What makes someone a great training partner?

After an absolutely amazing tough 200km in the saddle today, I reflected on what made it so great.

Sure, the sun and 23 degrees definitely didn’t hurt but after 5+ hours in the saddle when fatigue is setting in, I am beyond the enjoyment of the weather. There was something else or better someone else.

A great training partner.

It sounds so simple riding with other people. But reality is, especially on long rides where slight training-partner-misalignments will eventually be uncovered, it is not as easy as it seems to find the right riding buddy.

So what makes someone a great training partner?

1. In contrast to what one might think, it is not that both cyclists must have the same strengths. It is more important that both cyclists agree to a pace that both feel comfortable with. And even more importantly respect it. That means the stronger person will not increase the tempo on every rise if s/he know that the other rider is burning up all matches (unless it is agreed to it). The weaker rider is happy sitting in the draft if that keeps the pace comfortable for both riders.

2. Competing against each other (again, unless agreed upon) will result in annoyance especially in a tough ride when people are seriously suffering. Instead, both riders should help each other to get the most out of the ride and take advantages of their individual strengths.

3. Respecting the ‘dips’ of the other cyclist. Especially on long rides, there are chances that one or both riders have a bit of an energy dip at some point. Instead of trying to push through, it is more important to figure out how best to get him or her out of it. That could be a quick coffee stop, sharing home-made baked goods or drastically decrease the speed for a while.

4. Agree early on what it is expected from the ride: Steady pace? Individual efforts on the climbs? Distance? Stops? Length of stops? When both riders go into the ride with the same expectations, there won’t be any miscommunication later on when neither of the riders might not want to talk anymore due to suffering.

5. Enjoy it. The beauty of riding with someone is that all joy (and suffering) is shared. Even if you don’t talk during the ride you most likely have similar experiences on the road and there is plenty of talking material over post-ride coffee.

What are your thoughts on what makes someone a great training partner? Let me know in the comments.

Thank you for reading and please share the post if you liked it.


How to burn your energy during the Three Peaks Challenge – Falls Creek

Three Peaks Challenge. 235km. 4000m of elevation. In under 13 hours.

The numbers themselves suggest a tough cycling event but what happens at the 200km mark is what makes this ride really tough: The WTF corner.

Yep, WTF is the official name of the corner at kilometer 200 of this cycling challenge. Why?  Because a nice flat road goes straight into a double-digit gradient that remains that way for the following 12 km.

It drags on. It hurts. It is mentally devastating. And you are not alone!

During the event, carnage is lined up at the side of the road.

Exhaustion. Hot feet. Cramps. Dehydration, You name it.

But is this Falls Creek climb really that tough though?

No question, it is definitely during the Three Peaks Challenge while riding faster and harder than usual.

But how about on a training ride?

I was able to find out last weekend when I  rode the Three Peaks Challenge course with the only difference being the start at Bright instead of Falls Creek. That meant I faced this infamous climb at 153km instead of 200km.

With two extended breaks and less kilometers in my legs, I would get to Falls Creek with fresher legs than during the Three Peaks Challenge in March.

So, the climb must have felt a lot easier, right?

The first kilometer, although steep, seemed ok. I thought, oh wow, maybe Falls Creek is not as bad as I remembered.

But soon enough, I realized how relentless and steep the climb actually was. No, it is truly a tough climb, no matter how I rode it.

This climb is the make or break of the Three Peaks Challenge and thus a pivotal point for the riders’ strategy.

So how much energy do you want to reserve throughout the challenge to survive the last 35km?

If you were a car and you had to use your fuel efficiently for the Three Peaks Challenge, these are my suggestions how to use it (from 100% to 0%):

  1. Descent of Falls Creek: Full tank. Let it roll. Little pressure.
  2. Tawonga Gap: Moderate pace up the climb to get the legs warmed up, Fuel level: 90%,
  3. Flat stretch to Harrietville: If you find yourself in a group with a comfortable pace, great, if not, go your own pace. Conserving energy is priority. With 80% fuel level, you don’t feel any exhaustion.
  4. Mt Hotham: You will burn quite a bit of energy, by now you have used half of your energy level , especially the steep parts of the MEG and CRB hill will drain some energy. Ride a moderate and energy-efficient pace in the other parts of the climb.
  5. To Omeo: Being mainly a downhill section, you don’t have to waste a lot of energy. Take the bumps easy. Fuel: 45%
  6. To Anglers Rest: With a small climb and a fast road to Anglers Rest, try to conserve as much energy as possible while taking advantage of the fast road. 35% fuel.
  7. Falls Creek: You have 35% fuel left in the tank. You definitely feel the past 200 km in your legs but you are mentally and physically ready for the toughest part of the course: Falls Creek. Now you can blow out any remaining energy. But don’t try too hard. The climb will take it anyway.

