How To Have An Epic Bike Camp – In Five Easy Lessons

EN asked me for 1,000 words to put int their blog, about this month’s At T ‘Tude Camp. Here it is:

How To Have An Epic Training Camp — In Five Easy Lessons:

For several years, I’ve been hosting Endurance Nation athletes at my home in Snowmass, Colorado (near Aspen) for a week of rigorous training at altitude. They keep coming back for more, so maybe I should share my tips getting the most out of an Epic Week.

Find a spectacular location.

Most training camps feature easy access to multiple bike routes, opportunities to run and swim nearby, and knowledgeable local services. Add to that world class scenery, restaurants, and a culture which encourages and supports vigorous outdoor activities of every kind, and you’re getting close to what’s available in the Roaring Fork Valley. Between Glenwood Springs (elev. 5700’) and Independence Pass (12,100’), the Roaring Fork River flows unimpeded for 60 miles into the Colorado. Both a paved bike path and country roads connect Aspen with Glenwood, 40 miles apart. A dozen or more creeks and rivers feed the Fork, each with its own side road leading up to the wilderness areas which surround the valley. Jagged 14,000’ granite peaks, snow covered all year, jut upwards from those roads, rivaling the Alps for breath-taking beauty.

Invite a dozen of your friends eager to challenge themselves and each other.

One of the inner secrets at EN is how a bunch of highly competitive triathletes can easily develop into a web of friends stretching across the continents. It starts with a shared desire for improvement and success in our sport. We meet online, get to know each other in races all over, and start looking for ways to keep that spirit alive. Training camps sponsored by the team are one way, of course. But there’s nothing stopping us from growing our own camps. For me, it was simply an announcement in the forum, inviting people to come train with me in Colorado. I was overwhelmed by the response; several dozen ENers have come through the house the past few years, pushing me and themselves in ways we didn’t expect.

Cram everyone together into once cozy house.

My sister and I are so lucky – our parents decided 50 years ago to retire in Snowmass, and I’ve been reaping the benefit of that decision ever since. Aspen is well known as a ski resort which has catered to the world’s elite for 70 years. But a common saying there is, “I came for the skiing, but stayed for the summers.” By the middle of May, the snow has melted in the valleys, the road over the Pass is plowedand ready to open, and the short-lived spring is in full bloom. The first two weeks of June are invariably dry and mild, and that’s the best time (apart from the end of September) to get out on the roads and bike. The house is now managed by my son, who keeps it rented to skier groups all winter, hikers and music lovers in the summer. In between, the 14 beds are just waiting to be filled with triathletes who want to be roadies for a week. They wake up with the sun – 5:30 that time of year – slam the caffeine, wait for the pot of oatmeal and platter full of bacon, then slather on sun screen and wriggle into cycling kit. Usually we’re out the door by 8 AM, ride for 3-6 hours, then return to pester each other in that way only truly satisfied endorphin junkies can. You’d better be quick not only in the paceline, but also with a retort when the smack talk goes down.

Pick rides everyone can do, but no one will say were easy.

The groups have been diverse, in age, gender, and athletic prowess. But no one need feel left out. Because of the valley’s isolation, all rides are basically out and back, and start off in one of two directions: up-valley or down-valley. A good example is our ride over the Pass this year. The most intrepid opted to climb the Pass, sail down to Twin Lakes, 50 miles from home, then turn around and, like Ginger Rogers, do the whole thing backwards. In a driving hail storm. Those who didn’t want that challenge were more than satisfied to simply climb up the beast, raise their bikes in celebration at the “Continental Divide” sign, then turn around and head back down. All the while remembering the 1200’ they had to climb after the 4000’ downhill, to get back home.

Finish with a 24 hour Ragnar Trail relay.

One week in June, we designate the Bad Ass Camp. So named, because, after 6 days of riding, close to 500 miles and 40,000’ of climbing, we take on a Ragnar Trail Relay. This year, on June 9/10, about 1000 runners converged on the Snowmass Village Town park, just about a mile down from my house. From there teams of 4 or 8 runners would take on, relay fashion, 3 mountain bike trails or varying length and difficulty, non-stop for about 24 hours, each runner doing each loop once, for a total of 14 or 28 miles covered. In the dark, in the cold, in the heat, under the sun. Not easy all by itself, but after our bike excursions, it becomes the ultimate brick.

So there you have it, the recipe for an Epic Week. Looking back, what makes it truly special are the afternoons, when exhausted riders fill up the suede leather couch, half of them in Air Relax or NormaTec boots, talking triathlon, swapping lies, and exchanging trade secrets. Maybe your Camp Director makes you listen to one his his playlists from the ‘60s and ’70’s, filled with clashing country music and Big Hair rock, with a little John Denver thrown in for atmosphere. As the wind dies down, the Aspen leaves stop quaking, the hot tub empties, and the sun dips behind the ski mountain, the biggest question facing us: BBQ or Pizza tonight?

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The City of Horse Carriages

On June 16, 2017, the five-month old Republican administration announced a tightening of travel restrictions to Cuba. With the warming of US-Cuban relations in 2014 under President Obama, Americans found travel to the island a bit easier. Ever since the early 1960’s, US citizens headed for Cuba have faced rigorous rules administered by the Treasury Department.  Travel was restricted to twelve categories, and required prior approval by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). On Jan 16, 2015, that prior approval requirement was rescinded, but visitors still needed to document that they were going under one of the categories:

1. Family visits

2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations

3. Journalistic activity

4. Professional research and professional meetings

5. Educational activities

6. Religious activities

7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

8. Support for the Cuban people

9. Humanitarian projects

10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials

12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

During the 1990’s, 100,000s of people went from the US to Cuba under this program. With the advent of a Republican administration, the OFAC became more rigorous, and travel slowed. Since Jan 2015, especially after direct air travel began in the fall of 2016, travel began increasing again, but still under the categories above. A visit to simply plop under a palapa on the beach sipping mojitos and Bucaneros remains proscribed.

