I Have Stopped Racing and Started Doing “Projects”(But Not Around the House)

I listened to The Gravel Lot podcast with famous ultra-endurance athlete, John Stamstad, a couple years back.  Stamstad had some very good life advice that has stuck with me, which I paraphrase: “you can have three out of four things in life as an adult endurance athlete: (1) a great married life/great life with a significant other; (2) a great relationship with your children; (3) a great career; or (4) a passion.”  If you want the advice from the Zen Master himself, go to 49:20 of The Gravel Lot’s interview of Stamstad which you can find on Youtube here or on their website here.  There are certainly outliers to that observation who can balance all four, but his advice certainly rings true in my life.

My racing schedule has been curtailed so much in the past twenty years, that I can’t even call it a racing schedule any more.  About five years ago, I stopped calling them “races” altogether.  I started referring to them as “Projects”.  And I have no more than three to five “Projects” in a given year. A Project has the following criteria: it must be fun, it must be something I look forward to, it must be realistic, and it must be obtainable or “doable” based on my training volume.  The fun criterion keeps it fresh and invites variation.  My Project might be a big gravel race (Michigan’s Coast to Coast) or a super hard Gran Fondo (Garett County Double Diablo) or a single-minded Time Trial.

I rarely talk about my “Projects” with friends.  Most of my discussions about “Projects” occurs silently between my ears.  Referring to a race as a Project in my mental dialogues took more than a little of the edge off the stress of preparing for it.  It also represented a sea change in my attitude the other 364 days a year, especially when I was not training.

A Project is something I can take off the shelf and work on when the rest of my life permits.  If family and career obligations take center stage, I put the Project back on the shelf.  I can only be as fast as my (aging) genetics and training volume permit.  If the volume goes down because I have to earn a living or be a Dad/Husband/Son/Brother/Uncle, so be it.  I was never paid to race, and I am certainly not getting paid to race now.

I knew going into 2023 that it was going to be a Big Year in the Carville Household: we were looking forward to a Senior Tennis Season, a Senior Football Season, a Senior Lacrosse Season, a bunch of college visits, a long-planned Graduation Party, followed by the Grad Party Circuit, all topped off with a June 16 Wedding of a mountain biking niece in Colorado, which I had the honor of officiating. That is a lot of #1 and #2 of the four options Stamstad talked about in the podcast.

Knowing we had a full Life Calendar going into 2023, I cleared the decks.

No racing at all in 2023 until the July 13 and 14 National Senior Games for me.  I qualified last year so all I had to do was get trained up for two events: a 5K Time Trial and a 10K Time Trial.  I would not need big, long rides to get ready, just sharpen the sword.  My structured training was focused on very hard, but short efforts, for obvious reasons.  I saw some of my peak 60-second efforts going into mid-July.

However, 2023 really tested my Project-mentality.  I thought we were all collectively past the Pandemic, and I foolishly surmised that 2023 would be smooth sailing into July with a lot of fun once-in-a-lifetime milestones.  Karma had something else in mind.

In early 2023 my sister-in-law passed away after some lengthy health complications.  Soon after that, one of my best friends in the entire world fell ill with mysterious heart symptoms and his team of doctors told him he would need a heart transplant or face certain death.  To make things worse, he had to stay in a hermetically sealed, but very nice, hospital room for weeks and weeks until a donor heart was available.

Those two events, and their fallout, took over most of my nonwork life from January through May.  The silver lining to those two events is that my sister-in-law, really a sister to me, died a peaceful and dignified death on her terms.  And my good friend avoided a heart transplant and is now back to work and home with his beautiful wife and dogs.

To be honest, my workouts were a bit of an escape this year.  But I was not going into them with fire in my belly setting PR’s with each workout.  I felt like shit most days because I was very anxious and not sleeping well.  I was satisfied with what I could manage on that day, no more.  I was taking my Project off the shelf, working on it with what I had in the tank, then I put it back on the shelf as I focused on some Real-Life-Stuff.

The National Senior Games in Pittsburgh represented an opportunity to race just as much as an opportunity to get away from Real-Life-Stuff. I brought a cheering section with me: my beautiful wife and my parents.

When I crossed the finish line in each event, I knew I had put in a hard effort. Both courses were hilly, which made pacing more difficult. One could have easily blown up on a climb and been cooked for the rest of the course. The good news is that I took Bronze in the 5K and Silver in the 10K.  I performed within a handful of watts of my training efforts in both disciplines. However, I went into both events hoping (really planning) that I would have two of my best days of the year.  I didn’t.  And that is a good thing. I took my Project off the shelf, worked on it, then put it back.  The rest of the time I spent taking in the sights, laughing, enjoying good meals, and . . .  just being with family.

Pedaling Squares, Episode 5: John Gatch, Cofounder of Two Johns Podcast

In this Episode of Pedaling Squares, we talk with John Gatch.  John Gatch is a lifetime bike racer, bike mechanic, race promoter, race director, francophile, world traveler, EMT, husband, and father.  We talk about all of the above and get some intel on his VO2 Max – you will be impressed.  As an aspiring Podcaster, I was able to pick his brain about his podcast, Two Johns Podcast, which he co-founded with “John K.”, his long-time riding and racing mate.  The Two Johns Podcast is, to my knowledge, the longest-running Cycling Podcast on the interwebs.  Enjoy!


Pedaling Squares, Episode 3: Peter Wimberg, Cycling Coach, USA Cycling Level 1 Coach, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Certified Personal Trainer

Pedaling Squares Through a MAMIL’s Life is a Youtube Channel about endurance sports, from a Master (er, middle-aged) Athlete’s perspective.  My focus is that of a MAMIL or a middle-aged man in lycra.

