Saturday, January 25, 2014

Training for 2750 Tour Divide miles? (ok, lets keep it simple)

 Today was one nice training ride!!!  Also when I got home I had an email saying my TDR vacation request has been approved--woop woop yah!!!!!!

About 3 days out of Banff my body was beginning to protest the never ending accumulating hours and miles.  I could tell by how sleepy I would be around 10:00am.  Surrounded by solid forest green drifting up the quite gravel roads my eyelids would begin to droop and the bike would start to slowly drift from one side of the road to the other as I slowly climbed and climbed. Time for a 15 min power nap in the sun……….

So what is the best way to train for around 20 to 25 days of 100+ miles?  Well I see two main aspects.  First attain a solid Fitness Base and second appropriate Acclimatization.

Fitness Base:
Everyone has their own ideas about developing the correct fitness base for the TDR.  My thinking is the long TDR, unlike single day or multi-hour events does not lend itself to a classic fitness peak.  In other words you are wasting your effort in working towards a classic “peak” or putting too fine an edge on your fitness level.

So with this in mind I would contend that if you are currently successfully racing your local mtb, cyclocross or crit races then you probably have a sufficient fitness base for the TDR.  If you belong to this rather select group all you really need to do is put in sufficient time to maintain your base and focus on suitable acclimatization. IE: For training per say just keep doing mostly what you are doing but begin to  focus on the unusual requirements of a 20 day self-supported race.

However if you are like me and are far far away from being fit enough to toe the line at your local races then you simply need to invest the time and effort to get a solid fitness base. 

At my level it really is as simple as:
·         Do my daily core exercises to strengthen my back, abdomen and shoulders.
·         Ride often and long enough to drop 15 more pounds. (ie: ride and eat so as to get to or close to my calculated ideal race weight)

Again, for the TDR you will be spinning your wheels if you try classical interval training to attain a classic fitness peak.  Rather what you need is a large solid base coupled with suitable acclimatization drills.

TDR Acclimatization:
When people talk about training for the TDR I think most of us are wondering about what we can do to deal with the exceptional miles involved.   So if we take a solid fitness base as a given then what do we do to acclimate for the TDR?  

NUMBER 1: Actually participate in some multi-day self-supported races prior to your 1st TDR 

Number 2: Simulate participation in 2 or 3 self-supported, multi-day events

Basically numbers 1 and 2 force you to address most of the physical, mental and equipment issues that arise from long extended miles under self-supported conditions, even if they are not exactly the same or as long as the TDR.  If you have to simulate/practice a multi-day don’t cheat yourself—set your route and goals and then do it in full.  Don’t quit or deviate because it got hard, cold, wet, dark etc etc.

Number 3: Starting Now-- always ride/train with a fully loaded TDR bike with most of your real TDR gear.

Number three is how one acclimates the mind and body to moving a heavy, slow mountain bike down the road.  Also better to experience and correct body/bike fit issues now than in Helena.  Number 3 also lets you constantly use/test your real TDR gear.  Play, test, tinker with your gear out on the trail, under real conditions.  Become one with your setup ‘before’ the race and the gear will disappear into the background allowing you to better enjoy the Great Divide route!

Number 4:  Find a way/place to do some real hike-a-bikes as part of your routine training miles.

Number four is best done when tired; it is how one acclimates the mind and body to pushing a heavy awkward mountain bike up a hill.  Better to strengthen the Achilles and experience/correct shoe issues now than destroy oneself on day 2 in the Flathead backcountry.

Got in about 1 hour of hike-a-bike today on Gold Camp road......
(Marshal’s hike-a-bike tip for the day:  When pushing your bike in snow just relax and don’t get in a hurry.  Easy steps, head up and look around, enjoy the moment, and forget about getting wet feet as your toes will most likely not freeze and fall off.)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Go light to go Fast

Your body can produce a limited amount of power.  The power (watts) your body produces has to propel you, your gear and your bike on down the road (or up them hills) day after day after day. 