(One ironic note: these restrictions based on an economic boycott are of course vigorously supported by those Cubans who fled to Florida in the 1960s. However, these same people – any Cuban citizens who arrived prior to 1970 – are exempt from the regulations, and may freely travel back and forth.)

Many people go under the cover of items 5 and 8: Educational activities, and support for the Cuban people. These are euphemistically known as “People-to-People”, but that phrase appears nowhere in either State or Treasury Department documents. On the flight over, we had to fill out a form and check the proper box, and remain subject to potential audit by Treasury to prove the purpose of our visit. The recent changes are more cosmetic than restrictive. Direct air service remains intact. Travel by individuals is still possible under those twelve categories. The primary new restriction is: no use of facilities owned or managed by the Cuban military, which controls a large proportion of the tourist service base, such as the 5 star hotels in major cities.

Our Canadian bike tour company, which has operated there for over a decade and surreptitiously served Americans, last year began to organize a tour which could operate out in the open. Exclusively for US cyclists, Canbicuba worked with both the Cuban bureaucracy and the fledgling US embassy presence in Havana to design a program which allowed us to honestly check those boxes. Thus, we found ourselves almost daily on one tour or another, visiting the standard tourist stops along our route.

In Bayamo, the capital city of Granma province, we toured the horse carriage factory. Bayamo is known as the city of horse carriages. Non-motorized travel on the roads is quite common. Cuba has no oil of its own. Up until the early 1990s, subsidized Soviet oil kept things moving. Following that, Venezuela under Chavez filled some of the gap. But it has always been tenuous at best. And with imports of vehicles strictly controlled by the government, most travel for the bulk of the population is by foot, bicycle, horse, or public transportation. (In Guantanamo, for instance, I had noticed the early morning commute was about 90% via horse-taxi.)

Alejandro rhapsodized about the romantic town of Bayamo, “the city of horse carriages”.

“We visit the factory where they, um, make the carriages. Bayamo is very proud of its heritage,” he announced as we gathered for the evening’s briefing prior to the next day’s ride. “Maybe you take a tour of the town, see everyone riding in the carriages.”

Cheryl and I stepped outside after dinner, around 8:30 PM. The Soviet era concrete block hotel was singularly uninviting, and the air so balmy. As we ambled down the palm-lined, crumbling entryway, a line of horse taxis waited for the tourists to appear.

“Let’s walk around a bit, I’ve been sitting too long,” I countered when Cheryl suggested we could hop on one and tour the town. The sun had just set, but I felt no breeze yet. My shorts and T shirt were all I needed. With Maps.Me guiding, we wandered west through uncrowded residential streets just on the edge of a slumbering downtown. Outside the Plaza de Revolucion (each town has one), young Cubans sat huddled on a street corner, alone or in pairs, hunched over glowing phone screens. Further on, a building announced “PCC”.  It seemed well-kept, like a community center. A few cars grumbled by, exhaust belching black beneath the weak sodium vapor lamps.

Returning the the hotel entrance, we hailed a taxi. The horse clopped up a few steps, and we negotiated in Spanish + English. It was after 9 PM. We had another day of riding, to Las Tunas with the junior cycling team, staring at us for tomorrow

“We want to go only  30 minutes – how much?”

“10 CUCs for an hours.”

“We give you ten CUCs, we just want to go 30 minutes … see a little of Bayamo.”

Once we were settled, and the horse pulled away, Cheryl asked, “ Is this your horse?”

Our driver explained he only took fares at night, “Not so warm, better for the horse.” He kept the horse behind his home, and hoped to afford another, franchising out the carriage to someone else during the day,

He pointed out the city landmarks. Around the Plaza, he noted “Wi-Fi. Only spot in town. That lady” — he pointed at a sharp dressed black haired woman of indeterminate age, with a line of teenagers snaking past her along the sidewalk — “she selling wi-fi cards. Three Pesos, one hour.” The only way to get on the internet in this country.

As we passed the PCC building, I asked him what the letters stood for. “Partido Comunista Cubano.” Communist Party headquarters.

Crossing over the main street running through the center of town, we entered a jumbled section, narrow alleys jutting off in all directions. The buildings were stucco, not the uniform cinder blocks in the newer part of town. Through the maze, past a few more historic sites, we opened up into a cobbled plaza. There, the driver hailed a gaunt man in a jaunty derby hat, who smiled and waved back. “My friend. He wants a ride to his house.”

Turns out the man was quite comfortable with English, having spent a bit of time in the states. He kept up an amateur tour guide’s patter for the final half hour of our trip. We ended up back at the hotel exactly one hour later.

“So much for only going 30 minutes,” I mumbled to Cheryl. But the evening had been worth it, a much slower pace than trying to see the town in a large tour bus. We gave a 5 CUC tip each to the driver and his “friend”.

At breakfast, our group of rabid cyclists grumbled a bit about touring the factory and thus getting a late start on our real activity – cycling. But we dutifully entered the bus, waited while Alejandro negotiated with he factory manager to allow us entry, and trooped in en masse to the one story shaded work house.

