You’ve been training your *ss off for that BIG moment. Whether it’s for La Marmotte, The IRONMAN or a cyclosportive, you might ask yourself in the weeks before D-Day what’s best to do? We’ve asked professional coach Jim van den Berg from Robic in the Netherlands. With his help, Dion Beukeboom attacked the Sir Bradley Wiggins Hour Record.

Tell us what your final weeks for such a big race look like.
Those last weeks are crucial. The volume and intensity of your training will increase step-by-step. The peak of the training load is between two to five weeks before the big event. From that moment you will decrease the volume and intensity. This way your body can recover optimally from the hard work you’ve delivered and you will be fresh at the start.

How many weeks or days before the event will you decrease your intensity? Or is it better to go on with training?
When it’s really a big goal and the period hereafter isn’t that important anymore, then it is indeed important to appear at the start fresh and rested. This means that the volume and intensity will be considerably less in the last few days. The exact moment is dependent on the fitness level and shape of the athlete. A well-trained athlete will be fully recovered on Saturday from a heavy effort on Wednesday. For most recreational riders the last heavy training stimulus lies in the weekend before the event. The week in between can be used to perform some short, easy rides.

Sleep eat repeat

How important is sleeping and resting in the last weeks before an event?
This is crucial! The biggest effect of training comes from recovery. By recovering from a training, you become stronger and can deliver more in the next training. The recovery depends to a large extent on your diet and resting. The most important thing herein is daily routine. Make sure you get 8 hours of sleep in a fixed routine and also try to shift your biorhythm to the time the event starts. If the event starts at 6 o’clock in the morning, don’t go to bed every evening at 12 o’clock in the week before.

Is it wise to start carb loading heavily during that week or is that a myth?
No, please don’t! In the first place, our Western diet (and especially in the Netherlands) with a taste for bread already contains a lot of carbohydrates. So, if in the last week the training load decreases and you keep eating as you would normally do, then the muscles will be almost completely stored with carbohydrates. The last day before the event it is worthwhile to ensure that your meals contain enough carbohydrates and you can use an extra scoop of pasta at dinner. This is actually more than sufficient. If you fill up with pasta and bread the whole week, while your muscles are already filled, these carbohydrates are converted into fat and of course you don’t want that.

Preparation is half the battle, so they say. Do you have tips for this? Some do thorough research, others take it as it comes for example.
Taking it as it comes is actually the recipe for failure and I often experience this in practice. There is a lot of easy thinking about events like La Marmotte. So, for example, make sure you know how long the climbs are and where the heavy parts are. Where you are going to recover, where do you fill your water bottles and what will you eat during the ride?

Is it sensible to explore the course?
Absolutely! Knowing the course gives you peace and guidance. With this knowledge, you can distribute your energy more evenly and you are more conscious not to blow yourself up immediately. Explore the climbs on a Tacx for example, so that you know what’s coming.

Then it is Race Day. What do you have to pay attention to so that you have the biggest chance to reach the finish?
Walk into a riders’ hotel at the breakfast buffet and you can see that 75% have actually eaten way too much before the race has even started. Your muscles are already full with carbohydrate from the day before, so that’s no use. If you eat too much, your body will spend the first few hours digesting breakfast instead of making an effort.

Therefore, it is better to have a normal breakfast two hours in advance and then eat 50–70 grams of carbohydrates in the last hour before the start. That is, for example, a bottle of maltodextrin and a sports bar. During the race you try to get 70 grams of carbohydrates right from the first hour. That is usually a bottle, a sports bar and a gel. If you really want to dive in completely to this, then with the right carbohydrate ratio this absorption capacity can be increased to 110 grams per hour, but this is very individual and requires a tested and individual fuelling plan.

Stick to the plan

Is it wise to make up a race plan, and what should it meet?
Absolutely! It starts with the knowledge of your own abilities. For example, based on the data of an exercise test, you can very well make a prediction about the power that you can sustain on a climb and what time that yields. Approximately 80% of participants in a cyclo start too fast. You can prevent this with a plan and a power meter.

How do you deal with your heart rate and diet during a race?
If your heart rate remains disproportionately high when your power remains the same, this may indicate a heart rate drift. Then you probably have pushed too hard and are dehydrated. With a moisture loss of 2% in body weight, the performance is already clearly deteriorating, and at 5% you lose about 30% of power. Heart rate can be an early indication that things can go wrong. So, it’s best to make sure that this doesn’t go wrong and include in advance in your race plan where and when you should eat and drink.

How important is it to test gels and sports nutrition in advance?
Very important. The stomach gets a lot to endure and that’s why you want to know in advance which gels and food you tolerate well and which you don’t. Make sure you have tested this and really try to reach the maximum absorption capacity of 70 to 90 grams per hour.

How much moisture do you need every hour?
Regardless of the temperature, you want to drink one bottle per hour. When filled with an isotonic sports drink, for example, it contains essential carbohydrates (about 20 grams) and the moisture you need for a faster stomach emptying so the next gels and bars can be taken up again. If the temperature is very high, you can drink (maximum) one bottle of hypotonic drink in addition to this bottle. This contains almost no carbohydrates but electrolytes that are important for a good moisture balance. Drinking more than one litre per hour has absolutely no use, because a body can’t absorb so much during exercise.

What about the nutrition that the organization offers? Is it wise to consume this?
If you know that you can tolerate that specific brand and product and you know where it is offered, then you can save yourself the weight of these products when bringing it yourself.

Do you have any advice for athletes who can’t eat during a race?
Put less effort in your race. If you cannot eat, you will probably ride too fast. So, look for an intensity and moments you can eat and choose products that you tolerate. Continuing to push with the thought you can’t eat, doesn’t make any sense.

How do you deal with ailments and setbacks?
Ensure that you stick to your plan. You have agreed in advance with yourself what kind of power, climbing times and diet plan you will follow. This prevents you from thinking about the possible outcome, because the outcome is the logical consequence of carrying out your task. So, whatever you encounter, try to solve it without thinking about the possible consequences on the result and try to get back to performing your tasks as quickly as possible.

Mission accomplished, now what?

It’s over. The mission is accomplished. And then? What do you do after the finish, drink an ice cold beer to celebrate the result? And how bad is it when you eat fast food afterwards?
It is precisely a depleted body that has a huge need for good quality food and drinks. Alcohol in particular is (unfortunately) very bad. Alcohol is namely diuretic and burdens the liver with the breakdown, while your liver is already busy enough. After an effort, you must provide yourself with moisture and carbohydrates. Proteins may also be consumed slightly later. Unlike what many people think, this doesn’t have to be immediately after the effort. Only after this, it is time for a beer!

What does the recovery week look like afterwards? Is sensible to finish a D1 recovery training immediately the next day?
Absolutely! Putting the legs in motion and putting the muscle pump back to work will ensure a better recovery. This effort may be even lower than D1 and no longer than an hour. If you go longer then you burden the body too much again.

Are there any tips on nutrition that you should pay attention to during the recovery week?
The first days you have a raging hunger because the carbohydrate supplies are probably completely drained. Make sure you do not fill this need at the gas station, but ensure high-quality carbohydrate-rich food. On day two or three, this feeling must be gone, while in terms of training you probably still take it easy. Make sure that you haven’t taught yourself a new diet with too many calories to stay in shape.