Back to sports eight weeks after delivery – serious cycling on the Nockalm Road

By Spinning Mum:

Wohooo! I am back on track :) And a lot has happened during the past few weeks, so let me share my plans and experiences with you.

After a bunch of early morning sessions and several long rides on the weekends I am now officially back in the saddle and my new playmate – the oh so racy BMC RM01 I got late last year – won’t collect any more dust hanging on our bedroom wall. Instead it will be seen in it’s natural habitat a lot these days since I giddily signed up for my first cycle marathons ever after I came home from my first 100+ km tour this season.

Shortly after the endorphins wore off I was close to admitting myself to a mental institution for making such a lightheaded decision. But by then the admission fee was already paid for and I told myself that if I can run a mountain marathon with only two weeks of half-assed training on the treadmill, I might as well survive the ~60km routes of the Carinthia Cycle Marathon this month and the Garmin Velothon in June.

With only a few days left, I am currently using every minute I can spare to prepare myself for these ordeals. So let’s see if my plan works out…

The good thing about the baby alarm which by now goes off almost precisely at 04:30 a.m. is, that I am all geared up and ready to hit the road for two hours around fivish which surprisingly does not bother me all too much. In fact, I really enjoy the peace and quiet knowing that Kai is dealing with the daily morning madness of getting both kids dressed and fed. If you have young kids too, you know that this could be a bigger challenge than riding a Dutch bicycle with two flat tires. Especially now that Konstantin is walking and enjoying his newfound independence, the difficulty level of putting him into fresh nappies is comparable to catching a salmon with bare hands.

But seriously, taking turns in using the early morning hours to work out enables both of us to squeeze in some training no matter what the day will bring, e.g. long office hours (5 out of 7 nights); the feeling of being at the edge of a nervous breakdown due to a cranky toddler who is trying to use his new teeth on your big toe whilst you are comforting a querulous newborn and thus almost accidentally prepare the family hamster for dinner (2 out of 7 nights) or simply the fact that it is raining cats and dogs outdoors and the bad weather bike is locked miiiiiles away in the basement (luckily a less frequent sensation)… ;)

So, what shall I say… heading towards the sunrise on top of a high-class racer, iPod in ear, just feels awesome and allows me to gather the energy I need in order to take care of the kids, manage the household, get a bit of freelance work done and – if I am lucky – write a blog post in the hours to come.

On the weekends Kai and I usually have to split up if we want to get some serious training. While one of us is holding the fort (or playground) the other can go for a long ride. Unfortunately, family time is therefore limited to the mealtimes and evenings but we will certainly put our Chariot to use regularly for trips at a lower intensity like we did the other day.

Another idea to spend quality time together in the future would be to define a nice destination for a day or weekend trip, mount the bike rack, pack the kids and take turns riding and driving along the way. We did not actually try this yet, but I believe that the Live Track function of my Garmin Edge 810 will ensure that that the rest of the family has an instant update about when to leave home in order to arrive at the designated venue roughly at the same time or where to pick up a totally exhausted spinning mum :)

So, as you can see you do not necessarily have to be a superhero to control the catch-22 situation of spending time with your family and participating in a time consuming sport. However, being with a supportive partner who (ideally shares your interests) helps you to check the tire pressure and to prepare the kids’ breakfast the night before, helps tremendously ;)

Initially, I wanted to write about my first training sessions and improvements throughout the my first four weeks of training at this point, but as usual, it took me almost a decade to finish this article and I do not want to bore you with endless statistics, while I have a much more interesting story to share:

Currently we are staying in the region where the Carinthia Cycle Marathon is going to take place next weekend, which enables us to get used to the altitude and to check out the routes. On this account I had the chance to ride the renowned Nockalm Road, which is part of the long marathon route, Kai is about to master.

Actually, I did not plan to engage in some serious climbing lunacy when we got here, as I wanted to save my power for the actual race on Sunday, but after Kai went for a training ride along this legendary pass road and came home totally exhausted but also loaded with endorphins I couldn’t resist trying to tackle it myself.

As mentioned, the Live Track function of my Garmin would enable Kai to come to my rescue anytime in case my legs would explode, so I had nothing to loose and started my epic journey early this morning in rainy weather from our holiday home close to the Turracher Höhe.

