orange and apple juice
A couple of Gu Chews on start line (they’re gross, never again), 9:30 ish
1 hr into race, 1 gel guarana-caffinated
Mid Climb 1.5/2 hrs into climb, 1 gel guarana-caffinated

How I felt in the race?

Out 6/10, climb 9/10. Struggled on the way out to the base of buller. Legs were sore, knees were sore, was working really hard. Mind was playing games on me, telling me to give up. I could have been struggling because it was really windy and we as a peloton were really strung out? The climb was good. I kept a constant tempo, was able to accelerate on the false flats, get out of the saddle comfortably. There were a few instances of panic breathing wise, from lack of concentration I think. Was able to get out of the saddle for the last pinchy 500m and accelerate hard.

Now the question is, was it actually the beetroot juice that did it for me?

The realistic answer is probably no. Though I did feel good on the bike the whole weekend.

There were plenty of things wrong with my ad hoc test. This is where my science brain takes over.

So without using a proper method and measured results, who knows? My feeling good means nothing. It could have been environmental factors.

I know better. Did 4 years Batchelor of Science. I know all about proper scientific method for testing: remember BACI from High School science class? Before, After, Control, Impact…blah…snooze…

Did I measure the before? No because I have never done a hot-dog or weird shape crit before, never raced the Mt Buller RR. So I have nothing really to compare my performance too…
Did I measure the after?Yes, 4th and 1st. After is a given…
Did the impact change? It could have, yes, because I won, was top 4… But no comparison…
Did I have a control? No.

Yep well I did not follow any scientific method in my beetroot madness. Something something ANOVA, something something t-test, statistic…. Oh yeah, that old statistics chestnut.

Anyway… I sabotaged my own test from the start… because, I got on the gels as well. Gels work in a slightly different capacity than the idea of building up the bodies nitrates through beetroot doping. But fundamentally gels give the boost of energy required for a short period of time. For example popping a gel 15 mins before the climb would have given me energy for 45mins or so. Then I would pop another to get me through to the end.

Beetroot may have increased my oxygen efficiency, maybe there was a 2% increase in performance. My oxygen was probably transported around more efficiently, my muscles were firing well…

But, who knows. Not being anaemic might help me too. Yeah, better get on to that.

So, it was probably the gels that got me through the weekends racing to be honest. And there is plenty of research on gels to verify…normal ones, caffeinated ones and guarana ones, doubles, triples, sugar free, extra carb…look it up yourself.

Hmm, is there a relationship between nitrates and lactic build up…I better get researching.

So. In conclusion, there is none…

Cram beetroot wherever you can. Beetroot juice goes well mixed with apple, orange and ginger juice (from Safeway). It goes well in salads, roasts, eat like an apple. Have the shots, dilute the shots, put them in a smoothie/juice them, have it, or don’t.

Have some gels too and do some bike riding.

So, was it the juice? I’m undecided … MAYBE IT WAS THE PLACEBO EFFECT?!

Ref: Lansley et al (2011) Lansley KI, Winyard PG, Bailey SJ, Vanhatalo A, Wilkerson DP, Blackwell JR, Gilchrist M, Benjamin N, Jones AM. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011 43: 1125-1131.

Refer to my previous post about Beetroot Juice (BRJ) here.