A miserable but learning experience…

Yesterday I headed out with a few friends on a 120 mile 8000 ft “training ride”. The plan was to start in Enumclaw, ride up to the top of Chinook pass, descend and ride up to the top of Sunrise, eat lunch, and then return back to Enumclaw.

I was a bit worried because I was riding with my friend Joe, who not only puts in at least twice as much mileage as I do but is also perhaps 30 pounds lighter than me. Luckily, Joe doesn’t mind riding slower so that others can keep up.

My nutrition plan was to use the Perpetuem, to hopefully avoid the issues I’ve had with Accelerade in the past on long rides. I also brought a bunch of Endurolyte capsules to give me a little extra electrolyte, and some Newtons to chew on. I made up two “two hour” bottles – with enough perpetuem for two hours in each – and carried a camelback for the extra water. I usually don’t like to do that, but we were limited with water sources and it was hot hot.

Joe had written up the ride as “16-18MPH on the flat”, which is what some of our other group rides. We tended towards the upper number (well, actually, above the upper number) for the first hour, which would have been very pleasant if not for the fact that we climbed around 1000 feet during that time. But, though my HR was a bit higher than I had planned (in the mid 140s rather than the 130s), that’s still right around my lactate threshold and I felt good and spent time talking with Greg as we rolled towards our first stop at Greenwater.

The next 17 miles we picked up another 1200 feet of altitude, as we journeyed towards the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. By that point, I was starting to feel a little out of sorts – I didn’t have the same sort of snap, but I knew that I wasn’t dehydrated nor was I down on sugar. I took a few more endurolytes. Then the fun began, as we climbed up Chinook pass (9 miles, 2400 feet)

I did okay on the first part. I gapped off the back of the group – not a surprise – and just tried to ride my own pace, and finished the whole section in about 75 minutes. Not horrible, but not a lot of fun.

A quick descent back down to the white river campground, $5 to enter, and it was time to work on the Sunrise climb. By this point, I was seriously down on both oomph and motivation, and the other riders just rode away from me (partly because I forgot one of my gloves at the water fountain, but mostly because I was so down on energy). I did okay on the first 5 miles – which aren’t very steep – but then the road kicked up and it was all I could do to ride on my smallest gear (a 30/27) at perhaps 80 RPM. I rode a mile or so, and stopped to take a quick break and stretch. After another 15 minutes, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going to finish the climb, and I stopped, sat for a while, phoned Joe and my wife to tell them what was up (interestingly, there was great cell coverage there. My guess is that we were using the towers at the summit of Crystal Mountain Ski area, which is just across the valley from sunrise (and sports the best view of Mt. Rainier around)). And then I descended back down, and started suffering…

It was 26 miles from where I turned around back to Greenwater, which was the first place where I could get some real food. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t fun – I stopped a couple of times to rest, but it really didn’t help much. Eventually, I made it to Greenwater and stopped by the Naches tavern for some food.

The chicken strips and fries did wonders for me, and I ate them with considerable amounts of salt. I tried a Coke but the fructose did not sit well on my stomach, so I only drank about a third of it. After about 30 minutes, I got on the bike and rode the remaining 18 miles back to Enumclaw. I got a little bit of snap back in my legs and started to feel better.

The exact distance isn’t clear – because of me not remembering to start my new HRM – but it’s pretty close to 100 miles, with about 6500 feet of climbing.

The whole experience is eerily reminiscent of my experience on STP last year. I felt good at the beginning, then after 3 or 4 hours started to really lose power. Both days were hot, and both days I sweated a lot.

On the other hand, I did another hard climbing ride earlier this year (59 miles with 4K elevation) where I felt strong, but it was cool and overcast that day.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking, that perhaps I was down on sodium?

But that shouldn’t happen, should it? The perpetuem has electrolytes in it, and I was supplementing with Endurolytes. *But*, if you look at the labels, you find that Perpetuem only has 231mg in two scoops (a one-hour dose), and the Endurolytes only have 40m each. So, that puts me at about 350mg per hour of sodium. As a comparison, the Accelerade I use has 380mg in my hourly dose.

Is that enough? I did a little research…

While there are guidelines around how much sodium is necessary to help water absorption, there are differing opinions on amounts above that. In Serious Cycling, Burke reports a recommendation of 400mg to 1000mg per liter and ACSM recommends 500 to 700mg per liter.

