How to stay motivated for 21 race days – Haute Route Triple Crown

After almost three weeks of racing in the Pyrenees, Alps and in the Dolomites covering close to 2650km with over 60000m of climbing, there is one question that comes up a lot:

How do I motivate myself day after day to get up very early in the morning and race another tough mountainous stage no matter whether it is cold, rainy or hot, no matter if I feel fatigued, sore or tired?

Before I can answer that I would like to share a few details about the race format.

Haute Route is a Swiss race organization that puts on 7-day stage races that offer a race-like-a-pro experience. If you do three of those, you are doing a “Triple Crown”. The first 7-day stage race takes place in the Pyrenees (910km/19300m of climbing), followed by the Alps (896km/22200m) and Dolomites (852km/21000m) – all in a span of 4 weeks. All Haute Route racers and especially the Triple Crown racers are not only challenged by the terrain but accumulating fatigue, the unpredictable weather conditions and time cut-offs. These are not rides. These are races! Thus, there is no such thing as stopping for an extended mid-race lunch break.

Why doing it?

I love challenges, especially when they push my physical and mental limits. Having done one of the three 7-day stage races would have been a challenge enough. But my inner evil challenged me why I wouldn’t do all three. I knew the 21 days would be a good physical challenge but I was more curious how I would deal with it mentally. I asked myself how would I feel after 10 days when I haven’t even completed half of it? Would I get sick of my bike? Or would I still be excited to get up every morning at 5:30am to ride 6+ hours?

Day 5 of Haute Route Alps (Day 12 of Triple Crown) was my toughest day of the entire Haute Route Triple Crown.

The answer is everything you can imagine.

The first week was the worst; the complete opposite of what I expected. I expected to be excited and fresh in the first week. But I realized I was actually mentally not ready for it. Especially the first two days were very hard, getting used to the long, tough days in the saddle, trying to recover and getting into the rhythm. I was worried that my mental state would worsen having felt so exhausted in the beginning. But the opposite happened.

I got used to it, especially to my bad days. I had the first bad day on the third stage. It was raining and had a route that asked a lot of mental strength. I was tired and fatigued from the previous two days. I woke up and had absolutely no desire to ride 160km in wet, damp and dark conditions. I forced myself to the start line and began in snail tempo having to convince myself to keep going one kilometer after another.

The toughest stage weather-wise: Day 1 of Haute Route Dolomites (Day 15 of the Triple Crown)

I knew I needed distraction. I needed to get out of my state of mind. And since I couldn’t do it myself I needed external distraction. Since the damp weather didn’t offer any admiration of the scenery I was a bit at a loss. Like an angel (and while writing this here, “Angel” might sound a bit over the top but you might be able to imagine my situation at that time) another rider whom I met the day prior caught up with me and asked if he can ride with me. He didn’t have to ask twice. I told him to please tell me his life story for the next 6 hours. And he did.

I learned from this ‘bad day’ experience because it wouldn’t be my last one in this 21-day challenge. But now, I knew how I could decrease the severity of a bad day. I used this strategy another two times, except the following times I was the one who talked for 7 hours non-stop.

Manny and Darryl. We stuck together in the good and bad times. With a completely different background of mine, it is fascinating to hear their stories.

Motivation and stamina are the most important assets to keep going. To keep my motivation high, I had a different motivation every day. One day it was competing and going fast, the next day it was sharing stories with another cyclist, then I had no-suffer days in which I went my favorite pace that I wouldn’t be able to suffer, the following day it was taking pictures and another day it was riding solo while thinking about future plans.

No matter what my daily motivation was I wanted to make it the best day for that particular motivation. If I wanted to take pictures I got into my “zone” forgetting about that I had been on the bike for the last X days. Interestingly, I am often asked how I was doing in the rankings. I couldn’t allow myself to care. If I was fully focused on the rankings and I had a bad day I would have created a very bad week for myself not being able to enjoy what else these 21 days had to offer. Thus, when I did care about the ranking, it was only for the daily placing – not overall.

Towards the end of the Haute Route Triple Crown

It is a very valid question whether I would lose motivation to get up every day. But it wasn’t just about getting up and facing the day; it was also within the ride itself I had to be careful of not losing motivation. I had to watch like a hawk to recognize my current state and take immediate action if it turns to the worse. After a few days when I finished a stage totally mentally destroyed I watched very carefully to always cross the finish line with a smile on my face and making sure that I am looking forward to the next day.

Thus, getting up 21 days early in the morning to ride 6+ hours in tough terrain was completely about motivation and knowing what I can do on a bad day. When I felt less motivated, I always asked myself, “What else would I want to do if not riding in the most stunning regions in Europe?” Since I yet have to find the answer to that question, my mood brightened and my smile widened knowing that I truly love where I was and what I was doing. There is no substitute to these experiences!

