By Dirk Shaw
on 7.25.13
Photo by Joe Berg

Editor’s Note: This interview is a supplement to the eight-part original GP series, The Road to La Ruta, in which contributor Dirk Shaw chronicles his training for the Fool’s Gold 100 and La Ruta de Los Conquistadores — one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world. Check back throughout the summer to watch the story unfold.

Finding inspiration to do things I never imagined possible rarely comes from professional athletes. These folks should be able to do amazing things; after all, they are paid to do it and have spent their lives perfecting every aspect of their sport. What inspires, rather, is meeting someone who seems like an ordinary guy — and suddenly realizing five minutes in that he’s anything but. These are the people who make me say to myself, “I can do that”.

Joe Berg isn’t ordinary. The person who introduced us said, “Hey you both ride bikes, you should get to know each other”. Over a locally brewed IPA we talked about our adventures on two wheels, and suddenly I realized I had nothing that could compare to a couple of Ironmans, a TransRockies mountain bike stage race or the training load that was in store to run the 100-mile Leadville race. Insanity. But this insanity drew me in, and this was the day the seed was planted. I quietly said to myself, “I want to do a stage race”. Joe and I sat down to talk about endurance training, opera and some tips for me as I prepare for La Ruta.

road-to-la-ruta-promo-200x75Road to La Ruta is a series of dispatches, essays and features captures the intense journey of a cyclist as he trains for a mountain biking race across Costa Rica and what many consider one of the toughest in the world: La Ruta de Los Conquistadores. Read the series »

Q.
What’s one thing every man should know?
A.
You can accomplish amazing things by listening.

Q.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A.
The Leadville Leadman Series.

Q.
What are you working on right now?
A.
Finding a good life balance now that I have a household of five and a voracious appetite for endurance sport.

Nobody could tell me I couldn’t get up at 3 a.m. for a run or that I couldn’t run 100 miles and ride my bike as far the next day. I want to hurt. It’s going to be awesome.

Q.
Name one thing you can’t live without.
A.
Peanut butter.

Q:
Who or what influences you?
A:
My wife and kids and how they look up to me.

Q.
What are you reading right now?
A.
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.

Q.
Name one thing no one knows about you.
A.
I would like to sing an opera.

Q.
It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A.
Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old and smoked beef brisket.

Q.
If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A.
Backpack through Europe.

Q.
How do you want to be remembered?
A.
As the most positive and loving husband, father and friend anyone could have.

Q.
How did you get started with endurance racing?
A.
It started with doing sprint triathlons. Then one day I was watching the Ironman World Championships in Kona and I thought to myself, ‘I can do that’. So I signed up for my first Ironman when I was 21 years old.

Q.
What is a standout moment in your racing career?
A.
There have been many good times, but I would have to say the Silver King of 2011 was biggest race achievement. Silver King is comprised of a two-day event in Leadville where one day you ride 50 miles and the next day you run it. I had the fastest combined time of any competitor in both the mountain bike and trail run races. 14th overall in the 50-mile mountain bike in 4:37 and 3rd overall in the 50-mile trail run race in 7:42. That one will be hard for me to beat.

Q.
Why do you think endurance racing has become so popular?
A.
I personally think the linear approach to activities like time trialing and short track MTB formats are losing appeal. When you look at the people who do this, you have a bunch of A-Type personalities who love to beat themselves up. Endurance racing is all about suffering. For me it was a where place I felt like I had total control — because in my daily life it felt like I did not have control over how much money I was making, my work. This was a place I could control. Nobody could tell me I couldn’t get up at 3 a.m. for a run or that I couldn’t run 100 miles and ride my bike as far the next day. I want to hurt. It’s going to be awesome.

Q.
When training volume increases, what things can I do avoid injury?
A.
Almost one year after running Leadville I will tell you I wish I had done more than just use a foam roller for tight hamstrings. One thing that was just serendipity was that as I started to train for ultra endurance running I happened to read Born to Run. I was never a huge heel striker, but I believe taking on more of the barefoot/minimalist running approach did a great deal in preventing injuries. One thing I would encourage you to do is get massages and take rest days seriously.

Q.
Do you have any opinions about diet — low carb, slow carb, paleo?
A.
I think you really need to get to know what your body needs vs. wants. A good way of doing this is intentionally riding into a deficit of calories to see how you respond. When I set out to run Leadville I did a huge cleanse. The goal of this cleanse was to reset my body and its expectations of how many calories I needed. During this reset I went low carb, gluten and dairy free and in the process cut 28 pounds when resetting my caloric expenditure. As you start peaking for your 100-mile and La Ruta you should continue to focus on manipulating your expenditure to tap into the fat stores.

Q.
What is piece of gear you cannot live without?
A.
Recycled gear. Not everything needs to be brand new — and when you are operating on a shoestring budget, spending $1,000 on running shoes every other month is not an option. So I find places where I can get slightly used gear. At the end of the day it’s not about the gear. It is you and the rocks and the dirt. But if I had to pick one piece it would be my Garmin wristwatch for running and on the bar mount for biking.

Q.
Has there ever been a moment where you felt like stopping and throwing in the towel? What kept you going?
A.
Mile 24 of the 50-mile Silver King run. I was ready to die. Was not feeling it for some reason and then I met a guy who picked me up and motivated me to keep moving. This was a moment where I felt stripped and exposed. If it were not for his words of encouragement I would have never made it to mile 50 and ultimately won the Silver King in 2011. You are going to have these moments during your long days where you want to stop. Think of something positive. Perhaps the story you want to tell your kids when you get done, the vacation you are taking with your wife after La Ruta. Whatever you do, don’t continue to think the negative thoughts. When they start creeping in block them out and visualize how awesome it will feel to cross the line!

Q.
Have you done any F.U.E.L. testing? What data do you use to guide your training?
A.
Never did F.U.E.L testing. A caveman-like approach and bootstrap budget helped prioritize my time and resources. The data I look at really depends on my goal. When I ran the Boston Marathon I wanted to do it in less than 3 hours, so I made sure to add speed work on top of volume. But training for ultra endurance I look at a few elements. Time and elevation gain. Running for 5 hours with 8k gain is much different than 5 hours with 3k gain. Being aware of my heart rate and power output, only so I can keep telling myself to give it all I have. In years past I did use a power meter on the bike, but having too many metrics got old. I did not want to be a slave to it all. I just wanted to get out there and go.

Q.
What advice do you have for me as I tackle my biggest year ever?
A.
Always smile. Envision the finish and know that when you get this done no one can ever take this away. These are moments that will push you to seek out your next adventure.

Dirk Shaw is the Group Director at WPP / Ogilvy & Mather. His pursuit of two-wheeled adventure includes training for long distance mountain bike races, commuting to work and ripping through canyons on his Daytona. Follow Dirk’s musings about cycling on Tumblr or his blog for insights and observations on media. @dirkmshaw.

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limits-promo-logoThis article is part of a new original series, LIMITS, dedicated to exploring the physical and mental borderlands of human capability. And beyond.