The amount you need depends on how acclimatized you are to the heat – more highly trained atheletes sweat more water and less salt. And it depends on your personal physiology.

The anecdotal stuff I’ve read from the ultra groups (running, cycling, triathlons) says that at least for some people, salt supplementation is pretty important.

During those long hours on the bike, I was seriously considering skipping RAMROD, but I’ve now decided I’m going to do it. But, I’m going to use a better salt supplement.

A few pages I found useful:






What makes a good hydration drink?

There are a lot of hydration (aka “sport”) drinks out there, ranging from the common Gatorade to esoteric ones like Gleukos. All make claims around why they are the best thing around and why all the other drinks suck.

So, I thought I’d write a bit about my understanding of what makes a good drink and help you decode some of the labels out there.

Calorie Density

The first thing that you need from a hydration drink is a sufficient calorie density. Most experts suggest 250 calories perhaps up to 350 calories per hour. So, you need a drink that has that many calories when mixed with a sufficient amount of liquid to make a reasonable dent in your hydration needs (sometimes you may need more or less water). That puts carbs in the 6% to 8% range. Drinks with fewer carbs don’t provide enough energy, and those with more don’t provide enough water.

Gastric Emptying & absorption

Once you have the sugar solution in your stomach, you need to get it absorbed into the bloodstream. The absorption of the water in the hydration drink is increased both by the presence of the sugar (within reason) and by the presence of electrolytes. Fructose is a bit different than other sugars in this respect – see later in the post for more info.


Sweetness is a primary factor in whether you drink enough to meet your energy and hydration needs. There are two important points here:

  1. A sweetness that tastes good at rest is likely too sweet for a workout beverage, so you won’t drink enough of it…

The second point is the most important one. Sucrose (table sugar) is arbitrarily given a value of 100 on the sweetness scale. The good hydration drink makers use different sugars to give you a product that isn’t too sweet but still packs enough carbs.

Acclerade is primarly sweetened with sucrose but uses Trehalose (sweetness=45) to tone the sweetness down, and also a bit of citric acid to make it more sour.

Perpetuem is at the other end of the spectrum, using Maltodextrin, which doesn’t have much sweetness at all, and to be frank, has a bit of a weird taste to it.


There is some good research around the benefits of adding protein to hydration drinks. Accelerade claims that their 4:1 ratio (using whey protein) is the best, Hammer claims that their 7:1 ratio (using soy protein) is the best.

I like the protein, but it does make water bottles a bit messy. I soak mine full of water overnight to make them easier to clean, but you should still make sure never to put the lid on a dry bottle, lest it mold.


Electrolytes are added to hydration drinks to speed their absorption. They also can replace the electrolytes lost to sweat but aren’t usually present in amounts that will replace all the lost electrolytes, so you may need to supplement.

Simple or Complex carbs?

There is a lot of marketing out there on the advantages of complex carbs or glucose polymers over simpler sugars. I’m somewhat skeptical of the claims of benefits (other than their lack of sweetness) – maltodextrin is (for example) rapidly broken down into dextrose.

Food Fatigue

If you ride for long periods – say, more than 3 hours – it’s not unlikely to find yourself unable to stomach another swig of your drink. This is known as “food fatigue”, and is a good argument for a variety of foods rather than a single one. 

Bad Ideas:

Plain Water

Water by itself is bad for a few reasons.

Most obviously, water doesn’t have any caloric value, so it doesn’t help towards your energy needs. But there is a more important reason…

When you are sweating, your body is trying to maintain both your blood volume and the sodium concentration in your blood. If your blood volume goes down, you get thirsty, but if you drink plain water, that ends up diluting the sodium concentration in your blood, and your thirst is turned off.

Not to mention the fact that water is absorbed less quickly by itself, which may lead to a waterlogged (ie “sloshy”) feeling.

Now, if you’re using gels, solid food, or a concentrated drink, then when you add water, you get a good mixture, so that’s okay.

Fructose in drinks

Pre-mixed “original” Gatorade and powerade are both sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Fructose is a bit of a weird sugar that has a couple of disadvantages:

First, it has a different absorption mechanism that limits how much you can absorb over time. If you get more than the amount that can be absorbed, the rest will be unabsorbed in your digestive tract, which can lead to the dreaded “GI difficulties” (typically diarrhea). Some people have fructose malabsorption which may make this worse.

