China, cycling, off-season, training, and new beginnings.

Usually my main interest in posting on my site is to relay ideas about training, nutrition, or lifestyle issues that affect endurance athletes, usually cyclists, triathletes, and runners. Every once in a while it seems appropriate to put in a word or two about what I’ve been up to and maybe any new insights that brings me with respect to the life of an endurance athlete. Feel free to skim and read whatever interests you. I never know what people will find interesting in my writing, but you can always shoot me an email and ask (nate@englishendurance.com).

ChinaUtah team ride

Yes, about a month ago, I went with my team to China for a few late season races. 6 of us from the team went, and we spent 10 days doing a stage race with all short, flat, sprint stages and then did a one day race before coming back home. It was interesting, and pretty cool to go to China since I’ve never been there. The racing was, quite frankly, terrible for me as a rider. With no mountains, no long stages, no time-trials, and no truly interesting features to the race except for the blistering paces on the flats, there wasn’t much for me and all of my slow twitch muscles to do but hang in and try to take some wind for my teammates when appropriate.

Ironically, after Utah, I figured my season was over because with my injuries (a few fractured vertebrae, abrasions, and sprained shoulder) I wasn’t fit to ride the inaugural Tour of Alberta with my team. Given an early start to my off season, I decided to experiment a bit with my diet and training and had been pleased to drop a few pounds below my normal racing weight (which is the same as my off-season weight). Losing 3-4 pounds is great for winning the Diablo Challenge mass-start hill-climb charity ride, which was fun, but not so great if you want a ton of power for races on flat ground that average 29-30 mph most of the time.

Still, I think most of my teammates are in somewhat the same state of mind of feeling fortunate to have gotten through the races unscathed by any serious illness or injury and having had the pleasure of another adventure only made possible by the sport we love.

Cycling and New BeginningsDiablo by Craig Huffman

At the end of this season, it became clear to us athletes and those that follow the sport that job prospects for cyclists were not at their high-point, to say the least. Rather, domestically and abroad several teams were folding, budgets were tight, and there was again an abundance of talent available with not so many positions around for them to fill. As much as I’ve enjoyed racing for these last several years, I’ve enjoyed most of all the opportunity to progress as an athlete, to increase my fitness and capabilities, and to increase my skills and knowledge of the sport and how to participate in it. To that end, each year has provided me good stimulation physically and mentally as I’ve tried to better myself physically and mentally as a cyclist.

As the off-season was setting in and teams were making their offers, I was given a few good opportunities to continue racing at the professional level, but only at a similar level of compensation to what I’ve had the last few years. This wasn’t really what I was looking for, and quite frankly is less than I think an athlete of my abilities is worth. But, in the current financial climate of the sport, it’s hard to look on any legitimate offer too poorly. Still, I’ve spent the last 6 years or so seeing how far I can develop as a cyclist while also committing myself to full-time work off-the-bike, and now also engaging in a steady flow of coaching work. If I were afforded a proper opportunity to forego a full-time job in order to pursue cycling full-time, then I might take that opportunity, because I’m certain that I would have more room to improve if I weren’t on such a tight budget with my time. But, nobody saw fit to give me such an opportunity.

To be sure, I’ve actually found that working full-time and trying to be  successful athlete with only 15-20 hours a week to train to be quite challenging, interesting, and fun. I take great pleasure in knowing that I’ve won professional races, finished 5th in the US Pro TT, finished in the top 15 at the Tour of CA, and accomplished many of my goals with a full-time job and only averaging about 16-18 hours per week on the bike. I definitely think it has helped me to develop a skillset and knowledge base that helps me as a coach, because quite frankly, the training that a Pro Tour cyclist does and what is available to a 40 hour a week working person are not at all the same, nor should they be. So, with limited room for further improvement and other reasons, I decided that I would take the next step in my efforts to explore my athletic potential and to move to triathlon in the coming year.

I’ve long planned on moving to triathlon whenever I saw my cycling coming to a close, but needed to choose the most appropriate time. To speak plainly, there isn’t much money to be made in cycling by anyone except the cyclists who are regarded as being the most promising or most successful and are compensated accordingly. Unfortunately, this system is not always fair, but for better or for worse that seems to be the way life often is across different circles, so I try not to let it bother me much. Likewise, there is a lot of inherent risk in the sport and most people will come away unscathed except for a number of superficial scars on their hips, knees, and elbows, but there are some who don’t walk away from the sport so comfortably. Some break their necks! Ha! Like me. Luckily, in spite of having one or two fairly catastrophic falls myself, I’ve been able to avoid any real damage, and I’d certainly like to keep it that way. If I’m not getting paid and not being given a real opportunity to pursue the sport full-time, then why should I keep at it?! Well, because it’s my passion, like many other athletes, but the rational side of me says that it’s an all too silly activity to risk one’s neck, quite literally, without real room for substantial improvement.

Lastly, even though I’m “only” 29 going on 30 in a few months, there is the simple fact that every year that I’m cycling, I’m taking away from other things that I could be doing with my time, like triathlon, coaching, and who knows what else. Perhaps I’m too swayed by the mentality of our age and the desire to pursue different dreams, but I do want to see what triathlon is like while I’m still young and have a room to see if I’m any good at the sport, among other things.

So, yes, I’m “retiring” from pro cycling. I’m committed to a move to triathlon to see how well I can do at that sport, and have started training to that end. I’m also committed to coaching and trying to develop materials for athletes to try to help them pursue their passion of testing themselves physically, as I love to do so much.

Off-Season and TrainingMt Diablo photos 265

For all intents and purposes, my off-season started the day I crashed out of the Tour of Utah. With a few broken vertebrae and some silly neck-brace to help keep my head from rolling off, I took 2 weeks totally off of any kind of physical activity, then took 2 weeks of riding the trainer every other day, followed by a month of regaining my legs on the bike. Basically, all of my training has been foundational with a lot of volume, tempo, and threshold riding, plus some weight training, and increasing amounts of running.

As always, you can see all of my over-distance training on Strava where I share all of my bike rides, runs, and now even swims. For the most part, my aim right now is to rely on cycling for good aerobic conditioning and endurance while I slowly add in slightly increasing volumes of running and swimming to the extent that my body allows. Even though I used to be able to manage 50-80 miles/week on a regular basis when I weighed 140 lbs in college, it’s been some years on the bike and my legs aren’t ready for that pounding quite yet. Hopefully they will be soon, but I’m easing into it as slowly as my body seems to want. Always, whether riding or running or otherwise, one of my cardinal rules in training is to try to avoid injury. A missed training session here or there because you’re cautious is nothing compared to a missed month because of injury sustained while mindlessly pushing ahead. I always hope that I have an adequate feel for what my body needs and what it’s limits are so that I can follow that rule successfully. I have so far in my first career as a runner, and then as a cyclist, so hopefully I can keep the streak going.

Clearly, my efforts to train as a triathlete, both now and my plans for it in the long run, are based on the same general principles as any endurance sport, but because of the nature of the sport will demand very different training methods than I’ve previously employed as a cyclist. I have a variety of ideas about how I plan to pursue this new endeavor, but I’ll bring those up another time in another text. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I’ve been having fun working with a few triathletes on their training, and thinking and planning for my own metamorphosis into a multi-sport athlete myself.

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