Kegga G's OFRR

What is your favorite ride? That is the question we posed to Keegan Swirbul. I think everyone’s got that special ride, where they just feel like it’s their road, a route that they could ride day after day. It may be an ever moving target - but it’s a really cool, special, connection in an era of wattages and intervals, where sometimes we miss what the surroundings actually look like. We wanted to check in with some of our athletes and see what their favorite ride is and what makes it so special. Hopefully we won’t ruin anyone’s ride by giving away their secret spot!

Kegga G has placed his “tag” all over the state of Colorado, jumping from one Strava KOM to the next , and we thought he’d be the perfect athlete to start with. Here’s what he had to say:

For the new age, gravel/adventure crazed cyclist, nothing can top a long, twisty, narrow gravel road that snakes and switchback's its way up through one of the most picturesque national parks America has to offer. Rocky Mountain National Park's Old Fall River Road is America's best hope for matching some the European giants we all drool over while watching the grand tours on TV. The famous Giro d'Italia climb, the Colle delle Finestre is the closest relative to Old Fall River Road (OFRR). While the Finestre might be a touch longer or even a bit steeper, my favorite Colorado climb boasts one thing far more grand than its Italian cousin. MEGA, mega altitude! Toping out at almost 12,000 feet above sea level, OFRR is, lets just say, wayyyy up there. But don’t let the fact that you will feel like you are breathing through the smallest of straws deter you from hitting this classic ride. It is no doubt one of the coolest rides in the country! 

OFRR.jpg

This ride is pretty simple to hit and there are hardly any places where you could make an incorrect turn. Park your bus in Estes Park and jump on your bike. The park charges a 12 dollar day pass fee in order to enter, but do not fear...you will get your money's worth. Even if it means doing an extra lap up the 3,200 foot ascent ;) Jump on the paved Highway 34 which is also known as Fall River Road. Stay on 34 for 8 or 9 kilometers before taking a 90 degree right turn on to OLD Fall River road where the fun promptly begins. Fun, that is, if you enjoy suffering while grinding up a climb for the next 9 miles! It boasts a relatively steady gradient throughout its entirety and has a total of 15 sharp switchback turns to give it that classic Tour de France-style-climb feel that we rarely experience in America. If you are really fast, you will be able to enter the elusive 'sub hour club' joining professional riders such as Robert Gesink, Ted King, Alex Howes, Sepp Kuss, and Gavin Mannion who all clocked up times in the mid 50's. Somehow, my time up the climb still triumphs all coming in at 50:13! Hopefully Sepp Kuss doesnt go out for one of his legendary KOM assults on this climb for a few more months so I can continue to enjoy my pride and joy KOM for a bit longer ;) 

IMG_4355.JPG


You will be able to tell you are getting close to the summit of this beast when you are getting to the top of the ridge line. You will be greeted by a very welcomed water bottle fill up option in the restaurant which is open all summer and most of fall until the snow flies. After a quick regrouping stop, hop on and enjoy the fruits of that 12 dollars you paid to enter the park a few hours ago. Trail Ridge road is an absolute BEAUTY and the pavement matches its illustriousness. You will enjoy glass smooth and pothole-less tarmac for miles and miles as you barrel down this screaming fast and relatively untechnical decent. During peak season, watch out if you are going too fast as there are quite a few tourists who are not the most cyclist-aware drivers on earth. Other than that, let er rip!!! This road will take you right back in to Estes park for a total of 41 miles and a perfect looking loop to upload to Strava for those Strava obsessed people like myself ;) Enjoy this beauty of a day on the bike!!

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 7.32.16 AM.png

The Spooky Time of Year

Happy Halloween! In honor of one of my favorite holidays, today’s blog post covers one of the scariest topics in sport: goal setting.  Now I know, I know, there are better ways to incorporate Halloween into a blog post (like how slow and steady can win the race). Instead, goal setting is the focus as it’s that time of year when athletes and coaches start to think about next season. 