“We will no see them make the carriages today. Not enough orders, “ he explained. As we shuffled past the carcasses of disheveled carriages, I was reminded of our country, in the 1890s, when internal combustion engines were just being placed into horse carriages, and the whole auto industry was run by back yard tinkerers.

The grounds were filled with workers. Some sorted through palm fronds, others whittled at the friends. “They are making brooms.” A bunch of fronds were tied together. The branches were whittled smooth, and the feathery ends cleaned and separated. Finally, they were chopped to a uniform length, and stacked against a wall, right next to the scale models of carriages, which apparently were the primary source of income for this shop, being sold to tourists. A bit mystified by the “City of Horse Carriages”, we hopped back on the bus, to be driven to the outskirts of town, where we unloaded bikes and did what we came to do – bike through Cuba.

Crisis Fuelled Resurgence of Horse-Drawn Carriages in Cuba


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Bad Ass Camp Re-Cap

Two weeks ago I hosted my Second Annual Bad Ass Camp (full name: AspEN Al T ‘Tude Bad Ass Training Camp) at my home in Snowmass, CO. This evolved out of earlier weeks from 2011-2015 where I’d conned one or more EN athletes into spending 4-7 days training with me at altitude. I started doing that in Aug, 2005, and immediately had my best IM race up to that point. While riding in the Colorado Rockies around Aspen is gorgeous and invigorating, I got lonely. Once I joined EN, and learned about value of social interaction and media surrounding our inherently solo sport, I started trying to get folks to come join me. Things grew to the point where I hosted two weeks this spring. First was a “stealth” camp with Tim Cronk/Heather Webber, and Dave Tallo. Those guys enjoyed some of the worst weather I’ve encountered while riding in CO. We routinely had to go 2000′ lower in the valley just to escape freezing temperatures and snow. One day we just gave up entirely and went swimming, as it had snowed 8-12″ over the entire valley, from 5700′ all the way up to the top of the mountains. Looked pretty, but even the Canadian wouldn’t go out for much more than a one hour run…

Two weeks later, and a gaggle of ENers joined me for a week of nearly prefect weather: Scott Dinhofer, Mark Maurer, Mark Stahlkopf, Mark Cardinale, Jeremy Behler, Shaughn Simmons, Danielle Santucci, Dawn Cass Filus, Dana Burns, Rich & Anna Stanbaugh, Trish Marshal, Molly Mysliwiec, Matt Limbert, Carrie Larsen; sadly, expected attendees Steph Stevens, Teri Cashmore and Attila Matyas had to bow out before the camp.

We rode from Sunday thru Friday, with the majority of folks getting 440+ miles and close to 40,000 feet of vertical. The highlight for the most intrepid was on Tuesday, when we climbed from 7700′ up Independence Pass @ 12,100′, down the other side, and back again – 100 miles, over 10,000 feet of vertical, featuring a hail storm, bitter cold rain, and brisk winds on top, with balmy 75F when we came back down to town. (I only rode 7 miles, up the backside to the top, SAGging the group the rest of the time.) The next day was 112 miles from Snowmass to Marble and back, with a stop for lunch at the incredibly funky and friendly Slow Groovin’ BBQ, then again for dinner at their new Snowmass outlet.

What makes this the Bad Ass Camp? After six days of riding on the gorgeous and little trafficked mountain roads surrounding Aspen (including one Lance Flyby), we entered TWO teams in the local Ragnar Trail relay. This takes about 24 hours to complete. One eight person team ran three loops each for 14.3 miles up and down the rugged mountain bike trails behind my house; and another 4 person team (Jeremy, Marks S & C, and Dani) went twice that, finishing second overall and first in their Masters category. About 1000 runners from all over the country converge on this race every year, and I doubt any others do the biking we did, ending a few hours before the running started. In honor of our sport’s iconic workout, our teams were named the Bricklayers.

Next year, I hope to host a couple of weeks in spring, between the week before Memorial day and the second weekend of June. The house holds about 13 people in close quarters, and part of the camp experience is spending time with each other lounging in our party pants and going out to eat in the gastronomes’ delight which is the Roaring Fork valley. Although this is an unofficial (and non-profit) EN camp, I’ll follow the usual protocol and invite previous campers first, then others, trying to get 10-12 in each of two weeks.

Also, I’ll be in Snowmass between about Sept 10 and 30th this year, and hope to attract another camp during that time.

Finally, thanks to all the Campers – you guys are keeping me young, and ready for more.

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Recovery From Extraordinary Effort

Two highly successful and motivated athletes joined me last week in the cold and snow for a “volume pop” here in Aspen. One of them asked on the EN forum about recovery from such efforts. Here’s my response:

Dave Tallo said:

…Extraordinary work (like you just did) requires extraordinary recovery…

Talk to us about …The role of rest? Food? Sleep? Specific TSS (or other performance model) re-ramp-ups?   Days off vs active recovery?

My response:

Several times, when I have returned from one of my altitude camps, with a day totally off for travel, another day of “active recovery”, I hit the pool, and assume I’m going to see a bump in my speed. Or maybe I try an FTP test, hoping for a higher number. Like you say, WRONG. That tells me the gains are going to take place over weeks, not days. Most of us follow things like sleep, weight loss, muscle soreness, and sense of fatigue. Maybe HR variability, some other newer metrics. I suspect there are other, generally unmeasured things which will need to get back to equilibrium before the gains from a big volume effort can be cemented. Our bodies are complex systems, and many areas will need replenishment: Hormones (like Cortisol, HGH, testosterone), immune system cells (lymphocytes, white cells, T cells), neurotransmitters, etc. And the actual gains will start coming when the stress placed on the body results in newly minted things such as: neuromuscular units, mitochondria, red cells, capillaries, etc.