Here, I put a few tips together that might help for racing one or multiple stage races back-to-back:


How three weeks of racing changed me physically and mentally – A video diary

From 13. August to 8. September 2017, I raced three 7-day stage races back-to-back totaling 2658km with over 62500m (!!!) of elevation gain, first in the Pyrenees, then in the Alps and finally in the Dolomites (all organized by Haute Route). I was excited, nervous and a bit crazy!! I postied updates about this incredible adventure on Youtube, Instagram and here on my blog.

13-19 August Pyrenees: Anglet to Toulouse (910km/ 19300m of elevation gain) incl. Tourmalet, Aubisque, Soulor, Peyresourde, Port de Bales, Portillon

21-27 August Alps: Nice to Geneva (896km/22200m elevation gain) incl. Granon, Alpe d’Huez, Vars, Izoard, Glandon, Madeleine, Saisies, Epine

2-8 September Dolomites: Innsbruck to Venice (852km/21000m of elevation gain) incl. Timmelsjoch, Monte Giovo, Pannes, Gardena, Sella, Fedaja

Watch my vlogging diary about this adventure:


When you start alone and finish with a support team – Haute Route Triple Crown

When I started racing the Haute Route Triple (3×7 stage races in the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites), I came by myself with no support or teammates.

I did not know a soul.

Now, after 21 stages of Haute Route I can say that there is an entire team that has been a major contribution for completing such a massive challenge. After three long weeks I got to know so many people who are working just as hard as the racers do to give us, the participants, the best experience. I havent had a chance to take a picture with all of them but let me introduce a few crucial people who I want to say thanks to:

Look at all the hundreds of volunteers and staff that made such an incredible event happen. Always professional, helpful and smiling. That makes such a big difference. Unfortunately not in this picture, I want to give a special thanks to the French motorcycle crew which supported us in the Pyrenees and the Alps. I seriously never felt so safe on the road as with them. Plus, they were always asking how we are doing and really wanted to be part of the event.

This girl might be nominated to the best cheerleader on Haute Route, Julia. I saw her everywhere, especially in key moments. She was always cheering and smiling. The small things that matter most in these type of events.

Max (right) from the neutral support. What a great support! After 2650km and 60000m of climbing, those guys help out for everything. And I must admit, I have a thing for support vehicles. It just makes my heart beat faster when I see cycling-branded, bike-racked support vehicles passing by. Porsches and Lamborghinis just dont do it for me.

John (middle) runs the bike touring company, Duckstore Productions,  out of Annecy, France. He was always supportive, gave me his tea during the first rainy, cold stage in the Dolomites. Now it seems such a small, minor gesture but when you are cold and completely wet, those small things make or break a day.

The mobile coffee shop team: Cafe Pod. Wow! You hear their van from miles away. Their very unique music style and honking system just puts a smile on your face. Plus, when I hear them I know there will be coffee on top of the climb. When I was really exhausted after a long, long climb like Col d’Izoard, I couldnt find them fast enough. They are even so popular that I heard another female racer, Kat, proposing to one of the Cafe Pod guys!

The massage team at Haute Route is just exceptional. In the beginning of the Dolomites I started to get IT band issues. Without them, the pain would have gotten worse throughout the race.

 

The Mouss Production camera team. Busy trying to get the best shots and coverage, those guys are always on the road. We were constantly passing each other and they always had an encouraging word. They made daily videos, one of which I had a chance to be featured in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKJx2hIXyOI

The quality of the picture might show that after this stage I was not even able to hold the camera still. This was day 20 of the Haute Route. I met Darryl from Sports Tours International on day one asking him if I could use his tire pump. What I didnt know that day is that I would see him every single day for three weeks. He always had a good word or offered me food and drinks during crucial moments.

There were many great people out there that made the three weeks very special. Thanks to everyone and congratulations to all Haute Route finishers!


12 days of the Haute Route Triple. The reality behind the scenes

It has been now 12 days (>1500km, 35000m of climbing, ~70 hours of cycling) since I started this incredible cycling challenge. After completing the first 7 day stage race in the Pyrenees, I was very exhausted – physically and especially mentally. The first two days in the Pyrenees really got to me. I wasnt prepared for the very steep climbs. My bike wasnt set up for the gradient as I was riding a 28 tooth cassette. Only after 2 days I finally changed it as my back and knee problems became unbearable. Now, this begs the question why I am putting myself through this challenge but it is actually quite the opposite: I am having the time of my life. Never been to the Pyrenees before, I was stunned by the scenery and the amazing route that Haute Route led us through. The challenge combined with the new terrain and the camaraderie made it an incredible experience.  Everyone who loves a life-changing challenge in a professional setting should consider Haute Route, and even Haute Route Triple Crown (3 7-day stages races back-to-back) However, I also want to mention that this isnt a walk in the park and so I want to shed light on what is going on behind the scenes.

