Don’t Find the Time, Make The Time

I have been sitting on this post for at least a month. The original idea for it came in early June when I was on a two week business trip to Russia, Switzerland and California. I had brought my bike with me and managed to put in quit a bit of good training while maintaining a hectic business schedule. I thought: “If I can ‘fit it all in’ like this most people can make the time to train not only to be healthy but also to compete in significant endurance events.” Well guess what? Although I found the time to write most of what I wanted to say on the subject I could not find the time nor the motivation to convert my first draft into a final product. I’ve just been too busy, still travelling extensively for business and trying to have a holiday with my wife.

On Wednesday I flew to Tucson from Mexico where the company I am the Chairman of has a copper/silver project in Chihuahua state. Our family owns a house in Tucson where I sometimes come to train and where Mary Lou comes to relax and hang out with friends. I was counting on a solid training block with my friend Dave Burke who lives here in order to finalize my preparation for two weeks of serious riding in Europe in August at the Haute Route.

On Friday Dave and I headed over to Mount Lemmon for a four hour “warm-up ride”. On Friday, we went to Kitt Peak for a six hour training ride and two ascents of twelve miles each at about 7.2%. After warming up on the rollers for an hour and a quarter we started the first of two planned climbs. That’s when it all came apart. The plan called for a twenty minute hard effort at the beginning of the climb and then a steady tempo climb. It sounded easy enough and pretty standard for me. Nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary. About five minutes into the first effort there was a loud voice in my head: “Why are you doing this?” This loud voice was followed by a series of answers/statements such as “you should be at home with your wife”, “you should be on the couch reading that book you have been meaning to buy for the last three weeks”, “you should be writing more meaningful emails to your two youngest kids who are at camp in Upper New York State”, “you can’t live 24/7 on adrenaline, you need to be resting” etc., etc. I backed off the power, got slowly to the top, descended and packed it in. I had lost all motivation to be on the bike. The last time this happened was in May 2013.

When I got home I called my coach Jason Tullous and it took him a few seconds to conclude: “Take tomorrow off, stay off the bike and relax.” So yesterday I stayed home with my wife most of the day, went to buy that book I had been wanting to buy, called my kids at camp and I also wrote to them. Dave and his wife Tricia came over for dinner last night and we concluded that today my day would be dedicated to reading. That’s when I found the motivation (and a new angle) to finish this post. The time-crunched cyclist who always “fits it all in” and proudly writes about it just couldn’t do it anymore and had to take a break. The initial thoughts and recommendations are still valid but the fact that I have had to take a couple days off clearly illustrate the need to life a balanced life and not to overdo things (at least not all the time!).

Picture of me?

Picture of me?

I decided to share with my readers what happened at Kitt Peak and try to make it fit with the original post that talks about “making time to train.” Based on what happened on Friday this post should also be viewed as a discussion on the importance of “making time to relax”. So here we go, this is how the original post began. Based on the last few days’ experience, I have (obviously) adjusted the conclusions slightly.

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You have a family, you have a full time job and you love cycling. You love cycling so much that you are training for one of the craziest cycling events available to amateur cyclists: the Haute Route. Or maybe you are hoping to find the time one year to train and get ready to do a very challenging cycling event such as the Haute Route. If you fall in the latter category, this post is for you.

Indeed, if you are currently registered for the 2014 Haute Route then I assume you have things pretty much figured out and my comments may not be as valuable to you as to someone who is considering the Haute Route. This post will resonate more with those keen cyclists who would love to “find the time” to train for an event such as the Haute Route. My main point today is that committing to a week long endurance event doesn’t require to “find the time” but to “make the time”.

The Haute Route is a series of cycling challenges that take place each summer in August in Europe. It consists of three consecutive weeks of competition that will take you either from Venice to Geneva through the Dolomites and Swiss Alps, from Geneva to Nice through the French Alps or from Barcelona to Biarritz through the Pyrenees. You can chose to ride one, two or three weeks. Each week is about 850 kilometers with 21,000 meters of climbing.

Because I did the Haute Route Alps last year and I believe in the Law of Progression Syndrome (“LPS”) this summer I will be doing the Dolomites and the Alps. LPS can be defined as a mental condition that dictates that your last big endurance event needs to be surpassed. LPS keeps you striving for a bigger challenge year after year. To me multi-day pro-like events like the Haute Route is the ultimate challenge. In 2012, I explained my reasoning in the following fashion on a blog post:

I love multi-day pro-like cycling events because of the immense physical and mental challenge they represent. It it is the ultimate personal test: “Can I get ready for it although it is not my job? Can I get ready for it although I have a family and a full time job? Can I complete the event? How much can I push my limits?” It is not just a bike ride, it is an adventure. It is an adventure that starts months before the actual event. You need to seriously prepare for it and once you show up, the real work starts. You constantly need to battle physical and mental fatigue, doubts, long stretches of flat straight roads with a crosswind and steep hairy descents. Each morning, you wake up so tired you feel like you can’t ride ten miles yet you go out and ride a hundred miles and battle the last three miles as if your life depended on it. What is there not to like about discovering the limits of your own body and brain?” (Underline added to original post)

Today’s post (in its original version) is about the preparation phase and how to fit in family, work and cycling in the healthiest possible way (which as you read above, I recently failed to do fully). Just like you I am not a pro. I am an average guy who tries to “fit it all in”. I am married with a family of six kids and two grand-kids, I have a full time job as the Chairman of a publicly-traded mining company and I am the Chairman of two private business and a director of a non-for-profit foundation. I live in Montreal, Canada, but our main mining operations are in Mexico. I am the Chairman of Team Novo Nordisk, a Pro Continental cycling team based in Atlanta, GA and of a telecommunication company located in Vancouver, British Columbia. I regularly have to meet with investors in Europe and the United States and I have the odd board meeting in Denmark, Austria and California. Surely if I can make the time prepare for two weeks of the Haute Route most cyclist can make the time to prepare for one week.