I was shortly considering to chicken out as I was not eager to ride steep descends and hairpin-bends on wet tarmac and was already peeing my pants anyways because I was scared of my weaker self. After all, I have never tried anything like this before. But in for a penny, in for a pound… Jaunty Spinning Mum had a mission to complete!

So, I left the warm and cozy cottage and had to start climbing right away in order to get to the beginning of the Nockalm Road. Getting there was already a little adventure itself since after a short 12% warm up climb a steep and winding descend of 24% led me to the actual starting point of today’s torture. What a dreadful but exciting experience! I couldn’t help but scream when the digits on my speedometer passed 75 km/h.

Luckily the rain stopped when I arrived at the actual starting point legs still shaking with fear. After a quick glance on the steep road in front me, I was literally asking myself what the hell I was doing. But since I was also shivering from the downhill airstream I thought it might be a good idea to brace up and start to sweat. And hey, I was really curious to find out why so many riders talk about the Nockalm Road in awe.

The first few kilometers were not as bad as I initially thought but once I passed the toll booth an average gradient of 10% led me up to the first summit and I was counting the serpentines to the top. I do not know how often I was screaming along these seemingly endless 12 km – at first because my legs were burning later because it started snowing shortly before I reached the first crest. WTF! Wearing shorts and leaving the leg warmers behind was not a good idea I suppose and suddenly it occured to me why the guy who came down the road wrapped up like an Eqyptian mummy gave me funny looks.

With chattering teeth I did not take the time to enjoy the scenery and just quickly gobbled up my first Squeezy Bar before I started my descend. A glance on my Garmin told me that the temperatures dropped to freezing 0 degrees Centigrade. Apparently these conditions were even too harsh for the marmots to leave their dens. Damn! Seeing some of these adorable little critters was one the main pull factors getting me up here.

Here’s a picture of what I did not see:

But only minutes later I had different things to worry about: the snow changed to hale (ouch!) and the airstream was numbing every uncovered bit of my body. Believe me, by now I was cursing and swearing aloud and I had to stop half way through the descend because I could not feel my fingers anymore and pulling the brakes became almost impossible. I can’t remember that I ever felt so cold before.

Thank god, the weather slowly improved and when I entered the second ascend I was feeling a bit less miserable. To my surprise I still wasn’t fully recovered when I reached the second summit though my heart rate went up to 175 bpm and the last few meters to the top were really challenging. But the Sufferfest decal saying ‘IWBMATTKYT’ (I will beat my ass today to kick yours tomorrow) I put on my top tube gave me the much needed motivation though my legs were burning and there was no lower gear left. And now guess what? Reaching the second last bend before the top, it started snowing again! As the marmots still were nowhere to be seen, I did not bother to sojourn at the top. Scared of slippery road conditions I quickly munched another energy bar trying not to look too jealous at two fellow maniacs with a support vehicle providing them with warm clothes. Lucky bastards!

Although the hailstorm failed to appear this time I had to pause the otherwise really nice descent again in order to defrost. And though I really wanted to complete the same route Kai finished the day before, I could not resist to ask him to pick me up. Freezing terribly and shaking like a leaf I continued my journey for another 10km after leaving the Nockalm Road until I hit the wall due to insufficient food intake. Thankfully Kai arrived just in time and found me the very same moment I decided to collapse on a bench on the wayside.

This is the point where I just did not want to go any further:

Looks as if Kai was speeding here a little too much before :)

Well, maybe I did not find out if I could have finished Kai’s route this time, but I am certain that I could have performed better if I would have watched my food intake and if I would have dressed wisely (lessons learned!), but I am extremely proud that I survived the Nockalm Road – which leaves me with a total of roughly 60km and a total altitude gain of 1,900m – just eight weeks after Johanna was born.

Guess, now that I know what I am capable of and survived all possible stages of freezing (freezing from anxiety, freezing from cold and freezing from exhaustion), I do not have to be scared of the upcoming events anymore… So, bring it on!

Team Alpecin 2013 Training Camp in Mallorca

By Cycling Dad:

Earlier this year, I hit jackpot as I got selected as one of the amateur riders to join Team Alpecin for one cycling season. So far, I received a bike worth more than I would ever have on my bank account, a professional bike fitting and support along the entire way to the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon in August and Endura Alpentraum in September.