All this is happening behind the scenes, and really can’t be tested for directly unless you want to spend a week in the hospital and submit to endless blood draws, bone marrow and spinal taps, muscle biopsies (OUCH!) and assorted imaging studies. So we look to indirect ways to give us clues.

The key thing is not when this process is complete. It will take weeks, at a minimum, and years for those who are consistently stretching the bounds of homeostasis via something like a three-year EN training program. The trick is to figure out how to ramp back up the training without (a) falling into the pit by doing too much too soon or (b) losing too much fitness so that the effort was wasted. A fine balance to be struck.

Signs I use to put a big STOP sign in my training plan: muscle soreness/stiffness, deep sense of fatigue, need for extra sleep, weight loss, grumpy or listless attitude. More than one of those, and I need a full day (or at most two) off, no “active recovery”, no nothing. This is often harder than actually working out would be, as it drives me nuts. But I’ve learned it’s for the best.

After 1-2 days, I then return to my “normal” monitoring systems, but refrain from any interval work on the bike for a week, or the run for maybe even more, until I can do strides without feeling any stress.

I use the data from my Tanita scale to help me understand hydration and caloric needs. Before I worry about my actual weight, I look at my BF% and body water %. These two tend to vary in inverse proportion to each other. YMMV, but my numbers in the midst of a 12 week prep phase ( the final 12 before the race) will optimally be 6.x and 58.5. If my BW% is 58 or below, I work on getting more fluids than I am thirsty for, specifically gatorade, as the sugar aids in getting the water into my gut. If my BW% is nominal, but my weight is low (for me, that would be about 147# during training), then I work on calories, of all sorts. Protein, fats, gluten, starch, dairy … I don’t care, I need them all.

Here’s a list of things I will eat to help me regain what I’ve lost: Dairy – chocolate milk, yogurt; fruits – berries (blue- and straw- especially, black- when they appear in my yard), oranges, apples; grains – granola; nuts – almonds, peanuts (I know, not a nut); fats – olive oil, bacon; protein – bison meat, fish, especially salmon, beans; other – Naked Juice Green Machine, Stacy’s Pita Chips with hummus. Along with my daily helping of oatmeal and PBJ sandwich.

I use the PMC from TrainingPeaks (via the WKO program on my computer) as an additional aid. It hurts, but I have to accept the “dip” in CTL which I will see after a volume pop. That’s when the recovery is happening, I tell myself. I may even let my TSB drift close to 0, from whatever godawful negative number I drove it to. And the “Ramp”, which is basically the rate of rise over a defined period of time (anywhere from 7-42 days; I use 21) is another thing I keep an eye on.

One final thing for the veterans who may be reading this. I did not find that age had any effect on need for more recovery time until I got past 61. So if you are feeling “old” in your forties or fifties, buck up, young ‘un. You can do more than you think you can, if you’ve been doing this at the EN level consistently for 3 years or more.

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Spring Training, Update #1

Returning back to this thread while in a “lull” between volume pops. My spring schedule has been:

  • Mini OS mid Feb-Mid Mar
  • 12 days x 100 km/day in Cuba end of March
  • 3 Weeks of HIM flavored prep work aimed at 3K/120K/30K A race end of August
  • 5 days at the Blue Ridge Camp
  • 5 days to travel, swim, and recoup
  • 9 days of biking and running along the So Cal coast LA & SD
  • 5 days hammering with Cronk and Tallo…

During that time, swimming suffered, meaning I got in 35,000 meters in 21 sessions over the past three months. Enough to keep my form up, but certainly no fitness improvement. I *was* able to get in volume biking, 48 cycling sessions, 1700 miles (8 hours, 120 miles/week avg) and 4-6 days of running each week.

At present, I am as I said in a “lull”, which means I am faithfully following the EN Int HIM plan with an end date of Aug 27. Then one final week of volume biking with maybe one swim session, and 5 runs (but three of them in a 24 hour period!).

When I get back home, I’ll try to remember to examine my Strava and TP/WKO fitness charts, to see what if anything I can learn from this.

Just a reminder, a schedule like this requires acute and constant attention to nutrition, hydration, recovery and fatigue monitoring. It is *very* easy to dig and fall into a hole doing stuff like this. So far, so good…

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Al T ‘Tude Bad Ass Camp Athlete’s Guide

June 2-12, I’m hosting a dozen athletes at my home in Snowmass for a week long frenzy of biking and running. Springtime in the Rockies. Here is the preview I gave to them:

Base Camp: My family’s home in Snowmass Village, CO. I share this with my sister. Because my son, who manages the property, rents it out half the year, we have 15 “pillows” when filled to the max. Three bedrooms (Blue, Black, and Master) with attached baths, a loft with a nearby half bath, and a bunk room with nearby half bath.

Directions: Most people will be coming from the East, through Denver. While Independence Pass is scenic and appears to be a shorter route, it is easier and quicker to come via I-70 through Glenwood Springs to SR 82. At about MP 36, right turn @ light onto Brush Creek Road towards Snowmass Village (don’t confuse with town of Snowmass, 8 miles closer to Glenwood). 4 miles, turn right on SInclair, 0.6 miles to a right on Lemond, house is third driveway on the left, 281. There should be an EN flag attached to the house.

