By Ron Berry P.T., PHASE IV Director of Rehab Services
Building to a peak is exhilarating, and self motivating – especially when it is the peak of Mont Ventoux. The top of the mountain at 6300 feet is the site of epic Tour De France battles. It is triumphant, the “giant of Provence,” and is the final day of a tour I've signed up for in 3 months – a perfect amount of time to prepare with eager anticipation and PHASE IV Science.
The tour I'll be taking is one put on by InGamba, a well regarded bicycle tour company, who puts on many multi day bicycle tours in California and Europe. The Tour of Provence, in the south of France, will span 6 days starting July 29. InGamba will be providing food and lodging, soigneurs (massage therapists), a support van, a Pinerello Dogma Bicycle if I'd like, 2 cycling outfits (aka kits – it's always cool when the group matches), and expert guides who will accompany us through the rolling hills and mountains of southeastern France.
The well planned out itinerary will build to a final day ascent of Mont Ventoux on a 26-mile ride with 5200 feet gain, a mile up in a span of a marathon. The 6 days will have almost 26,000 feet of climbing and 280 miles. It will be the hardest 6 consecutive days of cycling that I will have ever done.
Recovery, food and wine...
Recovery from day to day will be critical during the week. InGamba providing massages will be helpful. But, when it comes to recovery, nutrition might be the most critical factor, and nutrition in Provence is a centuries old art form. Known for fresh local produce and heartily flavored seafood and poultry, the food is part of the attraction. From the ham and cheese croissants at breakfast to the Ratatouille for dinner I'm sure the cuisine will be incredibly nourishing and delicious. In Provence, the French eat well. One challenge to my daily recovery may be the wine that is so greatly appreciated in this part of the world. This may have to be another aspect of my training in preparation for this trip. InGamba touts that their desire is to combine the world's best cycling with the most delicious local food and wine. This mission works well with some of the other tour destinations they offer; Tuscany, Portugal, Catalonia, and Napa among others.
However, the main attraction to sign up for a trip like this is not the food but, the riding. This tour has so many great rides, from rolling hills past lavender farms, over cobblestones, down canyon descents, with 5 days having more than 3700 feet of climbing, and the iconic Mont Ventoux on the last day. Having a thoughtful plan to prepare for such an adventure will only make the adventure that much more exhilarating and fun.
How I will build strength and endurance...
Using PHASE IV science I will address various factors of fitness necessary for a multi day cycling challenge. Where I'm starting from, metabolic fitness wise, is being a 4-6 miles per day 4 days per week bicycle commuter with usually a weekend ride on my road bike of 17 to 20 miles. I've been doing this for many years and get myself up and over some decent climbs every year, but, not since last summer. Considering my structural integrity, I have occasional minor neck and low back pain. I'll initially take stock of potential injuries that may derail my progress, and assess where certain muscles may be less than strong or lack flexibility. I will do this by having one of my physical therapist colleagues at PHASE IV do a Structural Exam. A Structural Exam is a service we do at Phase IV in which the physical therapist does a head-to-toe assessment using a variety of examination methods. The information from the exam will direct which exercises I would benefit from emphasizing in the initial phases of my training, which will be more about injury prevention. In the second part of my training the 2-3x/ week workouts will turn into a program more directed at performance improvement ( I really don't want to be the last guy up the climbs ).
Another aspect of my fitness to develop is my endurance. A critical component of this is what fuel my body uses to power me on the rides. To utilize mostly stored fat as fuel is the most efficient for endurance workouts. Fat is the primary fuel source at light to moderate levels of exertion but at a certain level of exertion stored carbohydrates become the dominant fuel source. However, we only have so much stored carbohydrates and burning carbs (glycogen) leads to more lactic acid in the body. So, to become a “better butter burner” means producing less lactic acid and therefore less post exercise soreness. In addition, there will be less chance of bonking ("delirious fatigue during exercise") because there are vast reserves of stored fat in all of us.
To help achieve this I will be taking advantage of a VO2 analysis with an exercise physiologist at PHASE IV. The VO2 analysis will give me various heart rate zones that I should emphasize to manipulate my ability to use fat as fuel. This is in effect what we refer to as Base Training. The data will also help guide the exercise physiologist in advising what intensities I should be riding in during the various phases of my 3-month training plan. This data is important in creating a science based training plan.
My first month of training...
For the first month of my 3-month training plan I will be riding mostly in heart rate zones that will develop my ability to have sustained efforts. I will also be motivated to get my trunk and legs strong and balanced, and my whole body flexible, with certain points of emphasis, based on the Structural Exam. I may also try to learn a few French phrases, although I have a feeling the InGamba guides will takes care of me quite well if I start making a linguistic fool of myself. Oh, and at some point I better assess the impact of French wine on my next day's riding.