From novice to race winner? My Science Experiments upon myself
I have always been a fan of adventure travel, exploring cultures and testing new and unusual ideas. I am inspired by (i) Lance Armstrong (before the fall from grace), Jure Robic and Scott Jurek; and (ii) the, for some, controverial 10,000 hour success theory put forward by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Malcolm Gladwell, Matthew Syed and others that anyone can be a champion at any discipline if they train ‘intelligently’ for 10,000 hours (approx 8-10 years of committed and focused learning).
I have set myself a long stop date of 2018 to chase my cycling and adventure dreams and I have, via work and holidays, travelled to and trained in California, SE Asia, Spain, London and Ireland since January 2012 to better understand geographical conditions and sports nutrition behaviours. I am currently conducting extra personal experiments that might lead to athletic improvements over following years to 2018- these range from:
- my adoption of a raw vegan diet since May 2012; up to 90% of my daily calories may come from fruit on certain days and I notice very clear improvements in my sports recovery timings – as any athlete will know, the faster you recover, the quicker you can train again;
- experimenting with sleep deprivation tactics and techniques – occasionally doing up to 48 hour sleepless training zones. During 2012, I sampled ‘uberman’ sleep techniques over a 4 month period – sleeping as little as 2 hours at times/6 x 20 minute blocks across each 24 hours, a system used my many great historical figures in the past with great success in the business and political worlds. From that experience, I learnt a lot but my opinion nowadays is that while such sleep deprivation tactics may assist at times, the body, when training for ultra events, needs up to 12 hours sleep a day to perform at its peak, 9 hours minimum – the correlations between improved cycling performance and sleep beyond 8 hours were inescapable, while the ‘uberman’ and other reduced sleeping patterns did not appear to work at all effectively in cycling terms but did work ‘ok to fine’ in mental daily business productivity;
- visualizing success via sports psychology methods;
- rarely, if ever, cycling beyond 100 miles in training – but I do like to suffer during those training sessions In 2013 this position will likely change to a small degree given my body breakdowns in races this year. I am seeking the correct balance; and
- from December 2012, availing of a cycling coach – I have relied on own research in making training plans to this point but now realise that I need a professional coach to keep me on track each week and also to bounce ideas off. My key goal is to raise my power at lactate threshold levels and also to improve my core strength and flexibility – this will be assisted by bikram yoga and gym work because my body is currently too fragile, as evidenced by many setback injuries in past 2 years.
Why ultra cycling for my experiment?
Because, at 30 years old with no background of competitive sports, I had missed the window to become a Tour de France winning cyclist or an olympic athlete. Everything takes time. Yet, in ultra cycling and also in marathon running – it appears that the older you get, often the better you can get. Ultra cycling appealed to me because it draws upon multiple intelligences when seeking victory alongside the accompanying pain, fatigue and hunger…in short, I saw it as an opportunity to test and develop the inter-relationship of mind and body in extreme conditions and see if lessons could be learnt by the shock and awe inflicted by events such as the Race Across America which was previously voted as the worlds toughest sporting event on the planet.
It began in Africa – Background to my science experiment
Growing up in Ireland, I had never cycled more than 5-15 miles but I got into cycling with a bang in 2008 after reading Lance Armstrong’s autobiography. The book had a radical inspiring effect upon me and I immediately went about setting myself one final great adventure before I committed myself eternally to life as a busy lawyer in the climate change sector. Or so the plan went at that time…
I wanted to do a low carbon adventure so I bought a Dawes touring bike and loaded it up with panniers and my tent. 3 days later, after qualifying as a lawyer, I flew to Uganda and started a life changing 3 week, 1,500 mile solo cycling expedition that took me into Rwanda, Burundi, west Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. It was a strange introduction to cycling with some narrow escapes along the way but also with lots of vital lessons learnt, notably on how adequate nutrition is vital for cycling success.
From this trip, the cycling seeds were sown and I have never looked back, enjoying improved results in each race since then and learning more about sports science and sports nutrition every day. I love that each challenge is humbling in terms of identifying my weaknesses but equally they make me stronger as a cyclist and as a human being.