Endurance cyclist Jasmijn Muller rode to victory in the 24 hour World Championships in California a few weeks back. She matched the world record of 433.2 miles to win by over 19 miles! An epic ride.
Jasmijn drinks our 1500mg/l drinks to help her start and stay hydrated. We caught up with her to get some insight into what it takes to perform at your best for a full day in extreme conditions...
It’s been quite a year for you, can you give our readers a brief overview of your achievements please?
Looking back at 2017, it has been quite a year indeed. My big goal for the year was to try and break the Land's End to John o'Groats record as well as the 1000 miles record.
With that in mind, my first challenge in the build-up to LEJOG was my successful Zwift distance record attempt in February 2017. I cycled 1135 miles in 62 hours, all from the confines of my bedroom. Totally bonkers stuff, but it gave me the confidence that I could handle the sleep deprivation and time in saddle.
In June, I set a new PB for a 12-hour time trial (269 miles), followed by a new PB for a 24-hour solo race (479 miles) just one week later. In July, I achieved one of my other major goals for the year by winning the women's title at the National 24-hour time trial and placing 3rd overall too.
A week later I was the fastest female finisher in the legendary London-Edinburgh-London, although that is a non-competitive event. It was a great opportunity to see a lot of great countryside and refresh my mind ahead of the big goal in September.
On the 6th of September I set out for the LEJOG record attempt, but sadly had to abandon near Chorley due to stomach issues. I bounced back two weeks later with a solo win at Revolve 24, a 24-hour closed circuit race at Brands Hatch. Finally, in November 2017 I overcame the struggles I had had last year in the heat and went back to Borrego Springs, California, to complete and win the World 24-hour time trial championships.
So, with four wins in four 24-hour races, including the National and World titles, it was quite a good year for me. But with my heart set on the LEJOG record, I have mixed feelings looking back. Luckily, I have found unfinished business to be one of the best motivators. So, I will definitely have another go at the LEJOG record in 2018.
Glad to hear that! So, just how difficult was it to pick yourself up and refocus after your disappointment in the LEJOG attempt?
It was a huge disappointment, but if you look at the history of LEJOG record attempts, you will find plenty of great riders (including the current record holder) who didn't succeed on their first attempt. If it was easy, everyone would do it and after all, there are a lot of lessons to learn from failure.
I firmly believe in the saying to "never let success go to your head; never let failure go to your heart". There have however been 2 moments where I found myself in tears…
The first was when driving back south in the follow vehicle immediately after abandoning. It was the thought of all those people who had come out to cheer me on along the side of the road at all hours; those who had stayed up all night following the attempt on social media; those who had wished me well in the build-up; those - like yourselves - who had supported me with products, advice and donations; those who had given up so much of their time to be part of my support crew and observers. Just all those people who wanted me to do well and achieve this massive goal. It was an overwhelming feeling and I was gutted to let them down.
The second moment that had me burst into tears was when I received a card from Eileen Sheridan briefly after the failed record attempt. She is well into her nineties now, but in the 1940s and 50s she was the absolute queen of point-to-point record setting, including the LEJOG record in 1953. It was in 2013 when a friend invited me to a local event where Eileen Sheridan spoke about her record setting days, that I got inspired and started dreaming of following in her tracks from Land's End to John o'Groats one day.
To receive a card from my hero with words of advice and encouragement, wishing me well for the next attempt and believing in my ability to succeed.... that was quite a moment and made me even more determined to try again next year.
10 days after the failed record attempt, I bounced back by doing (and winning) Revolve, a 24-hour race at Brands Hatch. It was important for me to get back on the proverbial horse (or bike!) as soon as possible and try to address some of the issues I had faced during the record attempt, particularly with nutrition.
It is important to reflect, learn and adapt, but mentally it is also really important to refocus, to achieve some other/new goals, to regain some self-confidence and to feel like you are doing something to increase your chances of success the second time around.
What also helped were the nice reactions from so many people, near and far. It is often in periods of adversity that you find out who really cares about you and I was happy to realise there are a lot of kind people in my life.
