Lessons on Training for a Mountain Bike Race in Nutrition, Hydration, and Mental Training
Setting out to participate in the Frog 65, I had no idea how this would affect me, my family, and my friends. No, it’s not some world-class Banff Film Festival worthy event and no my story is not wildly unique, and this writing will not have you in tears due to my amazing skill with completing something against at all odds. However, I have learned a massive ton about hydration, nutrition, and mental training while preparing for the race, which occurs in exactly one month from today.
Preparing for Race Day Requires Increased Knowledge of Nutrition My nutrition levels were pretty high coming into the race. I had been a vegetarian again for the third time in my life, and this time, I was finally doing it correctly. Gone were the days of vending machine lunches and Cinnamon Brown Sugar Pop-Tart dinners (yes, really, that was my diet in college as a vegetarian). Instead, I was balancing plant-based proteins with healthy grains and all the veggies this gal could get. I felt great, my immunity had increased, and I was stronger than ever. Then, I started training past my one-hour daily workout routine. Suddenly, every bite of food or drink affected me. That beer? Yeah, felt it on the trail. That cookie, yeah, not smart enough nutrition to hold me as a snack. It got to where every calorie I ingested had to have a specific function. Yes, kale and avocados are good for me, but now, I knew why very specifically, instead of just via word of mouth. The more vitamin K I added, which is found in kale, the greater my ability to regulate blood calcium levels, and create stronger bones. Since I tend toward veganism, this was a win, win. Nutrition has become my tool for optimizing health during training.
Race Training Changes the Way the Body Processes Electrolytes and Hydration Next, I began noticing the amount of hydration that I was consuming, the proper sources, and how to regulate the perfect amount for me. This past winter, I started adding a Nuun tablet into my first water consumption of the day. I had been introduced to Nuun while riding the Enterprise South Trails near Chattanooga one weekend. There happened to be a lady shred group handing them out that day. The rep offered me a sample, and I was hesitant, knowing how much sugar resides in a lot of electrolyte drinks and “performance” snacks. Then, she told me there was no sugar involved. Since that day, we have kept Nuun in the house. I keep a tube of Nuun in my purse, and I travel with it, I do not sleep with it next to my bed, though. I am not endorsed by Nuun, this is a free shout-out, as it is a product I believe in so strongly and has helped me stay on my bike in the summer months when the heat is scorching. This winter, I used one almost daily and recommend them as a replacement for a sugary snack or drink on a ride. Electrolytes also help ensure your body doesn’t cramp, keep your performance maintained at optimum levels, and ensure proper cardiac, digestive, muscular, and nervous functioning. Learning how much electrolyte replenishment is needed is science, and I recommend the guys over at Hammer Nutrition to get you started. This article in particular addresses the proper dosing of electrolytes. Hammer also has an exceptional product that has helped me and my race day ‘team’ feel like superwomen during training.
Mental Coaching is the Biggest Area for Gains During Race Training Do you remember the scene in Rush, where actor Chris Hemsworth is portraying James Hunt using mental imagery to travel the race course prior to his Monaco F1 race in 1976? The actor is lying on the floor, pretending to shift gears, press the acceleration and brakes, and mentally drive through the course before the actual race. I imagine this scene a lot when thinking of training for the race day. Again, I am no pro, nor am I overcoming a novel worthy obstacle with this race. Yet, it is my first race ever, it is 65 miles of riding, and I do suffer from hereditary anxiety that has left me debilitated. I thought I had conquered the anxiety S%^&. I even took myself off my medication because I felt so much better. Then, I had a panic attack on my bike about a month ago. I was with the race day crew, it was cold, wet, and I wasn’t motivated to start off fast. Everyone else was motivated to start off fast. I watched everyone rip up the mountain, my body still cold and not ready to move fast. I began to think, “I am a terrible rider. I’ll never be able to do this race. Go get the keys, and sit this one out, Tracy.” These thoughts went on repeat over and over and over in my head. My heart started to race, my chest got super tight, I couldn’t catch my breath, my vision went dark, and I burst into tears, going weak on my bike. We were barely 5 minutes into the ride. It felt as though I was going to pass out. I had dealt with panic attacks in college. They absolutely wrecked me, leaving me lying on my dorm room floor, and almost dropping out of college one semester. The best help, was Chad, my husband, was right there, riding next to me. He knows I start off slow and then crush it later. He calmed me down by reminding me of a technique of breathing we learned hiking the Jungle Trail in the high elevations surrounding Machu Picchu. Inhale long, three short exhales out. Inhale long, three short exhales out. This melodious breath work brought me back and kept me going the rest of the day. This was an excellent teaching moment. I have to recognize that anxiety is part of my chemical make-up and is not something I need to be ashamed of, but that I need to maintain. A diabetic cannot stop insulin one day just because he is sure he is all better, and I, too cannot do the same. Mental situations are so tricky, and I hope to hell one day I won’t have to be on medication. For now, it provides what I need, biochemically, to keep my head in the game. Secondly, I have to remember that my pace is my pace. I have a set pace, I ride fast, often crushing downhills, but I do not ride fast out of the gate. I must warm up. I joke that I need 5-10 miles before I feel I am truly even like riding…and then I LOVE it. I need to honor that part of me. As for this and the mental training, the things that have truly been the most help for me during training has been the continuous holistic training methods, which mostly stem from yoga. Meditation, breath work, and mindfulness have all been what have helped my mental training and kept me out there more than anything. Two weeks ago, Chad and I rode 40 miles with 4000+ of elevation gain. It was not easy, as the trails were sloppy, and the roots were thick, but we did it and I know we will be ready come race day as the toughest aspects of training have been learned off the bike, not on. Now, we just have to go and ride our bikes.