A taste of what training in later years looks like, from the ways of my Dad.
Dad can be a bit of a closed book, so when I asked if I could interview him about his masochistic retirement hobby for UNDO-Ordinary I was worried he wouldn’t be interested. To my surprise, he said, “undo-ordinary? That’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole life.”
My Dad is a 70-year-old mountain bike rider. As in, now that he’s a retired man, he isn’t making those miniature ships that somehow fit in glass bottles, he’s thrashing himself around on any mountain he can find, sometimes it’s snowing and sometimes it’s 95 degrees. Certainly not ordinary. He only started riding serious races around 5 years ago, explaining “on reflection it was a reawakening of my youth [freedom] elements of car rally driving on dirt roads, going bush… and getting out of the weekly city grind of work, traffic and the treadmill of life,” when I asked him what ignited him to start so late in life.
Dad’s cup of tea is long form, endurance races—1000 miles or more. He has twice attempted the longest endurance race in America called the “Tour Divide”, a 2700-mile race from Canada, through America, to Mexico. It started as an Internet romance, “I followed the rider’s daily progress on the race tracker online, visiting as a voyeur the small town diners via google street view as the riders stopped to eat, the mountain passes as they slept on the roadside—all this with no outside support, just the rider, their bike and the challenge of the unknown ahead.” It seems that the solo aspect is a strong magnet that draws Dad in, “I don’t ride trains. It’s not my scene, I’m generally slow and just like to ride at my own pace and I’m happy in my own company. Some people are needier than others and crave companionship—it ain’t me.”
There are a lot of technical aspects of navigating how an older body will respond to this kind of rigorous activity. It’s comforting to know that Dad has been diligent with reading and testing many training programs to find what’s right for him. “I’ve read volumes on training and in 2016 I had a very structured training plan, reps, tempo rides etc, I cut out alcohol and monitored my diet closely. I came to the view that it really only added a small percentage to my physical capability to ride faster, climb better, recover. This gain over 14-16 hours on the bike, over 4-7 days isn’t a lot and I’ve now taken the view to focus on strength, flexibility and long ultra enduro rides to mimic race conditions with the aim of making the abnormal feel ’normal’.”
Dad went on to explain how he manages his body’s capabilities by using technology while he rides, “I really have to monitor my heart rate and try and keep it under my threshold [about 140 bpm]. Once you punch up into lactic buildup levels you really have no option other than to stop, get off the bike and walk. I do this frequently at my age and I’m now pretty resigned to getting off once the inclines get up to 8-10% for any length beyond 100-meters. I have multiple screens on my Garmin set up with all this data, usually 4-5 fields for each screen, average speed, heart rate, percent of incline, temperature, how many Vm I’ve climbed for the day and of course how far I’ve ridden and the elapsed time for the day.”
When he’s out there my family tracks his location via an online GPS tracker. He sends pictures of a never-ending desert and thick mountainous ranges. I am left wondering about the vast land he gets to see, what he thinks about all day, and how and why he continues to push through. I asked him to explain some of the daily mental challenges, to which he said, “Fatigue is the killer of dreams. There is no doubt when things get tough you just want it to end… The mental challenge is to regroup, keep moving, take minimal stops, reduce sleep. Maybe chase another rider[s] or keep ahead of the rider who is on your tail day after day… But sometimes you think of any excuse, maybe someone will just steal my bike?!”
Maybe my family wishes someone would steal his bike so he would be safe at home, but after getting the opportunity to interview Dad and dig a little deeper into this passion I can see that it gives him a lot of purpose and happiness. I suppose we’re all looking for that at every age in our lives, so if it comes in the form of pushing your body when it’s been on this planet for 70 years, then why not? My Dad’s name is Steve Watson, you can follow his Facebook page Monaro Cloudride. He also coordinates an endurance ride in NSW, Australia every year, for more information check out www.cloudride1000.com.
Original UNDO Mag Issue 6 title: Dad’s Cup of Tea
Written by Hope Watson
Illustrations by Ezequiel Consoli