Did you adapt your training after your LEJOG attempt to condition yourself for the 24hr Worlds?
I changed a few things after my LEJOG attempt.
First of all, I changed coach. I cannot thank my old coach, Richard Simmonds, enough. He got me from being too afraid to even ride my TT bike at the beginning of 2014 to being brave (or daft) enough to consider riding the length of the country on it! He also helped me to win the Best British All-Rounder (fastest average speed over 25, 50 and 100 miles) in 2014, National 12-hour TT title in 2015 and National 24-hour TT title in 2017.
But even good things sometimes come to a natural end. I felt like it might be time for a different approach and a different coach. That coach is Rob Lee, who runs RL Performance Coaching. I was already blessed to have him involved as part of my support crew for the LEJOG record attempt.
So far, he had mostly been engaged as a mechanic, but he has so many more strings to his bow, including aero bike fitting (working in collaboration with Drag2Zero), over 20 years of coaching, team manager and a palmares containing several solo ultra-endurance records.
So far, I have really enjoyed working with Rob. Having him both as my coach and as part of my LEJOG support team also helps to increase my compliance to his training schedule and sharpen my focus. Luckily Rob agreed to me dealing with unfinished business first before refocusing completely on LEJOG.
Last year, I struggled with severe heat exhaustion during the 24hr Worlds in the Anza-Borrego desert. We were unlucky to compete in unusually hot temperatures for the time of year, which meant that temperatures became too hot to do anything from 9am-10am onwards, let alone race full speed wearing a skinsuit and a hot helmet. Last year, I ran myself into the ground, to the point where it became unsafe to continue. This year, I tried to get myself more used to the heat.
I made sure to keep the fan off and windows closed during my turbo sessions. Initially, I only did this for part of the session and then slowly built it up to eventually being able to do a whole turbo session without any cooling. This made for a lot of puddles of sweat and heaps of soaked towels on the floor, but I think it was worth it!
I also joined a local Bikram yoga studio for 90-minute classes in 40 degrees and 40% humidity. The first time I walked into the room the heat hit me hard, but it quickly becomes bearable (but the poses always remain challenging!). Importantly, this taught me that it isn’t about the absolute shape of the poses, it’s about the intention with which you practice.
Keeping things honest and unforced, listening to your body, resisting the urge to compare yourself to others, focusing only on yourself, being kind to yourself. And all of that applies just as much to cycling or life in general as it does to yoga.
In addition to thermoregulatory benefits, Bikram yoga is also thought to have cardiovascular benefits. It helps to optimise blood flow to the heart, skeletal muscles, skin, and other tissues because it increases plasma volume, which in turn can lead to endurance enhancements, as Andy alluded to in one of your previous blogs on heat training.
I continue to practise 2 to 3 times per week as it gives great energy, makes your skin glow and helps with flexibility. Stretching the hips, back and hamstrings is particularly useful for someone like me who spends so much time either sitting behind my desk or sitting on my bike.
Finally, I did a couple of sessions in the heat chamber at Kingston University. These sessions were particularly enlightening. The conditions were set to the worst I would expect to face for the World 24 hour TT championships in Borrego Springs. The heat was set at 30 degrees for the first 45 minutes, rising to 35 degrees for the last 15 minutes. Humidity was set at 35%. The sessions clearly demonstrated what power level I should not even contemplate exceeding for an hour in the heat, let alone for 24 hours.
At the higher level my core body temperature exceeded 39.4 degrees by the end of the hour. I still felt fine, but a heart rate of 94% of max at a power level I should normally be able to hold for up to 12 hours showed me that I was far from fine!
The sessions also showed me the importance of drinking plenty of fluids. Despite drinking 1.2 litres during the hour I spent in the heat chamber, I lost 1 kilo in body weight and saw my haematocrit levels rise by up to 3 percentage points (i.e. reduced blood plasma volume).
What’s the more difficult aspect of riding for 24 hours, the physical challenge or the mental?