Eating: There is, of course, a fully equipped (though small for 13 people!) kitchen with coffee maker, blender, microwave, dishwasher, etc. Stocked with condiments, spices, and staples. I will buy food a few days before the camp, per requests given at the Group Facebook page. Breakfast will be at the house, lunch on the road, and dinner mostly going out to local places in Aspen or Snowmass, with 1 or 2 nights group meal @ home. After you check the shopping list on FB, if there is anything else you need (special powders, favorite food) either bring it with you or buy @ the City Market or Whole Foods, both of which are in Willits/ElJebel/Basalt in a shopping area off to the right about 19 miles from Glenwood.

Weather: June is the driest month of the year here, but I can’t promise no rain. Key to understanding the weather is: we are IN the mountains. The Roaring Fork Valley runs from 5700’ @ Glenwood to 12,000’ @ Independence Pass. My house is @ 8300’. Temperatures vary about 3-5 deg F for every 1000’. So a typical day might be 80+ downvalley in Glenwood, 67F @ my house, and in the 50s at 10,000’ and above. Most of our riding will be between 6000-10000’, except for the day we go up (and over) the Pass. It’s not uncommon for afternoon clouds to form, and even rarely some rain, usually higher up. So the main idea: bring clothing for all conditions! A light stuff-able wind jacket, arm warmers and a base layer are often needed.

The Riding: All rides start and end at my house, which means a climb of 3-600’ up 6-8% grade at the end of the day. As we say, “That’s where the training happens.” All rides flow out from and back into the Roaring Fork Valley, through which some back roads run, as well as a bike path the entire distance from Glenwood to Aspen. There is also an extensive network of bike paths in and around each of the towns. AND, almost all our rides are out and back on dead end roads. So, expect little traffic worries. Also, the people here are very used to cyclists, and conflict with drivers is exceedingly rare (like, I have never experienced it.)

The Rides: I have a tentative schedule, but reserve the right to call audibles based on the weather and people’s interests. All rides will be designed with both shorter and longer routes. Shorter does not necessarily mean easier, just fewer miles in the same general area. Because people are arriving and leaving at different times over a ten day period, I’ve listed rides on all days except Saturday, June 10, the day of the Ragnar relay. The rides show “Candy Ass” option, or the shortest possible route that day, along with the “Bad Ass” option, the longest possible route. Of course, if that’s not enough, you could always do what Dave Tallo did, a few hill “repeats” added on. Personally, I plan on doing mostly either the Candy Ass option, or somewhere in between the two. My goal is to “have fun with my fitness”, not destroy it.

Two links here, first to the schedule of rides: And the route maps/descriptions on Ride With GPS:

Bikes. I have a bike rack on which to hang 13 bikes against the wall, so we don’t have to leave them leaning all over everything. I have several pumps, including two screw-on LeZynes. I have a fairly complete set of bike tools, including a chain whip, torque wrench, and thanks to Attila, a derailleur hanger adjustment tool (hope no one needs THAT). I also have a bike stand. And, about 10 CO2 cartridges you can use while you’re here.

Ragnar: Oh, yeah, almost forgot. Most of us are doing the Ragnar Trail Relay on the evening/night of June 9th + the day of June 10th. For those who have not done this before, make sure you bring a headlamp, warm clothing for your night run – last year Jeremy ran 65 minutes at midnight in shorts and a t-shirt, but most of the rest of us had a watch cap or headband, long tights, and several layers upstairs. Expect a clear night with temps in the 30s – 40s if we’re lucky. But NO SUN between 8 PM and 6 AM. The schedule for the relay will be finalized at the camp. Those few folk who need to leave early will get the first start times, and should be done by 11 AM at the latest. I assume you already have the link to Ragnar and the athlete guide.

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Spring Training

In response to our Coach writing about “Mid-Season Volume Pops”, I penned the following:

Last week, as I was getting crushed in a week long volume camp with Tim Cronk and Dave Tallo. As two of EN’s most successful athletes, they showed a level of commitment and fitness which was inspiring, and tiring. Dave in particular cycled for 7 straight days (including a day when 6″+ snow had fallen, and another with temps in the upper 30s), 4-5 hours most days, as well as running an hour at least four times and even swimming for 90 minutes once. He was still smiling at the end. He felt this was perfect timing for his assault on IM Canada end of July. Tim, at the tail end of his recovery from Ultraman FL three months earlier, and on his semiannual cross-country trek between Tucson and AZ, had no intention of keeping up with Dave, even though he’s aiming for IM LP a week earlier. His main focus is Kona in October, and he used this week to kick start his ramp up to training for that.

I attribute a fair part of my long success in triathlon to several decades of multi-day efforts, primarily in cycling. I swam competitively (not very well) from age 11-21, and I have a natural talent (due tony body type) for running. While I have never been in a cycling race, nonetheless I have spent a LOT of time doing things like: cycling across the USA in 1997, annual week long bike tours with family and friends 1999-2005 (Pacific Coast, Eastern Oregon, Canadian Rockies, BC/Vancouver Island, etc.), and since 2005, twice yearly 1-3 week “camps” at my family’s retreat in the central Colorado mountains near Aspen, along with Rich’s ToC in 2015 &16.