The less weight your limited power has to move the faster you will reach Antelope Wells (or Banff if your race is north bound).  IE: the better your Watts/Pound ratio the less time you need to bake in the New Mexico sun at the end of your race………….

So every TDR racer wants to produce more watts, ie train and get in shape 

And most TDR racers also will plan to use a light bike and carry light weight gear.

So there are 2 basic factors to minimize the time it takes to finish.  The watts your body can make/sustain and the pounds it has to propel. 

Within reason, which factor is most important, power or weight? 
The practical answer is that weight is more important than power.

Ok then, but let’s first look at power or watts.  Your body’s power producing capability is limited by two elements: First who you picked for patents, second how effectively you have trained.  Obviously our genetic potential for maximum power is fixed.  And within reason, you can only train or optimize your power capability to a certain maximum level.  My point is that you can only impact the power you bring to the TDR to a fairly small degree. 

Weight on the other hand can be rather dramatically increased or decreased by a whole host of choices we all make.  The weight we must push from Canada to the Mexican border can also be broken down into two elements, Dollars and FAT.   The more Dollars you spend on bike & gear the more weight you can eliminate.  And the less Fat you choose to carry the better your watts/lbs ratio. 

Dollars tend to be limited and more important the $/lbs effect has distinct diminishing returns. IE: don’t be cheap but after a point more dollars spent on weight reduction are basically wasted dollars.  

So this brings us to the heart of the matter -FAT. 

(Pause—now is a good time to insert a disclaimer: ok here goes--if you are a semi-pro level type who will finish your TDR in 20 or fewer days the following does not truly apply to you.  But if you tend to fall into the 20-26 day range read on…..)

FAT can be divided into two types.  1st is senseless FAT on your bike and 2nd excess FAT on your body. 

Pointless fat on your bike is easily recognized, just look for extra, bulging bags, big stuffed backpacks and a mish mash of items haphazardly strapped on to the handle bars or seat bags.  Make you bike look slim and lean, just like the < 20 day finishers and chances are very good you will have eliminated most superfluous bike FAT.

FAT on your body is also easily recognized (& we all recognize it when we see it, ha- so I will not torture you with a grossout picture...)  But aha you say, doesn't excess body fat circle us right back to power/watt production?  Funny how life is usually a circle of some sort. 

And ok, so I sort of lied about weight being the most important factor, but not really as its mostly where you happen to be personally on that there circle.  

So my main focus on improving my personal watts/pound ratio is to lose weight.  If I can do that just about everything else falls into place effortlessly. 
In 2010 I started around 167lbs and finished around 163lbs.  Even though I did not lose much weight I did eliminate 8% body fat (or ≈ 13 lbs of fat) .  I have always wondered about that, I must have gained muscle, but supposedly you can not do that on the TDR??
2014 Weight Chart
Nov 20th               187lbs
Dec 23rd                181lbs
Jan 18th                 174lbs
edit: Feb 23           169lbs
edit April 1st         166lbs
edit May 28            157lbs    my Birthday
June 11th              fly to Banff




Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Contact (part 3, Saddle)

After you drop down off of Union pass you hit some suddenly smooth pavement on the way into Pinedale WY.  I had slept the night just before reaching this pavement.  So about an hour or so into my day, when I hit that smooth pavement one would think I be enjoying the easy fast miles.  No, the smooth pavement was killing me.  The pain from my saddle sores was literally bringing tears to my eyes.  The smooth crank-it-out miles, with little reason to move around or stand brought me to a complete stand still.  I was at a loss as to how I would continue.  The fork was almost in………
my 2010 saddle....... 

The basic TDR saddle issues:
1.       Cumulative Impact = sore bruised muscle, damaged soft tissue

2.       Continuous low level friction = heat = irritated, damaged skin

3.       Cockeyed (ingrown) hairs= irritated, then infected hair follicles

Each of these three issues may occur to a greater or lesser degree.  It’s the day after day accumulation of one or some combination that can transform mild discomfort into race ending pain.

