El Tour de Tucson: What have I let myself in for?

Can a middle-aged family man get lean, fit and fast in six weeks?

Right, that’s it. If I have to hear one more story about some other person’s great cycling adventure I’m going to scream.

You just finished top 20 in the Tour de Scottsdale? Fine. You can’t decide whether you had a harder time on Ventoux or the Stelvio during your European cycling vacation this summer? Great. Keep it to yourselves. I can’t hear it anymore.

Why? Simple: I’m jealous. Green-assed jealous. Because I’ve been a mediocre cyclist for the past couple of years and let a world of possible epic cycling adventures – group weekends, sportives, charity epics, mountain bike enduros – pass me by for a hundred different reasons.

“I’m not in shape… I’m 15lb too heavy... I’ve got too much to do at work... I’ve been travelling and haven’t been training... I didn’t get enough sleep... I’m sick... I’ve done too many hard rides lately and I need a break…” To crib from Kurt Vonnegut, and so it goes.

Well, it’s time to spit out the dummy. My notebook of excuses is filled to the last page and I’m throwing it in the trash can. Because I’ve just committed myself to ride in El Tour de Tucson, a 109-mile perimeter ride in Arizona with more than 6,000 participants, less than seven weeks from now.

I’ve not only committed to do the ride but maybe most stupidly of all (in a late-night, random-thought email to the editor of this website), I’ve agreed to share the whole experience on BikeRadar for the sake of educating and motivating (hopefully not perversely entertaining) you, the readers. Oh crap, what did I just do?

Why El Tour de Tucson?

Even though I rode and raced a little when I was a teenager, I really only started cycling in my early thirties – after settling into family and work life, as a way to get into shape and be active and outdoors.

I fell in with a great group of riding buddies pretty early on. We all started cycling at about the same time and rode together often. We all grew as cyclists at about the same pace. And when we started taking on cross-country mountain bike races and the occasional 24-hour team relay, we’d train mostly for the chance to brag that we were the fastest guy of the group.

I moved away for a job some years back and my riding was limited to local trails, occasional group road rides and commuting to work. Back in Arizona, my original group went college-freshmen-on-their-first-Spring-Break crazy for cycling.

They took up road racing, joined a club team together and travelled to out-of-town races. They also kept up with the mammoth epic weekend rides, enduros and 24-hour races. My closest friend even finished El Tour du Tucson five times.

When I moved back a couple of years ago, it was easy to fall right back in with my riding group but they were a satisfied bunch by then – no longer as hypnotised by the shiny lustre of new adventure.

“Let’s do the 24 hours of such-and-such,” I’d say. They didn’t like staying up through the night anymore. “Let’s go do this-or-that out-of-town road race,” I’d say. Been there done that was the reply. “Who wants to do the Tour de Tucson?,” I’d say. Nah, they’d say.

I’d fight a little bit. “But it looks like a hell of a ride, is only two hours' drive away, is fast and scary and a hell of challenge, is well organised, historic, supported by the city, raises money for charity, has a decent expo,” I’d say breathlessly. But with another ‘Nah’ the idea would die.

So the first order of business for putting my own epic El Tour de Tucson adventure together is to let go of the need to do it with my riding friends. So here we go: “You are released, boys and girls. I won’t be bugging you to come to Tucson with me. I’ll miss your draft and your wicked pulls and your diesel engines (not your filling the hotel room with farts of course – you know who you are), but I am committed to go anyway.”

The challenge

Now that I’ve properly taken ownership of the challenge, I have some work to do. I’ll need a training and nutrition plan to cover the next six weeks.

Oh, I know I can start off with a couple of basic changes – ride more consistently than normal, maybe add a climbing ride, replace the sugary snacks with fruit and vegetables – but before I spend too much time figuring out exactly how I should spend those six weeks, I need to set a goal for the event; a desired outcome, something that will hone this pile of pudge and sloth into the fitter, faster and leaner me.

So over the next week, I plan to pick the brains of my friends who have done the ride, scour the event website and maybe even call down to El Tour HQ for some pointers. And if you have any suggestions for what a guy like me could reasonably expect to achieve in his first El Tour de Tucson, I’m keen to hear it. Email me at smedcroft@futureus.com or comment below.

Otherwise, tune in next week to see how the potential disaster… er, brilliantly executed strategy is progressing. Better yet, sign up for El Tour yourself and come ride with me.

Next week: war stories from El Tour and Gung Ho for the training plan.

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