LeadBoat Stories #6:
Reset, Recharge and Remember Why You Love Riding a Bike:
Advice from Two Coaches (and LeadBoat Athletes!)
Uncertainty, volatility and change have become the new normal for most of us. The world has shifted into uncharted territory and COVID-19 is impacting each of us in different ways. As athletes, we’re experiencing event postponements and cancellations with an ending that is currently undefined. To help us navigate these times of uncertainty, we reached out to two LeadBoat athletes, Neal Henderson and Andrea Dvorak, who spend much of their time coaching and guiding fellow athletes.
Both Neal and Andrea have guidelines and tips that they are using personally and with the athletes that they coach. The general message is to use this time as a reset button, slow down, remember why you love riding a bike and take time to find balance. Read below for additional stories and insights from each of these coaches.
Andrea raced professionally for 10 years with a very decorated resume including the United States Olympic Long Team for the 2012 London Olympic Games, winning a stage of the Route de France, competing in multiple World Championships, winning a silver medal in the 2011 US National Road Race Championship, and winning the Cascade Cycling Classic Stage Race.
Even while racing at the most elite level as a road cyclist, Andrea’s general philosophy has always been one of balance. After racing her road bike professionally for nearly ten years, she is now able to help the next generation of cyclists. Applying her extensive knowledge as a racing cyclist, Andrea along with several others, started the Miller School of Albemarle Endurance Team. A top priority for this team was for their student-athletes to be both successful athletes and students.
“I have always encouraged a healthy balance in sport and in life, especially for younger student-athletes- go to prom, go on that family vacation, go skiing, go on that trip. Never drop one thing for another.”
Now as the league director of the Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League – part of NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling League), she works with young athletes and focuses on fun and safe events. Andrea acknowledges that cycling can be an intimidating sport to get into, but recounts the discovery and love for the bike:
“After our parents let go and we venture off the driveway, the cycling world can be a scary and intimidating arena. I am sure we all have stories of our ‘first bike’, ‘first ride’, ‘first race’. My ‘first’ experience was a combination of all three – first bike, first real ride, and first race, a triathlon. At one point during the race, I had to get off my bike and walk it up the hill, because I had no idea what gears were and how shifting into an easier gear could make life easier.”
She eventually met her first coach/teacher/bike friend, Ruth Stornetta, on the University of Virginia cycling team where her love for two-wheeled adventures began.
“During these uncertain and difficult times, I encourage athletes to return to the basics. Remember the feeling you had on your first mountain bike ride, or the first time you rode on a new bike or a new trail. Perhaps when riding a bike was not just ‘training.’ It was fun.”
Andrea encourages athletes to get on their bikes and just ride. Use these moments to just enjoy the feeling of being free, on two wheels, like it used to be down your driveway as a young kid.
Read all about Andrea’s adventures as a cyclist: https://www.andreadvorak.org/stories
Follow her on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/drevorak/
Neal is a former professional triathlete and has coached athletes for over 2 decades. His coaching achievements are notable, including athletes with top stage finishes at the Tour de France, GC podium finishes at the Giro Rosa, World Championship titles and Olympic and Paralympic medals. It’s safe to say that he has extensive experience, expertise and valuable insight when it comes to coaching athletes.
Last week Neal sent a message to his athletes, from his amateurs and masters racers to his Olympic hopefuls. Notably, the message was the same to all of his athletes “pulling back from training is the best thing that we can do in this time of uncertainty. Slow everything down and focus on mental, emotional and physical health”.
Neal understands exactly how mental stress impacts our physical state.
“It’s almost impossible to put real deadlines on any training right now. As endurance athletes, we like to have schedules and we’re operating in a different time now. What is unique about this time is that everyone is getting input from others about what they can and can’t do. The feeling of control is being lost and managing those feelings is difficult.”
Because of the mental challenge of losing control and the uncertainty around schedules, Neal encourages his athletes to take 1-2 weeks to process everything mentally as opposed to burying themselves in training. “The cumulative mental and physical stress won’t show up in training peaks. It’s not calculated in your TSS.” He believes that this reset in a physical and mental way will help his athletes move forward.
We asked Neal what advice he would give to those who are training for LeadBoat. Neal offered the following:
- Look at and address your limiters- Going out and doing long rides isn’t an option for most of us. If you have something that you know is a limiter, this may be a great time to address it. Whether it is a skill, an imbalance, a weak area – these things may become bigger problems when unchecked. Identify what you can address and work on now.
