And so it ends. The 16 weeks(ish) of my Spencer-Paxson-Tries-to-Make-Me-Suck-Less-at-Climbing-and-Other-Things-Too program. I’d say it’s been a whirlwind, but really it’s been a hell of a challenge and it FEELS like it’s taken me four months to get here.
The question everyone seems to be asking me: Did it work?
Well, that depends on what the goals were. Looking back on my first post in this series, I wrote that more than any real quantifiable goal, I wanted to just suck less on my bike, and mostly on climbs. I wanted to be able to climb with my friends, not get flustered so easily when they ride so much harder than I do, and overall just enjoy group rides more. What makes a program like this interesting is that there were very few quantitative measurements. No power meters. No heart rate. No watts. All of it was mental. “How do you feel,” I would ask myself as if I were propped haphazardly on a Shrink’s couch after each ride trying to dissect what went well and what didn’t.
Basing a structured training program on feel alone is very unconventional, but we decided to do this for a couple of reasons: both Spencer and I are very cerebral and analytical thinkers, and I’m also someone who commits hard to anything. If I’m in…I’m really in, so it seemed like we would be able to see results without having massive charts and graphs and spreadsheets full of data in front of us.
We tackled this by doing a mix of high-intensity interval workouts on the trainer. Normally I’d lose my mind spinning on a trainer when I could be outdoors, but Ma Nature blessed (???) us with a crapload of lowland snow this winter so I had six weeks to really focus on the trainer and develop that base strength. These came pretty easy to me. I like routine and was able to hammer these workouts out while digesting 14 freaking seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (I’m not even joking). Before too long, the 4×4′ at 70-80% didn’t feel like death and I was able to do 2x 4×4′. Improvement! On top of the trainer, I’m do a lot of yoga and stretching so keeping mobility high was key. The last key was to embrace the winter, so I bought a splitboard and went on some great uphill adventures. Turns out going uphill on snow is way more fun than uphill on a bike… but I digress.
When all the snow finally melted and I was able to start riding again, I started checking off little milestones. Rides that were hard 4 months ago felt slightly less hard. Climbs that seemed daunting were now just a thing I could mentally handle. They were still hard, but not soul-crushingly challenging, and I considered that a massive victory. I had PRs on Strava segments that I’ve ridden hundreds of times, both up and down hill. I also noticed an unconscious change as a result of this training, too. I found myself riding with different people of different speeds and abilities. I was riding with people that weren’t on such a hammer fest. I was riding with people who just really freaking love to ride bikes. I still had occasional rips with my fast crew, but found a new joy in riding farther, longer, and for no other purpose than just to ride.
This was perhaps the thing that helped me more than anything else, because as I found out when I rode with the fast crew, they’re still faster. I’m still off the back, though maybe slightly more within earshot of their conversations. But, whatever. My mental game had an evolution. I cared less about being right there, and more about laughing, enjoying the views, and taking bonus laps because my legs felt strong enough to do it. That! That is a victory! So when a couple of my girlfriends decided to join their own Spencer-Paxson-School-For-People-That-Can’t-Climb-Good-And-Wanna-Learn-To-Do-Other-Things-Good-Too program, I had buddies who dove into the same mentality. We trained to learn to love the hard parts more. We trained to learn to love riding with each other more. We trained to learn to just love riding more, no matter what speed we were going or how freaking steep the fire road got.
This all culminated in one of their final test rides last weekend. Spencer loosely told one of them that was training for a downhill race to go pedal her ass off and then ride some of Bellingham’s most challenging descents. This would put her in the physical hurt locker, but require a mental fortitude that it takes to win and be really freaking strong. When she messaged me about this insane route she had roughed together, I didn’t hesitate. I was in. I estimated 30 miles and around 6,000 feet of climbing. That’s 1500 feet more and 7 miles more than my biggest ride, but I felt up to the task.
Days before we were set to leave, another friend working with Spencer decided she wanted to join us, too. She loathed climbing the way I did. We all had this weird stake in the game. Mine was putting aside my mental demons for a long day. Katie’s was just to see how far she could go and be ok with failure if it came to that. Lauren’s was just to finish and feel mentally strong enough to race her big upcoming event. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of our ride, but I will tell you that we learned something critical. On the scale of 1-10 perceived exertion, we all excelled at Level 2. “Team Two” we dubbed ourselves. “We will climb every climb at a 2, so we can make these transitions with enough power and strength to really enjoy the descents.”
And hot damn! Climbing at a 2 forever is EASY! I felt like a freaking superstar! I cruised, sang songs, whistled, chatted my friend’s ears off. I became a version of Mindy! I chugged and chugged and ate everything in my pack and drank all the water, and at the end of the day, the 30.1 miles and just over 6,000 feet felt damn good. That amount of vert coupled with some seriously spicy descents that required me lugging around my chin bar for my helmet had me feeling like, yeah, this program worked. It worked because I was able to set aside my insecurities about being slower and instead use that pace to OWN that ride. In fact, had we had more daylight, I think we would have kept going. But, darkness had set in, we were ready for some copious amounts of food and a solid night’s sleep.
So, in summary, yeah. It worked. It was hard. Some days it totally sucked. Adding in a structured training program while working full time, teaching yoga, side hustling other projects, and maintaining relationships
But, enough about me. What about Spencer? This was a challenge for him too, since if you’ve made it this far you may realize I’m a total head case. I asked Spencer to sum up our time together because I wanted to see this from his perspective, too.
“One of my core beliefs is that no effort is worth it unless it helps you learn and grow. I learn something new with every single client I work with. It usually has to do with communication, and it’s specific to my relationship with the client: how to guide, motivate and educate in a manner that is relevant to their needs. In this case, when the client is a friend who I know fairly well, but someone new to a structured training process and with an objective to realize comprehensive athletic improvement (as opposed to a specific, competition-focused performance objective that I am used to), it presented a unique challenge for me to develop and communicate and refine a custom training platform. Of course, we couldn’t do everything, and I didn’t want to overwhelm Lacy with all of the technical jargon that is so top-of-mind for me and many of the clients I work with. After all, we were only planning to work together directly for a period of about 16-weeks, which, in the grand scheme of a training process, is a fairly short period of time. My goal was to provide Lacy with tools (by way of simple, practical examples) that she could apply in the long term, far beyond our short winter project. I worked on creating a custom training journal template (which we eventually migrated into TrainingPeaks) in order to focus much more on the qualitative aspects of Lacy’s work.
Meanwhile, on my end, I worked on refining my presentation of methods. That is, starting with, “who are you, where are you at (in terms of training status), and where do you intend to go”. Then, based on that information, and applying some guidance, I shifted to the dance to the 3-part equation of “how hard, how long, and how often”. Through all of this, we navigated a valuable host of obstacles: limited daylight, full work, and social schedules, winter sniffles, winter snow…lots and lots and lots of snow (for us, anyway), grappling with the visceral discomfort of exertion and the discipline of rest. In the end, I hope Lacy learned as much as I think I taught her. We didn’t measure many metrics beyond private Strava segments (by design), and Lacy might say she isn’t even sure if she’s stronger or not. If you ask her riding buddies, she is, but I’ll let her figure that out for herself. After all, it’s her process. It was a pleasure to be a part of it. ”
Thanks, Coach! Thanks for sticking with me when I was near tears. Thanks for kicking my ass in a kind way, and most of all thanks for being empathetic to my situation and really going out of your way to structure something that made sense to my weird brain. I’ll see you on the trails, and I’ll probably be eating a burrito half way up some hideous climb.
If you’re interested in learning more about Spencer’s coaching, Peak Energy Performance, be sure to check out his website and hit him up!