For many athletes, goal setting can be scary – the idea of setting a goal and not achieving it can be a terrifying thought.  However, a proper goal should be a little scary because it pushes your limits. For example, a goal could be to get to 75 houses for trick-or-treating.  It’s been a while since I last went trick-or-treating (a year to be exact…), but 75 houses means covering a lot of ground and if I fail, I could end up exhausted and stranded over by that poltergeist house

It’s important that your goals are difficult yet potentially achievable.  The goal of getting to 75 houses for trick-or-treating may sound like a lot, but last year I got to 60 houses.  While adding on an extra 15 houses isn’t exactly easy, it’s still feasible based on how many I got to last year.  Aiming for 100 houses on the other hand, would certainly push my limits and isn’t something that would be possible since last year’s 60 houses left me pretty worn out.  Setting myself up for failure isn’t going to be fun for anyone. 

The important thing is to find the right balance between pushing your limits and making a goal too easy.  An ambitious yet achievable goal will keep you motivated to improve as an athlete.  Making it to 75 houses this year will require not only improved stamina and speed, but also the strength to carry that much loot.  With that ambitious goal in mind then, the motivation will come easy. 

Another important point is to create goals that get you excited.  You want to create goals that get your heart racing when you think about achieving them.  This aspect can be extremely variable between people and is why there are so many different possible goals.  For me, it’s the stomach ache from 75 houses worth of candy that gets me excited.  Whatever the case is for you, the important thing is that you’re dreaming about the day you get to achieve your goal.

One last thing about goals.  Goals are not meant to be kept a secret.  Goals should be shared with friends, family, mummies, ghosts, etc. so that they can be there to support you.  A strong support system is needed whenever you are trying to achieve your goals (just ask any NASCAR driver).  Once you’ve decided on your goals, let those around you know. 

Through this post, I’ve told the world my Halloween goal.  It’s ambitious but it’s kept me motivated to train all summer.  And there’s a chance I may not achieve it, but as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination that matters.  Or, as the great Warren Miller said, “if you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do!” Hopefully you’ve learned something and can create your own fun and ambitious goals for next year.  Now, to get my costume all set for the big night.  Hopefully all 75 houses get it… Thanks for reading!

The State of Professional Cycling

There is plenty of commentary at the moment on the “state” of professional cycling. Folks don’t usually seem to refer to the current affairs as a “state” when it’s in a good way, so I guess it’s simple enough to say it’s in a bad way.

Just in the US teams have been folding, some of our best riders are struggling to find jobs, it takes a bit of the fun out of it. People are frustrated, angry, confused. I don’t know if it is necessarily confusing - I am not sure that sponsors of domestic cycling teams get much in terms of any return on investment. Sponsorship at least on the domestic level probably does not really make sense regarding return on investment, it comes down to enthusiasm and philanthropy. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing that in my opinion needs to be realized and embraced. I don’t want to get too far down that road though as there is plenty of opinion and commentary out there, and in no way do I feel I’m an authority to speak on it.

More to me, the message is - do people want to be involved in professional cycling, despite the “state”. Yesterday I was catching up with an athlete over coffee, reviewing this past season and getting ready to set off in pursuit of the 2019 season. This athlete is right in the eye of the storm, riding for a UCI continental team registered in the US. In many ways he is one of the lucky ones, to have a spot with a professional team in a year when a lot of guys with gorgeous resumes are struggling to find jobs. He is lucky in one sense, but he is also seeing his friends, his peers, folks that he respects and have invested massively in cycling - he’s seeing those folks get totally forced out of cycling. A lot of guys are not racing in 2019, and it’s not for lack of want, or desire - it’s for lack of opportunity. I suppose this is the “state” of professional cycling in the US, it is lacking opportunity. Now, perhaps that is a greedy perspective to have - to say that it is lacking opportunity when we have a U23 team that is taking U23 riders and giving the opportunity to do a World Tour race, and we have two “domestic” races where continental teams can go up against World Tour teams (UT and CO), well that does not really sound like lacking opportunity. So perhaps it is greedy (trying to avoid a “greed is good” reference here). Back to the point though - despite being one of the “lucky ones”, how does one get motivated to put so much time and energy into a sport, that he sees essentially “abandoning” his peers who he feels have invested as much or more. It feels unjust, and one does not necessarily want to feed that machine. It was interesting, and refreshing to hear this perspective - this perspective that people are not just blood hungry and out to push their peers down to grab the spots available, but they want to see all succeed. Unfortunately, the sentiment of “there’s plenty to go around” does not really exist at the moment.

