Guatemala Altitude Camp

Every year bike racing gets faster and more dynamic with different types of races filling the calendar.  This year the schedule is pretty diverse with 5 XCO (1-1.5 hrs) races, 6 short XC Marathons (2-3.5 hrs), 4-5 Stage Races,  4 short tracks (20-30 minutes), 1 x 6 hour Marathon, 1 x 200 mile dirt road race and the World Solo 24HR Championships.  How does one train for all these races that vary from 20 minutes to 24 hours in length?  That’s a good question, and one that I’m doing my best to figure out…

The idea is to put in a solid base January-Mid March and then spike the engine with some intensity from March to May.  Since most of the races will be under 2.5 hrs from May-July, it will be important to have some speed in the diesel engine. Come mid August I’lll take a small break to recoup. In September it will be time to start winding up the diesel engine to defend my World 24 HR Solo Title in Scotland Oct 20-21.   It’s a plan, now to try and execute it.

This year the plan is to experiment a bit more with altitude training as last year the effects were dramatic, raising the capacity of my diesel engine about 20%. This peaked with winning the World 24hr Solo Championships, and consequently a massive meltdown after as the body was running hot and I didn’t give it the break it needed after 6 weeks in overdrive.

Generally the off-season consists of packing a chainsaw around for 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for 6-10 weeks, cutting trees down in the deep freeze of Northern Canada.  This pays the bills but it doesn’t give the body much of a rest period as right after the work season concludes the races generally start up again.  This winter I was lucky enough to take a break from the grindstone, thanks to the support from my team Kona  and my friends and family. Being able to juggle a few things like renting my condo out for the winter, and living and training in countries with cheap living costs-Nepal and Guatemala.  Ultimately this allowed a somewhat restful off-season which included taking a full month off the bike in December. This time was spent trekking around at altitude in Nepal and it seemed to pay off as starting in January I was rested and raring to get back on the bike.  Being able to put in 2 solid months of base training in the Himalayas was a great kick off to the year.  March was spent with a bit more base training (20-25 hrs a week) at altitude and then a slow transition into some higher intensity.  

Heading back to Canada for two weeks over Easter, provided a chance to do some testing with my buddy, Luke at the Balance Point Racing HQ  in Kelowna.  This is always key to find out how the training has been working and what systems still need fine tuning.  With a new game plan after the testing, Luke and I decided it was in my best interests to head back to altitude (2300 meters +) to see if we could re-create the engine we made last year to win a World Championship.  So, here I am, back in Quetzaltenango (Xela), on the western edge of the Guatemalan highlands at 2350 meters +.

Being down here for 2 months last year surrounding the El Reto de Quetzal Stage race, was a real eye opener, as I uncovered an amazing training area.  Being based out of Guatemala’s 2nd biggest city provides all the amenities for a solid basecamp.  Being a hub for travellers to learn Spanish,  there is a good balance of gringos, melted into the Guatemalan dominated culture.  Coming back here for a 2nd year in a row it was amazing how many of the same travellers had stuck around or returned from the year before.  It’s tough to explain but something about this place keeps people coming back for more year after year!

Training wise the altitude here is perfect at 2350-3200 meters and there are loads of trails and dirt roads to explore in the surrounding countryside.  There’s also a number of paved roads which is nice for those days when you just want to spin the legs.  The cycling culture is very impressive as well with it being the 2nd most popular sport in the country behind soccer, and growing every year.  Most weekends there is a race within 30-45 minutes of riding from the city with an average of 125-175 riders.  This fits into the training schedule nicely as it’s great to have the added motivation of a race to push oneself a bit harder and it provides a good social side to what can otherwise be a pretty independent sport.  

This year my long time buddy, Simon, flew in from Montreal for the first 10 days of the training camp.  It’s usually a bit of a gong show when we get together but somehow this trip worked out pretty smoothly.  Every day would start with a 2-4 hr training ride, a small mid-day break and then either another ride or Spanish lessons in the afternoon. If there was ever a dull moment there was a boat load of touristy things to do. There’s volcanoes to hike up, hot springs to relax in or curious locals to practice our Spanish with.  There’s definatly a slight edge to Guatemala but the only trouble I’ve ever run into with people is with drunks walking home late at night through the sketchy streets of Xela.