The mental aspect is definitely the most challenging! A 24-hour race can seem quite overwhelming. Rather than worrying about how you may feel on the bike 2 or 10 hours from now, it becomes much easier mentally if you only allow yourself to focus on the here and now.
Before the race you can, and should, think about everything that may go wrong and plan for how to deal with these issues if they were to happen during the race. But the moment you start your race, there is little point in wasting energy thinking about these things or allowing yourself to become distracted by anything in the past (e.g. cramps in your last race or a difficult private situation) or anything in the future (e.g. concerns about increasing wind speeds or that work deadline that is looming on the horizon).
People often ask me what goes through my mind during these long races. They may expect answers such as songs, shopping lists, stories etc. But the truth is that my mind is just wonderfully empty, and I enjoy it that way. All I try to focus on is my comfort on the bike, the numbers on my computer, the fuel/fluid I need to keep me going and the road ahead. I find that if I let my focus wonder, even if just briefly, I either slouch on the bike, forget to keep drinking, ride way above or below my power targets or, worse still, suddenly hit a pothole!
Extreme heat, extreme cold and fatigue make it increasingly difficult to maintain this focus and that is where a good support crew really can make the difference. You can build your own mental toughness (through hard work, extending your limits, overcoming obstacles, self-reflection, realism and positive reinforcement).
But there comes a point where your legs are still functioning fine, yet your brain is fried/frozen, and you need others to make decisions for you. Trusting your support crew and letting go of control, letting them decide on your behalf can be a tough mental challenge in its own right.
It’s not uncommon for amateur riders to work with coaches to consider the physical training requirements for longer races, but I think many riders are still more likely to spend money on a faster helmet or the latest and most aerodynamic overshoes than spending time and money on training arguably their most powerful asset: their minds. Working with a sports psychologist has been incredibly beneficial to me this last year, both in the lead up to races and in reflecting on failures and successes.
That’s great advice. Ok, so, what do you ride and how’s it setup? That's all the more important when you're on the saddle all day isn't it!
I ride a Specialized Shiv TT bike. I am not a sponsored athlete, so this bike has been quite an investment (in fact I am still paying it off), but I have enjoyed every mile on this bike and it has helped me achieve great things. It’s set up with Shimano ultegra 10-speed, 52-39 Rotor Q-rings, a Power2Max power meter and 3T 40-degree ski-slope extensions with 50mm of spacers below for longer races and just 20mm for shorter races.
Ahead of my next attempt at the LEJOG record, and with the input from my coach who is also an experienced bike fitter, I may make some adjustments to the setup. For example, I find the gearing (52-39 with 11-28 cassette) to be fine during a long flattish 24-hour time trial, but I reckon I may benefit from changing to a compact setup for the record attempt, which includes over 13,000 meters of climbing over the full 1,000 mile route. I would love to switch to electronic shifting, but I may need to save up for that for a while!
You were in the lead in last year’s race before you struggled in the 35 degree heat. What do you do differently now when you’re riding in hot conditions?
It seems so obvious, but it took me some time to learn to adjust to ride according to the conditions. Last year, Seana Hogan (ultra-cycling legend and multiple Race Across America winner) told me “It does not matter how fast you ride if you cannot finish; the key is to learn to ride optimally. Ultra-cycling racing is more about you and less about the other person”.
This year I knew I was better prepared and, as long as I rode and paced optimally for the course and the conditions, everything else would flow from there. I made the most of the cooler parts of the race. I covered up early during the cold night (with temperature reduced to just 5 degrees) to maintain body heat and limit the stresses on my body dealing with the large temperature swings in the desert.
During the hottest part of the day (max 35 degrees this year) I slowed myself down and avoided riding like a fool, not trying to push through when my body wouldn’t allow for it. You cannot control the conditions, but you can choose how to react to them. Sometimes you forget that all other riders are also facing the same conditions. I saw my lap times go up, but so did those of most other riders.
