The “Ride of Your Life” Book Tour: An Interview with David Rowe
Rowe doesn’t just theorize about the beauty or mystique of long-distance riding, he makes it accessible by breaking it down and laying it out. It takes a dreamlike goal like PBP and puts it into perspective – neither denying the inevitable challenge of the endeavor, nor discouraging anyone from daring to think about the possibilities.
What Rowe does in this book is reveal paths and calculated courses of action to help dreamers bridge into reality.
And it’s not just about the training.
David’s book is an amazing asset covering a challenging topic that had yet to be thoroughly tackled – it combines evidence and research-based training theories (ala Friel), nutritional strategies, and adaptations of some of history’s most successful time management strategies.
I was excited to have a chance to join his virtual book tour and ask him a few questions of my own (like, what the heck does this book mean for the amateur bike racer?). What follows is the first part of our interview. If you’ve got questions for David, please leave them in the comments section and he’ll answer them in Part Two!
You talk a bit about this in the book, but tell us why you decided to write The Ride of Your Life and who it’s for.
I’ve been a writer for most of my life. I started out believing I would write books for a living, but the realities of book publishing are pretty harsh. In order to pay the rent and put food on the table, I started freelancing for magazines. I enjoyed writing about the things I knew a lot about – music, outdoor sports like surfing and backpacking; and business. But for a host of reasons, I never wrote “my book” – until now.
Cycling has been an integral part of my life since I was in college at UC San Diego. Out of necessity, I built-up my first serious road bike, literally one part at a time, from money I saved from my part-time job as a bus boy, and the living allowance my parents sent to me when I was in school. The result of all that was that I became really aware of the components that made a bicycle perform well. And, because I did all the work myself, I became proficient as a mechanic.
At that same time, I was very serious about fitness (I was a surfing competitively for the university surfing team). I remember being blown away by the physical benefits of cross-training on the bicycle, including aerobic fitness, and leg strength, both of which really helped me in the water. Surfing was always number one, but I appreciated the fact that the bicycle was always there for me when I had time, rain or shine.
I had surfed in Oregon many times before I moved here in 1991, so I knew that surfing wouldn’t be as accessible as it was when I lived in Los Angeles. So that’s the point when the two sports switched positions; cycling the primary focus of my physical activities. But I was in my mid-thirties by that point. I had missed out on the important training that comes from competing in a sport. Looking back on it now, I can see it was a stupid bias, but I thought that I was too old (at 35) to begin racing bicycles. So instead, I began to focus on long distance recreational riding. I poured myself into it, the way a competitive athlete would, but I felt an aversion to racing, partly because I understood what it takes to compete in sport, and partly because I wasn’t up for the crashes.
Over the course of the years, I learned everything I could about long distance cycling. Riding with Mike and Dee Real of the Portland Wheelmen provided a huge boost to my knowledge and to my confidence. Mike and Dee ran an annual training series, which helped riders prepare for a now defunct and notorious century ride called the Torture 10,000. Training with them, and riding the event, introduced me to still longer rides, and the guys like Dick Weber and Del Scharffenberg, who were out there riding incredible distances through the Cascades and the Oregon Coast Range – totally unsupported.
Obviously, I got the bug, and started into it. I knew going in that the time requirement would leave a mark in my life, but the rewards of finishing these brevets is so huge that I was happy to make the time investment. When I decided to ride the 1200K – that meant training 20-22 hours a week – that’s the equivalent to a part-time job, and I was already working 40-50 hours at WebMD, raising a son, and trying to keep a great marriage alive.
I was able to do it, because I had access to the right time management tools, and the discipline to use them. But I saw lots of people struggling in the sport, unable to make the training commitment necessary, or in their personal lives, having made the training commitment, at the expense of their relationships or their hard-earned careers.
That’s when I knew that I had found my book. I thought, hey, if this worked for me, maybe it will help others who want to excel in endurance cycling, without sacrificing everything in their lives to accomplish their goals. So I sat down, outlined the book and sent it off to RoadBikeRider. They loved it and they sent me a contract.
A lot of my readers are amateur racers, and I think we share some of the same struggles with finding enough time to get our training in around all the other hectic parts of life. One thing I really liked about your book were the concrete solutions and practical tools that you provided around time management and goal setting. Can you talk about how these parts of the book might be useful to an amateur bike racer?
At its core, The Ride of Your Life is a time management tool for cyclists. I learned about time management early on in my career in magazines. I loved magazine writing and editing so much it really was consuming every waking hour. I needed a way to bring balance back, so I wouldn’t miss out on seeing my son grow up, or wind up wrecking my marriage, or any of the things that can happen to a workaholic, if that’s what you want to call me.
I was fortunate, because at that time, a man named Charles Hobbs was actively training executives in time management. I read his book, and attended one of his seminars. I tried his system, and it worked. I was able to carve-out time for the things I loved in life, and I know that I was more effective at work, too.
I think that competitive cycling is comparable to a serious career. It’s a total experience, and one that rewards success with an invitation for greater and greater levels of commitment. Add to that the addictive properties of aerobic exercise, and it is easy to see why someone who loves road racing would begin to cheat other areas of her life in order to gain an edge on the weekend. But if you’re getting into work late, or taking a two-hour lunch, or leaving work early, so you can get to your training, then you are prioritizing your cycling at the expense of your livlihood. If you’re a professional road racer, who can pay the bills with the purses and the sponsorships, then goodonya. But the rest of us need those jobs. And we also share a need to excel in cycling.
