Le Mans 24Hr TT
In 2014, as head of clinical performance I was invited to support four friends and competitive cyclists looking to achieve an ultimate endurance goal, a 24hr time trial challenge on the iconic Le Mans motor racing circuit, France!
Their primary objective was simple, to beat each others distance, as a priority over their overall classification. Scheduled in the Spring, training would need to take place over the full course of winter, as we had 6 months to work with. Initially I assessed each of their power profiles so that I could confidently prescribe relevant sessions for improving aerobic capacity, in relation to the event demands. Having been out of competition for a few years, their 2013 summers hadn’t been quite full gas and so there was a fair amount of base building and also focus on strength conditioning for a couple to develop solid foundations. Further, one of the four friends had been recuperating from an incapacitating hip operation just a few months before the start of our programme, and so faced unique problems which would need to be overcome.
Although the Le Mans course isn’t demanding through elevation, after a potential completion of 200 laps the amount of climbing quickly adds up (approx 7000m) , so lactate threshold power-to-weight is still an important parameter. The long drag into a head wind also meant that optimal aerodynamics would provide significant advantages. The interval sessions I prescribed were specifically tailored to take advantage of their personal power profiles and sustainably build training load in between breakthrough rides of various duration and intensity. Junk miles can be a hindrance, especially to cyclists who habitually enjoy social miles, but at the same time structured training can be less demanding on precious free time.
Overtly focusing on too low an intensity such as long slow distance is often a mistake many competitive cyclists make at the wrong phase in their training. Polarising intensity to your own ability can pay greater dividends, but including training events to simulate racing is worth including closer to your target event. For me, the group approach provided an interesting series of cases for who would predictively come out on top, with unequal yet rising levels of commitment, motivation and determination between them. Not only physical preparation was needed but also mental preparation of overcoming severe fatigue and riding through the night. This would need to be replicated by distinct and purposeful sessions to challenge circadian rhythms and sleep-cycles.
Understanding individual power profiles also allowed for an objective assessment of their nutritional requirements other than promoting fat metabolism, which should fuel a vast proportion of a 24hr effort. The value of a power meter is extremely underestimated for this purpose, as knowing how much muscle and liver glycogen is being plundered can dictate an optimal feeding strategy and prevent the dreaded ‘bonk’.
I covered the main pillars of human performance to put the group in the best possible position to battle it out between them, without bias. Taking the journey with a client to their planned event is typically enjoyable for everyone, where I de-risk a programme in the face of any illness or injury and the necessary revisions, although witnessing their event execution is usually a luxury. On this occasion I was asked to participate in logistical preparation and manage nutritional support based upon a planned strategy, but also help them stick to a planned pacing, motivate and get the coffee ready!
On the day, an initial surprise was the number extremely serious teams there were, with a relay format between 4 or even 8 members, which seemed much more sane than the individual challenge! Further still, this meant that the 24TT was in fact more of a criterium race on the twisting corners and fast bends, so pacing was less relied upon and a revised nutritional strategy needed, more coffee! Even still, riding with power meant that they were able to draft efficiently and ride within their capacity to endure the jerks and jolts of other teams efforts with well rested riders. Each of our group absorbed the peaks and troughs of the racing very well, for what was their most intense one day event ever.
The excitement came towards the end where endurance was more exposed when distance could be gained while others sacrificed time for rest as the tortoise and hares approached the finish line. Recording well over 2,500 between them, and only 100km for each others total, the satisfaction was obvious, and the elation would surely kick in during the next weeks worth of recovery!
All-in-all this was a tough programme to deliver, and everyone was able to push through their fears and perceived limitations to set a new level.
“Being closely supported was very motivational, which in turn made me comply with the training programme as much as I could, as Simon made multiple revisions to my plan for me due to unforeseen injuries. I found the session feedback and performance analysis fascinating. Come race day, having the physical fitness to ride 600km at 35km/hr really made the difference between disappointment and satisfaction! I can not wait to plan my next challenges for 2015 and build on my current strength through a personalised plan.” Mark D