Last year I brought my Kona Hei Hei full suspension down here, and this year opted for the hardtail, Kona Honzo.  It’s amazing how adaptable this bike is as it climbs like a rocket, yet still crushes the descents feeling somewhat like a duallie with the big 29’r wheels and the short wheel base eating up the rough terrain.  It’s turning into a tough decision to have in regards to which bike to ride as both are a blast to ride and are great at both climbing and descending!

Down here in Guatemala is a bit of a paradise for riding, but the dogs… they are 100% out of control.  They are a bit like jackrabbits, just eating, humping, barking and chasing bikers all day long.  I’ve been coming down to Central America for close to a decade and every year there are more dogs and more problems to go with them.  Sometimes there are packs of 10-12 of them roaming around running the countryside.  Apparently in some towns you don’t go out at night because of the aggressiveness of these packs.  To me this is out of control and something needs to be done as they are wreaking havoc on any cats, or wild animals that may still exist, and now they are turning on the people as well.  On a 2 hour bike ride, we’ll generally get chased pretty hard 3-4 times, with another 10-12 dogs just barking without taking much chase.  If we ride towards them or stop they generally retreat but other times they’re nipping at your legs and it takes balls of steel to keep going.  99.9% of the time they don’t bite but that .1% is what you want to avoid. 

The other thing which is a challenge is to see all the garbage. The ditches are filled with crap.  I don’t understand how people can treat a country like this as it’s not very hard to dispose of garbage properly and the benefits of having a clean and beautiful environment to live in is well worth the minimal effort required to keep it clean.

One of the highlights down here are the street markets full of fresh veggies and fruits at ridiculously low prices.  It’s one of the best places in the world I’ve found to buy good food.  When papayas and pineapples cost $1 and a bag full of broccoli, beets,  garlic, peppers and spinach is another $2 it isn’t very hard to eat healthy on a couple bucks.  The other good thing is the street food with tortillas, chicken, potatoes, pupusas and other not so healthy fried foods available everywhere.  It can be a bit sketchy but 9 times out of 10 it works out ok. The best thing is to avoid the unidentifiable meats and uncooked veggies while focusing on the fruits and veggies that you can either peel or cook really well.   

Another great thing down here are the people.  Last year I was lucky to meet a great group of friends at one of the city’s biggest bike shops, Bicicasa Xela.  Cesar, Giovanni, Gessler and Yessi make up the crew and through them a great network of Guatemalan friends has been made and now has this place feeling like yet another home.  Most the crew ride bikes, eat good food, drink good beer, but most all like to have fun.  With spanish being there language it’s also a pretty good crash course on espanol every time we meet.   Out in the countryside the people are pretty awesome as well, generally smiling and always helpful to a lost biker.  There is a small edge to Guatemala, as there are a few gangs down here and a few young punks that don’t think too highly of gringos but it’s a very small percentile and they’re pretty easy to ignore. 

 

This trip down here is pretty short at 20 days but that seems to be the magic number to get the full benefits of the altitude with added red blood cells and the ability of the body to use oxygen.  Being up high we can’t train with quite as much power so there is a small setback there but once back at sea level the body will be soaking in the oxygen. It seems after a couple weeks down there the muscles usually catch up to the lungs and the engine should be rocking after that.   In theory the effects from the altitude training should last up to 3 months, the life span of our cells which will be adapted to dealing with low oxygen levels.  

 

This coming week it’s off to Arizona to join the rest of the Kona Adventure Team in Phoenix.  Our plan is to ride our bikes 160-200 km on the backcountry roads and trails to the town of Prescott for the Whisky 50 weekend of races and then again return by bike to Phoenix.  It should be an epic kick off to the season with a great crew of teammates!  Until then it’s back to the grindstone to get the body dialled in for the exciting month of racing ahead.

PS For travel this trip I’ve been using my new BikePack to lug my bike onto planes and around the countryside. It’s pretty rad as it avoids the ridiculous airline fees which are often between $100-$250.  It also fits easily into a taxi/bus and if need be I can build my bike at the airport and ride away with the bikepack bag carrying all my luggage. It is a pretty ingenious design developed by my buddy Jean-Michel Lachance from Canada. Check out the full details at www.thebikepack.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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