Getting such efforts right requires balancing a delicate equation which includes the following:

  • bike fitness leading into the event
  • number of days to be cycling
  • timing in relation to the season’s target (“A”) race
  • hours of cycling each day
  • resulting in: daily effort goals, and managing efforts within each day’s ride

Attention to the factors on Training Peaks’  Performance Management Chart – CTL, ATL, TSB, Ramp – is critical, as is attention to nutrition and recovery. I have a lot to say on this, but I have to go out and run 45 minutes, followed by a swim as the Aspen Rec Center, so I’ll return in the PM with a synopsis of my spring, which has basically been one cycling camp after another (Cuba: 12 days; Blue Ridge: 5 days; SoCal: 5 days; Tim/Dave camp: 6 days; Al T
‘Tude camp June 2-11), and an exploration of how I’m trying to solve the above quadratic equation to achieve best performance in my goal race this year, the ITU Long Course WC in Penticton, August 26.

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“Look! It’s Granma!” I pointed at the cartoonish billboard with the word splashed in red across a white stone base, a small wooden boat rising from frothy waters in the lower left corner.

“We need to stop – up there at the bus shelter, OK?” But the billboard provided a bit more shelter from the sun, and also from the road for those who wanted a natural break. Besides, we’d been hearing so much about Granma, it was a mandatory photo op.

A week into our trip, and it seemed every day, we heard another story about Granma. The Granma province. The Granma memorial. The stealthy arrival of Granma from Mexico, into Bahia de Santiago de Cuba. Our tour guide, Alejandro, had only a glancing acquaintance with American English pronunciation and idiom – he was a lot better at German – and he kept alluding to Granma as if we already knew what it was, and its significance.

By the end of the trip, after a visit to the Museo de la Revolucion and the Granma memorial, we emerged with a clearer picture of the deep iconic hold that little launch has on patriotic Cuban Communists.

On July 26, 1953, Fidel, his brother Raul, with about 125 factory workers and farmers, staged a symbolic attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago. Easily defeated by the overwhelming force of Batista’s army, Fidel fled into the nearby Sierra Maestre mountains with his remaining troops, but was quickly captured and imprisoned. After a show trial, during which he outlined his vision for the future of Cuba in a four hour tirade – a Cuba free of influence from the imperialist United States, its puppet Batista, with dignity, land and work for all – he was imprisoned, and that should have been the end of him.

But by 1955, his ideas had sparked a large political movement, the July 26th movement, and Batista bowed to pressure, releasing the brothers, who immediately fled to Mexico. There, they met a young Argentinian doctor-in-training, Ernesto Guevara. Together, they honed their philosophy of equality for all workers and farmers, with universal education and health care, and armed revolution to achieve those goals. They attracted a few score comrades, and purchased an old American 60 foot leisure yacht, which had been named by its former owner for his grandmother.

Eventually, in late November, they set off across the Caribbean for, once again, Santiago. 82 men on a craft designed ideally for 12 almost immediately ran into foul weather and nearly foundered. Having a radio which only could only receive, they had no way of telling their loyalists waiting in Cuba they would be delayed, so the revolution started without them, and seemed ready to fizzle once again. After another disastrous encounter with a superior fighting force, only about a dozen men accompanied the Castro brothers back into the Sierra Maestres. But from that small kernel, within two years they would gather supporters across the country and overwhelm the entire Cuban army, driving Batista to the Dominican Republic on January 1, 1959.

In the great Cuban foundation myth, it all started with Granma. It was their “shot heard ‘round the world.”  Today, the boat, not Castro, is entombed in glass, displayed for visitors much the same as our own Declaration of Independence. It is as sacred to the Communist Party there as any cathedral. When I visited, I was chastised not once, but twice by the guards around the site, first for wearing my small backpack which I had retrieved from the Museo next door, and another time for having the temerity to sit down  on the edge of the sidewalk. Granma is so highly thought of by the leaders of Cuba, they named their official news service after it.

At the time, though, all we wanted to do was get out of the sun, so we hid behind the funny little billboard for a few minutes. A tour of a cathedral had squandered the cooler morning hours for riding, and we still had 30 kilometers of hot, muggy, flat and boring riding ahead of us into Bayamo. I was ready to hop on the air-conditioned bus if it came along.

Which it did. But it was preceded by John and Liz on their snazzy titanium S&S coupled tandem, whizzing by at 30+ kph, immediately followed by Yoanis, our guide-on-the-road and mechanic. To a tired cyclist, a tandem on the flats is manna from heaven. With four legs instead of two powering a bike only 1.4 times the weight of a single (or “half-bike” as tandenistas like to say), their normal pace on the flats and downhill along with the draft their size creates makes for an easy ride when sucking wheel directly behind. I hopped on the train immediately.

One difficulty with following a tandem for long distances is the discrepancy between their power on the ups and the downs. Going up, they tend to fall way behind, necessitating a frustrating wait at the top of many climbs. Then, headed downhill, all that momentum, and they can sometimes pull away, even with the singles behind pedaling furiously “on the rivet”.

So we were hauling ass at the end of the day, cruising through Granma province towards Bayamo. Despite the gentle downslope for those last 30 km, occasional rises in the road would have the tandem fall behind. We’d slow at the top, and catch back on. But on the fourth rise, the tandem came screaming by about 100 meters from the crest. Were they playing games? No time to wonder, just work to get back on their wheel.

As they flew by, however, I saw Yoanis with his right hand on the stoker’s saddle, push the whole machine up past us, while climbing faster than our paceline himself. Every time he did this, we had to work that much harder just to be ready for the explosion downhill. After the fifth uphill sprint, I cried foul.

“I’m not playing that game again!” They could ride into town by themselves. Yoanis must have got the idea; after that, we just followed the pace. It almost seemed like cheating.

