Back From the Brink

by Michael Hotten


I don’t remember the date but I remember the feeling. I got up on a Saturday morning for my normal late winter training ride and my quads were throbbing. I stood in the kitchen, staring at a can of steel cut oats, wondering if I wanted to cook up a batch, eat and head out for a cold, long ride. The answer was no. I could not do it. It was a feeling and a response I had never experienced. I was filled with fatigue and had no motivation to ride. I was, as I would soon find out, over-trained.

I have always ridden a lot of winter training miles and this year was no different. But this time I had decided I would try and restore some of the muscle I had lost over the years of riding five and six days a week. My off-season weight lifting was regular and I was going pretty heavy. The combination of riding and lifting had me headed down a road I nearly could not reverse.

I needed some expert advice so I turned to Robert Forster, PT because I know from some of the lectures he does at my local bike shop, Cynergy Cycles, that he has trained many elite athletes. If I was going to salvage this season and meet my goal to finish the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, I needed to find out what was wrong. It didn’t take long for the Team at Forster PT/PHASE IV to conclude that I had overdone it. After listening carefully to my training history on the bike and in the gym, and the performance struggles I was experiencing, Forster suggested blood work be done to rule out infection or other medical issues, and a PHASE IV VO2 max test to get objective data and find a fix. The test diagnosed the problem immediately. I had overdone it for sure, and my lactate levels were too high even at lower power outputs. The cause was the weight lifting program. According to Forster, who is a big proponent of strength training for endurance athletes, the program I was given was inappropriate for an endurance athlete; and I had failed to adjust my winter mileage to accommodate for the extra work in the gym.

The solution was a combination of cutting edge recovery techniques he had used with Olympians and new HR zones I would use to frame my comeback training. My base needed good boost so the main focus would be on easier aerobic capacity and lactate threshold rides that would allow me to recover and reduce lactic acid production. They immediately reduced my mileage and prescribed a program of stretching, massage therapy and ice baths. The weights were put on hold. I was told to continue to race every weekend and then spend the rest of the week on recovery strategies and heart rate training in the lower zones. Within weeks, I was feeling better and not soon after I was riding faster. I was able to help my team, Big Orange, during our spring campaign and even posted some good results for myself. But something much more difficult loomed on the horizon.

I had signed up for the Leadville Trail 100 after qualifying at Lake Tahoe. I had done the race in 2011 but missed the Gold Buckle awarded to the riders finishing under 9 hours by nineteen minutes. There was unfinished business to attend to. Again I turned to Phase IV to help me with the season’s second challenge. The risk was that the heavy training required for Leadville could send my body back to that dark place I was0020earlier in the year where you can feel your heart beat in your thighs. Leadville is all about the climbs. They are long and require sustained levels of aerobic energy production. My prescribed rides consisted of lots of time on the bike, vertical feet and intervals just below Anaerobic Threshold.

Leadville is also hard on the body so I was instructed in the Phase IV Structure™ strength program. The lifting was not near as heavy as what I had been doing earlier in the year but I just went with it. I also kept up the sound recovery practices I had learned earlier in the season.

My training in June and July was focused and without issues. A rest week was worked into the mix and at the very end of my second block of training they added a little speed work just to top off my fitness. My body was ready, my bike was ready, so I thought and I was off to Leadville with the second Saturday in August my big target.

Everything was going great when I arrived in Leadville until I noticed a crack in the frame of my bike. This time it was a Phase IV partner to the rescue. Cynergy Cycles was the first call I made and the shop immediately offered to ship out a replacement bike. It got there the Thursday before the race. I put my bars, saddle, pedals and wheels on it and like that the problem was solved. I was able to keep calm through this episode because, A: I had the backing of a first class shop in Cynergy and B: my PHASE IV training had put me in a place of confidence. There was no reason to panic. Just deal with it and move ahead.

Race Day went better than planned. The sticker I had placed on my top tube had outlined split times that would get me back to downtown Leadville in 8hrs, 50min. Throughout the day I matched or beat those splits and arrived at Sixth and Harrison in 8hrs, 35min. Six time champion Dave Wiens was there to congratulate me, as was my wife, who spent the day making sure I got to the start line early and out of the feed zones quickly. The year was complete and my Leadville void was filled. The next morning I picked up that Gold Buckle that goes to all sub 9hr finishers.

A few post scripts on Leadville. PHASE IV’s structural weight lifting program paid off much more than I could have imagined, especially in the upper body. In 2011 I struggled to control the bike on the latter descents because my arms and back started to fail. This year I felt much more in control and descended much quicker and without much fatigue.

In the week before the race it was easy to keep up my ice baths because at 10,000 feet the water comes out of the tap in Leadville cold enough to qualify as icy. After the race however a dunk in Turquoise Lake proved to be a great way to wipe out any remnant inflammation.

I was elated with my finishing time and when I checked my Garmin, my average heart rate was 139 and the max never got above 160. That is exactly where I focused my training based on my PHASE IV testing and consultations.

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