We need more teams, we need more races. Maybe we need more races first, for more teams to happen. I certainly do not have an answer, and if I did have an answer I don’t have the power to put it into play. However, it is interesting (and certainly an easy conversation to find at the moment) to speculate on it. The point I’d bring up on the contrary is - we still do have some of the highest performing teams we have ever had. We have teams that are growing, and competing on higher platforms than they ever have before. We are seeing US riders that have been grinding away for 10 years starting to break out into huge results and in Europe. There are more US riders in the World Tour in the past few years than there have ever been. It may not always look shiny from the outside - but my cliche’d “call to arms” would be that if folks enjoy cycling, stay with it. Don’t get bitter, don’t get cynical - stay with the sport - find a way you can make it better. What cycling may need now more than anything, is simply people, engagement - if folks care about cycling, don’t walk away now!

Thanks for reading the rantings and ravings.

Adventure Time!

Just because the summer racing season is over, doesn’t mean all the fun is over.  In fact, this has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  Racing is over, fitness is high, and the Fall weather is keeping things cool and crisp. All of this adds up to be the perfect recipe for an adventure ride. 

The adventure ride is unique in that each person will have their own interpretation.  At its essence though, the adventure ride is about losing the training structure, pushing yourself, and having fun. 

For most of the year, we’ll tell you that structured training rides are the key to maximizing your fitness gains.  This is one of those times in which that’s not the case.  After a long season of racing, the mind (and body) need a break.  Before taking time off the bike though, it’s a great time to take a step back and just get back to what got you into cycling in the first place.  To keep the ride unstructured, ignore all of your usual data numbers – power, heart rate, and even time.  Instead of looking at numbers, look around you and take it all in

20151011_145250.jpg


A good adventure ride should also push your limits.  Plan a ride that’s longer than what you normally do.  Plan a ride which involves more climbing than you normally do.  Maybe plan a ride with both more miles and climbing than usual.  The goal here isn’t training.  Instead, it’s about finishing a ride you weren’t quite sure was feasible.  A good adventure has to test your limits…

The most important part of a good adventure ride is to have fun.  This is where you get to make the ride unique to you.  You can stick to the paved roads.  You can explore some dirt roads.  You can make it a point-to-point destination ride.  You can make it a loop out to your favorite donut shop in the next city.  The possibilities are endless!

Recruiting friends for the adventure adds to the fun.  As you’re pushing your limits, it’s great to have friends around to help you get through it (we at Catalyst have had our fair share of rides with severe bonking and reliance of friends to pull us all the way home).  Friends can also liven up the miles.  If it gets too lively and the conversation won’t move on from a dumb mistake you made during the season, drop them on the next climb.  It’s all in the name of fun!

Last but not least, you must end an adventure ride by treating yourself.  Following up the ride with a treat is just another way to give yourself a good mental break.  If you’ve done it right, you should’ve worked up an appetite and can treat yourself to a big meal.  You’ll likely spend a significant amount of time riding and thinking about what you’ll eat after the ride, but if you need inspiration, a good burrito has always been one of our favorites.    Thanks for reading!

Blake's Big Day Out - The Kokopelli 140

I recently lined up and raced on the Kokopelli Trail. The race started at midnight in Fruita Colorado and ended in Moab Utah. The race covers around 142 miles and around 14000 feet of elevation gain. Terrain wise the trail covers most of the different types of topography mountain biking has to offer. This, coupled with being forced to ride through the night guarantees AT LEAST 12 to 13 hours in the saddle. It is a unique challenge and took an extensive amount of preparation and mental fortitude. Nate kindly asked me to share my thoughts on the experience, and below is a basic run down of how I prepared and how the race itself went. 