- Reduce high intensity and high volume workouts- A few quality workouts per week is sufficient right now (2-3). High intensity and high volume can run down your immune system and could put you at increased risk. Physical stress coupled with mental stress add up. Now is not the time to ramp up your training. Hopefully in a few weeks we will have more firm data on what will happen.
- Minimize screen time- While following the news and staying connected are important, limiting time on screens, both big and small, will clear some space and time for us.
A couple of weeks of reduced training may be a blessing in disguise. When the weather warms up is when people often push themselves too much. Neal’s advice is to take some pressure off of yourself, dial it back and take care of those things that we can control.
LeadBoat Stories #5: Healthy Fear
She began cycling in her early thirties and has a passion for proving that if you commit and put your mind to doing something, then you can. “I’m competitive. Sometimes to a fault. Ok- I’m definitely, definitely over-competitive”.
Kristen is drawn to the simplicity and joy of racing, even when it gets hard. “I love that to succeed, you need to persevere through some amount of suffering, or a lot of suffering, and come out on the other side. It’s mental and intellectual and so basic all at the same time.” She finds that the races are so exhilarating because of the combination of layers and challenges.
“I just inherently love racing. Even when I hate it. Racing itself is joy, even when it’s awful.”
She compares the feeling to when she was pregnant with her daughter and wondering how much labor was really going to hurt, but also knowing she couldn’t avoid it. “I’m not a pro and I have an amazing coach and a great support network, but there is a lot to figure out to make it all go smoothly- from logistics just getting our bikes out there, to race logistics such as fuel, recovery, you name it. This is a whole new level of challenge.”
“Growth is power, pursuing higher thresholds and harder races because of the journey and training is power. Conquering fear is power”.
Kristen praises the ‘good’ in fear. “It’s healthy, it’s natural, it’s your brain trying to protect you. The mistake is when we let fear stop us.”
“Feeling fear and assessing it is healthy.”
Follow Kristen at: https://www.instagram.com/kmmheath/
Though Larissa has made a name for herself in the endurance sports world, the past couple of years haven’t been the smoothest ride. “I worked my way up to racing the World Cup XCO, and had a blast traveling all over to race bikes including the 2016 World Championship in Nove Mesto. At the end of that year a really unfortunate situation caused me to walk away from XC racing, but fortunately after a year of recovery and soul-searching I decided not to give up bike racing altogether and started competing in ultra-endurance mountain bike races.”
“After 8 hours in a rural hospital where no one spoke English, a dead cell phone and no shirt I escaped to the race hotel, flew home and promptly spent 3 months feeling like I was dying. I thought that was the end of my bike racing career, but it turns out after 3 weeks off the bike my body had decided it was time to make a baby. I wasn’t dying, I was pregnant.”
“I was undefeated in the 100-mile races for two seasons in a row, but taking a year off to recover from Rhabdo and having a surprise baby is making me feel super vulnerable because I no longer feel like an athlete.”
“I’m going outside of my comfort zone because I’m used to feeling fit and having tons of base fitness, and I have none of that this season.”
Larissa feels that LeadBoat is the perfect goal because it’s humbling, scary, and exciting. When it comes to racing, the unknown is what she is most afraid of. “I know my worth as an athlete doesn’t come from results, but it felt damn good to be one of the best ultra-endurance mountain bike racers in the U.S. I knew at the start of every race that I had a good chance of winning, and I felt strong, confident, and prepared. This year there is so much unknown. My fitness is so different than it was last year at this time. Not feeling prepared and not knowing if I can get to that place in time is crazy scary.”
“If you aren’t scared at the start line are you really going to go beyond yourself on that day?”
“Fear is a healthy feeling that your brain uses to keep you out of trouble, but also an indication that what you are attempting is new, bigger, harder, faster, and more challenging than anything you’ve done before. Fear helps motivate you to prepare properly, and to train, fuel, and recover in a way that will lead to accomplishing a goal but also makes the outcome more awesome when you succeed.”
“If I stayed in my comfort zone, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten Rhabdo, but I for sure also wouldn’t have gotten a baby”.
“If you are scared, embrace it. Let yourself feel the fear, think about what exactly you are scared of, then think of your plan to tackle it.”