Stopping every lap during the hottest part of the day and 'losing' some time to push a new ice sock into the back of my skinsuit and douse my feet and arms with water was worth it to stay cool and avoid overheating. I was pleased to be able to pick up my speed and power again for the last hour of the race when the temperatures started to fall again.
My race mantra is 'Be the egg', from the saying that "the same boiling water that softens the potato, hardens the egg.” It’s about what you're made of, not the circumstances. By the end of this race I was a pretty fried egg, but I felt really chuffed to have done the mantra justice, to have conquered some demons, to have settled unfinished business and to have discovered a new approach that may lead to exciting results in future races.
Talk us through your winning ride. How aware were you that you were so close to the record towards the end of the ride? Or was it just about getting the win on the day?
During the race I was not aware of how close I was to the course record (of 433 miles) at all. I wasn't aiming for it either. My first focus was my pacing and completing the full 24 hours (rather than bailing at 19 hours with heat exhaustion); my second focus was to try and win the race. (My race report includes a more or less hour by hour overview of what went through my head during this race, if anyone’s interested!)
When the wind picked up in the afternoon and I started to struggle on the big loop, all that I could think of was being patient and confident that I would be able to pick up my pace again on the finishing circuit.
Once I had reached the finishing circuit, I was just determined to get four full laps in within the last hour. The race rules are such that only full laps completed before your 24-hour period is up counts towards your final distance.
Having paced myself a lot better than last year and being so close to the win, I was adamant not to lose the race in the final hour by not being able to complete a last full lap. As it was, I crossed the line with 3 minutes to spare and a 19-mile lead over the runner-up. I have done 479 miles in a draft-legal 24-hour race and 456 miles in the UK national 24 hour TT championships, so I know I can go further/faster on a different course and under different circumstances. But for this race, the distance was less relevant to me than the race execution and getting the win.
Afterwards, when I realised how close I was to breaking Seana Hogan's course record (49 seconds!), a little voice at the back of my mind started teasing me into contemplating returning once more to Borrego Springs and maybe aiming to break the course record...time will tell! It all depends on how much money and annual leave I will have left over by the end of next year…
How did you stay hydrated and fuelled during the ride?
After the gut issues during the LEJOG record attempt, which were largely caused by trying to fuel with too many carbs and not enough adaptation in training, my husband devised a race nutrition plan for me for the race that was much more in line with what I’m used to in training. He isn't a nutritionist, but he has more understanding than I have (having studied medicinal chemistry) and more affinity with nutrition too (he does all the cooking!).
Most importantly, he has seen me through more 24 hour races than anyone else and knows how I respond to certain foods and drink. Instead of the recommended 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, we brought it back to about 45 grams per hour (of which about half was in liquid form and the other half as solid food/snacks). He also varied what was in my bottles and what type of snacks I would have each hour, to keep things interesting and not have the same flavours throughout.
Importantly I cut out dairy. Previously I used to swear by whizzed up/diluted Ambrosia rice pudding, but given that I don't eat much dairy as part of my normal diet and often feel like burping when drinking milk, it doesn't make sense to have too much dairy in my race nutrition. Instead, I had 1 bottle every 3 to 4 hours with a mix of instant oats, avocado oil, non-dairy organic rice milk, some cinnamon for flavour and a top up of water.
In addition, I had 1 bottle of water and Precision Hydration 1500 electrolytes every 3 hours, some bottles with Stealth energy mix, 1 bottle of luke warm miso soup for the night time, and 2 bottles of diluted flat coke (as a pick-me up during low times). In addition to the dissolved electrolytes, I also used a total of 6 Precision Hydration SweatSalt capsules during the hotter hours.
As snacks I had about 5 bananas, 6 mini brioches, 2 zipvit energy bars, 2 energy gels, 1 Longhaul Endurance savoury pouch with chicken and turmeric, 2 energy waffles, some energy chews and some slices of watermelon during the hottest of the day.
This strategy seemed to work quite well. I never felt sick. I never felt low on energy. I never had cramp. Although I stayed on top of my hydration, my heavy sweat rate still meant I only had to pee once during the whole 24 hours!