This post is about the next goodie on the seemingly endless list of benefits for the chosen few. As part of the 2013 Team Alpecin package, I had a chance to spend one week in April along with eleven other lucky team riders at the Robinson Club Cala Serena on Mallorca. Mallorca is the largest island of the Spanish Balearic Islands archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea and has a reputation for being the Eldorado for road cyclists from all over Europe, because of its climate and diverse topography. After one week of riding on this beautiful island, I must agree. You’ll see why – but let’s start at the beginning of the trip.

You would not necessarily have to bring your own bike to Mallorca. There are dozen of rental stations all over the island that rent out everything from beginner’s to current high-end models. As a member of the 2013 Team Alpecin however, of course I wanted to bring the team bike along ;) .

As I did not travel a lot by air with my bike so far, I had to get some sort of transport box first. There are tons of choices available, but I figured the easiest thing to do would be to rent one from the local bike shop. In my case, I rented an EVOC bike travel bag from Bernhard Kohl’s bike store in Vienna. Time for a mini-review:

The EVOC is a huge soft-shell bag on wheels with reinforcements in strategic locations to protect your bike from impact during transport. You essentially have to take off the saddle, the pedals, rear derailleur, handlebar and take out the wheels. The wheels are secured in two separate compartments on the side of the bag, again with paddings and special reinforcements. It took me less than 30 minutes to get the bike disassembled and packed into the bag. As there still was a lot of space left in the bag, I also packed all my regular check-in baggage to the bike bag. Nice!

I took the Air Berlin Tuesday noon flight from Vienna to Palma de Mallorca and arrived to blue skies and 25 degrees temperature. What a bliss after a long, cold and dark winter! Mallorca, here I come!

It took a bit of waiting at the baggage claim, but after an hour or so the bike finally arrived. Next, I met Kei Uwe, my roommate for the week, at the airport. Before coming to Mallorca, we already worked out a nifty model for the rest of the day that would allow us to save money (airport shuttle would have cost 60 EUR per person) and spend time on the bike at the same time. Here’s how. First, we rented a car for half a day. Then we went to the hotel to assemble the bikes, drop off the bike boxes and change into cycling gear. We then headed back to the airport to return the car, taking the bikes with us. The ride back to the hotel already got us 70k on the very first day. The transfer set us back by 30 EUR in total expenses. Not bad.

We arrived to the hotel a bit late, immediately plundered the buffet and got to bed. The days ahead would be packed with activities!

I felt a bit guilty, as I lay there in the big hotel bed – slowly sinking into a restful sleep. Everything was quiet around me. My last thoughts were with Alex, who was struggling alone with our lively toddler Konstantin and newborn Johanna at home. Live is not fair.

Before I left, Alex reminded me time and again that I owe her a favor from this day. The day would come, and no matter what the request, I would have to grant her this favor. She seemed pretty serious about that… ah well, for now – good night world ;) .

8 hours of deep, deep sleep. Again, I woke up feeling a bit guilty thinking about the family at home. I made a short call to Alex. Her night was horrible. Both kids conquered the bed and gave her a tough night. Check out H is for Hell, provided by HowToBeADad.com for a remote visual reference… Alex then told me the fifth time that the day will come when she’ll ask me that one favor. Whatever it is… has to be done… shudder…

I decided to make the best of the current situation and joined Kei Uwe for breakfast. We met quite a few of the last few year’s riders at the buffet, who have been invited to come along from the team managers. Sort of a Team Alpecin Alumni Club! We also met our Sportive Director Jörg Ludewig and former Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich. Wow, what a start – we were completely starstruck!

At first we were expecting being introduced to the harsh dietary prescription of a cycling team in training camp. But there’s nothing further from that. Yes, there were epic tales of hunger during training camp from the former pros, including hotel room raids for hidden snacks and athletes eating directly from the buffet so that the team coaches could not count the calories. But at the same time Jan and Lude stunned us with their healthy appetites. We decided to join then and shuttled to and fro the buffet tables. The food at Robinson Club was absolutely amazing and I think I can proudly claim to have overeaten on every single meal that followed during the week. As it would later turn out, the training camp cost me 2 kilos on the scale… but it was worth it ;) .