Mitigation tactics:
Cumulative Impact = sore bruised muscle, damaged soft tissue --

1.       Find a ‘best’ fit between your sit bones and your particular saddle. 
2.       Some type of suspension, seat post, frame or tire size to minimize the cumulative bruising effect
3.       Take some form of naproxen

[Of course the absolute best solution to bruising is to finish, ha-so the faster you are the less this is a problem] 

Continuous low level friction = heat = irritated, damaged skin

1.                   Common wisdom says the more you ride the firmer the saddle.  What this really means is a firm smooth saddle surface produces less friction, ie: less heat-less skin damage.  So a saddle for the TDR should be firm and smooth.
2.                   Make sure your shorts do not have a seam across any pressure points. 
3.                   Chamois Creams is one way to minimize friction. (ya we all have our favorites, mine is A+D Original Ointment ) 


Cockeyed (ingrown) hairs= irritated then infected hair follicles (my personal demon)
(This is where your hair curls up and grows into and under the skin)

1.                   Laser treatment or electrolysis to completely prevent hair growth
2.                   Good sanitation works for many but not all as some of us are genetically inclined to more/easier ingrown hairs
3.                   Geronimo! Pain Cream  (does not prevent but does treat ingrown hair) (contains a natural anti-inflammatory/pain reducer, ie: white willow bark, which has Salicylic acid, which is a key ingredient in many skin-care products) (also good for other aches and pains!!)
4.                   Num-Zit/ Benzocaine (topical pain relief only, not a cure or treatment) 

my current saddle, good personal sit bone fit, smooth, semi-firm, 247g,
I am testing the TT nose style to see how it fits me in the aero bar position, oh and cost a whopping $40 new

How I hope to prevent a reoccurrence of my 2010 saddle sore debacle (in descending order)

1.                   Laser treatment around sit bone area to completely prevent hair growth (I know too much detail—to bad for you)

2.                   Find a ‘best’ fit between my sit bones and my particular saddle. 

3.                   My saddle for the TDR will be firm and smooth.

4.                   Apply A+D Original Ointment as needed to minimize friction. 

5.                   Practice good sanitation each night

6.                   Utilize Geronimo! Pain Cream at night-as needed

7.                   Have available a small tube of Num-Zit as a last resort

 You might have noticed I did not mention saddle position/bike fit.  Of course this is a KEY ingredient in preventing and dealing with saddle sores.  And is best done well before you leave Banff.
Coming back to my ordeal just after Union pass. I stopped, removed my seat bag and began a series of micro seat adjustments till I found a better position, ie: one the alleviated a bit of the pressure on my worst sores spots.  Not a fix but it kept me going for one more day......

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Contact (part 2, hands)

I read the posts and blogs of TDR racers and frequently read about numb fingers and hands during or by the end of the TDR.  I have even read about corrective surgeries.   It seems hand numbness is a common contact point problem.  And for some it seems to be all but unsolvable. 

Here are my thoughts on the matter. 

First and foremost is finding a sustainable body position that minimizes weight on the hands. 

Basically this means a more upright position than most of us use for day to day mountain bike rides/racing.  This can be best achieved with a slightly shorter top tube and longer head tube if you are getting a new frame.  And regardless of frame utilize extra/max steerer tube length and use a short/riser stem with riser bars.  Some combination of compact frame geometry, extra steerer tube length and a short, tall stem and riser bars should allow you to pedal efficiently while keeping most of your upper body from weighting your hands.  
Younger and or more flexible racers can achieve this with a more conventional set up but I contend that older and or less flexible racers should recognize and accommodate their personal reality, and not try to adopt a younger racers body position.

In addition to a sustainable weight-off-the-hands body position I will:

·         Use Ergon Grips (in addition to Ergon’s various grip choices there are now several manufactures that make similar style grips. But I like Ergon’s and have been successfully using for years)

·         Use Specialized Body Geometry Gloves, the ones with thick gel pads.  These gloves work better than any other I have ever used for reducing numbness on marathon distance rides, they are especially good at protecting the all critical ulnar nerve.  When you first use them they seem too padded, but after a few hours you adapt and don’t notice them ever again.