More on pacing strategy has been published here.

The Three Peaks Challenge is not only a well-organized and exciting cycling event – the course makes it spectacular and one to remember. With its ever-changing scenery and panoramic views, it is an interesting and exciting event. But the strategy and toughness of this course makes it so special.


7 Quick and dirty tips for your ultra-light bikepacking trip in France

1. Information on climbs:

Website that states what Cols are open: http://www.sport-passion.fr/parcours/etat-cols.php  (The German http://www.alpenpaesse.co is not always correct!)

The German website: http://www.quaeldich.dehas all information possible about a pass. Even as a non-German speaker, coloring and numbers tell more than any word. Just click on “Pässe” (meaning pass) and search for a specific pass or explore by region. Once you click on a pass and scroll down, you can see the elevation gain, profile and much more in detail.

2. Accommodation

For bike tourists on a budget, try www.warmshowers.org, a free “coachsurfing” website specifically for touring cyclists. I have used that site in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and Switzerland and I had always fantastic experiences!

Otherwise, if you stay in a remote ski resort for a week+, they might have a great offer. I stayed in a 3 Star studio apartment in Modane, for 140 Euro/week. (In other places, I paid 50-70 Euro/night for a one person private bed and bathroom)

3. Maps:
I always navigated via paper maps (they never run out of battery) of at least 150000:1. I would not get anything bigger (like 200000:1) as the less-travelled cycling roads might not be on the map anymore.

Download the maps.me app. From there you can download maps for specific regions.

You can also make specific regions offline in Google maps.

4. Weather
The meteo earth app is fantastic as you can follow every single cloud and rain drop.
5.Phone
Always switch your wifi off while on the road, the battery lasts sooooo much longer.
6. Language
If you don’t speak French, I would get an offline French dictionary app. Otherwise smiling does most of the job.
7. Bike
Some stuff to know in regards to the bike might come handy like assembling your bike out of your bike bag and changing a tube.
Enjoy your trip!

What gets you up to ride your bike early mornings?

Just over a year ago, I moved to Australia.

I was able to enjoy the last two weeks of summer and then winter hit Melbourne. Having lived in Minnesota (where you still could be looking for your car under the snow in May) I should have felt relief.

-20 degrees Celsius with metres high snow was traded for drizzly, rainy, dark 5 degrees. I came to think that the sun doesnt exist in the Southern hemisphere.

I had absolutely no motivation to get up in the morning to go riding. But in Minnesota, I had no problem riding in -20 degrees with two other brave souls. What has happened?

Now, looking back, it is clear like a crystal ball: Routine.

After four months of getting up at 4:45am in the morning, I even wake up at that time on my rest days. I established myself a ceremony that would definitely get me up.
Those are my highlights in the morning:

1. Everything is ready to go the night before so I don’t have any stress in the morning. The only task for me is to wake up and to look forward to the ride.

2. Cold-brew coffee. The best! The evening prior I mix water and coffee powder in a French press and let it sit overnight. In the morning, I only have to filter the powder and I got some delicious cold-brew coffee. And man, that caffeine hits quickly!

3. Music. I put ear plugs in and listen to upbeat songs. Currently (don’t laugh), it is: Flo Rida- Wild Things, Die Antwoord – I fink u freeky and Lady Gaga – Born this way. (If you feel sorry for my music choice, feel free to make suggestions 🙂 )

4. But most importantly: my riding group. Every day, I am so excited to see my cycling group. By riding with the same people, you get to know each other very well. Who is grumpy in the morning and you shouldn’t talk to? Who could you engage immediately into a conversation? Who won or lost at the race yesterday? Riding in a group is like reading the newspaper; you got to do it every day to be fully up-to-date on all the happenings. Thanks THB guys for making me look forward to our training rides every morning!

What gets you up in the morning?


