Marathon Mountain Bike racing is similar to being a smart investor as it requires a pile of time invested into training during the offseason to prepare for the payoff later in the season when the big races come around. It can be easy to lose your focus in the middle of Winter when the weather is challenging and there’s no real immediate pay off for the hard work but this is when seasons are made and lost. It’s common to be putting in 25 hours + per week on the bike so its nice to have accommodating weather!
Having raced for 15 years it can get monopolous putting this time in every winter so I’ve found it beneficial to mix things up to keep the motivation high and mind and body raring to go year after year! Travelling so much I sometimes get asked if I don’t like Canada or if I’m not close to my family and friends there. It’s actually the opposite as Canada is my favourite place in the World as the more I travel the more I appreciate it. I’m lucky to have a very solid and supportive group of family and friends and a team in Kona which gives me a home base stronger then can be imagined. This gives me the courage and ability to ante up and explore the farthest corners of this earth, knowing theres always a safe and welcoming home base to return to. It’s an important to tool in being able to let go and roll with the ups and downs that come with exploring this World.
Having spent parts of 8 winter training on the West Coast of Canada in Victoria BC it’s created an amazing training grounds with endless trails, plenty of road options and always a group to ride with. The weather is even alright most days, averaging between 6 & 8 degrees, cloudy with possible rain but the air is always clean and fresh. Its no surprise many of Canada’s top athletes call this place home. It’s a gratifying place to train but there comes a point in which you stop really expanding your mind and the spirit starts to dwindle a bit. Thus I’ve opted to mix things up and have spent past winters training in Australia, Asia, Central America and Indonesia.
This winter Guatemala was chosen, partly to take part in the El Reto de Quetzal race, partly to study spanish, and partly to try out an experiment and to see how training at altitude would payoff. Having good succese riding at altitude in India and Nepal last fall and the amazing feeling of having 3 lungs after returning to lower altitudes it gave me the inspiration to explore this avenue a little further. Doing a bit of research and with past experiences I’ve come to my own conclusions to what should work and it seems living and training at altitudes between 2200 M and 2600 M seem ideal Anything lower and the concentration of oxygen in the air is still high enough that it may limit adaptations, while any higher and there is not enough oxygen to be able to push yourself hard enoughto keep your muscles strong.
The idea is that the body will increase the volume of oxygen carrying red blood cells, become more efficient at using oxygen, and due to the lack of oxygen both the lungs and heart will have to work at an elevated intensity. It also seems to be important to brake up the altitude training with retreats to lower elevations to help with recovery, to put in some strong efforts in oxygen rich air and once you return to altitude the body re-kickstarts the adaptations. Time will tell but things are on track right now with the body showing nice improvements every week.
Guatemala itself is a compelling country shaking with the action associated with being a developing 3rd World Country. At first it can be a bit overwhelming but after awhile it all starts to feel pretty normal and you learn what is actually risky, and what just seems risky. At first glance the traffic seems chaotic, which it is, but with all the dogs, chickens, people and other objects all over he roads the traffic is generally slow and everyone is aware. Personally I’ve had more troubles in 1st world countries like Australia and America in which the traffic is travelling at high speeds on standardized highways and the drivers get complacent and often get distracted by there phones or have some issues with themselves and hate cyclists for some personal reason.
There is a certain edge in Guatemala and some precaution is required, although 95% of the problems seem to be around tourist heavy areas and occur after dark. Thus far this trip I’ve had a couple incidents with drunks while walking home at night through the backstreets of Xela. We all get warned not to walk home alone after dark but often I get a false sense of security as I believe in the good of the human race and am pretty trusting. Drunks are drunks and can be losers all over this World thus should be watched out for wherever you are!
Riding bikes over the course of 5 years in Central America I’ve never had a problem (knock on wood) down here except with the dogs. Overtime it seems that 9 out of 10 aggressive dogs are found near there homes as they can be overprotective. The thousands of sketchy wild dogs wandering around the countryside rarely cause any issues as they’re typically occupied searching for food or just hanging out with there buddies. The moutainous topography and rough roads in the country are ideal for a mountain biking and require a bit of time to figure out but little by little it’s possible. Up to now the locals have all been very welcoming when I come across them in the middle of the countryside which is a relief as it can be intimidating seeing them with there guns and machetes.
As beautiful as the countryside is with volcanos, lakes and pine forests, it is also pretty disgusting how poorly the locals treat there country by tossing litter all over the place. In such a poor nation there aren’t alot of options to dispose of rubbish and the locals are often so engaged in just trying to get by day to day that garbage is the least of there concerns. It is a big turnoff for everyone, a health hazard, and is hopefully something the government can start to find a solution for in the years to come as it would certainly help attract more tourists and make the country more appealing for everyone.
Every day its intriguing to go out on training rides as you never know what you might come across. Some days random street lights blow up, other days vehicles roll by that are falling apart, and sometimes roads are blocked due to random markets or parades which are a spectacle in themselves. On days that I feel a bit slow or in need of some security I’ll ride a route I know from before, on other days in which I wake up in need of adventure I’ll ride off into a new frontier. The local riders are great to ride with as they know the area and have been welcoming and ready to show off there countryside. On occasions when I want to put in some big miles I’ll put on my Apidura bike packing bags and head off into the countryside. It’s easy to put in 4-6 hour days when your in in route to a destination exploring the lands of a new country. These tours are generally done solo but back at basecamp in Xela there are always riders to go with as cycling is the 2nd biggest sport in the country after Soccer and the growth of the support seems to be taking off here! The crew at Xelas top bike shop, Bici Casa have taken me in as one of there own and have given me a home away from home and an in road into the local Guatemalan culture. Pictures are one thing on these trips but its the new friendships that one will never forget.
As the weeks roll by down here life is getting easier as I get accustomed to the surroundings and grow more confident and courageous. Every day there are opportunities to get into trouble but it’s also easy to avoid. You start to learn that cars rarely use there signals, and that chicken buses and microbuses don’t give a damn about cyclists or pedestrians, and thus you adapt to it. Getting lost in black clouds of smoke from unmaintained chicken buses is a low point but with a MTB it’s easy to find alternate routes off the main highways.
After yesterdays big ride to the top of Central America on Volcan Tajumulco (4220M) it is a rest day in Xela. These days are generally filled by studying Spanish, organizing travel and race plans for the year, buying fresh veggies and fruits at the local market and checking out tourist sites in the surrounding area. One of the biggest problems is sitting still and properly recovering as there is an endless supply of things to do. I nearly burnt myself out a few weeks back but am slowly learning to manage the energy levels better and to save it for events and adventures that really matter!
Heading home on April 20th after 8 weeks down here I will certainly miss the energy and excitement of day to day life but Canada and its natural beauty and fresh air will be a welcome sight.
Off to the market to reload on fresh fruits and veg for the next round of training days!