It’s been a hectic couple of weeks packing up my long term rental in SLO and starting a long stretch of time on the road. For those who weren’t aware, I’ve opted for the “load the legs” spring race calendar to gain experience racing and tactical skills entering some of my higher priority events I have targeted later. Rather than a long winded blog post (don’t worry, it will still be long….) I will opt for a different structure which will include a summary of my logistical/travel schedule and then answer some questions that were sent my way after this block.
I moved out of my California rental and packed up the freshly completed van and starting April 7-9 I was down in San Diego reconning the BWR course. I split things up and rode the entire 130 miles across 3 days. From there, I drove directly to Redlands to prep for the stage racing with the composite team that I was on. I spent that Monday and Tuesday reconning the stage courses, but also prepping my equipment since we did not have rider support or a mechanic at Redlands. The Redlands stage racing started on Wednesday and from there things quickly became a blur. Wednesday was the circuit race with a killer hill we climbed 15 times. Thursday was Oak Glen with a large finish climb into some epic foggy conditions. Friday was the TT, which proved to be a significant learning day as nothing seemed to go right logistically for me that morning. After I finished the TT on stage 3, I was then sitting 8th GC about a minute down and then claimed the amateur jersey. So I stayed for podiums and then drove directly to San Diego again for the BWR press conference. From there, Saturday was spent preparing my equipment for BWR and then I raced a near 8hr race on Sunday at BWR. After the race, I drove past LA Sunday night after the race (and after plenty of ice cream) and then was up in Monterey by Tuesday to meet my MTB skills coach. Sea Otter week was also a blur since every day seemed packed from 8am to 8pm between riding/recon, sponsor and media obligations. I also raced the Road Race on Friday and then headed into the first event of the Lifetime Grand Prix series with very fatigued legs for the Fuego XL race on Saturday. Then immediately after the MTB race on Saturday, I started my 14hr drive to Gila. And now writing all this out, I am starting to recognize how crazy this schedule was!!
What’s your race fuel you are using?
I do not have a nutrition sponsor this year which has allowed me a lot of flexibility in trying a variety of things. I have opted to use the Skratch SuperFuel (raspberry flavor) since I can get 100g in each bottle and then paired with one SIS gel per hour that works out to be 122g of carb per hour. All of this has been easy on my stomach and I tolerate it quite well. For longer stuff, I add in more real food as I spell out in the next question.
What “normal” food do I eat if I am not feeling gels/blocks?
When I am racing, I almost always use high carb drink mix and gels as I mentioned above. It’s harder to eat real food when in a pack and going hard. If the event is longer than 4-5 hours, then I generally favor real food. Some of my favorite real food that I race with are: peach rings, fig bars and Clif Zbars. In training, I often have homemade banana bread, muffins or homemade date bars that I make. But I find those are hard to get down when racing and the pre-packaged food is much easier. I am also a fan of using pure maple syrup and I put that in a reusable gel pouch that fits in my jersey pocket!
How do you race on fatigued AF legs?
This is honestly very hard, more mentally than anything else. I think for me, I have to re-visit my long term goals and understand why I am doing this. Doing BWR after Redlands and then also doing the Sea Otter MTB after the road race was really hard. When I was racing it just sucked at times - no other way to say that. I didn’t have the initial punch to get position for the single track sections because that top end power can be less when you are tired. So for me, I just try and remember why I am doing this and if my goal is to gain experience and get stronger, then a long day of suffering should achieve that goal. I also try to focus on what I can control - I cannot control how my legs feel but I can control my attitude, nutrition, etc. I also had my PT, Ryan, with Good Life PT fly to California to help support me at Sea Otter. We did dry needling, astym, etc. which helped me recover faster.
Do you gut train?
Oh yeahhhhhhh and it’s not always fun. I leave this to my coach and just listen to his recommendations but he has had me do a few longer rides with gut training. It’s really important for athletes to know how your gut reacts on hour 6, 7, etc. What our gut can tolerate in 3-4hours is very different from what we can tolerate for 8hrs and I think people forget to recognize that. It’s also important to gut train under the supervision of your coach or dietitian since you don’t want to be doing this every ride. For me, training fuel vs racing fuel or gut training looks very different.
How do you reset your mind after a blip in a race (crash, mechanical, etc)?
I create algorithms for different scenarios in a race. This is part of my race planning routine. If I crash, I first check-in with my body to make sure I am physically okay. Then I check in with my bike, especially if I crash drivetrain side down. This can sometimes just be seconds and goes by really quickly. But then I hop on the bike and again check in with my body before I start the chase. I think it’s easy to panic but if you have a set algorithm you’ve practiced in your mind it can feel smoother in the moment. If you panic, that’s extra mental energy you are wasting.
