Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Inferno: Re-beginnings

After a seven year break from ultra-endurance racing, I made the decision this year to re-enter the sport -- and hopefully in grand style! Following the realization of a dream at the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii in 2000, I was a bit burnt out from six years of training for Ironmans and lots of solo training miles. I turned my attention to mountain biking, Scuba, snowboarding and continued to ride my road bike, but not with the same training intensity and focus as during the racing years. For several reasons though, 2007 suddenly lit up as the right year to re-enter the sport. I'm not one for easing into pursuits, so I picked a race in Europe that included the description:

"The INFERNO Triathlon is with its 5'500 metres height difference one of the hardest in the world and is already considered one of the classics."

Yes, perfect. Even better, it's really a quadathlon -- following a swim in a mountain lake, we will road bike, then mountain bike, and then ... well, climb a mountain.

When describing what draws me to this race, I've told my work colleagues and friends "it's a quest for work-life balance." I think that the best counter-reply was "Jeff, some people find work life balance by leaving the office at 5 or grabbing a beer with friends." Well-said -- and I agree -- I want that and a crazy race to train for! Seriously though, it's an ultra distance event in a stunning, stunning mountain setting. Those who know me can see the instant attraction -- once I discovered the race and saw the alpine scenery and photos of competitors on a steep mountain trail, I just couldn't resist.

A major change I made in this pursuit though is to hire an top-notch coach, Lisa Smith-Batchen. Lisa is a champion endurance athlete with a stunning list of achievements that includes being the
first and only American female to win the Marathon des Sables in its 18 year history, two first place finishes at the Badwater Ultramarathon, and a finish at the Badwater Double Ultramarathon (nearly 300 miles of running!). She also has a great reputation as an online coach, so following an intro phone call to kick things off, I was quite happy that she took me on as a client. It has been an eye-opening experience working with Lisa and I'm now wondering what potential I left untapped in years of prior training and events! I started my coaching with Lisa just over a month ago and can't say enough about how helpful she has been in structuring my training, providing guided motivation, and ensuring that I'm getting the most out of my training approach.

My training for this race unofficially started when Becky and I spent a week cycling in the region near Girona, Spain right at the tail end of winter.
Girona was an awesome experience -- now we know why many professional cyclists spend much of their time with Girona as their training base. Following a week trying to regain our climbing legs and enjoy the stunning Mediterranean scenery, we returned to Holland. Next up was discovery of excellent cycling roads (with hills, yes hills!) in the southern part of the Netherlands and Belgium. Becky and I, along with our friend Scott Spaulding, had a great ride on the amateur's go at the Amstel Gold race course in April and followed it up with biweekly treks (via train) to Maastricht, where we continue to discover endless narrow and steep 1/2 mile climbs.

Our next big event is a ride called La Marmotte in France (early July). It's a classic, complete with climbs on several of the Tour de France's most famous mountains (Col du Glandon, Col du Galibier, and l'Alp d'huez). It'll be a long and tough ride, but when the French Alps are only an 80 minute flight away, I won't be complaining about a thing and can't pass up a chance to have a go at this hallowed cycling ground.

That's all for now! Oh yeah, there's another race on my calendar for next spring, but I think I'll make its unveiling a surprise, else you'll surely think I've lost my mind!


Tuesday, May 22, 2007


We first heard of the town of Girona on the 'Lance Chronicles' prior to the 2005 Tour de France. Girona (in the Catalan region of northern Spain) serves as the off-season home for many pro-cyclists. For many years, this was Lance's home-away-from-home and primary training ground. At the close of our first Dutch winter, we were desperately seeking hills and sunny skies, so we decided to kick off our 2007 cycling season with a week of self-directed 'training camp' in Girona.

We took the relatively quick flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona, rented a van large enough to fit our bike cases, and headed north along the Mediterranean for a couple hours. Our first impression of Girona was honestly that of disappointment. It's not a small village, but a real city with a combination of industry, sprawl, barred-windows, and mid-evil remnants that surprised and confused us. Once we discovered the interior of the city though, our impressions quickly changed. From within the city walls, Girona is very charming: cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and a 'feel' that's hard to describe (it just draws you in, sets you back many centuries, and encourages you to stroll for hours, even in the rain).

Aside from our time enjoying tranquil walks through Girona and local Catalan wine, we were on our bikes, exploring the foothills of the Pyrenees and the coastal mountains along the Med. Notable moments include a run-in with a sleet storm on what the locals refer to as Lance's favorite training route. We were in a fairly remote area about an hour into a climb and before we knew it, the rain turned into ice pellets that turned the road surface white. We made a painfully slow descent until we found an abandoned brick structure that we could take shelter in. We were very wet and very cold, so I cut apart an old couch to make some extra insulation to stuff in our jackets. This helped us descend in a tiny bit more comfort to the nearest village where a couple of espressos and a Cognac lit the remaining internal fire and made the final rainy descent possible. It was a near-epic ride, yet those make the best memories! Fortunately, the weather improved later in the week and we returned to finish the climb and several others in that area. Now we know why any cyclist would place this area on their list of the best-- beautiful views, no traffic, and endless climbs and descents!

Our favorite ride of the week though took us from Girona to the coast and back. We biked a section along the Mediterranean known for its 360 curves. Of course, the scenery was so stunning (and the weather so perfect) that we had to "add-on", so we made it a 540-curver with a mid-coast exit that took us up a steep, rock-strewn road further into the mountains. It's just so hard to say no to a stretch of pavement that goes up! The pay-off was breath-taking views of the Mediterranean (thanks to no guard rails!) and a long and thrilling descent back toward Girona.

Check out our photo gallery for more pictures of Girona and our rides in the surrounding area. All in all, it was a great week of cycling and absorbing the local atmosphere. We look forward to returning, but hope that we've paid our dues with enduring the ice once and will have only sunny sky visits in the future!


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lotus Elise

This clip is an intro to a video I put together in June 2005. I filmed it with a 'Bullet Cam' mounted creatively on Gary's Lotus Elise as we road-tripped from Baltimore to Montreal and back. Great fun in a great car. I hope you enjoy the video!