Dean Hill - Not exactly your every day Cowboy.
Everyday good guy and down to earth Masters Endurance Mountain Biking specialist Dean Hill AKA 'Cowboy' guest blogs for FE Sports and gives us an insight into how Skratch Labs have helped him to remain on his game within the surprisingly competitive world of Masters and local Elite Mountain Biking.
Just to be up front and put everything into realistic perspective from the beginning, I am not a current or future World Champion athlete like some of the other amazing guys and girls that FE Sports have on their Ambassadors list. I am just an everyday all rounder with a passion for cycling and a desire to set and achieve goals big or small. Being a family man and working and teaching full-time certainly makes finding the hours to get out on the bike tricky but I put a solid effort into my training and racing regardless. Finding that balance is key and it's all the more satisfying when you do get a result looking back at the work you have put in and how it has all come together successfully on that day.
I have come on board with FE Sports this year to help them spread the message about some of their incredible brands and I’ll be doing some ongoing guest blogs throughout the year that you may find interesting and perhaps quite relative to your own experiences. In this entry I will focus on Skratch Labs and how their Hydration and Endurance Mix has helped me get through some pretty gruelling time in the saddle. later on I’ll also be talking about my experiences with other brands like Astute Saddles and training with Stages Power. Just down to earth, honest, everyday stories and experiences from my training and racing with no added BS!
The decision to "Get Serious"
In 2016 after several years of riding and racing without any real focus I decided that it might be time to take things a little be more seriously and approached well known MTB coach Shaun Doyle. Thankfully he agreed to take me on and along with some amazing support from Terry Dan at Focus Bikes we completed a massive number of MTB events with some great results at Regional, State and National level. I was glad I made the decision to concentrate on reaching a higher more consistent level but I did find the extra events and workload took its toll so for 2017 I decided to be more selective on what XC MTB distance and events I was going to focus my training towards. As anyone who is into competitive sport would know it is very difficult to be ready and at your peak for everything on a calendar so it makes sense to plan and structure your training wisely towards some carefully selected important targets.
I had 2 choices. The short Cross County Sprint-XCO or the (much) longer Cross Country Marathon-XCM format. I really enjoy both disciplines and I’m not biased towards either but if you had the choice I am assuming most 'normal' people would prefer the minimal training regime and less effort that is required for a 1.5hr Sprint race over a 5hr Marathon race right? Call me a sucker for punishment but I decided to dive head first into a year of Long Distance XCM racing in the ever competitive Masters 1 / 2 category!
The 7 round National Series is truly a National Tour with events in Wingello NSW, Bendigo Vic, Alice Springs NT, Bayview Blast QLD, Dwellingup WA and The Epic in QLD and Canberra. Although I had no expectations of giving the guys up the front a hard time or making the podiums I have been a competitive person my whole life so I wasn’t going there just to make up the numbers and enjoy the scenery! The one expectation I put on myself was that I would be 100% prepared and do everything in my power to make sure I was the best I could be and give the most I could during each of these targeted events.
Nutritional intake and Post Race Recovery
Apart from being physically fit and prepared before reaching the start line one of the most important things to consider for a race of 3-5 hours is your nutritional intake and post race recovery. I found that it was taking me weeks to fully recover from a marathon event and it wasn’t a physical conditioning issue. My experienced Coach always had me peaking and prepared for race day, so I started to dig a bit deeper and examine my over complicated nutritional plan. Like pretty much everyone else I used a combination of energy gels, sports drinks and during the longer events some type of solid food high in calories.
I find the biggest problem with Gels is after consuming one you need to drink half a bottle of fluid to wash out your mouth and dissolve the Gel in your stomach. It’s a catch 22 especially if you are using a Sports Drink as this leaves just as much of a sugary and syrupy feeling in the mouth. I know a lot of competitors that actually become nauseous from Gels and highly concentrated drinks. For me I would just feel really hollow and crampy in the stomach. A Gel will pick you up quickly but they will hit you with a low just as quick without any warning and leave you feeling much flatter than before you consumed it. So in goes another Gel and more Sports Drink! I'm sure you can see where things are heading here...
Another issue I have encountered has been post race re-fulling, finding it super hard to eat after a race and having to force something down because your brain is telling you that you’re in trouble if you don’t. But whatever I ate I would get a huge amount of heartburn and acidic re-flux, probably due to forcing down all those gels and sugary drinks! And with so many sugars and chemicals consumed during the day it’s almost impossible to shut down post race and get a good nights sleep. So it just compounds, the next day I would be so dehydrated, sluggish and tired that getting back on a bike or resuming any type of physical activity or training would have to wait.
Skratch Labs to the Rescue!
I had heard a bit of talk about the Skratch Labs brand and its products but thought that they were just another one of the many supplement brands on the shelf at my Local Bike Shop, Chain Gang. I did a bit of homework and was very impressed by the story, mission and experience that is behind Skratch Labs and its creator Dr. Allen Lim. This guy is a wealth of knowledge yet he just keeps it simple and realistic. But don't just take my word, head out to the interwebs and do a bit of your own research and i'm sure you will be just as amazed by what you find as I was.
Skratch Labs have products available on 2 different levels. Pre-packaged supplements ready to use off the shelf at your LBS and the Skratch Labs Cook Books that allow you to make your own fresh foods for either everyday re-fueling or during race events. There are 3 products that I am now using, Exercise Hydration Mix which is a re-hydrating powder you add to your bottle instead of those highly concentrated sugary so called 'Sports Drinks'. Fruit Drop Energy Chews which are a pack of solid jubes that you eat rather than a liquid style Gel and my favourite the Endurance Recovery Mix which is to be used immediately after your harder training sessions or racing when its difficult to replace those calories within that crucial 30 min window post exercise. It’s the natural and cleaner ingredients that these products are made from that make all the difference and for me have had a positive flow on effect from training to racing and back to training again.
Fueling up and racing has become so much simpler and the way I feel during and after those long 3 hour plus events in particular is noticeably better and less stressful on my body. Instead of just accepting the lows and sluggish feeling all those Gels, Drinks and packaged foods would give me I am actually looking forward to events and seeing how much more I can improve thanks to simplifying my nutrition and refueling strategy. Of course what works for one person will not necessarily guarantee success for another but trying out a simpler, more natural approach surely cant be too bad and I would say it's definitely worth a shot to see what works for you.
I hope that you have found this first entry interesting and I look forward to writing my next blog where I will talk in a bit more detail about some of my race events and exactly how these products have really changed things for the better.
But, for now its happy riding and So Long, from the Cowboy!