Kristen Mucitelli-Heath and Larissa Connors show us that facing your fears pushes you to new limits to discover what you’re capable of. Fear is inevitable, but learning to manage and tackle it makes you unstoppable.
LeadBoat Stories #4: Taking Up Cycling Later in Life
Although Nan and Cliff haven’t been racing bikes since their youth, they are full bore cyclists now! We are inspired by their determination and motivation to prepare for the #LeadBoatChallenge.
Although Nan started riding a bike when she was 48 years old, her palmares are impressive. She competed in her first gravel race at the age of 51 and won her first 200-mile road race when she was 2 months shy of her 52nd birthday. In 2018, she won the 50+ age group at Dirty Kanza. In 2019, she placed 2nd in the SBT GRVL 50+ category.
“I am and have always been inspired by far fetched goals and in particular the journey it takes to get there – especially if it involves learning how to do something I don’t yet know how to do (like MTB for LeadBoat).”
Nan states that she came into cycling late in life because she was doing other things that had nothing to do with physical activity.
“Ever since I got on a bike and started to challenge myself – my life has been transformed and I have been able to do things for myself and for others I never thought possible before.”
*Photo credit: Linda Guerrette
“I’ve thought a lot about the LeadBoat Challenge – it scares the heck out of me. But I have grown to embrace that feeling.”
“Most of the things I am most proud of have never involved my making it to the podium. They are the times when everything went wrong – mechanicals, weather, injuries etc. When I was sure I’d lost the race and wanted to just cash out, but I didn’t quit, I kept going and I finished.”
“Overcoming that terrible feeling, beating out that voice in your head that wants you to quit is the best win of all.”
“What excites me most about LeadBoat is the journey and what it’s going to take be ready. The physical, mental and emotional demands are going to be more complex than anything else I’ve done before. I’m really looking forward to training to be the strongest all around athlete I’ve ever been in my life.”
Follow Nan at: https://www.instagram.com/nandoyal/
Prior to picking up cycling, Cliff was a ski racer and tennis player in New England. Somewhere along the way, Cliff and his wife Susie discovered cycling: “Perhaps that is what drew me to cycling – there is a component where you control your own destiny — but the difference in cycling is that the community around you can and WILL get you through a race…to a destination…or at the very least to a bike shop. I have witnessed that firsthand and have been a beneficiary of all three as well! Cycling = community.”
“I view this challenge as a privilege and many of us have different journeys as we train. I have 2 great boys, an amazing wife, a very demanding job…and travel a bit. Challenging? Sure. But everyone will have their different means of getting to the start line.”
Cliff applies this philosophy to time and experiences with his family, advancing his professional development, attempting new challenges and taking measured risks. Cliff sees the fearlessness in his boys and always tries to take a sliver of that in everything that he does.
LeadBoat Stories #3: Balancing Training with a Demanding Career
Myles is a 47 year old pediatrician with a successful and busy practice. He’s also a dad to three girls (yay #parity!). It’s not surprising that working to find balance is a priority. He started riding 10 years ago by commuting during his residency. His experience at the Irreverent Road Ride in Vermont has served as his training grounds, and more than likely helped him come to the conclusion that he has what it takes to finish 250 tough miles in two days
He’s “Just kind of winging it. No training partners, no coach. No sponsors. Not many hills or dirt roads in Rhode Island sadly – but lots of coffee and double IPAs.”
Spare time fun? Well, he does have some time, and when he does, he enjoys double IPAs, baking pizza and sourdough bread.
To make her training time the most efficient, Kristin works with CTS’s coach Renee Eastman. Structure is key when life schedules are super busy. “LeadBoat will be the ultimate focus for this new level of my process in 2020! To say I’m stoked is the understatement of the year.”
“I loved the way SBT GRVL used their event as a vehicle for positive change when it came to parity in cycling. Equal prize purse, and the permission and invitation that occurred with the event when it reopened registration in Feb. 2019 to invite 200 more women to join…. It was amazing to see the before, during and now, the after, of this effort. I feel strongly that LeadBoat is furthering that momentum! I’m incredibly grateful that I was chosen to do the event!”
Follow Kristin on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/kc.carpediem/
LeadBoat Stories #2: Winter Training in Snow Country
“I accept that in comparison, my training volume is less than many of my peers, and I’m good with that. Right now, I make my training count, but I save some reserves for those I cherish, and have faith in the process for the rest. A week off the bike can feel hard this time of year, but nothing is more important than invested family time; plus some long ski days have me feeling tired just same”.
