Cyclists are often asked what is it about cycling that motivates you to get spend countless hours on the bike? For every cyclist I know, the response varies from, “I grew up racing” to “I just wanted to improve my physical fitness and over time came to love cycling”. Whatever the reason, cyclists share the common understanding that is not always fun, and quite often the word “suffer” can be found imbedded in most cycling conversations. There is a love, hate relationship that is forged over time with the suffering. On one hand, the primal part of the brain says, “STOP PEDALING! THIS HURTS!” while the rational part of the brain says, “GO FASTER, DON’T STOP, YOU CAN DO THIS…” The mind plays this intense game of tug of war and on any given day, on any given ride… Learning how to manage this internal tug of war is as important as any aspect of training. For some, this can be a game changer!
Hey, “you should get in shape, you will be faster!”
Sometime in mid-2013 a friend of mine introduced me to road cycling as way to improve my overall health and conditioning for mountain biking. At the time I was carrying about 220 lbs. on my not so muscular, 5’10” frame. Let’s just say, it was not a pretty sight but within a month I was hooked on riding and begin to join him for group rides a few times a week.
A particular group ride on Wednesday nights included eight to ten riders of all different experience and skill levels. The group of riders that came together each week could be lumped into a couple of categories. The “old guys & the regulars”, not to be taken lightly. This group included the Patriarch of east valley cycling and a handful guys that faithfully tried to keep up with him over tens of thousands of miles ridden each year. Then there were “young guns, brash hot shots that would acquiesce to directions from the patriarch, reluctantly, after being yelled out for going too fast and dropping the third and final group of riders, namely me, along with the occasional new rider that would show up for 1-2 weeks, only to never be heard from again. The reward…The ride culminated at a sports bar each week providing us with the opportunity to fill our bellies with every imaginable option of fried food, beers and unhealthy but tasty menu offerings. What could be better?
I recall several of my early rides with this group vividly, as they would wait, patiently, for me at the top of almost every small hill. One hill in particular stood out because at the top of a gentle, 1 mile and 3% incline, riders turned around and descended back down to the “regroup” at a convenience store. As I often was the last rider in the group, I would take note of who the first riders were returning down the other side of the road. As expected, the first riders heading back down the hill was a mix of the “young guns” and the strongest of the “old guys & regulars”, including a brash, “young gun” that was almost always setting the pace for the group. I often heard the bantering voices of the Patriarch and this rider about setting a consistent pace and waiting for the slower riders…It was a playful and spirited banter, and most weeks the young gun got his way by setting a faster pace than the previous week.
Somewhere around the four or fifth week of being the last guy in the group during the ride, but the first guy to “order dinner” at the sports bar, I found myself getting a, unsolicited, lecture from the fastest of the brash “young guns” about getting into shape. As I recall, just past the midpoint of one of our weekly rides, this rider slows from the front of the group to the back (where I spent most of my time). And says, “Hey man, you should get in shape, you will be faster!” Then he pats my back and heads off effortlessly back to the front of the group. My first reaction, “who the hell is this guy, and what does he know about me.” My more rational reaction was, “interesting… The fastest guy in the group, comes back to the slowest guy in the group and challenges me to be faster.” Nice, but what the hell do I do now?
Adapt (but not Dominate):
Looking back, that moment in time set the wheels of change in motion in a way I could never have imagined. At the end of the ride that night, I made a point to sit next to the young gun when we arrived at the sports bar. As I guzzled beer and ate wings to avoid starvation from what I believed to be the most taxing workout of my life, I watched as this “young gun” drank water and eat a bite of something healthier than my deep-fried chicken wings. When I probed, he responded that he was only part of the way done for the evening, and still had a 10-mile ride home for a total of 50+ miles he would do each Wednesday. He then proceeded to offer suggestions on how I could get in better shape and become a stronger rider if I simply changed a few things in my life. I half heartily said, well tell me more. Over the next 15 minutes the young, brash rider laid out a meal plan and made a rough draft of a training schedule, then took down my phone number, patted me on the back, said good night and hopped on his bike for the last part of his training for the evening.
Over the next 6 months, I learned first hand what it was like to “Adapt” (but not to dominate). I lost about 20 pounds, I trained more purposefully, and I became faster. Most importantly, I enjoyed riding more than ever! I was no longer the last guy in the group, but I never really could get myself to the front of the pack. I was getting stronger through improved nutrition and training with the overwhelming positivity from the selfless act of the brash, “young gun”. He would text or call once a week to ask how my diet was going, he would remind me that I would not die from hunger and would encourage me to push hard every time I got on the bike. This went one for years with varying degrees of frequency and success. The success part was 100% related to my level of commitment and discipline.
