Note: Blog post subject matter is discussed in more detail on the Athalonz Podcast.
Posted by Ron Cates
Before I switched careers and became well known for marketing, I was well known as a cycling coach. I was the coach and director for a professional cycling team, earned the highest coaching license available from USA Cycling, and coached numerous national champions at both the amateur and professional level. The athletes I worked with were gifted, dedicated, and motivated. They were also highly experienced, having trained and raced at the highest levels for years.
How I went from coaching to marketing to Athalonz is a story for another time, but given how things have turned out, it’s an incredibly handy chain-of-events. Tim Markison is the CEO and founder of Athalonz, and I am the Executive VP. Earlier this year, he told me he wanted to ride his bicycle across the United States to raise awareness and funds to fight child abuse. Knowing a little about my background, he asked me if I thought it was possible and if I would help him with his training.
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know Tim very well. He is gifted, dedicated, and motivated. But he is not a highly experienced cyclist, and he has not trained and raced at the highest levels for years. In fact, he was a recreational cyclist who rode his bike a few miles occasionally. So, how does one go from nearly zero miles to a 3,000+ mile bike ride across America? And the bonus question: How does one safely and properly prepare in only nine months?
Goal #1: Make it to the Staring Line (in one piece):
Training for endurance sports, like cycling and running, has been greatly romanticized. “No pain, no gain” and “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” have become common phrases. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t how things actually work. The human body is absolutely amazing. Not only does it adapt to stress, it overcompensates. Think about that for a moment and you’ll quickly realize how incredible it is. Let’s say you’re capable of running one mile and you go out and run 1 mile every day for a year. At the end of that year, it it wasn’t for your adaptation/overcompensation abilities, you’d still only be able to run 1 mile, yet the reality is that you’d be able to run several miles!
Here’s the other side of the coin: if you overstress the body, it breaks down. You either get injured, or, even if you’re some type of mutant that never breaks down, you won’t improve. Since Tim doesn’t appear to be of the mutant variety, my number 1 goal in preparing him for this ride was to get him to the starting line in one piece, uninjured and healthy. Otherwise, any preparation would be useless.
So, how exactly does one properly prepare for a cross-country bike ride in a limited amount of time? First we had to evaluate Tim’s fitness level at the beginning. The end goal doesn’t determine how you train at the beginning, your current fitness does.
The plan included riding 5 days per week consisting of 3 moderate days, a longer ride on Saturday, and a shorter, easier day on Sunday. The goal with the Sunday ride was to learn to get back on the bike after the most difficult day of the week, something he’ll experience during the cross-country ride.
Being able to ride far was primary and speed wasn’t a factor. All training plans were in minutes, not miles, because his body needed to adapt to sitting on a bike for a long time. Your body doesn’t know what a mile is, but it definitely knows what an hour is.
The Saturday long ride grew progressively longer. Rather than increasing it every week, it was increased every 2 weeks, since 7 days isn’t typically enough time to truly recover for the next long effort. 30-minute days eventually turned into 2 hour days. 1 hour long rides became 4 hour rides. And Sunday recovery days moved from 30 minutes to 2 hours. There was also a ride 7 days-in-a-row week, to give Tim an idea of what the back to back to back trip experience would feel like. Monitoring was often daily, so I could get feedback on progress with and keep an eye out for problems.
Feeding and hydration will be critical factors on the ride, so there was a lot of experimentation during training to come up with solutions that work well. Tim is going to burn around 186,000 calories during the ride and his fluid intake will have to be nearly constant. Fortunately (unfortunately?), by training in Mesa, AZ, most of his rides took place on days where the temperatures were well over 100 degrees (F). He’s certainly as heat adapted as possible.
Note: Yes, your body even adapts to heat over 6 weeks of exposure. However, that doesn’t prevent him, or anyone else, from getting serious heat illness or from dehydrating. It helps, though.
The training began in March and now we’re less than 2 weeks from the start. Over the years, I’ve worked with many world-class athletes. None are more dedicated and determined than Tim. My most important role has been to regulate him, to even hold him back a little. I’m happy to report that, 9 months after beginning his training, he’s going to make it to the starting line healthy and as prepared as humanly possible given the time frame. I’m going to see him at the start in San Diego and I’m going to be there when he finishes in Jacksonville, FL.
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Today was a good bit of climbing. A little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Not as much as day 1 or day 2, but not trivial. I am really enjoying traveling through the small towns. The people have been friendly, the service has been good, and the food has been excellent.