My (mental) preparation for the Three Peaks Challenge– Melbourne to Mt Buller (260km/5000m elevation, 161mi/16400ft elevation)

 

When you are planning on doing something longer and harder than you have done before, the extra weight of five kilos on top of your neck will be your key asset. (Your head)
Having decided three weeks out to ride the Three Peaks Challenge, one of the hardest one day challenges in Australia (235km/4000m elevation), I needed a long tough ride beforehand. I wanted to see how my legs feel towards the end of a long ride but more importantly I needed that kind of ride as mental preparation. Getting my head ready for whatever lies beyond the failure of my legs. There is a “going into the red” for going anaerobic, I call it “going mental” for going beyond your perceived body’s ability.
I heard on Thursday that a mate, Damian, is planning on riding the next day from Melbourne out to Mt Buller. 260km (161mi). 5000m (16400ft) of elevation. 40km (25mi)  of gravel in unknown condition.  35 degrees (95F) temps.
That was exactly what I was looking for! It had the length, the pain and the uncertainty to make it very challenging.
For those kinds of rides, key is to be able to motivate myself on the toughest parts. Naturally climbs and in this case the gravel section would be something that would drain my mental energy. So for the short time I had to prepare for this ride (12 hours), I learned all about elevation gain, gradient, length of climb that could give me the ability to measure my progress while climbing. Plus, the more numbers you have to play around with, the more you can make all kind of (un)necessary calculations to keep your head busy.
The gravel section seemed to become my lowest mental point. With a limited pool of mountain bike skills, I had a very tough time to navigate through a very rocky terrain, no matter if uphill or downhill.
We just didn’t make any progress. That put me off.
In those situations, I try to either sing to myself or compare my current misery with an even worse situation from the past.  Keeping perspective is key and not letting emotions take over.
After the gravel section, the toughest part was actually just starting. Mount Terrible*. A 10 odd km (6mi) climb all exposed to sun and heat.  It was north of 35 degrees (95F). We were already dehydrated from the lack of water supply in the last 120km. We were 11 hours into the ride. I dealt with very painful hot feet. So in short: A great time to pull the plug, especially considering that our next stop, Jamieson, has a nice coffee shop to cool down, relax, refill and eat properly. Why would you want to leave?
As this the most dangerous time to waste time stopping, I was in “adventure racing” mode. Quickly refill on water and food and get out of there in the quickest time possible.
But when I strapped my helmet back on after all necessary refillings, I realized that Damian hasn’t even touched his food.
“Are you alright?”
“No, my head is still spinning, my heart racing. I am severely dehydrated. No way, I am getting out of here until I feel better.”
Wow. I was flabbergasted. I knew we were both dehydrated but I didn’t see that coming.
He must have been seriously dehydrated.
After an hour of recovery and rehydration in Jamieson, we decided the ride is over and we would ride to Mansfield. I left Jamieson still with the belief that I could get Damian safely to Mansfield and then push on.
But as soon as we got on the bike, all the adrenalin and excitement vanished. Seeing my ride mate in such a terrible condition plus the length of the stop put me mentally into a different state of mind.
Should I really ride on alone into the night?
Although it was only right to join him to get him safely to Mansfield, disappointment and a huge sense of failure set in. I couldn’t believe it. I was so determined to reach the top of Mt Buller. Now I had to give up short of it.
With those feelings setting in, I lost my motivation for this ride.
However, Damian seemed to wake up from the dead. He rode off strong and visibly got his energy back.
Although I had no desire to keep riding, I asked anyway if he wanted to change his mind to keep going up Mt Buller. I expected a “no” but to my big surprise he said, “let’s do it!”

What?!?

Thinking that the gravel section was the toughest mental part, this mental adjustment from deep disappointment to “hey let’s rock this” was huge.
It took me a few minutes to readjust my motivation to ride for another 50km (31mi) with 800m (2600ft) of elevation. But man, this overbearing sense of disappointment evaporated and hell, I was ready to finish this sucker!
With us both being aligned in our goals again, we made the next 50km as fun and exciting as possible. We both just came from very different ends of disappointment and here we are facing a legitimate climb in the darkest of dark, 15 hours into our riding. And we are having fun doing it!
The cherry on the ice cream was some surprise visits! Blake knew we were about to climb Mt Buller and stopped on the climb, cheering us on. Andy and Nicole stopped on the way handing us pizza! How awesome is that?!? Things like this make a huge difference in such a ride!
Damian and I truly enjoyed the last kilometres and it became a little bit celebratory finishing strong on top of the climb and completing what we planned to do after 18 hours.
A huge sense of accomplishment was setting in…….. A veeeeeery addicting feeling.
When can I do it again? Ah…right, Three Peaks next weekend!

Our route: Melbourne – 1 in 20 – Warburton – Reefton Spur – Eildon-Warburton Rd – Jamieson – Mt Buller

* On the way down from Mt Terrible a lyrebird ran actually in between my wheels. That was luck to both me and the bird that we actually got out of it ok.


