There is no set-in-stone way to train for the Tour Divide. While I guess there technically isn’t a set-in-stone way to train for any sort of race that works for everyone all the time, there have been enough people training for cross country mountain bike races, or these days even 100-mile mountain bike races, that there exists a fairly broad body of knowledge about what does and doesn’t work for a large majority of the population. Due largely to the fact that there haven’t been many finishers of the Tour Divide and that it’s a fairly new race, that body of knowledge doesn’t exist for a race that takes people somewhere between two to four weeks.
Theories on how to approach the race range from ‘ride lots’ to structured training plans. A fellow in town who is also lining up for the Divide rides lots. And by lots, I mean distances that are unfathomable to mere mortals day after day after day. Others prefer more structure. After years of 'riding lots' and often times being ready to hang the bike up in June, I am one of those others. With the help of Lynda Wallefels, I’ve devised a plan that will hopefully get me to Banff healthy, happy, and fast (and hopefully have a bit of fun along the way).
As someone who’s never ridden the Divide, I can only speculate on what it’s going to take to finish it from a physical and emotional standpoint. For me, the physical aspect seems almost straightforward: train hard, rest harder. I’ve learned to gauge my fatigue level by my craving for chocolate. If I cross the threshold of too tired, I can convince myself that fifteen Mini Reeces Peanut Butter Cups are a good idea for dinner. On the correct side of the threshold, I think carrots dipped in Dijon mustard are the worlds most perfect snack and plates piled high with greens, tomatoes, and peppers hold more appeal than a double chocolate cake. So the goals for physical training are simple: train at the edge, smell the chocolate, but keep eating the carrots. While showing up strong is a huge advantage, I’m a firm believer there’s an even more important part to the race.
I think an even bigger part of showing up ‘ready’ to Banff is showing up mentally fresh and motivated. I call it the ‘human factor’ of the race. I’ve been known to get bored of bike racing if I do it too much so when I sat down last fall and declared Tour Divide as the Big Dance of the summer, I knew I had to be careful in my methods of building fitness over the winter. Sitting on the trainer through the snowy winter may have gotten me physically fit, but I knew that I’d emerge in the spring sick of training and I’d probably go live in a cave in Moab and refuse to do anything structured when it actually came time to start thinking hard about the race. Enter the Arrowhead 135. It was the perfect combination of training while doing something new, like riding in extremely cold temperatures. It came with a new bike, which is always a motivator, and the timing was perfect, for when it was over, I had two months to prepare for a small ski race (this comment is dripping with sarcasm, as I’m terrified) called the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, and then a hair over three months to get dialed in for Tour Divide.
The plan was to put the bike away for the two months after the Arrowhead leading up to the Grand Traverse, which happens to be this weekend, and just ski. The only problem was, I’ve become a spoiled snow snob (and I’ll freely admit to this) and February and March have been fairly sub-par in the snow department for all of Colorado. We’d heard of winters where Crested Butte just doesn’t get much snow, but this was a statewide ‘weirdest winter ever.’ So, as I’m about to undertake a 40 mile ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen this Friday night at 11 pm, I have to laugh as my ski days for the season can still be counted on my fingers and toes. The thought of the five-mile hike on dirt in ski boots which awaits me in the first part of the race also makes me laugh. The whole situation is starting to border on absurd and I think I’m going to be ready to focus on riding my bike when I get home.
This focus is going to include a week to wrap up shop here in Crested Butte before heading out for the annual pilgrimage to the desert. April will be filled with rides in the warm sun, exploring the beauty of the desert south west, doing a little racing here and there, and building the calluses on my rear that will hopefully sustain me for the remainder of the summer. Stay tuned, the next blog will surely contain photos of what this ski traverse is going to do to my heels after twelve hours of flat trudging and the sun tan that I plan to acquire after exposing my white legs to the sun for the first time upon arriving to a campsite in Fruita.
70 days and counting.