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Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is the country’s second city. Founded five hundred years ago at the upper reaches of the Bahia (Bay) de Santiago de Cuba, it has long been a linch pin to control of the island nation. Plundered repeatedly by French and British in the 16th and 17th centuries, swelled by white escapees from the Haitian slave revolt in 1791, site of the Spanish defeat at San Juan hill in 1898, it was fitting that Fidel Castro proclaimed victory over the Batista and his “imperialist backers” (the US) from the balcony of Santiago’s city hall on January 1, 1959, a week before his rebel army triumphantly entered Havana.

Our next two days of riding were sandwiched around a visit to this city, strikingly placed at the northern end of the luscious bay, surrounded by tan and green hills on three sides. The first day’s plan was lunch at Morro Castle, centerpiece of the three hundred yer old fortifications the Spanish build at the narrow mouth of the bay, which finally put an end to raids by those pesky English sailors, and their tacit allies, Caribbean pirates.

I had gotten used to horse carriages on the roads, but looking out my third story hotel window at 7 AM down to Guantanamo’s main street, I saw a fleet of horse taxis, clop-clop-clopping on the rutted asphalt roadway. Everyone going to work, it seemed, hitched a ride on these archaic buggies. I felt transported back to the quieter era just before Benz and Chevrolet and Olds and Ford and all those other men married the internal combustion engine to a horse carriage, and set us down what seems now like a highway to our doom.

Each horse had a little canvas bag stretched out below his tail, to catch any stray droppings. Cubans are nothing if not neat. Women sweep out store fronts at the start of every day; most road sides are free of plastic bags, exploded tires, and other litter.

Today’s ride would be short, under 40 kilometers. Our bus took us 58 km to Alto Songo; Alejandro insisted we could not ride on the A1, what served as the major East/West highway in Cuba’s Oriente (east). The road seemed safe enough to me, but after the first day’s metric century, a quick jaunt down to the sea would probably be very relaxing.

I did not count on the risks of trying to stay with the Viejo Gringo racers, and our pilot fish, Yoany. He kept promising “a hill”, but all I saw after the first 6 miles of rollers was an endless downhill dropping 200 meters to the sea. No traffic, a determined set of riders, and that ever-present tailwind contributed to an average speed of 29 mph for that segment, without even working too hard.

We finished with an uphill climb to the “castle”. But once we learned it cost $10 to sightsee in there, we opted to just hang out in the shade, waiting for the bus and our bayside tour.

Alejandro pulled another of his surprises. Originally promising us a snack lunch at at the Morro Castle park, instead he and Juan remembered they had government vouchers for a meal at the Zunzun restaurant in the restored Vista Alegre section of Santiago. This small area houses consul buildings, local government offices, and residences for the few people who had actually accumulated enough money to buy a home. The tourist-friendly eatery fills an elegant old colonial building with 9 foot ceilings and thick adobe walls. A small Cuban guitar band strolls among the tables. Since we arrived at 3 PM, we had the place – and the staff – to ourselves. We enjoyed the outing, but probably because we had not yet realised the dreary sameness of Cuban food. We still thought rice with black beans, potato, beets, guava, pineapple, and a choice among pork, fish, chicken and ropa vieja (stringy old beef, I think is the translation) was exotic. Still, superior to what we would find that night in the hotel.

The “3-star” hotels we usually stayed in all had the same stolid, crumbling  mid-century Soviet style. We quickly learned a few things about the layout of these places, built for USSR apparatchiks to escape the brutal Russian winters. Cafeteria restaurants are always on the second floor. Several bars surround the reception desk, and were always ready with our free “welcome cocktail”, a Cuba Libre (rum & coke) designed to only make one want a real drink. Elevators were often out of service, or if operating, a risky venture. The buildings seemed to have settled over the years; bathroom doors never seemed to line up properly with their frames. Blankets were provided, but always hidden in a closet or drawer. The air conditioner and TV seemed to have identical remote controls. It was always a long walk – from one end to the other, to get to the Piscina (swimming pool), which, more often than not, was empty, or draining, or otherwise not available.

And the internet. Oh, the internet, in Cuba. Rumor has it the only country less well connected to the web is North Korea. There are government run hot spots in city squares, and each hotel usually has a functioning router. But speeds made me long for the brisk days of dial-up – when they worked at all. To get “online”, one buys a card with two 20 character sets to be typed in as name and password. For $3, you get an hour. The hour may actually allow some email to be downloaded, and maybe even sent. But, on the other hand, precious minutes are used up with what might well be a human government censor contemplating the URL you’ve typed in, deciding whether to allow it or not. So Cheryl and I didn’t even try for the first two weeks we were there. I don’t think we missed anything, really. No coups, no celebrity deaths, no US administration embarrassments, unless you count failure to pass health care legislation.

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Cheryl and I left the seaside lunch stop together. On the first day of biking, I figured 56 kilometers of fast riding was enough, and spending the next 40 riding with Cheryl into the town of Guantanamo would be more fun than working hard.

Cycling heaven surrounded us;  temperature around 87F, blue sky punctuated by foamy floating clouds, air softened by the sea breeze pulled inland as the day heated up. While not totally flat, the gentle rolling road never steepened into a hard climb. The only real hill came half way through, rising 300 feet in 2 miles. Looking ahead from the crest, the road ran straight for several miles to a sharp right turn in what appeared to be marshland.

Signs appeared which announced an area of heightened security. A couple of little checkpoints housed lounging soldiers, hiding from the sun on the shady side of their shack. They barely looked up as we rolled by. That right turn took us away from the northern arm of Guantanamo Bay.