·         Use waterproof over gloves that actual work.  In 2010 I used lightweight over-mits made from eVent material.  They were super light, very packable and did not work for crap. Cold wet hands and poor brake control were the result.  On route I bought a pair of warmer long fingers gloves but soon learned without the proper palm padding they were allowing hand numbness to creep in.  I tossed them and picked up a pair of long finger/padded gloves at the Outdoorsman to get me by the rest of the race.  This year I have a new pair of thin MountainHardwear overgloves made with OutDry.  I got them large enough to slip over my regular gloves so I can always maintain my palm padding.  I have tested them in rain, snow and cold—they work perfectly.  Keep my hands warm, dry and even breathe well enough that my hands don’t sweat all that much.

·         Use Aero Bars.  Using Aero Bars adds two additional contact points.  The first additional contact point is where your arm hits the pad, the second, and more important, additional contact point takes place at the saddle while on the aero bars.  More on this when I post up contact #3/seat, but in short due to severe saddle sores without aero bars in 2010 I probably would not have finished.  But returning to ones hands, while in the aero bar position ALL weight is off your palms.  The more you are aero the less hand/nerve compression takes place.

·         Use additional hand positions and add padding.  Once I have finalized my cockpit arrangements I will add padding to any likely additional bar/hand positions and trial/test padding on my grip extensions.
·         Use fat tires with modest air pressure.  I will probably post up later about my specific tire choice but suffice to say I will not be running skinny/hard tires.
next post, part 3 will cover the all critical saddle

Saturday, January 11, 2014


2750 miles on bumpy gravel and dirt roads adds up to tangible wear & tear on one’s body.  I will be paying particular care with my contact points.  The plan is to avoid the all too common nerve compression damage that many TDR racers inflict on themselves.  Hot spots on the feet, numb hands and of course saddle sores.  I have suffered from all three to varying degrees, and at some point the damage is permanent.

I damaged my feet during my first AZT (2008) and while mostly recovered, even now I have lingering effects.  The culprit was basically small contact area pedals. (Crank Brothers).  The extremely small shoe to pedal contact area with this design concentrates all the force from standing over a tiny area of the food.  By my third day, after a straight 18 hr push, I had a small hot spot on each foot.  At the time I had no clue what had happened.  I just knew while standing my feet itched and burned right over the pedal with each stroke.  I thought I had dirt or something but no matter how much I cleaned out my shoes or rubbed my feet the pain priested.  Of course after the race I researched a bit and was mildly dismayed to learn I had permanent nerve compression damage. 

So here is part 1 of my 2014 plan for contact point mitigation.

(Disclaimer—when it comes to contact point issues--what works for me may or may not work for you and visa a versa.  This is a case of test & test and then use what works for ‘you’, not what someone else does or uses)


A super stiff carbon sole racing shoe would help spread the force at pedal/shoe contact point.  But such shoes are not good for walking/hiking.  In my opinion they contribute to Achilles issues if you walk or hike in them very much.  Of course the TDR does not require much walking for some of the really strong racers. 

But I will be walking a bit, and will use my favorite tried and tested go-to multi-day shoe.  Mavic Pulse.

This is the ultimate multi-day shoe, here is why:

·         Simple 3 Strap—fastest on/off with widest range of adjustment
·         Lightest weight (go ahead and compare to any other TDR capable mtb shoe)
·         Dries out faster than other shoes
·         Best traction (the tread compound is the perfect compromise between soft and hard)
·         Stiff sole but still walkable (not carbon stiff but not flexy)
·         And they can be had for less than $100

In addition to Mavic Pulse shoes I will:

1.       Use green Specialized Body Geometry Foot beds.  I just checked and they no longer offer the exact style that I have used since my AZT fiasco, so I will try/test their new style.

2.       Dermal out the fore/aft cleat slots to allow the cleats to be positioned further to the rear.  This helps alleviate Achilles issues and places the contact point force away from my damaged nerves.

