Mastering The Mountain Passes Of The Mighty Maratona: 4-Questions With Michael Pfau
The Maratona d’les Dolomites in the north of Italy is known as the Gran-Daddy of all Gran Fondo’s.
With 9-mountains passes and over 12,000’ of climbing in just 85-miles, this event absolutely lives up to everything that makes a ‘Gran’ Fondo grand!
As a testament to the events challenge and allure, nearly 10,000’ people attend the Maratona each year from 40-countries around the world.
It is truly an internationally recognized event.
For Mike Pfau, the Maratona is a captivating and epic challenge that necessitates dedicated and focused preparation.
At this years’ Maratona, Mike had one of his absolute best performances to date, from a list of big rides that includes the Triple By-Pass in Colorado, The Markleyville Death Ride in California, and the L’Etap du Tour in California.
Following his Italian adventure, we caught up with Mike to talk about what made this years’ Maratona special and why he makes the trip across the Atlantic for this great event every year. Enjoy!
Mike Pfau had a great ride at this years' Maratona d'les Dolomites. Despite the huge amount of climbing, he did it all with a smile! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
Primary Sport/Discipline: Road Cycling
Average Hours of Training Per Week: 8-10hrs
Upcoming Goals: The Mammoth Gran Fondo
Question #1: Congratulations on completing the Maratona d’les Dolomites, Mike! As the Gran-Daddy of all Gran Fondos, what makes this a ‘must do’ event?
Michael Pfau:The challenging climbs, the international flavor, and the stunning vistas of the Dolomites (Italian Alps) all put this ride into a class all by itself!
Over the week leading into the event, cyclists absolutely take over the sister-cities that host the event, (Corvara and La Villa), and everyone in these Alpine ski towns are supportive, understanding and welcoming.
The Maratona is a big thing in Italy, getting country-wide television coverage on race day, and repeated replays every day during the week following the ride.
The vistas on the ride are better than anything I've seen on climbs around the U.S., and the opportunity to talk cycling with riders from around the world is exceptional!
Coaches Perspective/Coach Brian: I had not known about the Maratona d’les Dolomites prior to working with Mike and his training partner Rob Raede when they tapped BWC to help them prepare for the 2017 edition of the event.
In researching the Maratona to build Mike’s training plan and ensure that each of his workouts was as focused and potent as possible, I was stunned by how stout the ride is.
With nine mountain passes and over 13,000’ of climbing in just 85-miles, this ride packs a huge punch!
What’s more, the ride is attended by nearly 10,000 riders from all over the world making the narrow roads of the Maratona a madhouse of cyclists.
I am excited to report that this year, Mike had his best performance yet and felt very confident on the climbs, which makes me very happy. Great job, Mike!
Just one of the stunning views that riders get to see in the Italian Alps courtesy of Mike's smart phone. And Mike assures us, all the views are this good! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau.
Question #2: You spend much of your weekday workouts on the trainer, saving your big rides for weekends and holidays. So how did you conquer the 9-passes and nearly 13,000’ of climbing that characterize the Maratona?
MP:Intervals and hill repeats… and then more intervals and hill repeats!
My weekday trainer workouts are pretty intense interval-focused workouts.
I like throwing hill repeats into at least one weekend ride, and then using the other to add mileage and endurance.
The balance of those two aspects of training seems to prepare me well.
Did I mention intervals and hill repeats?
Coach Brian: There is an old saying that repetition is the mother of all skill. But when it comes to training, many times a more appropriate saying is, “variety is the spice of life”.
To help Mike prepare for the Maratona we worked to strike a balance between variety and repetition.
Luckily, Mike is fully committed to his training and making the most of his time on the bike so when that balance edges toward repetition, he is still totally dedicated to the process.
In regards to hill-repeats, one thing we really tried to simulate in training was the steepness of the Italian climbs. This was important as we needed to determine what gearing and equipment selection would be best for the Maratona.
By doing this homework I was ecstatic to hear the report that Mike had lifted his cadence substantially in this edition of the Maratona. That cadence increase happens to coincide with his best event performance yet, which makes me so proud!
The start of the Maratona d'les Dolomites is full of fanfare that includes a booming cannon send-off and TV coverage! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
Question #3: The Maratona is an epic event, with 10,000 participants and television coverage. With all that fanfare, what are your favorite and most memorable portions of the event?
MP:There are three. First, the start is incomparable. With music, helicopters, and cannons to announce the start of the ride.
Second, all along a good part of the roadway going up the first pass, the Campolongo, there are innumerable spectators offering encouragement. There is a Maratona-edition of "Dutch Corner," where the Dutch contingent of fans stay in motor-homes and cheer for the riders decked-out in orange from head to toe!
Other countries have their own cheering contingents with national flags and colors as well. But the Dutch definitely take things to another level.
Third, the descents are very technical and challenging. And because of the need to manage the twisty-turns while trying not to miss any of the incredible views while you are descending, they make for an exciting portion of the event.
Finally, there is the “wall of the cat”, a short 2-minute climb that comes about 4-kilometers from the finish; it pitches up to 19% and really kicks like a mule!
The spectators there are awesome, and the cheering is critical because at that time your legs are totally spent!
Coach Brian: The Maratona is nothing short of an adventure, from the fanfare at the start to the fans that line the brutal course, and that is all punctuated by the finishing climb, “the wall of the cat”.
It’s an event that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated and a worthy ‘goal event’ for anyone that loves Gran Fondo’s!
Another one of the stunning views from the Dolomites. With scenery like this, its easy to see why 10,000 people line-up for the Maratona every year! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
Question #4: What is/are your favorite workout(s) in your training program? Also, please share a ‘knowledge-bomb’ you have learned while training with BWC.
MP:My favorite workouts are the hill repeats…after they're done!
I really have come to respect and enjoy them, because the training impact feels like it is immediate.
The emphasis on maintaining a high-cadence throughout the entire training regimen really paid off. On my way up the 6thpass, I passed a number of riders who were just grinding at a low-cadence and were, from my perspective, in trouble.
I had leg strength to spare because I had not slogged-up the earlier passes with a low-cadence that seemed to buckle so many of the riders around me.
Finally, adhering to the "eat early, and drink often" adage Coach Brian prescribed on rides has really paid dividends for me, especially on a challenging multi-hour, multi-pass climbing event like the Maratona. Thank you BWC!
Coach Brian: It is refreshing to know that Mike has come to enjoy all those hill-repeats workouts!
During his preparation we spent a lot of time emphasizing cadence development as well as developing a proper hydration and nutrition strategy that could see Mike performing powerfully well into his 7hr event.
Each of these details came together during the Maratona, giving Mike substantial confidence to tackle such a daunting event that demands everything an Athlete has, just to complete it.
And having earned that self-confidence and strength through many hours and miles of work, Mike was able to savor a great ride in Italy!
Mike made his Italian trip a family affair with his lovely wife and daughter to cheer him on as he tackled the notorious Maratona d'les Dolomites!Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
We hope you have enjoyed reading about Mike Pfau’s Maratona d'les Dolomites success as much as we have enjoyed sharing it!
Preparing for a monumental undertaking like the Maratona takes a detailed and thorough plan coupled with plenty of commitment.
And even at the ripe young age of 63-years old, you can perform beyond expectations and do something EPIC with the help of a solid training plan!
Thank you Mike, for showing us what is possible and doing it with a big smile on your face!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian & Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching
Sports Psychology & Good Coaching: How Successful Athletes Embrace ