12 May 2013

The Story of the Controversial 300K Alwar Brevet ~ post by Aman Puri

1 Week Before.  I had just completed my first triathlon, coming in at 24th as the youngest triathlete at India's 1st open level triathlon in Delhi. With 7 days to go before the 300 km Brevet, I felt quite confident about it having done 200+ rides many a times. There was just one small problem,  I was down with a mild fever, which at 99/100 degrees wasn't much, but still not a good sign. 
Diet.  I knew that diet plays an important role in endurance cycling, so I drank as much water as I could. I took glycogen for restoration of energy; lots of proteins for muscle repair; carbohydrates for energy; milk and calcium for the bones; and salt for the body salt level. In fact I had been on a high protein diet since 3 weeks in preparation for the triathlon.
1 Day Before.  I ate pasta, bananas, cornflakes & milk, lots of juices, eggs and water. I took a bath with cold water to bring down the lactic acid in case there was any high level. I was also taking energy gels (a mixture of carbs and protein) for instant muscle tear repair, which gave me a great energy boost.
Day of the Brevet.   Surjeet and me headed for Gurgaon at 4 am, carrying with us some bananas and boiled eggs to eat on the way. It was a not so sunny morning in humid weather conditions when we pedalled off for the 300K. For a while we rode together, then Surjeet wasn't so comfortable with my speed, so he joined the riders who were coming behind us. Most of the riders were riding in groups of 2-4 using the drafting technique to lessen the wind factor. However, drafting has always been a problem with me as I like the feel of the wind on my face when I ride and so, I rode alone. I was going at a decent speed between 30-35 kmph on the highway. On my left, there were people were shouting out to motivate me, while on my right the fast moving cars/trucks whizzed past.  I felt full of energy with all the proteins and carbs inside me, as also the glycogen which releases energy when required.

I was carrying water, Gatorade, energy gels and bananas which i took after regular intervals. Since it was a humid, I was sipping on water every 10-15 mins to ensure I remained hydrated.
After 50kms. I was totally warmed up when I reached  the 1st time station. I took a 10 min break, ate 1-2 bananas, refilled my water bottles, drank Gatorade and felt fully energised for the the remaining 250 km. Since it was drizzling, Satish (the Marshal) told me to drink lots of water to remain hydrated as the weather was unpredictable that day. I kept his swords in mind and hydrated myself again and again. When i left the 1st TS, I saw 20-25 riders coming in groups of 2-3. I was happy to see Surjeet smiling on the other side of the road as I continued onward. 

At the 1st T.S. my avg speed was around 34 kmph and I knew it would not do me good to continue with this pace, so, now I slowed down a bit and was riding between 28-32 kmph. This speed/distance was not new for me as I had been training regularly for the past one month for the triathlon and the brevet. I had been doing 170-180 km at a stretch 1-2 times a week just to reach the goal of this brevet. I had wanted some night ride experience so I made a different plan a few weeks before the triathlon. A couple of riders and me started going for night rides at 2 am till about 8-9 am, then I would ride alone for 2-3 hours. So, I was actually riding for 8-10 hours a day 1-2 times a week. I was also running between 5-10 km every 3rd day to prepare both mentally and physically. 2 weeks before the triathlon I focused only on swimming

I slowed down after the first T.S., enjoying listening to some patriotic music. I could see three riders ahead of me, Shailja, Nitish and Manas. After a while I caught up with Manas as he had started riding at a slow relaxing speed, enjoying the beauty of the Aravalli Range on our right. I drafted behind him for a short while and we continued together till we reached 100 km. Manas decided to take a short break at a dhaba and asked me to join in but since I was totally warmed up and didn't want to break the momentum, I continued riding. After 120 km, I got my first cramp in my right calf. It was a bad one as I rubbed it and continued but it started occurring after every 3-4 km. So, I started riding with my left foot, using my right foot as a support only.

I reached the 2nd T.S at 180 km, the turn-back point. Here I spent a good 30 min - re-fuelling, re-hydrating and stretching, and felt fine again. Chiro asked me to sleep for a while since I was waiting for the other riders, but after 30 min when no one came, I decided to go it alone as I didn't want my body to cool down. So, I started afresh at a slow speed between 24-26 kmph. The target I had set for this brevet was to complete in under 13 hours and the reason for it was the upcoming desert 500 challenge in which I had to complete 500 km in under 24 hours on a highway in the middle of a desert where there would be high headwind to slow me down. So, this brevet was a practice ride for the desert 500 challenge.
At 210 km or so I started getting regular cramps. I wondered why as I had taken proper hydration with black salt, so there seemed to be no reason to be dehydrated so early! I stopped at a market on the way and bought some bananas and ate them. The water bottles I purchased were unbranded and had a bad taste but I had no option but to drink them. 