This is the hardest after a flat. I had that at MidSouth and I think the most important thing is to not panic. Your mind starts to realize the implications of what just happened and then you don’t think as clearly. Have steps for how you solve the problem. This gets your mind in execution mode vs panic mode and I think that helps especially when your heart rate is through the roof.
Talk recovery - how did you put your legs and lungs through it all?
Sleep and carbs, and then more carbs. I think these are the 2 most important recovery items when you are racing this much intensity. Eating becomes a chore and sleep is critical. Unfortunately for me, I had a lot of travel time during this stretch and that seems to set recovery back. I think in the future I would hire a driver/sherpa which would help a lot! For stage racing, I think it’s critical to have a support team, especially a mechanic. At Redlands, I was managing my own equipment and trying to race and when you have to work on your bike every day that is extra time you are taking away from the recovery process.
How do you change your mindset from mountain biking to road, etc?
This is hard because during these 2 weeks I raced all 4 bikes: Road, TT, gravel and MTB. The mindset for road and gravel are somewhat similar but the race tactics are VERY different. I think it takes more mental energy for gravel and MTB so this was a struggle for me with the extra fatigue - it’s not just the legs that feel these efforts. I think the biggest thing is creating a race plan. Generally the day before a race, I try to block off 1-2 hours to study the course, review my notes and get my mind in the right race (or right bike…). I think at the end of the day, I have enjoyed the different aspects of all the disciplines so the learning has been fun and refreshing for me across all the bikes.
We want to hear how becoming a roadie is going?
Well…..I wouldn’t go as far to say I am becoming a roadie! But I will admit I have enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would have. It’s very different, since tactics play such a large role and because of this, you really need a solidified team if you are going for the GC. The impact of a cohesive team is so much of a factor in these events from what I have observed - so that’s been important to see. Since I have been racing many of these road events as a solo rider, you have to learn tactics even faster and you often have to pedal harder (yayyy…..more load in the legs). I think all of the fast pack riding in gravel really helped bridge some of the gaps in my learning. I do feel on road some riders are much more aggressive for positioning, which seems unnecessary to me but I have been told that’s classic road cycling. This is generally just a few riders of the peloton, so not the normal but crashes seem more frequent.
Mental pressure and preparation tips?
Mental pressure can be a real thing for some riders and depending on the race, that pressure may be higher. Again, as I talked about before, I think the preparation that you do pre-race can really help with this. You really have to THINK you can do something before you can do something. For example, at BWR when my legs were thrashed and I wanted to quit, I spent about 4 hours doing visualization of Unbound and me overcoming the fatigue for a great result. For my priority races, I visualize my success before it happens. If you have pressure from yourself or possibly even other people, then it’s important to understand why you are racing and where your value is. Sometimes if it’s only in the results, that can be an unhealthy way to start a race and can lead to even more pressure. So in summary, I think the best mental preparation is to visualize success and to think you can do something prior to doing it. I am also a HUGE fan of trigger phrases. These are short phrases that you repeat over and over in your mind to reframe any negative thinking that may occur.
How do you deal with race nerves?
A lot of this comes down to confidence in my opinion. Some nerves are a good thing and I actually like to feel nervous about an event because it means I care about it in a significant way. But you have to be confident you can do something and that will help with some of the nerves. For me, I have had to “fake it until you make it” a lot in my first 2 years of racing. I had the power to bring me to the top level, but I had no skills or experience so during that time it was really important to stay calm, have a plan and focus on continual improvement to help calm my nerves.
Why would you choose to race the day before a lifetime GP event?
I had a lot of people questioning why I would race the road event the day before. But let’s be honest, Sea Otter will never be a top priority race for me to try and win. I am not a mountain biker and am still learning how to ride off road single track. So because of this, I opted to prioritize learning and loading my legs to better prepare me for Unbound and the second half of the season as well. It’s not always fun showing up to a race on fatigued legs, but again, you can’t have it all. I think if a rider has the mindset to go and win every race, they will get burned out and be disappointed. I have opted to highlight a few priority events that suit me the best and then I’d like to race well and consistently in the other events but they won’t take top priority for me.
Okay, that’s it for now! Thanks for sending along the questions and I’ll try to be more prompt in getting this up next time! I’m currently in Silver City, NM for the Tour of the Gila stage race so another long update to come after this!