Happy but drained.

When I finished the last days in the Pyrenees, I was happy but also drained. Haute Route is definitely not for the faint-hearted. For a reason, their website states that is an amateur cycling event that comes as close as possible to completing a professional Grand Tour.

Right after the last stage ending in Toulouse I transferred to Nice arriving at midnight. Then, I had one rest day that was also the day of registration of Haute Route Alps. Although it was only one rest day I felt great again. I met new friends of the Haute Route Alps and immediately had people to connect with. I found that so important – to build a support network during such a challenge. It is an incredible energy boost seeing the same smiling faces on every climb and at the finish line or passing me and exchanging encouraging words while we are struggling up a climb.

Day 1 of the Haute Route Alps was tough but I didnt have the same feeling like day 1 of the Pyrenees. It might be because the climbs are more gentle in the Alps or it might be because I am not easily imitated anymore after the steep climbs in the Pyrenees. But if I learned one big lesson during these now 12 days is to respect every single stage and every single climb. Nothing comes easy. I have to rather over- than underestimate it. I made the mistake during stage 2 climbing up Col d’Izoard as I was so focused on the last of the three climbs that I thought I would be just “passing over” this 1000m elevation climb. I was mentally so exhausted on top of Izoard that I was seriously worried about the last climb – Granon.

I knew I would make it, that was without question. But in what state I would make it that’s what I was worried about. In contrast to one-day races, I want to finish every stage looking semi-forward to the next stage and not with the thought that I want to sell my bike.

Day after day a massive cycling challenge

Day 3 would be the third challenging day in a row. The first three days accumulated to 410km with over 10600m of elevation gain! I am taking each day as it comes as this day that included Col de Lautaret, Col de Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez came differently than expected. It became a bonding- stage with an friend of old times in DC. We chatted for 5 hours straight through. And for those, who know, they know I am not exaggerating. We could have started a radio channel during that time – we covered every topic that was out there. We picked another friend up at the last feed station and talked ourselves up those last bends of Alpe d’Huez and crossed the finish line three-wide. Those are the memories that stay.

When the legs feel surprisingly good.

Although I was so convinced that day 4 – the time trial up Alpe d’Huez would be a recovery day, it was not. My legs felt great. Since this doesnt happen every day, I took it as it is and went hard up Alpe d’Huez. But I wish I felt the same day on day 5. This was definitely the toughest stage of all of them. I woke up with brain fog. That kind of feeling where you cant wake up, feel extremely tired and even 5 coffees didnt wake me up. With this being the queen stage of 182km an 4500m of climbing this was the wrong day to feel like crap. I had to get the energy from somewhere because I, myself, didnt have it that day. While climbing up the first climb, Col de Glandon, Manny and I came across Darrell, a fellow racer from New York City. Long story short we stuck together for the entire day – 9 hours of riding. An anticipated really bad morning became not only bearable but enjoyable.

If I am talented in one thing on the bike is that I can talk for hours. So I told Darrell about my toughest ever race, Trans Iowa, my adventure racing life getting chased by wasps, wading through the swamps of the Everglades, the latest Tour du Mont Blanc story, walking into a striptease in Canada or dealing with 8 flats during a 300km ride. There was enough material for 9 hours. 😉

But by the end of the day, it was the feeling of having the mental and physical support for this stage that made me cross the finish line with a smile. As the video above explains, it is the accumulative fatigue that is taking its toll and day 12 was the “explosion” of everything. I love the experience because although I might feel fatigued, I am living truly to the fullest of the life I want. I am cycling, feeling challenged and surrounded by like-minded people.

I am currently heading to Au, Austria for the Shimano media camp so I am missing the last two days of Haute Route Alps. However, be assured that I am very excited for the third and last 7 day stage race in the Dolomites that goes from Innsbruck to Venice starting on 2nd September.

Until then, we take a quick “Haute Route break” and get excited first for the Shimano camp introducing the new Ultegra groupset followed by the Eurobike.

Have a great day!

