Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Post Marmotte analysis

Despite the significant extra training this year, my finish time was actually a few minutes more than the last time I did La Marmotte, which was 2 years ago.  In the following post I want to do some post event analysis and think about why I might not have done as well as I thought I would.  We all have off days but I think it is good to try and learn from them.  The most important thing of course is that I completed the course for the third time, an achievement in itself.

I usually like to try and present my ideas in a logical fashion, so a numbered list seems appropriate.  So here goes.

Paul's list of possible reasons why I may not have done as well as I had expected to do, despite much more training:

1)  Went off too fast
I started at a nice speed and climbed the col du Glandon at a good steady rate, arriving at the top with no problems at all.  The descent was a really fast one, but I did not have to pedal much, so very little energy was expended.  However, in the section between the base of the Glandon and the base of the Telegraphe I was drafting behind some really fast riders.  They were really going for it, and I was struggling to stay on the back of them.  I had two choices here a) drop off the back of the line and tackle the headwind by myself or tack onto the back of some slower riders b) try to take full advantage of the drafting behind these fast riders.  As I was looking for a really good time I decided to stay on the back of them.  In retrospect I think that I was pushing it way too hard this early in the event, and I should have gone for option a above.  But I didn't and I think I suffered for this later on.

2) Technical issues
During the latter stages of the climb up the Glandon it became apparent to me that my left shoe was sliding back and forth on the pedals, and I suspected that my cleat was coming lose.  This was really bad news with 3 large climbs and 150km still ahead of me.  As I continued the ride, the movement became more and more pronounced and this was causing a lot of knee rotation, leading to some knee pain.  I didn't have any tools other than tire levers on me, so I had to continue to the top of the Telegraphe before I saw someone with tools that could help me.  By this point my cleat was almost at the point of coming off entirely.  I tightened it with a screwdriver as best as I could, considering the fact that the screwdriver was not really the right size and then I set off again.  Later in the ride it started coming off again and then later on again even the right cleat started moving and slipping.  The knee pain became more and more pronounced and at one point I was considering packing it in to avoid injury.  These technical problems helped neither my technique nor my psychological state.  This I think was a big factor in my performance not matching my expectations.

3) Training was too much endurance focussed and not enough speed focussed
This year I did quite a few century rides, and even did up to 4,000 vertical metres of climbing in my training rides.  The previous time I did La Marmotte I had only done 2 rides in any way comparable with the event, and even then my maximum climbing on any one training ride was 2,500 vertical metres.  So clearly this year I was a lot better trained for endurance.  The problem though was I don't think I trained enough for speed.  On my long rides this year I usually stopped for lunch, and this is not anything like race conditions.  In retrospect I probably should have taken gels and food in a rucksack and consumed these, and not stopped in restaurants for lunch, even if that meant doing shorter rides, as that would have been more race like.  I also only started doing faster rides several weeks before La Marmotte, compared to the last time when I was doing faster rides on a regular basis for several months beforehand.  The statement that I was definitely better trained endurance wise this year is backed up by the fact that at the finish I was in a much better physical state this year, and post event I have not really suffered anything more than needing some extra sleep and a little soreness in my knee which has now gone after having a sports massage today, compared to the last time I did the event when I had knee problems for 2 months after the event.  It just felt that the speed wasn't there in my legs during the event this time.

4) Not enough cycling specific training time
If you recall in April I did my first marathon and I had not got on my bike even once until late April, as I wanted to focus exclusively on my running training.  This meant I did a really good first marathon time of 3 hours 29 minutes, but also meant that I only had 2 months left to start cycle training ready for La Marmotte.  Maybe 2 months is just not enough time for the body to make all the cycling specific adaptations that it needs to make.   The marathon gave me a great cardiovascular base, but my cardiovascular system was not really under much stress at all during La Marmotte this year.  It was really only the muscles seemed to lack the necessary power to go faster than I did.

The above are only possible ideas and there will never be a way for me to know for sure, other than to do it again and try out new techniques based on my lessons learned from this year.  It is too early to say whether or not I will do it again next year but lets just say I won't rule it out just yet wink wink.


  1. After the London Marathon end April 2009 I trained for 2 months and did the Marmotte, I had good cardio, took me a while to increase leg strength, I got to alp D'Huez fairly fresh and did that climb quite fast.

    This time I got to Alpe D'Huez 1hr quicker and did it in about the same time, so knocked 1hr off overall.

    I put this down to Cross country mountainbike racing Oct-Feb, including 2 4hr+ enduros, rdiing quite hard in training rides but not making them that long march-April, training in Lanzarote with lots of hills and strong headwinds, then ramping up endurance since the beginning of May with UK sportive events and routes, continuing to push the pace.

    However my legs and back really hurt and I lacked strength for Galibier and Alp D'H climbs and bizarly I could get my heart rate higher by pushing the pace on the long downhill between the two than I could get on the climbs, so I think I can see where I can get under 9hrs if I could maintain fitness from this year to build on it.

  2. If you stay focussed on that aim for the next year I believe you can do it Pete.

    I think when I come back from the MDS I will be the fittest I have ever been in my life, so if I do decide to do La Marmotte again next year I may do much better than I did the previous 3 times also. The problem again though would be I would have only 2 months of cycling specific training, as in January, February and March I will be almost entirely focussed on training for the MDS, hence running not cycling.

    As by the end of the MDS I will be a serious runner though, I may be more inclined to aim for a sub 3 hour marathon after that, rather than switching immediately back to cycling. With my first marathon completed in under 3 hours 30 I think sub 3 hours is not out of my realm of possibility if I have the necessary training time without suffering from injuries like the first time.