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3 Peaks Guide: Part Three

In this last part of the series on preparing for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race, Alan Dorrington will look at nutrition for the day and how to ride your race to get the best result you can.

In terms of nutrition, there’s the scientific theory and then there’s what you can do in practice. I’ll leave the theory to friend Dr Greg May from Stoic Focus Coaching who is one of those trained exercise physiologist folk:

“Your body can normally accept about 60g of carbohydrate (CHO) per hour. With training this can be bumped up to around 90g of CHO/hr, but the effect of taking in too much is… generally explosive on both ends. Aiming for around 75g of CHO is probably about right.

Just aim for carbhydrate, it's 3.5 -5 hours - you won't need protein or fat and they digest slower. Ideally look at a CHO supplement that has electrolytes in it as well if it is a warmer day, and perhaps a bottle for the road with a stronger electrolyte based drink.”

All of this is great but the 3 Peaks is not a flat, steady ride in ideal conditions for monitored eating and drinking. Instead it is a slightly wild rollercoaster of a race and often when you want to eat and drink, you can’t as the technical challenges are too great. And often when you can eat and drink, it's when you least feel like it.

As Greg points out, either way you approach it you're going to finish in negative energy. Just accept this from the start, you can eat afterwards.

Overall, fluid and gels are probably the easiest way to take in energy. They can also can be replaced easily at each of the support points if you have a helper and then the weight is ingested rather than carried. I always advise water bottles not a camelback type carrier. Crawling up Simon Fell with 3kg of water on your back is only to be recommended it you have no way of getting fresh supplies later on in the race.

At each support point take a big bottle for the road section which you need to finish before you go off-road again, and a smaller, lighter, more concentrated bottle for the climb. You won't be able to eat or drink on the descents. Another thing to accept and move on with. Get things right, particularly with hydration and you should avoid too much cramp in the later stages. But, despite your best intentions you will still probably cramp on Penyghent - it’s a fact of 3 Peaks life. Sorry.

In terms of how you put everything together, the race has a rhythm of its own. It goes like this:

1. Mad dash in a huge peloton on the ‘neutralised’ road section. Don’t be intimidated by this, just relax, follow the wheel in front, and watch out for other riders and the sudden surges and stops in the bunch.

2. Turn left off the road, don’t drop your chain, enjoy the farm section and then get stuck into the fields and lower slopes before the steepest climb you’ve ever done carrying a bike (unless you’ve done the Peaks before). It’s horrible but it does pass so hold it together on the undulating moorland section before the final rocky climb up to Ingleborough itself. Descend quickly to Cold Cotes, hit the road and drink/eat everything you can whilst looking for a group to ride in.

3. Turn off-road again and wind your way up to the rocky and slabby slog up Whernside. Just switch off and plod. Ride the long whaleback, with short carries to the summit. Breathe deeply and dive off the other side. The slabs after the turn right are technical but rideable with concentration. Don’t lose it. The concentration, that is. The descent eases, bar some stream crossings and you see the haven of Ribblehead.

4. Onto the road and more eating and drinking. Keep it going here, but don’t bury yourself. Penyghent is still to come. Turn off onto the Lane in Hortonand unless you are on for well under 4 hours, watch for other riders coming down. Look at them enviously. Get yourself up the Lane, and onto the upper slopes of Penyghent trying not to cramp. It’s a long slog still to the top but it does arrive eventually. Another deep breath and simply descend the same way back down, looking smugly at the riders still coming up.

5. Concentrate, concentrate to avoid a last minute puncture and then hit the left onto the road and the most glorious feeling in cycling – that particular section of smooth tarmac. A short blast takes you back to the finish. Congratulate yourself. You’ve done the hardest ‘cross race on the planet.

2 September 2014