At 220 km or so I got strange paralysis-like attacks one after the other from the jaws to the  limbs and a bad body ache. Most people would have dropped out at that point I'm dead sure, but I had some internal motivation that kept me going. I wanted to test my body and see how much pain it could take and how much strength I had after months of hard practice. I had many questions in my mind but never thought about quitting. I hadn't practiced to say “I can't” or “I quit”! I drew strength from inside and continued riding. After a while my jaw, right shoulder, both calf muscles and neck cramped all at the same time.  I took a 20 min break to massage and continued ahead. Then I got a flat tyre and a crowd of more than 20 people gathered around me to see what’s so special about my bike and asked many questions while I fixed the flat. I waited for the riders behind me for 20-25 min but no one came so I continued. 

After a while, my body gave up. I was lying down on the side of a highway for almost 40-45 min when a fellow rider, Nitin, rode in. He had a big backpack with lots of stuff inside and was like a rescue angel for me. He rubbed my calf mucles with volini spray, gave me some peanuts for carbs and salt, gave me water to drink and asked me if I wanted to quit. These words were like a knife in my heart and so I said no, I would ride. I asked him to ride with me and we rode slowly keeping a pace of between 20-24 kmph, stopping many times inbetween. He was amazingly supportive and the best part was that although we met for the first time, he treated me like a brother. We continued together till the next T.S. and there he waited for me for a good 20 min. Then I told him to go on and I would come after a while as I vomited twice.  Then Satish gave me true inspiration to carry on, he gave me water with black salt to re-hydrate, some energy bars and told me to rest for an hour. 

Many riders stopped and continued, so did Surjeet, and I was happy that he was fine though even he was not feeling very good due to some pain. After 30-35 min, I decided to complete this brevet. The final closing station was hardly 50 km away, I knew I had the strength to do that much so I joined the army team comprising Partha and 2-3 more army men. I rode behind them and whenever they stopped, I would lie down flat on the ground and take super short power naps to regain energy. They took lots of breaks and I took lots of power naps in the last 50 km stretch. I didn't have any hard cramps but my legs were paining. I knew I was in trouble but I also knew that I had to complete this thing. 

I had already covered 250 km and could not give up in the last 50 km! Since I hydrated again and again, I was sure that it was something more than just dehydration as I had never suffered so much pain ever. I took this to be a test of the mind winning over the body. I could have quit if I wanted, it was not a case of an ego problem like a lot of people called it...rather I was testing my limits. Whatever others might say, if i have to do it, I will do it!! I had trained hard for this day and could not think about quitting, so I continued. It was dark when I reached the closing T.S. and I gave my brevet card to get it stamped. I met Nitin again, he was so happy to see me as I hugged him to thank him and also Partha for the motivation in the last 50 km. Chiro and Satish were also a great motivation at the T.S. They encouraged me to complete and gave me proper hydration. They are positive people helping riders reach their goals and we need such motivational people in endurance cycling
After the brevet when I reached home, I weighed myself, I had lost 3 kg in a day. Since I don’t have much body fat, the loss was less while Surjeet had lost 6 kg. I was proud of myself because I had completed it and knew that there might be some problem in me but I would be fine in a week. I was happy the mind won over body and was happy to push myself to such a limit where others would have stopped. There is a thin line between foolish and brave, since I took proper hydration and diet during the ride, I knew I was brave. With me, there were 25-27 more people who completed the brevet. I was happy I would receive a medal from Paris for completing this brevet (at 21kmph) and had made some great friends along my way! 
2 Weeks After
Though I had some muscle pain, after taking rest for two weeks I went for a short 40 km ride to check if everything was fine or not. After the ride, I went to the doctor for physiotherapy for three weeks and he told me that I had knee tendinitis. I started reading about it after that and got my MRI done. The knee was totally fine and I was wondering what the problem was, so I  went to another doctor who told me to continue with physio for two weeks and I did. Again the pain didn't go, so I changed my doctor for the third time. I came to know that I have Genu Varum, which is a childhood defect of the shape of the bone and this was the reason I had severe pain during the brevet. Currently, I'm getting it treated and will be back on the road soon!
Many people mistake my injury by calling it the brevet injury, but that is not the case at all as they are two separate things. In the brevet I just got dehydrated, which is not a new thing with endurance cyclists and I completed the ride after taking some breaks. The main issue is Genu Varum, which I had all along but it came to the fore on that particular ride. It could have happened on any day on any other ride, so people are wrong in blaming it on the brevet. Brevets are a platform to test your limits...it’s You versus You! 

1 comment:

  1. The problem may have been over-hydration. Excess water in the gut causes body cells to lose salts (to equalize salt concentrations across membranes). Drinking more water caused even more salt loss, leading to the super cramps, nausea etc.. It is fortunate you did not have something more serious, given the poor state of knowledge of the organizers about hydration.
    There have been more deaths for endurance athletes due to hyponatremia than due to dehydration.
    The rule is - "Drink ONLY when thirsty, not before".
    If you do not believe this, read up the wikipedia article on hyponatremia, and read the book "Waterlogged" by Dr Tim Noakes (read the wikipedia article on him too).
    I would suggest that this is negligence and ignorance on the part of the brevet organizers.