After breakfast we got ready and went for a first ride with the team and our special guest Jan Ullrich. What an experience, riding next to him and chatting along. I can confirm that Jan is an all-around normal guy, apart maybe from his supernatural cycling talent. I am sure that even without any training he would be able to beat me up in any race.

The rest of the team arrived in the meantime, so I finally got the chance to get to know everybody. They assembled their bikes after lunch and we went on another group ride that same afternoon. We only covered roughly 40k, in order to get everyone acquainted to the new conditions. Time flew, as we rode and chatted the afternoon away. Soon, we were back at the hotel, got fresh, had a huge dinner and our first daily team meeting. The team management introduced us to our trainers Tim Böhme and Stefan Zelle from Radlabor.de along with the schedule for the coming days. During the first two days, there would not be much time for riding as we’d be busy taking pictures for RoadBIKE magazine and other media outlets. The rest of the week would be free for longer rides, a visit to the RoadBIKE festival in Playa de Muro and technical training. Happy and overeaten, we retired to our rooms and were looking forward to the next days like kids before their first day of school.

The third day started with another novum. Probably as a result of watching our eating habits, our trainers decided that we all needed to strengthen our core muscles. This was most likely in order to keep us from bursting apart after another sumptuous meal. Our trainers Tim and Stefan showed us some basic positions for strengthening the core body muscles and we followed their moves. We would repeat this early morning activity almost every day of the training camp. Needless to say that most of us were rewarded with sores from our neglected core muscles. However, professional experience and anecdotal evidence from the hobby athletes shows that well trained core muscles will be a key success factor during our epic ten-hour rides during the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon and the Endura Alpentraum Transalp Cycle Marathon.

As announced during the team meeting, we spent third and fourth day of the training camp with photo shootings. Unfortunately I can’t post the professional photos as they are not released yet. But I can assure you that they look stunning. They will be used in the upcoming RoadBIKE Magazine articles, and maybe I will be able to share them all with you in a few months. In any case, we had tons of time to enjoy the sunshine and hang out.

During the entire time, we were extremely well taken care of by our sponsors. Not only were we dressed head to toe in the finest Assos clothing, riding the 2013 Specialized S-Works Venge on devilish Lightweight Meilenstein Obermayer wheels, but there was also a seemingly unlimited supply of Squeezy Sports Nutrition to be consumed at will. Great stuff – I’ll post a detailed review soon.

Also, we had a team of world-class bike mechanics from Lightweight on service to help us make all final adjustments on our bikes and overhaul the bikes on first sign of wear. The mechanics service was also offered to the team Alpecin riders of the previous years who joined us during the training camp. It was absolutely splendid, and I need to take a moment to give a huge personal thank you to our team mechanics Oliver and Daniel. You guys are magicians on the wrenches ;) !

Once the photo sessions were done, we spent the rest of the training camp with some long rides that mainly focused on building base endurance. However, we also spent a few climbing sessions on Puig Sant Salvador, which is a large, beautiful hill in the South of the island with guesthouse-turned ancient monastery on top.

The road leading to the top is stunningly beautiful and first meanders through pine forest before giving a view across the island and the Mediterranean Sea.

The trainers introduced us to various interval training techniques and practiced fast descending with us, which was fun and gave everyone insights into ways how to safely improve the speed downhill. It was amazing to watch Jörg Ludewig taking on tight turns at high speeds, using skills honed in countless pro races. Also, we had a celebrity commentator with us as sprinter legend Marcel Wüst stopped by to share some of his wisdom with us.

On Friday, April 19th we went on one of our longest rides – 150k from Cala Serena to the RoadBIKE Festival in Playa de Muro and back through the heart of Mallorca. The scenery along the way was stunning and we rode in three large groups with a lot of the previous years’ Team Alpecin members. Jan Ullrich again joined this ride and there was a chance for everybody to have a picture taken next to him.