Second, fructose gets processed through the liver, and is useful primarily in replacing liver glycogen rather than muscle glycogen.

In hydration drinks, the sweetness of fructose is also a severe disadvantage, and premixed gatorade is quite sweet but low on calorie density.

So, fructose is a bad choice as a primary sweetener, but not a problem as a secondary ingredient.

Powdered Gatorade does not have fructose, and their “endurance” formula is a combination of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, so those are likely better choices.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juice has (no surprise) a lot of fructose in it, and tends to be very sweet.


Bicycle Adventures San Juan Islands Family Camping Tour

My family (me, my wife, and 13-year-old daughter) spent the beginning of this week on a family tour of the San Juan Islands run by Bicycle Adventures.

This is our second tour with Bicycle Adventures – two years ago we did their Columbia River Gorge Family Tour, and had a great time. If you have an active family I heartily recommend any of their family tours – you don’t need to be a cyclist to have a lot of fun.

This one was to be a bit different, simply because it was a *camping* tour. Now, as a rule, the Gunnersons do not camp. Both my wife and I have had plenty of camping experiences in our childhoods, which I will summarize as “take a long trip to get there, set up the tent, eat some camp food, get lots of mosquito bites, and ultimately wake up in a wet sleeping bag from the rain”.

But in this case it’s “camping light” – we *did* sleep in a tent, but there was real plumbing to be had and we didn’t have to do any cooking, so, we decided to bend the rules in this case.

All the Bicycle adventures tours are multi-sport tours – which means that you do something other than riding your bicycle. For the family tours, you spend less time riding and the rides are pretty short – which means that you don’t have to be a cyclist to do one (though if you are a cyclist, you can get in a few extra miles here and there, but don’t expect to get 50 mile days on the family tour).

This trip we ended up with 8 adults and 6 kids, and 3 guides, which is a fairly big trip for BA, but small enough that you can fit in one van and actually get to know the other people on the group.

The other thing to note is that while you pay a fair amount ahead of time, you don’t pay for anything during the tour. Meals are paid for, ice cream at the end of rides, ferry fares, etc. That lets you focus on relaxing…

So, here’s what we did:


Sunday the group met at the Anacortes marina. We drove, but some of the other families (from New York, Austin, and Palo Alto) were picked up at their Seattle hotels. We rode to the Guemes Island ferry, took it across, and then got lunch at the General Store there. After lunch, we rode around the island a bit – a way for the guests to get used to cycling again, and for the guides to get the feel of the group. Six of the kids were on their own bikes, with the youngest two on trailercycles. The three of us were the only ones that brought our bikes (my Madone, my wife’s new Trek 5000 WSD, and my daughter’s specialized) – the rest rented them.

At the midpoint the group split – the three of us went and did the northwest side of the island, and the rest rode straight back, to catch the ferry.

Ferry rides are a fact of life in the San Juans, and you are sometime constrained by having to race to get to a specific ferry. It’s like the weather – you just learn to accept it.

So… We caught the ferry back to Anacortes, and then rode across town (perhaps 3 miles) to the Anacortes ferry, and then went on with our bikes. After about 40 minutes, we arrived at Lopez Island, our base for the next 4 days. But first, we had to ride up from the ferry dock. Lopez is one of the flattest islands, but it’s still an island, and you have to get up from the water. That took us to Lopez Farm Cottages, where we would camp.

As is typical of BA trips, the area was ready for us, with our REI tents already set up, and snacks set out in the shelter (chips, salsa, beer, etc.). A nice dinner of barbecued tri-tip finished off the day.


Monday is spent cycling around Lopez island, visiting Spencer Spit State Park, Agate Beach State Park (for lunch), Shark Reef Sanctuary (for nice views on the hot side of the island, and a view of some stellar sea lions on nice days), and then Lopez Village for ice cream, and finally back to the campsite. That’s about 30 miles total, which may seem like a long distance if you aren’t a cyclist, but you have a long time to do it, and everybody in the group finished nicely. The traffic is fairly sparse and well behaved, though some of the road surface is chipseal (tar with gravel tossed on top of it and then rolled in), which makes it a bit rough and slow at times on a road bike. If you’re on one of the rental bikes, you won’t notice the roughness though it will make things a bit more slowly.  Dinner was pork chops and corn on the cob.