This is how I do it:

The only way to get through it.

The only way to get through it.

Staying Calm is a key attitude needed at all times if you want to successfully get through months of preparation. Don’t let sickness, business trips, family matters set you off course. Never panic because you missed one or more workouts. We all miss workouts, even the pros do. Even the pros get sick or injured.  (So I am off the bike taking a little break but I know I will bounce back, I am actually quite relaxed about it as rest is key to performance)

Hardening the Fuck Up is a must. Preparing to ride four to six hours a day, seven days in a row, requires not only the right positive and calm mental attitude but also great physical and mental toughness. Mental toughness and Hardening the Fuck Up is needed on the bike but also while off the bike. You need to keep a positive attitude at all times, stick to the facts, leave the emotions in check and do what you need to do to get ready for your event.

My experience is that almost any “already fit” cyclist who has a good training plan can get ready for just about any multi-day endurance event. If you are reasonably fit, have a plan and are tough enough you will be ready.

Unless you are in your early 30s with two children under 4 at home, I just don’t buy the standard and most commonly heard line: “I don’t have enough time to train”. I think this line is based either on 1) a lack of knowledge about how to prepare for a multi-day endurance event, 2) poor planning or 3) both. I do understand though that such preparation comes with challenges and that some can’t be overcome by certain people. What are the main challenges?

Most of my friends and riding buddies are like you and I: they have families, full time job and a very busy life. Based on my discussions with them I have narrowed down to three main factors why they believe they can’t get ready for an event such as Haute Route: 1 – “They don’t understand how much time is actually required to get ready“, 2 -“They are not ready to face the fact that deciding to embark on a six or eight month journey of training to get ready for an exotic trip through the most famed Tour de France and Giro d’Italia is a family decision and like any other group decision it requires careful planning, discussion, give-and-take and above all great communication with your spouse“, and “They let others dictate their work schedule“.

I will address the issue of how much time is truly required to get ready for one week of the Haute Route in a different post but let me just say that it requires way less time than most people I talk to assume it takes. The most amazing thing is that a lot of the people I talk to about my experience and who think they don’t have enough time to prepare for the Haute Route ride almost as much as me. The graph below shows how many hours per week I have been training so far in 2014:

Less than you thought, eh?

Less than you thought, eh?

The yellow bars are hours of training per week and the black line/dots are Training Stress Score (TSS) per week (which I have discussed in a previous post that can be found here).  Except for a couple of big training blocks, my weekly training has been between 5 to 14 hours with most weeks being under ten hours. Not only I will be ready for the Dolomites and Alps but I will be competitive i.e. in the first 25% of the pack. If I can do it, anyone can.

With respect to the second point, the family aspect, I do not intend to address this matter other than to state the obvious: “You need buy-in from your spouse and, to a degree, from your kids”. So assuming that your family is behind you then the only real obstacle is work.

As mentioned above, the topic I mostly want to address in this post is not so much the amount of training required to get through a week or two of the Haute Route – as it is lower than most people envisage – but the proper planning required and the distinction between “finding time” and “making time”. As stated above, I will leave aside the sensitive issue of family/spouse support and assume that the main factor restricting your ability to train is work related.

I have found that the best way to properly deal with the inherent conflict between working 60 hours a week and riding ten hours a week is to explain to your bosses, co-workers and clients that cycling is an important part of your life. It is “not just an activity“, it is part of “who you are“. Most people in business I talk to about my passion for cycling and for ultra-endurance events seem to have respect for what I do once they understand why and how I do it. Most of them understand the commitment and discipline which is required to reach ambitious goals and they view it as a quality that transpires at work. Most of them view the organizational skills to “fit it all in” the same way. Whenever I describe the mental and physical toughness required for my events to a business associate or shareholder, they rightly conclude that I am less likely than the average person to get discouraged when the going gets though at work.

Imagine the level of support I needed at work in the last month when I had to fit in a 20 hour week of training, a four day business trip to Moscow, six day business trip in Zurich and Geneva and a four day business trip in San Francisco – all in the same two weeks. Stay calm!!

I did fit it all in and this is how I did it: staying calm, properly planning it all, honestly explaining to business partners, clients, shareholders and prospective investors “who I am” and “what my overall life is all about”.  I explained to the people in Moscow that that part of the trip had to take place before my the trip to Switzerland and that I wouldn’t take any meetings between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm daily as I needed to train. I also ensured that I would enjoy the Friday and obviously the week-end off when I got to Zurich. The same held true for San Francisco where most meetings started early in the day and ended in the late afternoon so as to fit a ride in before dinner.

When on a long business trip like the one I just mentioned I usually travel with my bike. It only takes me about 15 minutes to put together or to pack. That’s nothing. When I travel for only a few days I will usually search the Internet ahead of time and find a place to rent a bike from before I leave. I will bring my kit, shoes, helmet and pedals and be ready to ride at a moment’s notice. The truth is that my approach to business trips is very conducive to doing business the right way. A little break at happy hour time to clear up my mind, get some exercise leaves me fresher, more energetic and focused for the usual business dinner that characterises most nights of the typical business trip.

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So this is how the first unfinished version ended.

Re-reading it I cracked up a bit. The guy writing about mental toughness just skipped two training days!!!

Yeah, but the guy who just skipped two training days remains calm and knows he will be back because as I wrote in the original post, cycling is not just an activity, it is a part of my life. See you on top of Mont Ventoux!