photo by Caleb Sponholtz
Wake up, train, work, return home, sleep, repeat.
Sound familiar? The routine is comforting, dulling and at times, utterly robotic. For months, the only variations in my weekly workout regimen – outside of the actual training sessions – were fire hazard status sign updates at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Other than that, I have felt like the star of Triathlon Groundhog Day.
I needed to shake things up. My wife was heading out of town for a weekend conference, so I called my friend and fellow triathlete, Caleb, and invited myself for a road trip training getaway. He lives in Paso Robles, Calif., near the Wildflower Triathlon course. Water or not, I’ll be racing there this May. A course refresher was in order. Even more important, a visit to my buddy was long overdue.
Caleb and his wife, Dessa, graciously invited me in as a triathlete refugee. The couple had become adept at hosting triathletes a few years ago when they housed some of renowned coach Siri Lindley’s athletes during Southern California training camps. I drove up primed for an intense weekend of long bike rides, hard runs and a swim or two. I left with something unexpected, which required an attitude adjustment on my part.
Almost all the triathletes I’ve met are intense, aggressive and highly competitive. I’m no exception. What sets Caleb apart is that although he is a proven competitor at the elite level, he’s among the mellowest, easygoing, gracious and humble people I’ve ever met. A lifelong Grateful Dead aficionado, Caleb grew up traveling to Dead shows with his parents in the back of a van. The dude abides in every sense of the word – an OG hippy trapped in a college wide receiver’s body.
The two of us strike quite a pair. I’m the scrappy, tenacious Chihuahua to Caleb’s hulking but gentle Great Dane persona. Upon arriving to Caleb and Dessa’s home, I wanted to dissect riding and running the Wildflower course, what time we’d wake up, what pace we’d ride and anything else that my wife lovingly refers to as “beep-boop, beep-boop talk.” Instead, wine was poured, live jam band music piped through the house, and we talked like old friends should for hours.
We, rather I, chilled out.
The next morning, instead of waking up before the sun to train, we slept in. I found it odd at first because all I wanted to do was ride. I sat inside my guest bedroom awake and anxious to start the day, proverbial tail wagging. Instead, after a leisurely morning coffee talk, the three of us went to a local breakfast spot for a big meal. We were in no rush, apparently. I’m not used to that. Like most of you, I typically bang out my training as if it’s nothing more than a checklist item on a long to-do list. Where’s the joy in that, though?
When it was time to clip in, I figured we’d ride to Lake Nacimiento. There we’d descend to where the water’s edge used to be – now cattle graze in the basin – and climb Lynch hill to simulate our long course race day. Caleb had other plans. He wanted to show me the Paso Robles wineries and some of his favorite weekday riding spots. I struggled with that at first. After all, I had driven a long way to train for Wildflower. Reluctantly, I agreed. I will get by…da-da-da-da-da. By learning to relax more, I was rewarded with spectacularly green hills, modern architecture marvels, and a horde of wild turkeys that gobbled at us on command as we rode by.
We still worked hard at times, managing the necessary intervals, but literally took the scenic route to do it. Perhaps the best metaphor of the day was the ignominy of losing my computer watch data and being unable at first to upload my workout to Strava. Good Lord! If you can’t upload a workout, did it even happen at all?! Not only was I out of my training comfort zone, now I couldn’t even verify my ride data! How would I track my fitness gains!? I was freaking out and letting go all at once. Simultaneous chaos and catharsis. All I could do was hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.
The second day of our weekend camp was much like the first, except with the addition of a wine-induced hangover. We didn’t start training until noon, although we did recon the Wildflower long course run. I’ve attended two Wildflower training camps and raced the course twice, and this was the first time I truly engulfed my senses in the surrounding beauty. That’s sometimes the trouble with me, I’ve got two good eyes and yet I still don’t see. The landscape was haunting and stunning, with fire-scarred trees and little to no water near Lake Harris, and then just up the trail pristine, green pastures blossomed thanks to the recent rain. Deer flocked by the dozen to graze and gawk at us lone passers-by. Instead of running the course at an aggressive clip, Caleb and I talked most of the time – sometimes about race strategy, but mostly just catching up. As friends should.
I drove home late Sunday night trying to measure the “success” of the weekend. As someone far wiser than I once wrote, “Gone are the days we stopped to decide, where we should go…we just ride.”
That’s what this weekend was thematically all about. We just rode. In doing so, I took an unexpected vacation… from myself. I changed my routine, and my outlook about training changed because of a delightful, strangely mystical detour.
Jerry would be proud.