Tuesday is a day spent on the water. The group gets on the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan island, where we took a whale watching tour around the island. We saw a small number of Orcas close up, and a whole lot of other whale-watching boats. After we got back in Friday harbor, we took the ferry back to Lopez for a dinner of sockeye salmon.


Wednesday we… surprise! got on a ferry to travel to Orcas island, to journey to Moran State Park and climb Mt. Constitution. On our feet. We ended up with a hike of about 4.5 miles with about 2400 feet of elevation gain. The climb is well worth it, with sweeping views of the whole region from the tower at the top. If you want some pain, you can ride your bike to the top, and I understand that they allow car drivers to just drive up with it.

We had to catch an early ferry back (inter-island ferries have very sporadic schedules), and got back to the campsite at around 4PM. I headed out for a bit of training in the heat. The island is a lot nicer at normal speeds – the chipseal is less jarring with less weight on the saddle, and there is a nice selection of rolling hills to stretch your legs on. I ended up doing about 20 miles in the heat (my polar said the peak heat was 112 degrees).


Thursday was our last day – we got up, packed up, and headed to spencer spit to go sea kayaking. We had an nice time exploring the area around the park on the kayaks, then ferried back to Anacortes to come home.


Overall, a very enjoyable trip with a great group of people. Having a full itenerary and not having to pay for anything means that all you have to worry about is filling your water bottles and putting on sunscreen.

Definitely recommended.

Carbs – the good, the bad and the ugly

When is sugar okay

Different kinds of sugar

Sugar metabolism and absorption



Carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad reputation in the last few years – a not entirely undeserved reputation – for the bad effects that it can have on you. What is often not appreciated is that role of carbohydrates in exercise. So, I thought I’d write a little something that (with any luck) will make the whole subject less confusing.

I’m also going to simplify a bunch of information. Let me know if I went too far.

Carbohydrates and blood sugar 

Your body has regulation mechanisms to keep your blood sugar level constant. When it gets low, you get hungry.

And then, presumably, you eat. Through a wonderful and intricate process, the food gets digested, and your blood sugar goes up. And now, the important part:

The way in which your blood sugar changes depends on what carbs you eat.

This is described in a very simplistic way by a measure known as the Glycemic Index. You determine this by giving a group of volunteers a small portion of different foods and measure how much their blood sugar goes up over a specific time.

And then you end up with a chart that gives a value for each food (well, actually, two values. There is one scale where glucose=100 and another where white bread=100).

Why does this matter? Well, if you eat high glycemic foods, you get a spike in your blood sugar, which your body tries to regulate down with the release of insulin which pulls the sugar out of your blood and stores it as fat. Unfortunately, the insulin response is too much, which causes your blood sugar to drop, which makes you hungry, so you eat again.

Over time, this is believed to lead to insulin resistance, where the body stops responding to the insulin and the blood sugar stays high. At that point, you have type 2 diabetes, or are close to it.

This effect has been immortalized in the “I ate chinese food, but an hour later I’m hungry again”. Chinese food is often eaten with a lot of white rice, which has a fairly high glycemic index.

But, it’s not as simple as all that. First of all, it’s not just the glycemic index that is important but the amount of carbs in the food you eat. Carrots have a very high glycemic index but don’t contain much carbohydrate so they have little effect. The glycemic index is also a function of the whole meal, not just one component, and fats and protein both have a moderating impact on the glycemic index of carbs.

Sugar in your diet

effects of all sugars, including fructose

Sugar Absorption & Conversion

The ultimate destination of carbs is glucose, which is either used directly in the brain (and muscles), or stored in the liver and muscles and glycogen.

But first, the carbohydrate needs to be converted to glucose.

 glycemic index drawbacks.





insulin response





50 nice miles, 30 bad ones…

On Saturday I went out to get some quality miles in preparation for Ramrod. Because I rode with my wife and daughter on the flying wheels 25 mile route, I didn’t get my usual century in, which means that the longest ride I’ve done this year is the 60 (ish) miles on the 7 hills 11 hills metric (ish). I felt great on that ride, but that’s far short of the 145 miles that I’ll be doing on Ramrod, and I really wanted some serious time to work on my pace and fuel strategy.

