Learning from the Tour

At first glance the monolith which is the all-expensive, all-travelling, all-pedalling Tour de France would have little in common with the uber poor sport of ultra running…but look again and particularly look again at Team Sky’s dominance of the 2015 edition.

Both ultra running and the Tour de France are endurance based events, in fact the Tour is just one super-long staged-race event. And on reading BBC Sport’s Tour de France ‘Why are Team Sky so successful?’ comment by Matt Slater, there’s plenty us trail bashers can learn from the pedal pushers.

The article details how Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky principal, has widened the team’s event plan over the last couple of seasons. Gone are the days of team support extending to fixing punctures and smashed forks, now is the time of physios, sports massage therapists, sports-performance analysts, nutritionists, hell even sleep therapists, monitoring exactly how each cycle’s power force is ticking over.

Sir Dave cottoned on to the importance of how ‘data could transform the sport’ and hasn’t looked back. Okay, so us poor ultra runners are never going to have access to the expensively produced data being fed back off course to Team Sky’s experts but we can make the most of the info our trusty Garmins are giving us on the hoof. (Although, I suspect it won’t be long until those smart watches are telling users exactly what their carb burn is and how to refuel for personal performance.) We can learn what’s normal for us and when all is not well in advance of grinding to a halt, enabling action before all is lost.

Slater’s article also mentions how Sky’s bid to bring a mobile home to the Tour for Froome was thwarted earlier in the year. Sir Dave was focusing on the importance of putting in place a sound post-race plan; again something us ultra runners could do well to take heed of. Yes, we may have perfected the actual race plan but how good are we of making the gains afforded by a sound post-race recovery plan? We already know that there’s no master training plan –  what works for one body may not work the next and the same goes for nutrition and recovery.

It seems Froome needs his sleep and Sir Dave wanted to bring along the rider’s own mobile accommodation making resting a whole lot more personal and relaxing. This was not allowed, but the team managed to get permission for its new mobile kitchen – only one of the 15 vehicles Sky took on Tour.

Slater explains: “The kitchen is a beauty and it enables the team’s chefs to cook exactly what the nutritionists tell them to cook, without having to make compromises based on what they find in hotel kitchens.” Pedallers have their own nutritional requirements just like us runners and instead of flopping down at the finish line, Team Sky whisk their riders away to get them fed and watered asap.

How many ultra runners don’t put their own finishing needs first? Yes, it’s brilliant to sit on the finish line and welcome other finishers home, but you’d probably be better off to be a bit more selfish and get yourself sorted out first. No matter how hard it feels to move from the line, and no matter how many supporters want a congratulatory hug, get your nutritional needs attended to. By all means return to the finish line once you’re settled (I do!) but put your own recovery needs first.

Fresh over the finish line, hubby Steve tucks in. Check out the shake bottle on the left of the table, lovingly left for him. (Photo: UNiCOM - Gary Bray)

Fresh over the finish line, hubby Steve tucks in. Check out the shake bottle on the left of the table, lovingly left for him. (Photo: UNiCOM – Gary Bray)

Hubby and I have a rule that whoever finishes each stage of Al Andalus Ultimate Trail first, they are responsible for getting their own shake bottle out of the top of their bag as well as the other’s, making their own shake up and leaving the other powder and bottle at the finish line ready for the later finisher. It works.

You might not feel like downing your recovery shake on the finish line, but it’s mind over matter. No excuses…’oh my stomach can’t take it!’ It needs it. You didn’t listen to the excuses your brain was churning out about not being able to run this far while you were actually doing it so don’t listen to the whinings of exhaustion. Nutrition – 3:1 carb to protein is the ticket to feeling better fast. Yup, there may be some stomach churning, puke even, but this is just your stomach resetting. Don’t fear it.

For me, at a staged ultra, it’s then back to my tent, to pick up my pre-packed shower  bag and a clean up. This bag also includes more solid refuelling items. Washing off makes me feel refreshed (and the lack of washing facilities is why I will never do MdS) and then I’m all ready to jump straight on the physio table (yes, I know lots of runners who don’t bother cleaning up preferring to perch on the massage table gunked up with sweat and mud. My thinking – nobody wants to touch stinky legs – make the physio’s job pleasanter and they are much more likely to give my tired legs and feet more attention). If I’m on the ball, this can be achieved within 15 minutes. After a rub down, I’m ready for thorough refuelling with food and lots of it.

Slick post race recovery clearly works, as Slater adds: “when you see Team Sky riders warmed down, fed, showered and changed while others are still looking for their team cars, you can understand how these additional moments of calm can add up over a three-week race.”

Add some moments of calm to your post-race recovery to come back stronger.

The full BBC Sport article can be found here: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/cycling/33661977

Happy riding or pedalling!

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