BASIC PREPARATION

This was all about getting miles in the saddle! During the whole season I was training for more explosive efforts as well as coming back from 5 months on the trainer due to injury, so a lot of time was spent trying to get old numbers back. I am sure everyone reading this has done interval sets and races etc, so I’m assuming you can imagine what this type of training looks like. However, due to the longevity of this event, once a week or so we would be looking at getting in a 6 plus hour day in on the mountain bike. We really wanted to focus on getting in a consistent effort and finding my race rhythm. But more importantly we wanted to train my gut to handle the effort while digesting enough food to keep the wheels spinning. I knew that the race was going to be somewhere between 12 hours (this would have been a new record, so probably a lot longer for me) and 19 hours (if you are over 19 hours in finishing time you are picked up from the course and kindly asked to stop pedaling). The only way you can keep up an effort this long is to feed the body! So what you are looking at here is about 1 gel or some sort of food every 45 minutes, and about 26 ounces of fluid every hour. At first sticking to this regime made me feel bloated and like I wanted to vomit all over the trails I was on. Eventually though, your body gets used to it and you can start to tell you are finishing off big days feeling fresh. More importantly though I really enjoyed the big rides! As mentioned earlier I was chasing fitness all season, and it was nice to always have a goal that wasn’t as top end based. It was a great mental break to be able to go out and feel like you had more control of your effort and weren’t coming up short all the time. It was really good for me mentally and to feel like I was progressing. The importance of feeling progress cannot be overstated.

DESCENDING TIRED

There are a lot of runs on this course that are actually quite technical. At the best of times I am quite the squirrelly descender. My lines are all over the place and I probably didn’t set up that huck correctly. Once you are tired enough, you can always expect to descend more poorly than you usually do. A lot of people in the Rockies can brap brap endur-bro down the gnarliest of sections, but I am willing to bet they start to make mistakes when they are so redlined they can taste blood in their mouth and can’t feel their arms. Descending completely blown is a unique skill.  We knew I had a lot of work to do on this and still do. Racing is the best training for these efforts, however I didn’t have enough time off work to get to a lot of them. Nate designed a workout for me (or I’m pretty sure he has multiple athletes doing this) where I rode up some of a climb at tempo for the first 5 minutes or so, ratcheted it up to LT the last several minutes, and then threw myself down a technical descent. We would loop this 3-4 times. This effort was a lifesaver and really helped me with my handling skills. It was the only reason I could find flow 100 miles plus into the race.

EQUIPMENT

First and foremost the Kokopelli Trail is around 144 miles of jeep road, double track, single track, forest road, slick rock, and sand. It’s constantly changing and a bit tiring to tell where the trail actually is. The trail is fairly well marked if you are taking your time, however if you are trying to make good time and or racing at night, it’s extremely difficult to stay on course. Because of this riding with the course map downloaded to your head unit was a huge tool. Having turn-by-turn directions the whole way is pretty much the only way to go, and in fact you weren’t allowed to start the race without it. Because the necessity of having navigation requires a lot of battery, I electrical taped a shock proof and water resistant external battery to my stem. At about 12 hours into the race I was able to plug my head unit into it and keep using it. I also brought a spare pack in my hydration pack as well. That way I had two ready to go if needed. As mentioned above, the race started at midnight. I ended up running a light on my handlebars and a light on my helmet, both set at 250 lumens. Both lights were rated for much higher settings, however I needed them to last around 6 hours. Setting them at 250 lumens was my best chance at having light the whole night. They both still ran out and my original plan was to plug my handle bar light into an external battery at around 6 AM. I did do this, however I found out that you couldn’t charge and use this particular light at the same time, so I was stuck floundering and descending gingerly at dawn. This is something I need to figure out if I race again next year. Other than that I rode with a 1.5-liter hydration pack stuffed with a few things other than water. Most important of which were pliers and a quick link for my chain. Believe me, the last thing you want to do in this race is walk 20 miles to the next aid station alone and in the desert. I also prepared a drop bag that I would get handed to me around the 110-mile mark. This was filled with extra food, lube for my chain (Moab is dusty folks!), and sun block to reapply.