“I’ll put my nose down most of the month of February with my structured work indoors on my Feedback trainer, and hope some days may allow me to get outside on the road with my MTB for unstructured riding, weather dependent”.
“I make skiing with my daughter a priority and try my best to embrace the seasons and maintain a healthy balance knowing I have time. As the weather changes, longer training days become more achievable and makes Leadboat possible with it being a later season event”.
“My trainer is my fat-bike. During the week when I get 90 mins to 2 hrs to train before the sun comes up a couple days a week, I will go climb some hills. On the weekends when I get a bit more time, I’ll try to keep it a little flatter and just spin some slow, fat miles. The weather has to be very bad for me not to go out”.
“I’m also in the gym three times a week where I can put some intensity into my sessions. I put a big emphasis into my recovery so I can put in the hard yards and stay injury free”.
Follow Graham on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/graham.bush.muir/
LeadBoat Stories #1: Overcoming Adversity
Two days, 250 miles and nearly 20,000 feet of high altitude climbing. It’s an alchemy of the two of the most revered off-road road cycling events in North America. One of America’s toughest, grittiest mountain bike races followed by an equally challenging 144 mile gravel race.
For the 2020 LeadBoat Challenge athlete, this is more than a test of mental and physical fortitude on the bike. For some of our athletes, just making it to the start line will be a victory.
We are featuring two athletes who have shown resilience to overcome adversity. Enjoy these inspirational stories of Meg Fisher and Jay Thomas who will be taking on the #LeadBoatChallenge in August.
At age 19, Megan (Meg) Fisher was a promising Division 1 tennis player with the world at her fingertips. While on her way to start her second year of college, Meg’s life took a drastic turn for the worse. She was involved in a car accident that almost killed her and changed her life forever. While lying in a coma, Meg had her leg amputated in order to save her life.
“Before bikes were a part of my life, I was involved in a horrible car accident that stole the life of my first love and my left leg. I awoke from my coma to a new reality.”
Following the accident, Meg was forced to
re-learn some of life’s most basic tasks – eating, standing, and walking. In a true testament to her work ethic, Meg returned to college and competed in her first triathlon just one year following the accident.
LeadBoat, however, is a totally different animal and a true test of endurance and grit. When asked about taking on LeadBoat, Meg was confident and inspired:
“I relish a challenge. Very rarely in our adult lives do we get to try something entirely new with the outcome unknown. LeadBoat is a huge challenge.”
“I can’t hide my physical scars and I hope others will see elements of their story reflected in me. Additionally, I hope others can take a piece from my journey and use it to fuel theirs.”
With Meg’s determination and competitive drive, there’s no doubt she’ll take on the LeadBoat challenge in stride. We look forward to following along on her journey to the start line on August 15 & 16.
Follow Meg on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/megfisher/
For 51 year old Jay Thomas, his route to the LeadBoat startline has taken a different path. During his day-to-day, Jay balances a demanding work life, owning two successful businesses in the bike industry and committing to his family as a dedicated father and husband. Life is seemingly normal, but for Jay, there’s more than meets the eye.
“After that crash, something in my head snapped. I realized I had been holding in deep, challenging memories from my past. And all of the sudden, they surfaced.”
Overcoming alcoholism and treating his PTSD was a major life hurdle for Jay. A little over a year ago, he picked up the bike and began riding again. He reached out to an old coach who got him back on track and fit. He began feeling like himself again. He’s been sober since 2017 and prepared to take on his first bike race since 2012: the LeadBoat Challenge. For Jay, LeadBoat is more than just two hard days on the bike, it’s a chance to talk about bigger issues.
“I want to bring awareness to mental health issues. These are real issues and we can’t keep them silent. Particularly for us Marines, we are told we can’t talk about this stuff, but I want to change that.“
“For me it’s much more about my internal demons and giving myself something physical that will keep them at bay. No doubt the challenge and the adventure at the age of 50 will certainly help with that.”
With a reinvigorated appetite for competition and the personal momentum of overcoming his battle with alcoholism, Jay’s motivation to ride is higher than ever. He’s no stranger to intense competition, but this time, his journey takes on more meaning than ever before.
Follow Jay on Instagram at: www.instagram.com/jaythomas69