The Ride of Your Life uses a similar approach to time management that Hobbs used. In a nutshell, you get very clear about your core values – and you use them to evaluate the size of the investment you are going to make in cycling, in terms of time, money, and opportunity cost.
If you think this means you’ll have to compromise your goals in cycling, you’d be wrong. If anything, the book will help you develop strategies for achieving the really big, hairy, audacious goals you were afraid to set for yourself.
3. Ok, David. I fell in love with Randonneuring last year, and I have my reasons – what are yours? Talk a little about the allure of what, to many, seems like such a “weird” sport. (And, c’mon, admit it – randonneuring is a little weird!)
I think the media has done a huge disservice to randonneuring in the way it’s been portrayed. It’s the purest form of road cycling, with a history dating back more than 100 years in France. The strongest riders in the Pacific Northwest are randonneurs, but the stories we see feature the guy who is passed out on the floor of a gas station mini-market in the middle of the night.
Randonneuring isn’t ultramarathon cycling, but it’s part of a natural progression on the way to it. It’s a bridge, which allows a recreational rider who wants to add an element of competition to the experience enter an event where the clock ticking, and if you don’t make it to the controls in time, your ride is done.
I don’t think Randos are being entirely truthful when they say it the sport isn’t competitive. It’s quite comparable to Tri-athalon, in the sense that there is a ‘race’ at the front of the ride, where finishing order is important, but for the majority of the riders, it’s about personal performance, personal best, even if that means completing the distance before time expires.
You asked me to explain my reasons are for riding brevets. I love everything about this sport. I love riding in the Cascades and the Gorge and the Columbia Plateau. I love that the rides are incredibly long; seeing so much landscape in one ride overwhelms all the senses. I love that there’s no SAG wagon and no follow-vans. That means what I know about building and maintaining a bicycle counts, and will be measured in my elapsed time. I love the fact that there’s no route markings painted on the road; I have to navigate using a route sheet, or just by getting my head up and taking a bead on a mountain range 50 miles across a desert floor, and spotting the next pass. I love that I am learning all the time, getting faster, finishing at the front of the pack, when just a few years ago, I struggled to finish before the cut-off. When I improve as a cyclist, I feel like I’m improving as a person.
4. Speaking of the Randos, what I really like about the Rando way of looking at the world is the focus on the journey and the beauty of
the act itself. However, there were times while I was reading your book when I got that uneasy triathlete/roadie-gone-totally-nuts-with-overthinking-it vibe. Talk a little about the pretty intense planning (time, gear, nutrition, etc) that is required to pull off such demanding goals and how that balances out with the more organic experience of bicycle as adventure-vehicle. What’s the trick to keeping it fun amidst all the charts and worksheets and calculations?
That’s why I start the book out with this concept that I call, “The Why Factor.” You need to spend some time to figure out why you are riding long, and what you want from the experience. If you’re looking to break out from the century scene, get into the some gorgeous countryside, take pictures, stop at famous bakery or tortilla stand, you can do that on a brevet. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a long unsupported, friendly stage-race, with some basic rules and a clock, randonneuring can do that, too. The key is to know what you want from it, and to pick the right distance. Go too long, or go too fast, and you might not finish. That’s never a good feeling, for anybody.
To be honest, I didn’t write the book expecting that anyone would use all of those tools. I don’t use them all, all of the time. I think that readers would be well-served if they set their ride goals once every three or four years, so they can see how one season builds on the next, getting them ready for the next step up in cycling.
As it relates to ride planning, it’s not easy being a newbie, what can I say? (I’m ribbing you here, Heidi!). Seriously, new randos should figure that their first two years will be spent getting their gear together. Most will try to use one of their current bikes in the sport their first season. You would think it would save you money. But in reality, you wind up spending a ton of time and money studying and retrofitting a perfectly good club racer for randonneuring, and it will never perform the way you know it should.
Nutrition is a big deal, and it’s very personal. The cool thing about the time limits are that there is a minimum and a maximum for each control. If you’re trying to complete the ride with a comfortable margin, but you’re not trying to burn the road up, then you can eat pretty much what you want. If you’re trying to push for the opening time, then you’re going to be putting your body under a lot of stress, and many people find they cannot keep their favorite foods down, or get them in, whatever the case may be. So finding the foods that work for you is also something that takes time, experimentation, and investment.
Getting ready for a brevet can take a lot of time. But once you have your gear, your food, your clothing, and your routine down, it’s easy. In that respect it’s a lot like backpacking. If you’re really into it, your backpack is always pretty much ready to go.
As I mentioned before, I’d love to incorporate reader questions into Part Two of my interview with David, so please feel free to leave them in the comments section.
If you’re interested to read some of the other interviews on the virtual book tour, the full schedule follows:
|January 30||Quickrelease.tv. A podcast with Carlton Reid.|
|February 1||Fredcast. A podcast with David Bernstein.|
|February 4||PAC Tour. An interview with Lon Haldeman. (Click on the link to Lon’s Blog.)|
|February 10||Cyclelicious. Interview with Richard Masoner.|
|February 12||BikingBis. Interview with Gene Bisbee.|
|February 17||The AdventureCORPS Blog. Interview with Chris Kostman.|
|February 20||The Everyday Athlete. Interview with Heidi Swift.|
|February 24||BikePortland.org. Interview with Jonathan Maus.|
|February 26||BikeLoveJones. Interview with Beth Hamon.|