This post could also be titled “Back to basics” or “Back to my roots”. It is written from my office in our Tucson house.
Although I was born, raised and still live in Montreal I also call Tucson home. I came here for the first time in 2008 with my wife to attend a multi-day cycling camp. We both fell in love with the people, the weather and the desert. We came back regularly and ended up building a house in a gated community. I personally like to come for a week in March and November, mainly to train. It is the first time I am here for the Christmas holidays.
For our family, Christmas vacations have traditionally meant spending time at the ski hill. Three of our kids spent their winters for the last twelve years belonging to our local downhill skiing team. That was the focus of our winters as the kids were growing up. For Dad, spending Christmas at the ski hill translated into training inside at the gym, mainly alone as not too many of my Canadian buddies have the same cycling goals as I do.
This year is different. One of our daughters is now a coach on the ski team, the youngest child of the family switched to competitive basketball and our fifteen year old son Alexandre had his racing career cut short when he fell a couple season ago while training and broke his leg. So if the two youngest kids don’t do downhill racing anymore, what are we supposed to do for the Christmas holiday?
It didn’t take long for the family to agree on a holiday in the desert. I personally was quite looking forward to it. It has been a long year. A long year on the bike and a long year at work. My readers by now know the story about how I spent nine months training to participate in two weeks of the Haute Route, a race for amateurs and ex-pros that take place in the Dolomites, Alps and Pyrenees. Through that training I achieved the best fitness of my life, winning two podiums in local races and attaining a perfect race weight of 142 pounds. My power on the bike was the best I had ever achieved, I was light, race ready and determined to kick butt in Europe. That’s when the wheels came off, so to speak.
I experienced the perfect storm of challenges all at once. Having to travel around the world extensively for business the only way to keep up with my training was to travel with my bike. I trained in Moscow, Zurich, San Francisco, Atlanta and many other cities. I didn’t realize it at the time but there is just so much stress a man can handle – even me. That stress ate away at my motivation. While I wasn’t going to let my plummeting motivation get the best of me, business events eventually forced me to cancel my participation in the 2014 Haute Route bike race. I had to attend to major and time sensitive business dealings both with our mining company and professional cycling team. I had to cut somewhere. Since I do not make a living riding my bike, it became obvious I would have to cut the cycling. It was a very hard decision to take.
The most difficult part to deal with was that I felt I was letting down people. I am a founding director of the Team Type 1 Foundation headquartered in Atlanta. Our mission is to fight for the right to live through a global mission of education, empowerment and equal access to medicine for everyone affected by diabetes. Our areas of focus are to donate blood glucose monitors and test strips to save lives of children in the developing world and to provide college scholarships in the USA for athletes with type 1 diabetes. We also have a major partnership with the Haute Route as their charity partner. I couldn’t let them down and couldn’t let down all of my friends who had become donors of the foundation based on my expected participation in the Haute Route. I finally gave the bad news to Haute Route founder and CEO Rémi Duchemin and he was very gracious in his response. He immediately made me feel better and his response reassured me about the state of the partnership. Now that’s all very well and addresses 2014 but what about 2015? I sure have to show up next year at the Haute Route and be ready for the challenge, don’t I?
This is when the perfect storm of positivity came knocking on my door. On the business front we achieved more than we expected and strangely everything got taken care of before my holiday. As an entrepreneur, when things are good at work it means you can actually get time off from work as you have the luxury of not responding to emails, make calls or attend business meetings. On the non-business front, if you live in Canada and are used to spending Christmas in freezing temperatures, what’s not to like about a little time in the sun? And this year, my little time in the sun is in Tucson, which, as stated earlier, I also call home.
One would think this is the perfect recipe for getting on the bike, train and get ready for one of the most challenging amateur bike race in the world. It sort of is, but one ingredient was missing while I was planning our family trip: the motivation to train. When the wheels came off in July I was worried I would never be passionate about cycling as I had been for the last eight years. That’s a pretty tough feeling to deal with and overcome. Although things improved in the last few weeks a doubt remained.
Before I flew down I spoke with a few experienced people who know more about cycling than I do – including my coach Jason Tullous – and they all told me the same thing: “Get back to basics, ride your bike to have a good time and relax.” They added: “Do not train, do not have structure, do not keep score and don’t ride if you don’t feel like it.”
Boy, were they ever right. I have been here for six days, I have ridden every day and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I went on a two hour ride two days ago with a local cyclist who I met on Facebook and I enjoyed every moment of it. A two hour ride finally felt like an hour ride, not a four hour ordeal.
On a bike ride yesterday with my dear friend Dave Burke, I thought about writing this blog post and I was thinking: “I’m actually having fun (finally) riding my bike.” It was all coming together for me. Not only was I having fun but I was actually able to articulate why I was having fun. I can summarize it as follow: “I’m riding not training, no structure vs structured workouts, no data vs data overload.”
At this time last year I was following a rigid training program which I had designed with my long-time coach Jason. While the training program we implemented worked and produced results above our expectations I think I was focused too early on my 2014 main cycling event. Nine months of structured training is a long time for a fifty year old amateur with an ultra-busy business life. Looking back at last season, I spent most of my time training, not riding my bike. As an example, one of my favorite bike ride is to leave my house here in Tucson, head over to Mount Lemmon and do all or part of the 42 kilometer climb. I don’t remember climbing Mount Lemmon this year without a specific training goal and targeted power setting. That is until this week. I have already been on Mount Lemmon twice and just rode up the hill.
I am using my power meter again now but I haven’t looked at a single power file. Earlier this year, every ride would end with a twenty minute analysis of my data: average power, normalized power, TSS, IF, kJ, CTL, ATL, TSB, PMC and a few other ones. Having had a power meter for the last seven years I have a pretty good idea of how to train with power and I am definitely convinced of its benefits. The downside of training with power, as I discovered this year, is that too much reliance on data as a measure of success of your training causes stress, takes the fun out of riding and can distract you from the need to build a large aerobic base that comes from just riding your bike. This season, I have gone from collecting and analyzing huge amount of data to this:
I am basically just tracking kilojoules. Why? Because that is the only goal I have set myself until mid-January. I am hoping to expend 35,000 kilojoules before January 17th, the end of our professional cycling team training camp in Spain. Why 35,000 kilojoules? Because it represents the calories expenditure required to lose the ten pounds I need to be back at my training weight of 150 pounds. It is also an easy goal to achieve. It doesn’t add stress and is more symbolic than anything else.
As I am writing post this I can’t help but think that I am writing the basics of training. This is how we all started, isn’t it? We rode our bikes because we enjoyed it. Training and structure came later when we set ourselves specific goals. Personally, I now realize that I went from only riding for fun to only riding to train. From one extreme to the other. If every bike ride feels like it is a training ride how can it be sustained? If every bike ride feels like work how do you stay motivated? Don’t get me wrong, the time will come for structure, data collection & analysis and rides that are meant to be training rides and hard work. Those will come later in the season. My goal for 2015 is to maintain a better balance between fun and structure and I’m off to a good start as I am having a blast just being out getting some fresh air and laying the base of fitness to sustain what will come next.
So for all those of you who have registered for the Haute Route 2015 and are getting ready to do it for the first time, all I can say is that it is still too early to stress about it, too early to put together a strict training plan. Get on your bike, put in some good miles, keep it fun and unstructured. Come March or April, you will be glad you did.
Here’s an idea of my fun riding ground:
One of the many reasons I like to ride in Tucson: