Winning Between the Stages at Pikes Peak APEX
It’s one thing to perform well for one day of racing, but staying at the top of your game for four days requires a little knowledge and some thoughtful planning. What you do - and don’t do - between stages of the Pikes Peak APEX presented by RockShox will make a big difference on how you feel and fast you can go the following day. With that in mind, here’s a guide to post-stage strategies for stronger tomorrows.
Note: The strategies that work between race days also work between training days, particularly while you are engaged in a high-volume or high-intensity training block.
Replenish Your Body
Replenishing fuel, fluids, and electrolytes are a top priority after stages. Stage 1 is relatively short, but it’s very intense. Stages 2 - 4 are long days on the bike and you are almost certain to deplete the stores of carbohydrate energy in your muscles (muscle glycogen). Between the late summer heat and the dry mountain air, you’re likely to finish stages slightly to moderately dehydrated as well. Even athletes who are diligent about hydration lose more fluid than they ingest. And lastly, you’ll want to include electrolytes in your post-stage nutrition and hydration choices to replenish electrolytes lost through sweating.
The ‘Glycogen Window’ Matters for Multi-Day Events
What, how much, and when should you eat after a stage to help you prepare for the following day’s effort? Traditionally, athletes have been instructed to consume a carbohydrate-rich recovery drink and/or a meal rich in carbohydrate and protein within 60 minutes after exercise. This timeframe is often referred to as the “glycogen window” because muscle cells are more “open” to rapidly absorb carbohydrate from the bloodstream.
In recent years, the glycogen window has been de-emphasized for most endurance athletes. This is because rapid carbohydrate replenishment is not as crucial for athletes who have at least 24 hours between exercise bouts. During The APEX, that’s not you!
Pikes Peak APEX athletes should absolutely take advantage of the glycogen window and prioritize carbohydrate replenishment. Doing so increases the likelihood you’ll start the next stage with full glycogen stores, which means you have more fuel on board for high-power, high-intensity efforts.
In a high-quality recovery drink for endurance athletes, most of the calories come from carbohydrate. Incorporating a small amount of protein may accelerate glycogen replenishment and provide protein for muscle repair. Most recovery drinks are also rich in electrolytes, for flavor as well as to aid in the absorption of water and nutrients.
Whether you have a recovery drink or not, aim to eat a balanced meal within about an hour after each stage. This meal should prioritize carbohydrate, protein, and fat - in that order. If you don’t normally consume concentrated carbohydrate sources like pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread, these are good choices during multi-day events and training blocks.
What about the beer garden?
For many athletes, nothing beats the taste and sensation of.an ice-cold beer after a long day on the bike. And although alcohol doesn’t do you any favors in terms of recovery, having a post-stage beer with your friends is worth it. If you want to ride well tomorrow, drink 1-2 beers instead of six, and drink plenty of water throughout the afternoon and evening.
Service Your Bike
Your bike needs some post-stage love, too. Trails in the Pikes Peak Region are mostly dry and dusty, especially during the late summer. Even when it rains, the loose rocky surfaces shed water quickly and don’t produce much mud. (Just watch out for and avoid isolated areas of clay soil.) In other words, at the end of each stage your bike and drivetrain will likely be covered in dust.
The good news is, dusty bikes are easy to clean. A basic soap-and-water cleanup works great. Pay more attention to cleaning your chain and cassette well before reapplying lubricant. Local mechanics and riders recommend dry lube or wax instead of wet lube because dust is less likely to stick to a dry lubed chain.
While cleaning your bike, check for problems you may not have noticed during the stage. Check your tires for thorns and “goat heads” and inspect your wheels for loose or broken spokes. If you have fresh sealant in your tires, small holes from thorns should seal. Nevertheless, it’s better to find and deal with them in the afternoon instead of waking up to a flat tire in the morning. Also check your brake pads to make sure you have sufficient brake material for tomorrow’s descents.
If you find anything questionable or that you can’t fix on your own, use the time in the afternoon to consult with the mechanics at the race venue or visit a local bike shop.
Get Plenty of High-Quality Sleep
Sleep is the most important component of recovery, but athletes sometimes find it difficult to sleep after long, hot days on the bike. Between the excitement of racing, elevated body and skin temperature from exertion in the heat, the altitude in Colorado Springs, and anticipation of the following day’s challenges, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
To improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest, try the following:
- Make your sleeping environment cool, and as dark and quiet as possible.
- Cool yourself. Normally, skin and body temperatures decrease before and as you fall asleep. If you’re still feeling overheated from a day outdoors, and it’s making it difficult to fall asleep, consider fans or a cool shower.
- Stop utilizing screens for work or entertainment at least an hour before bed time.
- Bank sleep ahead of time. You can’t really catch up on lost sleep, but you can bank sleep by adding 30-60 minutes to your normal nightly sleep duration for a handful of nights. This can take the edge off long travel days.
What About Recovery Modalities?
There are a lot of recovery-oriented devices and techniques out there. You can choose from massage therapy, percussion massagers, stretching, pneumatic compression boots, ice or cool water immersion, and more.
Do they improve performance? The best answer is ‘maybe’. The science behind almost all recovery modalities is mixed, but they generally have two useful benefits: they make you feel better and they encourage athletes to sit still for a while.
The important thing to remember with recovery modalities is that adding activities shouldn’t displace time you could be sleeping, eating, and hydrating. Trust time, rest, and adequate food and fluids to do most of the job.
Mental Reflection and Preparation
Racing is exciting, fun, rewarding, and mentally and physically challenging. It can also be stressful, frustrating, disappointing, and nerve-wracking. Between stages of a multi-day race, mental reflection and preparation are important for processing today and getting ready for tomorrow. Here are some tips to consider:
- Allow yourself to fully experience your emotional response to today’s stage. Whether you’re frustrated, sad, elated, or surprised, sit with those emotions rather than dismissing them.
- Remember that nothing you’re feeling or experiencing will last long. When everything seems to be going wrong, just keep solving the problems as best you can. Those hard times won’t last forever. Similarly, if you feel great after today’s stage, recognize that for the good times to continue, you must keep working and problem solving. And even then, you will eventually experience a low point again.
- Moving to a more pragmatic step, reflect on the lessons learned from today’s stage and decide how you’re going to apply those lessons to improve tomorrow’s performance.
- Turn your attention to tomorrow, but don’t get too caught up in the minutia of weather, elevation gain, or time splits. You want a good understanding of tomorrow’s stage, but over analyzing it just leads to anxiety about it.
By this point it might seem like there are a ton of things that need to be done between stages of the Pikes Peak Apex. In practice, it won’t seem like much. And with practice, these post-exercise habits become automatic.