3.       Insert under the foot bed, right over the cleat area, a homemade, thin credit card size metal or plastic stiffener to spread the point forces

4.       Use medium to thick Smartwool socks—my feet like the extra padding and wool is the best sock material for the TDR for various reasons  

5.       Use a larger contact area pedal.  Currently I am using XTR PD-M985’s. 
I like the very large contact area and am thinking of adding a rubber spacer of some type to force light contact while standing between the bottom of my shoes and the rear section of the platform

Next post I will talk about hands and what I will do to mitigate at this contact point

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What exactly is the Tour Divide Race?

Coming down off Fleecer Ridge, TDR 2010 (Notice the one track in the snow?  That’s Aidan Harding’s tracks, 3rd place finisher, 1st SS, .  Aidan rode it all the way down!!  Ha, but with only 1 working brake I wisely walked/skied it towards the bottom……)

Let’s fist back up and start with a look at the route itself and a quick summary of the ‘race’ history.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

(The [2,700 MILE -- give or take a few] entire route is basically dirt-road and mountain-pass riding every day. In total, it has over 200,000 feet of elevation gain.)
Get the maps etc here

Ok, here is the quick history of the Great Divide route by Michael McCoy, the man tasked with laying out the route. The Genesis of the Great Divide

But how do we get from a cross country, 'back country' mountain bike touring route (finished up I believe in 1997) to what some describe as the toughest mountain bike race in the world (ya that’s a big stretch but it sounds so good). 

Enter John Stamstad’s 1999 record setting ride.  In 1999 the original race route was Border to Border, with the Canadian section added 1st to the GD route and then to the actual race later on.

From John we move to Mike Curiak.  Mike invited others to join him in challenging John’s record and the Great Divide Race was born. (Mike's 1st GDR was in 2004??)   Mike had issued an open invitation to race the Great Divide route with him in a self-supported manner (more about self-supported in a later post) and this is basically when the “race” originated.

For all intents and purposes Mike’s border to border Great Divide Race (GDR) was mutated a few years later into the current Tour Divide Race (TDR) of today. This transformation happened mainly due to Matthew Lee’s unbending determination to include the newer Canadian section.
Finally there was the “MOVIE”. The Ride the Divide movie came out right before the 2010 race and needless to say it has had a huge impact on what was a much smaller, more underground event.

On a personal note I lay full blame at Mike Curiak’s feet for my seduction from the occasional 100 mile mountain bike race into the full blown madness of self-supported multiday racing.  First came the Kokopelli, then the Grand Loop, then the Curiak inspired AZT and CTR.  Year by year building up to my first TDR.  Anyway the guy can make anything sound good and his pictures truly capture the essence of riding mountain bike in the desert and mountain west.  


Ok so this post barley scratches the surface of racing the Divide --To learn more, right down to all the internal details and dirt, all the ins and outs of the TDR (and other like races) go hunt around in the Ultra Race forum at

How could I leave out SPOTs and Trackleaders and MTBcast? 
I used a SPOT in my first AZT way back when and was one of the few who had one. I don’t think Sharon would have let me go without that SPOT.  Ha, now it’s not such a big deal to be out on a self-supported back country trip.
But SPOT’s combined with Trackleaders has made the TDR a spectator sport. But it’s a weird spectator sport as you are not allowed to go see anyone you know while they are racing (unless you happen to live on-route).  What you do is follow their SPOT Dot on Trackleaders and read up (and comment) on the race thread.  And also listen in on the racer’s call-ins on MTBcast.
Again it’s a funny way to spectate a race—but be warned—it’s great fun and highly addictive






Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Tour Divide Race (TDR) virus has infected me once again.  I am in for 2014 if I can convince my new boss to let me use a big chunk of my vacation come June.  And to commemorate my descent back into TDR madness I am beginning a new blog. 

Enjoy it if you can-- but it’s going to be a lot of ‘same ol same ol’ geeking out about bikes, gear, training etc.  And as this is more of a personal journal than anything else, you might see quite a bit of random thought process taking place along the way.