I elected to start with the FW 50 miler and add on from there. The first couple of hours was pretty nice – my strategy is to work to keep my HR below 130 BPM (higher is okay on big hills) and my cadence above 90 RPM. So, I slogged up Inglewood, flew up Ames lake, took a quick nature break in Carnation, and then rode to fall city and up fall city-issaquah.

At that point I felt pretty well, and descending back into Issaquah at 45MPH always makes me smile. But then it started to unravel.

First of all, my stomach (fueled on accelerade and a bagel) was a bit unsettled, and I seemed to be a bit dehydrated and down on salt. I had a bit of jerky which tasted great (and helped), but I’m reluctant to depend on my desire for salt because I’m a sodium-based snacker. Going through Issaquah, I went to sprint at a stoplight and manage to tweak my IT band on my right leg (I’ve been doing some PRK stretches, and I think that was contributory). Which was bad – it was twinging fairly significantly.

I had originally thought that I might climb the zoo, but decided instead to get over the hill on 164th, the easiest route. I rode very easy on my smallest gear (something like a 37/27), made it to the top, and stopped at Lewis Creek park for water and to stretch.

Which helped immensely. I descended the back side of the hill to coal creek, crossed, and then descended down and over 405. That series is probably my favorite one around – you lose 800′ on the trip from the top of Lakemont all the way down to the water, and there are few places where you need to brake.

I got on the trail, rode to Kirkland, and felt a little better up Market and up through Juanita, and then took the trail back home. But a few problems persisted:

1) My energy was really, really weird. I felt okay on the trail but had trouble keeping my speed down.

2) When I went to climb home (up 171st from W. Lake Sam), I was really out of oomph. I was clearly eating enough and had okay hydration, and my speed wasn’t that high, so I’m not sure what it was.

Anyway, checking the download on my polar, it was 80 in 5:10, which put me at about 15.5, pretty good considering how easy I rode the first 50. And I ended up with 3500 feet of vertical, more than I expected (164th added a bunch).

My analysis is that 1) The accelerade isn’t working on the longer distances and 2) I need more electrolytes. I bought some Perpetuem at Gregg’s (who inexplicably only had the unflavored), and some endurolytes, and the perpetuem worked well on my Tuesday night ride, though I had to cut it with half a scoop of accelerade to cover the weird flavor.

Older cycling posts…

The posts that I referenced in my comparative insanity all came from my work(ish) blog. You can find all the cycling posts listed here.

Progressive insanity…

Cycling is an exercise in progressive insanity. No matter where you’re at, there’s always somebody who’s just that little bit crazier than you are, no, not the total whackos that do things that are ridiculous, but just that next little step…

It all starts with riding an hour on the flattest roads that you have around, and finding that pretty challenging. And maybe one day, you ride for two hours, and it wipes you out, but you’re happy you did it.

And then meet somebody who is doing a charity ride, and you think “maybe I can ride 50 miles” at once – it’s pretty intimidating, but you ride some more, and then you finish it, and you’re happy, but dead.

The next year, you decide that you’ll do a century. This is a real milestone, and you can tell its a real milestone by the reaction of the people you mention it to. “In a day?” they say. And you do the century, but you’re slow, and while you finish, you don’t have a lot of fun.

The next year, you do a bit better in the century, and then you do a multi-day ride.

And then you start riding with a group – not a hardcore group, but a group that just likes to ride. You get a new bike – a fast one – and suddenly that century isn’t a goal event but a training ride on the way to a double. That two-hour ride that used to be a goal event is now the minimum – you don’t leave the house for less than two hours. And you start adding hills to your rides *on purpose*. You even start up a website devoted to hills.

You start looking for the hilly organized rides. You do one, two, three, four, and in there you throw in a double century.

And then you decide that RAMROD looks like fun. It’s 143 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing.

A long time ago at my job, I met a co-worker who was into cycling, and he told me about RAMROD. I had driven the route that he rode, and I thought that he was absolutely bonkers.

And now, in three weeks, I will also be officially bonkers.

The scary part is that as I’ve progressed, I still know people who are just marginally more crazy than I am, and that makes me seriously worried.