Between 1868 and 1898, Cubans fought intermittently for their independence from Spain. In the final convulsion, the US became involved. We had coveted the Island for decades, even trying to buy it from the Spaniards several times. Initially, Southern politicians envisioned adding Cuba as another slave-holding state. After our Civil War, Cuba’s George Washington, Jose Marti, ignited the islanders’ own war of independence, which erupted in open battle three times over the next 30 years.

During the final episode, the Spaniards began using concentration camps to control querulous rebels. Crowded conditions there led to deaths from yellow fever and starvation. In the US, rival newspaper publishers Jospeh Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst spouted competing headlines meant to inflame our public. In response, the US sent a war ship, the USS Maine, to Havana harbor. One night, an explosion ripped open the side of the wooden vessel, killing 260 sailors. Cries of “Remember the Maine!” screamed the headlines of papers across the US. We went to war with Spain, ostensibly to seek revenge and support Cuban independence.

By July of 1898, US troops were on Cuban soil. Col. Theodore Roosevelt led the Rough Riders calvary up San Juan Hill into Santiago, the island’s second city. Soon enough, Spain realised it no longer had the global reach necessary to sustain control of its empire half a world away in the face of rising American power. All parties went to Paris for negotiations, where Cuba was granted its independence, and the US gained control of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. To protect out interests in the Caribbean, we were granted sovereignty over the southern half of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay. In 1931, that control was formally recognized in perpetuity by the Cuban government, with the stipulation that no commercial enterprise be allowed there, “just” a Naval base.

Guantanamo Bay is shaped like an hour glass. The northern, more inland half, remains part of Cuba. The town of Guantanamo sits a bit to the north of the bay itself. The US controls the southern half of the bay, with direct access to the sea, along with land on either side. On the western shore, just north of the US zone, is the village of Caimanera. It was there we planned to stay this evening, within sight of the US facilities.

Caimanera is also the location of a little known escape route for Cubans to the US. Alejandro (our guide) has family there. A few years ago, his brother and an uncle headed south, and emerged in US waters, seeking asylum. So he felt persona non grata in the area, and would not be joining us there.

Cheryl and I were not thinking about any of this as we turned away from the bay, swinging north and west towards the city. The mountains to our left had sprouted storm clouds, growing darker by the minute. It sure looked like it would rain before we got to the meeting point. As the air grew colder and moister, we speculated on what a sudden shower might feel like. We were sweating from exertion as well as the heat, and a cooling shower might be refreshing. But curtains of rain shimmered ahead of us, looking more like a gully washer than a gentle shower. We started scanning the roadside for shelter.

It soon appeared, in the form of our bus. The tandem pulled up behind us, we all stopped, and Alejandro appeared at the door. We’d gone 92 kilometers, 4 short of our goal.

“It’s time to stop. Rain.”

“Are we the last ones?” I asked.

“Everyone else is on the bus.”

Liz, the tandem stoker, announced with authority, “We’re going to quit. We don’t want to get wet.”

That did it. No way did we want to be the last ones on the road, followed by a transcontinental bus flashing its lights behind us, going 12 mph.

The bikes were quickly stowed inside, and within three minutes, the sky erupted. Rivers filled the road-side gullies, and we wondered where the final few riders were hiding out. We picked them up at one of the rare gas stations, at the edge of town. They’d gotten under the canopy just before the rain hit. No harm, no foul. It looked like we would get a shower and welcome cocktail with time to spare for some sightseeing before dinner. We might even get to sneak a peek into Gitmo!

First, we had to drop Alejandro off at the Hotel Guantanamo, in the center of town. He’d hide out there while we enjoyed the evening in Caimanera, 15 km around the other side of the bay.

Rain still fell as we stopped in front of the only control point we’d see on the entire island with its red and white striped barrier pulled down to block traffic. Without our ostensible translator (Alejandro) to help us, we only gradually learned we were being denied entry into Caimanera because our travel permit lacked one key signature, from the local Commandante. We would have to go back into town, try and find him, persuade him to sign, and return. At least that was one story. The other was: our group was not allowed in without a guide, and our guide was not allowed in due to his family’s transgressions. In either case, we couldn’t stay in Caimanera that night, and we had no other rooms.

Luckily, someone got the bright idea to call Alejandro at the hotel, and catch him before he’d gone out carousing for the evening. He managed to arrange lodging for us, noting that, “It’s Sunday and you wouldn’t be able to find the Commandante anyway.”

Relieved, we brightened and chattered about all the Bucaneros to be drunk that night. From the back of the bus, I noticed the streets were getting more and more narrow, and we seemed to be heading towards, not away from the bay. We were clearly lost – unthinkable, given how much we had already come to trust Juan, our bus driver, to navigate any treachery Cuban roads might serve up.

“Hey, Al! Come up here, we need your navigation!” Leader Jim was calling, and I stumbled to the front, opening up the app as I lurched from side-to-side. Juan was holding his cell phone, and Yoany his, all while trying to drive and avoid the donkey carts, bicycles and weaving pedestrians taking up most of the alleyway.

Here’s where really shines. It does not need a cell phone or Wi-Fi connection, using native GPS to give a pinpoint location. And because it is open source, hundreds of thousands of travelers before us had littered the map with the location of every establishment, public facility, and street name. A few “Directo”s, “Izquierdo”s, and “Derecho”s later, I had Juan driving into the spacious Hotel Guantanamo entry way. Evening salvaged; ready to try and figure out the next day’s route.


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