Climbing out of the unfit spiral with The Hurt Box
Warning: You might want to jump on your bike after reading this article. Please take appropriate measurements if required.
Can you imagine waking up at 4:45am in the morning, excitedly jumping out of the bed, almost taking your ceiling lamp out, singing with your radio and rocking up to the ride location ready for a tough ride?
No?
Well, I wasn’t either until I met Dave, Harry and Lisa, the coaching gang from The Hurt Box (THB). And yes, they chose their company name with intention.
On my first ride with THB five weeks ago, I had a true fitness reality check. I knew I was not in shape. But I was not only “not in shape”, I was even beyond the “out of shape” classification.
I wasn’t sure what had a deeper dent, my legs or my ego. But I immediately knew, I arrived at the right address. Lisa, our female coach and National Track Champion, reassured me, if I follow the program, I will become fit and conditioned. There is no other way.
A promise too good to be true?
Well, I would know soon enough.
The training program is based on power and heartrate. As a sworn-in “no-number” cyclist, I was hesitant at first. So I chatted with Harry, the mastermind of Ridermetrics, a free available training software he programmed himself. Just to spell this out, there is a coach at THB, who thought all the current popular training software programs are not good enough so he built his own! I call this 100% dedication going all the way. And just for good measure, he improved the algorithms as there are error calculations in the most popular training software.
So, it didn’t take long and the power meter and a heart rate monitor was ordered. However, it’s one thing to collect data, but a totally different thing to analyse them and even more importantly to train accordingly.
Dave aka Steggles, THB coach, elite racer and an icon in Melbourne’s cycling scene, is the key to transform the data into a training plan. Plus, not only does he write the program, he does the training with you. Three times a week, he personally ensures we are in the hurt box (sorry, couldn’t help it).
But by no means does this mean we are digging deep the entire time, quite the opposite. Surprisingly, we are riding a lot of steady pace. As of rather sociable nature, it is a fantastic time to meet my fellow Hurt Boxers. They are quite a bunch, I tell’ya!
Although every THB rider has a different goal why they train – World Champs or for the local crit – there is one thing everyone has in common – they know how to have a good time on the bike – especially when a German tries to use American slang in Australia! This multicultural combination was asking for awkward misunderstandings. Let’s say this, not all American cycling terms are appropriate to use in Australian lingo, especially when juniors are around. I learned that the “did-she-really-just-say-that?” way! J
But back to the “you will get fit, there is no other way” promise, my initial data aversion and off-the-map-out-of-shapeness:
Like in a cheesy movie, everything is having an amazing turn to the better. There is this indescribable connection with my bike returning– it is hard to describe but those who got back into shape from a miserable unfit state know this awesome feeling.
I know this might sound over the top, but I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present than being part of The Hurt Box. If you ever have been in that deep hole of unfitness, weight gain and lack of motivation, it is tough to get yourself out of there. THB was the key to get me back on track. Being motivated in the darkest hour to get up and excited to ride my bike while getting truly fit again is an awesome feeling. For those who have been there, they know exactly what I mean.
And the journey is just starting…

A slap in the face: Being out of shape

Most people can relate with being, or at least feeling, out of shape. Prime time is just after the winter when all seemingly hibernating cyclists start riding outdoors again. Although another two months before the start of racing season it is already time to assess the damage that had been done over the winter months – how much weight did I gain? Will I be slower than the people I dropped last season? How much has my suffer tolerance decreased?….A lot of questions and concerns about being-out-of-shape after only a few months.

Now imagine that had been nine months or even longer. Unthinkable! Every injured and work-victimized cyclist can relate.
Being out of shape is painful on so many levels. But the most painful part is when you realize how much you are truly out of shape.
With my move to Australia I got the damage report personally delivered on ride day one: 120km with one 6km climb.

120km with a 6km climb? Cant be too serious. I did plenty tougher rides than that.

The start of the ride was easy. I was sitting in the front chatting and was thinking that this is way too easy. Where is the training effect? This was 20km into the ride.
My new riding buddies might have thought the same. The pace increased. And increased. And increased.
At the next stop, I leaned over my handlebars, barely keeping myself upright and looking for a bus stop. No public transportation, dammit! This was km 40. I was done. Exhausted. Empty.

Another 80km to go and we did not even climb yet! I looked around, everyone was chatting and joking. They must be faking it. The last 20km were tough!!!!! I needed reassurance so I asked my seemingly faking compatriots several times in different ways if they thought it was hard too. The statement that matched closest with my expectations was: ” Yeah, we did turn on the gas a bit.” Here you go! Of course, they felt it too. I knew it!