KOKOPELLI 140

Race start was 12 AM in downtown Fruita Colorado. There were around 20 or more of us lined up to race the entire race solo, and around twenty or more people there to race the trail as a relay. The start was supposed to be neutral but as most races go, it got heated pretty quickly. A local really wanted to throw down and a hand full of others really wanted to clear the first section of trails as quickly and easily as possible. The best way to do this is to follow someone who knows the lines, especially when it is pitch black outside. The first two sections of the trail are Mary’s Loop and Troy Built. These trails are fairly rocky and a bit technical here and there, again, especially at night. You basically meander around the cliffs of a valley and do a bit of climbing. The trail is dangerously close to cliffs that would be fatal if you fell off of them. It was a unique experience riding at night knowing the pitch black to your left or right was expansive nothingness with a river down below you. It was definitely a trip. After a few pedal strikes and boggles I settled into the second group. This group sort of splintered in a more technical section and then reformed and splintered again over and over again. Complete with stops along the way to check our GPS devices to make sure we were going the right way. Myself and two other guys eventually lost contact with some better bike handlers, and then eventually dropped a few others to ride into the 40-mile marker at 9th, 10th, and 11th. During this section I was hyper diligent to get a gel every 45 minutes and chug water and NUUN like it was going out of style. I also ate an entire pro bar each aid station, so roughly every twenty miles. I also refilled the two bottles I was carrying and the hydration pack at each station. This trend would continue. After the 40-mile section my group of three was riding through the easiest part of the course. Mostly paved or dirt roads and very little climbing. I decided that we were going too slow and kept telling myself that this was free speed. We were wasting time if we didn’t pick up the pace. I decided to pick up the pace and drop them. I never really saw either again except for briefly on the next single track section when I was struggling with my lights. One of them yelled at me and asked how it was going, I said “well” and that was the last I heard of him. Miles 50 – 100 were pretty un-eventful. I got lost a few times and chugged fluids. I was clearing everything competently but not necessarily crazy fast.  Just riding around mostly. At around mile 100 there is an aid station right before a 20-minute climb and some tech. It is at the Dewey Bridge section if you are familiar. You more or less start making your way up the La Sal Mountains and descend a bunch of super chunky jeep road. So chunky that you are forced to walk in a few sections. At this point in the race I got a bit greedy. I spent very little time at the aid station and threw in a bit of digger on the first climb. I rode from around 9th to 5th on the climb, cleared two descents and some hike a bike, and on the next technical climb all hell broke loose in the legs. I hadn’t left enough gas in the tank to clear the technical climbing of the next section. These climbs weren’t crazy difficult, its just that I had no matches to pull up on ledges anymore. I started cramping everywhere and I had to take several walking breaks to keep the quads and calves from quivering. I ended up going so slow I lost all the spots I had made up. My lesson was learned though. Slow your roll when you already have a hundred miles in your legs. It was also in the mid 90’s at this point in time, so there wasn’t any coming back from dehydration if you already messed it up. My goal for the next 30 miles or so was to just keep moving, manage the cramping, and stay hydrated. I eventually hit a point when I was gagging on dry foods. So it was fluid based energy the last several hours. I also kept up the mantra of “Free Speed”. Every time I hit some down hill or a power section, I would remind myself that these were the easy sections and I needed to relax and keep the pressure on. It was a huge mental chore to stay that positive, but at this point I think it was the only thing that was going to work. My body wasn’t going to magically feel good anytime soon. I eventually finished the race in 7th place at 16 hours and 56 minutes. The winner came in at 14 hours and 29 minutes, and the last finisher was 15th at 19 hours and 31 minutes. These times really put the effort in perspective I feel.

AFTER THE RACE

The race was definitely the most mentally and physically taxing thing I have ever done. I had a few mistakes and a few mechanicals and it was extremely difficult to stay positive the whole time, but I think forcing yourself to keep going in an event like this really helps you manage stress and take things as they come. If the race is 140 miles long things are guaranteed to go wrong. It’s a lot like life in general really. If you are alive for 90 years I’m sure not all of it will go swimmingly. I also think this race presents a unique challenge from a racers perspective, you are forced to make decisions on where it is logical to ride harder to clear sections and where you might want to slow up a bit to make the next actual mountain bike section palatable. It begins to be a lot more tactful than some other endurance events that don’t have as challenging terrain. Other than that, the legs ended up being ok after a day of rest and some foam rolling. The only body problems I had afterwards were some almost jet lag like feelings from being awake for over 24 hours. But anyway, the race is a total blast and you should put it on the bucket list. If you have actually made it this far and through my rambling, thanks for reading!

Best of Rides,

Blake Romine