Winds of Change
In late October 2017 I received a text from one of my cycling buddies that read, “Did you hear the news?”. My response, “What news?”. The rider responded with, “Rob died today!” How could this be? Over the years, this guy had become my cycling hero. He set the standard for being the most positive and upbeat guys I know, not to mention he was the young, brash rider that always challenged me to be better! It was a devastating loss to the cycling community! It was also a moment in time that I reflected on everything I had learned from Rob. I had from time to time followed his guidance and recommendations, punctuated by several milestone rides, including a 3-day, 327-mile ride thought the mountains of Arizona. I had become a decently, average rider over the years.
I was twice as good a rider than I was in 2013, but only half as good as I could be!
In April of 2018, our 19-year old son had come down with a mysterious illness that lead to a series of doctors’ visits, where the most recent doctor contradicted the previous doctor. Growing increasingly frustrated, we found ourselves at the Mayo Clinic, with arguably the most cutting-edge approach to medicine today. Through a series of tests, we discovered that our son had contracted a parasite and the only real treatment at this particular stage, was time and proper nutrition, in the form of a ultra clean, anti-inflammatory diet.
As the days went by and we begin to understand the nuances of the diet that would help him heal, I realized this was virtually identical to the health and nutrition tips, Rob had recommended to me years prior. Driven by the effects of seeing my son so weak and by the loss of one of the most inspirational guys I had come to know, I set out to be in the best physical shape of my life at 48 years old (just 5 months away) and then build on this to exceed every imaginable goal I can set by age 50.
Set the goal, say it out loud, right it down: Race 3 races, break all cycling personal records (PR’s), and race and finish my first Tour de Tucson with a platinum time. I had never raced a 100-mile race and I am at best, an average recreational rider. Ready, Set, Go…
With a newfound fire, I set out to harness an unbreakable mindset that Rob embodied along with my personal desire to prove something to myself. One of the best examples Rob’s unbreakable mindset was showcased a few years prior, when Rob had raced the TDT in freezing cold rain and heavy winds, finishing near the top of the leaderboard. He fought frostbite and hyperthermia, but that was not enough to slow him down. I thought to myself, if he can do it, why the hell can’t I? Besides the right nutrition and training what would I need?
The answer was simple, a desire to DOMINATE!
Over the next 7 months, I lost 40 pounds. I broke every personal record I had on a bike, I shattered my goal of finishing the TDT in under 5 hours, with a time of 4 hours and 38 minutes. I finished the Skull Valley Challenge 11th overall, beating my first time by 34 minutes and my previous best by 16 minutes.
I learned that I could achieve goals that I never would have thought possible by taking control of that little voice in our head. When Rob was on a bike, he had complete mastery of that voice, the one that says, “STOP PEDALING! THIS HURTS!” while the rational part of the brain says, “GO FASTER, DON’T STOP, YOU CAN DO THIS…”
That primal voice, also known as the “fight or flight response” is a magical tool, when harnessed, that can be a game changer in achieving any goal. Dave Asprey, biohacker and author talks about the speed at which our primal brain reacts versus our rational brain processing information and then deciding what is best. Think about a reaching for a pot of boiling water on a stove. The rational part of your brain says, “move the pot of boiling water, but be careful it might be hot” and as you reach for the 200-degree handle and your hand begins to make contact, in less than a second, the primal (survival) part of the brain says, NO and magically triggers a subconscious response to move your hand away a lightning speed. You didn’t even have to think about it. Dave refers to this as the Labrador inside of us. Incredibly dumb, but incredible fast. This same Labrador brain decides when we are hungry, when we are tired, when we scared and when we are in control, along with a whole host of other behaviors to ensure our survival. Learn to control the Labrador, and you can achieve anything you want. I believe, Rob was ahead of his time, he intuitively understood this.
Learning to manage the Labrador inside of all of us can lead to remarkable results, not only on a bike, but in almost every aspect of your day to day life. From taking on a big work project, to tough relationship conversation. Recognizing the difference between that “fight or flight” response and the “you can do this” response. Everyone has both, it simply a matter of which one you choose to listen to. They both have their place, but far too often, we rationalize the lazy, or easy choice rather than the hard choice. Rob shared a video just a few weeks before his passing, where he talks about how things are always hard before it gets easy.
As we launch off into a new year, I want to challenge everyone to set a couple of goals! (Resolutions are crap!) Set a couple meaningful goals, then go out and dig deep to dominate whatever it takes to achieve your goals. It can be in health & fitness goal, a personal relationship goal, a career goal, a finance goal. The same principles apply. Here are the five principles that were at the foundation of my accomplishments. I share them with you in the hopes that you will chase a big, hairy, audacious goal in 2019!
· Keep the body healthy and energized through proper diet and rest!
· Eat the Frog first – Take on the nastiest task of each day and do it first!
· Believe in yourself, ignore the noise of others!
· Accept it will be hard before it gets easy!
· Adapt and Dominate!
Make it a Kick Ass 2019!