It is February.  December and January tend to be about setting racing and fitness goals – usually from the comfort of our couches. February through November (if you race cyclocross) is about execution.  But if you don’t have A PLAN to execute, you are never going to achieve those goals.  And goals are very, very individualized.  If we had the engine to race at the World Tour level, we would know that by now.

Endurance sports are about rounding us out as busy people with spouses, children, jobs, and extended families.  Our goals should reflect that reality.  Most of us did not race the World Tour (or compete in other professional sports), but we should still chase a dream or two outside of work and family life.

What is the best way to realize those athletic dreams?  Hire a Coach!

A Coach will individualize your training program, tailor that program to your goals, and mentor you along the way to achieving them.

And that is where Peter Wimberg comes in.  When he is not running a successful landscaping business, and when he is not playing the drums, and when he is not training and racing himself, he is coaching loads of endurance athletes which includes a MAMIL like me.  Peter does not need a lot of sleep.

You can find Peter’s coaching website here and his blog here.

Please enjoy an hour or so of our conversation about structured training, improving fitness as a Masters’ Level Athlete, and achieving individual goals in Episode Three of Pedaling Squares Through a MAMIL’s Life.

Pedaling Squares, Episode 2: Dawn Weatherwax, RD, CSSD, LD, ATC, CSCS, MET 1

What is Pedaling Squares?

Pedaling Squares Through a MAMIL’s Life was intended to be a podcast about two of my favorite things: Bikes and Beer.  Someday soon we will get back to my love of beer.  Suffice it to say that coordinating breweries, brewmasters,  and nearby Strava Segments was harder than I realized.  When I have more time on my hands I will get back to those projects.  My first episode was a COVID-inspired attempt to get things rolling without the benefit of actual brewmasters:

Between a pandemic and opening a law firm, my podcasting aspirations took a back seat to earning a living and riding my bike.  So I am back, with a slightly new approach to podcasting. Pedaling Squares will continue to be about one of my two favorite things: riding a bike.

More broadly, the Channel will be about endurance sports, from a Masters (er, middle-aged) Athlete’s perspective.  My focus will be that of a MAMIL.  For the uninitiated, a MAMIL is a “middle-aged man in lycra.” The Channel is intended to have a broad audience of endurance athletes, mostly middle-aged, but I will not be able to resist the pull of the bike.  So I apologize in advance for that likely drift.  Perhaps a better way to characterize the channel is podcasting for an audience of master-aged cyclists that has broader application to most endurance athletes.

So with that introduction out of the way, my first video of 2022 tackles a topic that is on most athletes’ minds in January of any year: the dreaded weight gain over the holidays.  For the less-monastic among us, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year presented a well-earned opportunity to spend time with loved ones that usually involved delicious food and an extra beer or two, or more…  Those extra calories lead to extra pounds.  Over the years I have learned to accept this reality rather than fret about it.  They call it an offseason for a reason.  I, for one, don’t make a living racing a bike and I suspect you don’t either.  So, you got to live a little – within reason.

Cycling is a sport replete with eating disorders at its highest level.  And maybe calling them eating disorders is a bit of a stretch.  Guys and gals who get paid to ride are acutely aware of a Mathematical Reality: extra pounds means lower power-to-weight ratios and lower power-to-weight ratios can mean slower times.  So strict dieting is a reality for those in the rarified air of professional cycling.  But that does not mean nutrition is not important for the rest of us – especially those of us who are chasing podiums and leaderboards on Strava!  Your power-to-weight ratio is a very real reality to any cyclist going uphill.  For runners, swimmers, and any other athlete in a timed event, also known as a race, pre-race and race day nutrition is important.  All of this brings me to my first guest on Pedaling Squares, Dawn Weatherwax.

Dawn Weatherwax, RD, CSSD, LD, ATC, CSCS, MET 1

Dawn is my Nutritionist, so let me plug her from experience. Dawn a Licensed Dietitian with a specialty in Sports Nutrition and Founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go.  She is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, which is the premier professional sports nutrition credential in the United States. She is the author of Three Books: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sports Nutrition, Sports Nutrition Guide for Young Athletes, and The Official Snack Guide for Beleaguered Sports Parents.  And, she is a frequent presenter on Nutrition at a local and national level.

In this interview, we tackle “hack” diets and their limitations for endurance athletes.  And from a master’s athlete’s perspective, we talk about the importance of calculating one’s actual resting metabolic rate.  Many websites use a logarithm with assumptions about one’s age.  While a given logarithm may be accurate based on ages 15 to 35 years old, a significant amount of variability in the population starts to set in after 40, 50, 60, and so on. This is especially the case in lifelong athletes.  Many of the canned logarithms may be underestimating your resting metabolic rate.  Dawn has the hardware to calculate an actual, not assumed resting metabolic rate – the rate one is consuming most of his or her calories.  Strava, Garmin Connect, Wahoo, and Training Peaks can tell you what you burned during a given workout – that is the easy part.  Relying on a website to calculate how many calories you are burning while at work and asleep can end up being an exercise (pun intended) in guesswork. We also discussed the importance of measuring fat and lean muscle tissue and the effect of age on both and more.

Dawn brings a wealth of experience to the discussion.  My only limitation was Dawn’s time.  She promised to come back for more, so if you have ideas for future points of discussion please leave them in the comment section.

If you want to reach out to Dawn directly you can find her on all the socials: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Instagram.

So, please wake up your Smart Trainer or Treadmill and have a listen to my conversation with Dawn:

You know the drill: please don’t forget to like and subscribe!