The RoadBIKE festival itself is a three-day, pop-up consumer fair right in the heart of Playa de Muro, one of the (Geman-speaking) cycling tourism hotspots on Mallorca. The big tour operators like Max Hürzeler Cycling Holidays have their main bases here. Some of the big brands in cycling give consumers a chance to experience their products first hand here, including Specialized, Sigma, Continental, Squeezy and Canyon to name but a view. Also, visitors have a chance to meet cycling stars first hand, including Eric Zabel and of course Jan Ullrich. It is quite a nice event, but what I found stunning (also considering that I am running an Austrian-based, English-language blog) was the fact that all communication on site was conducted in German. No sign of English or Spanish whatsoever. I wonder how many non-German speakers were lost along the way.

The rest of the week in the training camp brought more long rides, and a chance to enjoy the amenities of the Robinson club, including a splendid wellness area and the beautiful coastline. This place must be great for swimming during summer, but at this time of the year still was a bit chilly…

Also, there was a glitch in the secret cover-up operations of the secret billionaire lifestyle of a certain Swiss member of our team. The crew brought the yacht too close to the shoreline, so the rest of the team could catch a glimpse and establish the logical association to the owner. As a result, we all received personal invitations to his royal mansion in Switzerland for high-altitude training. We’re all looking forward to it, Matthias Count of Niederhäuser ;) !

For those of you who made it all the way to the end of this extremely long post, here’s a special goodie for you – a short video sum-up of some of our rides. It gives you the chance to experience parts of the training camp from the participant’s point of view. We had an amazing time. I would like to express a heartfelt thank you to all our sponsors and supporters, and of course our families at home who missed one week with their dads, husbands or girlfriends.

P.S.: I started writing this post on April 16. The date of publishing, today, is May 13. In other words, it took me almost a month to finish this post – a striking evidence of the challenge to manage family, profession, training and blogging next to each other. No wonder that there aren’t that many bike bloggers around. To those of you who can manage everything at the same time, here’s my respect and deep appreciation. You guys rock!

Cycling Parents Family Bike Ride

By Cycling Dad:

After three races over the last two weeks, my body is sending me signals that it’s time for a break. So Alex and I decided to take the kids out in their Chariot Child Carrier and made a short video about it.

What’s your recipe for happy kids?

Early morning workout for Cycling Parents

By Cycling Dad:

With two kids to look after, finding time for a workout has become more difficult. Essentially, every activity involving the children seems to take at least twice as much time as before. Alex is doing a great job taking care of Johanna and Konstantin, but I want to be there to support her on weekdays at least in the mornings and in the evenings, getting the kids ready for the day and ready for bed. So in order to be able to keep cycling, one has to be creative.

Bang! Wednesday morning, 5.22am. Cycling Dad sporting Lycra again, getting ready for a two-hour workout before getting the kids ready and heading to work. This shall be an experiment to figure out whether super-early workouts can be a viable option to get in some mileage during the week.

Johanna has kept us up more or less the whole night, demanding a fresh bottle of milk roughly every two hours. Her screaming then usually wakes up Konstantin, who figures that he might as well ask for a bottle. Today is an exception, and the sibblings’ wish for a lift to the big bed was granted.

Aren’t they adorable? It’s really difficult to leave the family behind in the warm bed, when you feel like curling up next to them and getting in an extra hour of sleep…

First stop before getting the bike ready was the kitchen. I picked up some easy to digest food – bananas, white bread and multi fruit juice. Coffee would’ve been nice, but I was eager to hit the road…

I left the house in complete darkness, using an excellent set of USB-chargeable Blackburn head and taillights (will post the review soon). Already around 6am, the sun already started to dawn. Paradoxically, watching sun dawns while riding my bike reminds me of a few memorable days in the summer of ’96, when I used to come home in the mornings after parties. Only that this time I wasn’t drunk :) .

The ride was beautiful, with birds singing all around and hardly any traffic on the roads. I even spotted a couple of deers right next to the road. However, in the absence of sunshine, this was one of the coldest rides this season. Make sure you dress warmly!

I rode for one hour and 50 minutes, 46k, covered 540m in elevation gain, burned through a bit more than 1000 kcal and arrived at work feeling fresh around 8.30 am. Not bad at all, especially considering that this would have been a week without any riding on weekdays. The experiment worked out. Super-early morning rides can be one component of our strategy to stay on the bike as Cycling Parents. Commuting to work by bike is the other. I will try to establish a routine from both shortly.

How about you? Do you go ride early in the morning, or commute to work? Let me know!