But my renewed confidence in my riding abilities completely disintegrated a few minutes down the road when we hit the climb. And this time the signs were more than clear: If I dont find a new set of legs along the road, this would be a long, detailed and unnecessarily in-my-face out-of-shape report.

With my mindset in the past and my legs in the very present, there was some sort of body-mind mismatch.

An eternity later I was on top of the climb. I was so far behind my riding buddies that Strava doesnt think we were on the same ride.

While my riding buddies picked up the rest of my legs and pushed me along and encouraged me with words like, “you are doing so well, it is a tough ride”, I started cursing in my head in German (nine months in Switzerland do that to you. Swearing in German sounds more genuine anyway than in English).

I stated on several occasions I am out of shape. They nodded. To ensure that they did not forget, I reminded them in five minute intervals.

That was two months ago.

Today was the first test of my getting-into-shape phase: I raced my first road race in Australia.

It was awesome and it showed me once again how worth this love-hate relationship between suffering and cycling is. The adrenaline of racing, the endorphins post-race, the energizing atmosphere and the people make this getting-into-shape phase so rewarding! Cant wait for more!


Back from a nine-month hibernation – New racing goals in Australia

Ahhhh pooooof!          Sorry, I had to blow off all the dust from this blog.

Time to write again as there is excitement on the training and racing front!

But back to the beginning….

As it might be difficult to follow my whereabouts:

Hello from Melbourne, Australia!

…oh wait….

G`day, Ow ya goin mate!

I hit ground three weeks ago. Last year when I visited Brisbane I knew that Australia is a fantastic place to work, race and breathe. I just had to make a long nine-months stopover in Switzerland. But now I am back and not planning on leaving again.

Melbourne is just amazing. Friendly, welcoming people. Huge cycling scene. Fantastic coffee….what else is there left to enjoy life?

Inspired by the sports-fanatic Aussie culture, I also did my first criterium after an eternity. Despite the long time-out I was quickly reminded how painful those are!

With so many motivating groups to train with, my racing calender filled up quickly. After a nine months racing hibernation, I am excited to get back into shape and focus on new racing goals. 

What can I say! That was the view of one of the rides (when I wasnt staring at the rear wheel of the person in front of me)

 

 

First race after three years. I promise there were more people in the race than pictured here.

 More updates soon to come. Stay tuned.


How to succeed at tough races

Two months ago I signed up for one of the harder races in Switzerland: the Alpenbrevet, a 276km race with over 7000m of elevation. However, with a new job I have less time for riding and only two months ago I hopped on my bike maybe once a week.

Still, I signed up for the longest and hardest distance of the three racing options.
Finishing a race of that magnitude is not an easy goal, especially if your training capacity is mediocre at best.
However, although physical fitness is very important, what gets you really up the mountain, through nasty weather conditions and across the finish line is your mind!
Here are a few suggestions that help me get through tough challenges, even with less training:
Never doubt your success. You gotta be on the start line thinking that you will succeed. Any doubt will later, in tough times, knock on your mental door and question your sanity. During the first climb of the Alpenbrevet, all the different distance groups (Silver, Gold, Platinum) rode together. I asked a few riders what distance they will ride. A lot said `I will see. I was thinking of Platinum but if I do not feel well, I will go for the Gold distance`. All of them set themselves up for not completing the highest goal they could achieve.
Don’t focus on the pain. If you do it will only get worse. It`s the same with feeling sick. If you think about getting sick, you will. Distract yourself. Especially on long challenges, try to distract yourself with something else than your current activity. Sooner or later, you will find yourself thinking about it all the time anyway. Now, when it is easy to entertain yourself with other things, like chatting (if possible) with other riders, enjoying the nature, counting the white stripes of the middle lane, will make the latter and tougher part of the race mentally easier.
Tell as many people as possible about your goal. Because you would have to tell all of them you had to quit. Then try to imagine what you would tell them. If it sounds like an excuse, keep going.
Play worse-case scenario. If you are getting tired climbing up a mountain, ask yourself: How could it be worse? The grade could be steeper. It could rain. There could be headwind. It could be a cobble way. All of a sudden, your current condition does not seem too bad anymore.
After all it all boils down to:
Pain is temporary but failure lasts forever.
Plus, crossing the finish line after a very tough challenge is an indescribable addicting feeling.
What gets you through a tough race?