This was your fourth win of the year at the 24 hour level. What is it about you that makes you so suited to such gruelling challenges?!
I may have some natural talent for endurance challenges (hence the title of my blog 'Duracell Bunny on a Bike'), but more importantly I think I have the right mindset to enjoy this kind of racing.
I don’t think of them as gruelling. I much rather sustain a little bit of pain over a longer period, than a lot of pain in a short amount of time. Those who push themselves way into the red during a steep hill climb for example, now that is what I find gruelling!
Any advice for someone training for their first 24 hour event?
Sure, although I could still give much of this advice to myself too!
Like a marathon, don't think you need to ride for a full 24 hours in training to be competitive in a 24-hour race. If you don't know where to start, consider some coaching. A coach will help you build up to your first 24-hour race in a sensible way without overdoing it in training.
Pace yourself: rule number 1, 2 and 3 are all the same: don't start too fast. It will feel so easy in the beginning, but overdoing it early on will almost always come back to bite you later.
Position: spend some time and money on an appropriate bike fit for longer races. Many people suffer with ulnar nerve entrapment after their first 24-hour race/ride, which can easily be avoided through a bike fit that allows for a slightly less aggressive set up (e.g. more spacers).
Similarly, issues with neck or back muscles can be kept at bay by mixing up between base bar and aero extensions, avoiding heavy helmets or helmet-mounted lights and regularly sitting up to roll your shoulders or stretch your back.
Yoga or Pilates can help with the flexibility required to keep a more aerodynamic position for longer as well as the core stability that gives you a stable platform to allow your legs to drive the power through the pedals more efficiently.
Positive thinking: focus on positive thoughts only; don't waste any energy on negativity. Only think of maximum 1 hour at a time or break the ride into even smaller chunks still (e.g. it may help to give yourself a rhythm of eating or drinking at set time intervals or each time you pass certain points on the course). Congratulate yourself on achieving intermediate goals/distances (e.g. first 100 mile or 12-hour point).
Focus on yourself and your own ride only. Some 24 hour races will have music playing over the speakers to keep you motivated; at other races you see other racers' support crews dressing up in funny costumes to keep riders entertained; at all races - and particularly during the last few hours - you will find both supporters and fellow riders shouting encouragement to you.
If you still feel yourself disappearing in a negative mental spiral, don't be afraid to apply some self-talk (perhaps even out loud) to make yourself snap out of it. It is overcoming 'low' moments, pain and other challenges what appeals so much to me in these longer races.
Keep up the fuelling; eat and drink little bits, regularly. Experiment with nutrition in training (including how to have it handed up to you if you have the luxury of supporters during the race) and don't introduce anything new or different on race day.
The same applies for equipment; don't try anything new during a race. For example, make sure you have worn in your shoes well and that they are comfortable for the duration. I purposely use shoes 1 size larger, which are well-ventilated, have a larger toe box and a sole that is less stiff than most 'race' oriented shoes. I also recommend inner soles that support your feet well and avoid too much compression of the nerves and joint tissues around the metatarsal bones.
Use caffeine sparingly and wisely. Too much caffeine will make you jittery and may upset your stomach. Use it when you need it most. This will vary per person, but for me that is during the darkest and coldest hours of the night (generally 2am to 4am) and again early in the morning just after sunrise.
Try to spend as little time off the bike as possible. In addition to practising food/drink hand-ups, practice your peeing technique. Some people just let it all run while on the bike. I wouldn't want to do that to my beautiful Specialized Shiv TT bike, but I have spent some time in the bath tub with my skinsuit on practising the technique that allows you to pee without taking any clothes off (i.e. pulling up 1 leg). The one trick I still haven't mastered (or even dared to attempt), is how to put clothes on/off while riding my TT bike. I think I will leave that trick to the professionals.
Well, that’s the first time anyone’s admitted to practising peeing in the bathtub Jasmijn! Some great advice there though, thanks and congrats again on a fantastic year. The smart money’s got to be on you nailing LEJOG next year…