Editor’s Note: Anyone who’s been in a race knows that the rush of crossing the finish line is followed almost immediately by the sinking question “What’s next?” The longer the training leading up to the race, the more acute the question. So it wasn’t long after last year’s Road to Ironman series that we were already planning something bigger, inspired by a friendly reader inquiry from Mr. Dirk Shaw, a Senior Vice President at Ogilvy, husband, father of three and endurance cycling fanatic.
You may be familiar with Dirk, who has been contributing regularly to GP on the cycling beat for several months. What you didn’t know is that Dirk is knee-deep in the growing sport of marathon mountain biking, training for the Fool’s Gold 100 mile race in Dahlonega, GA, in September. This was meant to be the subject of our summer series. But amidst the excitement and spirit of one(self)-upsmanship, he ended up registered for La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, a coast-to-coast race mountain bike race in Costa Rica ranking among the hardest in the world: 193 miles. 5 mountain ranges. 23,000 feet of elevation gain.
His new assignment: 3 days. 2 wheels. 1 man.
Hey, it was his idea; we just egged him on a little. Welcome to the Road to La Ruta.
Road 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 »
Road to La Ruta: Part 1
Did I really agree to do this? Over 260 hours of training rides. Physiological testing. Ride harder, they said. So I rode harder. Know what you’re eating and why. Know what you’re burning. Capture the data. Ride harder. In the middle of it all, I moved my wife and three kids across country. Not the ideal training plan. But then, for endurance racers, it’s not a matter of ideal circumstances; it’s just more training.
Over the last five years I’ve migrated away from shorter cross-country racing to longer formats, specifically, marathon mountain bike races. Each year as I go into the fall, I think back at what I could have done better to improve my times and how my body feels after races. I always come back to something a good friend and ultra endurance runner once asked me: “Do you feel like you left it all out on the trail?” What he meant was, did I go all out and race like it mattered, or was I too conservative, did I hold something back?
My goal this year is to go all out and leave everything on the trail. Doing a multi-day event has always been on the bucket list. But I got really serious about La Ruta when my coach explained the training volume for the Fool’s Gold 100 miler, just one month before. So I called my pals at GP to see if they were interested in watching me suffer even more: hike-a-bike sections in knee deep mud at 20% grades; 50-degree weather swings at 10,000 feet, crossing volcanoes; suspended railroad bridges over alligator-infested waters. When they agreed to partner with me on this my ass literally puckered in both fear and excitement.
In order to race at such a high level I’ll need to modify my approach to training. First, I need to master the power data. Besides adding 30 miles — and then 90, a month later — to what has previously been my longest event (and having all of you following me on the trail), this time I’m training with power data instead of heart rate alone; by tracking wattage I hope to understand if I am getting stronger and how hard I can push myself. The second training transformation is smarter nutrition, on and off the bike. I’ll track my caloric expenditure (calories burnt per hour) to manipulate how I use stored energy and how I fuel during races. If I can replenish energy at the right time, the right way, maybe I can continue going strong after four or five hours in the saddle. No more carbo loading, eating gels and hoping for the best. This year I’ll spend time at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine to gain a deeper understanding of how my body uses carbohydrates versus fat for fuel, and to see how many calories I burn per hour in my various training zones. I’ll explain all of this in detail as the series unfolds.
So now I invite you to follow along as I make the descent into these final months before the Fool’s Gold 100 and La Ruta de Los Conquistadores. Prepare for stories about training, meeting up with other endurance athletes and experts, race reports, and even creative ways to keep your spouse supportive during your countless hours on the bike… like when you start to brew up strange things to eat in the family kitchen.