Monika


8 Tips to get through a 7 day stage race (Haute Route)

Hi guys,

I cant believe it but the first “round” of Haute Route is successfully completed: 910km with over 19000m of elevation gain in the Pyrenees. There were awesome, terrible, emotional, exciting and tearing moments. It was tough! Very tough. Along the way I learned a few lessons I want to share that helped me not only to “get through” the stages but to enjoy it. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

All the tips below are based on my goal to get through and enjoy the 3 weeks of Haute Route without wanting to sell my bike afterwards as well as enjoy each day to the most. Thus, I am not going for the classification, I am here for my very own challenge. I see everyone around me as a friend and not as competitor. That being said this is what I have been doing (in random order):

  1. Pacing. I know this topic has been chewed to its last bit but still it is the important part. I ride for myself, my pace. When I am in a group I evaluate the benefits and drawbacks being in the group and if it is too fast or too hectic, I let myself get dropped and stay on my own pace. Dont get me wrong, I prefer riding with people rather than riding solo. But it is very tough to find a person who has the exact same pacing like me for the entire course. But I still try to chat with other riders for a bit because it is just more fun riding together.
  2. Cassette. After two days on a 11-28 cassette and sore knees and back in the very steep Pyrenees, I changed my cassette to a 32 tooth cassette. It saved me! All back and knee issues became history.
  3. Drinking. I am getting better but I keep forgetting to drink during and especially after the race. I have been buying flavoured water so I enjoy it more to gulp down liters and liters of liquid.
  4. Multivitamin tablets. I am actually not a big fan of tablets if it is possible to take it in naturally but I dont think I can eat enough to get all necessary nutrients in. I might be wrong but currently a daily multivitamin has not hurt yet.
  5. Sleep after lunch. This is my best recovery. A nap after lunch is perfect. I usually feel very grouchy after it and take forever to wake up again but I can feel how my body started the recovery process.
  6. Massage. Light massages work wonders. Just getting the circulation going feels good. I am trying to take advantage of the free daily massage at Haute Route.
  7. Legs up. When I lie on my bed I put my legs up against the wall. Especially after a hot day my legs tend to accumulate fluid in the ankle area so putting the legs up feels especially good.
  8. Dont stand if you can sit. Dont sit if you can lie. I try to avoid walking around or standing for a long time.

Let’s see what lessons I learn from Haute Route Alps. By now, it is more the mental part that becomes increasingly important.

And if you are curious about the course for Haute Route Alps, the road book is here.

I wish everyone a great ride!

Cheers from Pra Loup.

Monika


Haute Route 3-stages Grand Tour (2650km/>62500m) – How a race day looks like

From 13. August to 8. September I am racing 3x seven-day stage races (Haute Route Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites) – each stage race tough by its own. However, my spontaneous and adventurous self decided to do all three of them. I have never done anything similar to that – especially with that huge amount of climbing.

Thus, there is a lot of experience to share!

What’s going on after 4 days.

Currently in Bagneres de Luchon, in the middle of the Pyrenees, we have complete 4 days of racing. It has been tough right from the start. Over 600km and 12500m of elevation gain in the legs. (See below the Strava files)

I wanted to share my experience, especially in the beginning phase as I am sure a lot of things will change throughout the time facing this massive 2650km challenge with over 62500m of climbing.

Settling into a daily routine.

I am finding my daily rhythm. I am waking up between 5-6am (depending on race start time) in the hotel and walking like a zombie to the hotel’s breakfast. After 2 cups of coffee I start to become alive.

I pack my travel bag and backpack (which is part of the registration package). The travel bag is picked up by the race organization at the hotel and I ride with the backpack to the start line. The backpack will be waiting for me right at the finish line while the travel bag is transported to the next hotel for me. That’s one amazing service! I dont have to worry about anything except getting myself to the start line on time.

Once at the start line I drop my backpack off the designated truck, pump up my tires at the mechanical support and line up.

After the neutral start heading out of town, the race is on – all recorded with a timing chip.

The course has been stunning and tough! The Pyrenees seem by far steeper than the Alps. But they are also more wild, remote with smaller roads.

Descending Col du Tourmalet

Col de Peyresourde

Organizational support

I am fascinated about the level of support. Volunteers stand on every corner and close roads so we can safely pass through. An abundance of arrows take any slight hesitation away from being off course. Plus, I dont ride for long without having some form of organizational vehicle passing by – motos, race organization, medical team or support vehicles. Incredible!

The food stops are located on top of climbs and have a variety of stuff – including fruits, cakes, crackers, ham and cheese. There is even a coffee truck following this event to ensure we get our caffeine fix.

Food station

After a long day in the saddle, I finish in the early afternoon to pick up my backpack. Showers, healthy food, free massage, cryotherapy, mechanical support are all located in the event village.

I grab some food and head to the hotel where my travel bag is waiting for me. After a shower I relax until the briefing in the evening that talks about the daily highlights as well as about information for the following stage.

After the briefing and dinner, I am trying to sleep on time.

Tomorrow will be a time trial – 18 km uphill with 1100m elevation gain, then having coffee with new friends from the race.

How my recovery goes, who is in the race and what have been the most essential must-haves so far I will share in the next posts.

Have a wonderful night, bonne nuit, buenas noches und gute Nacht!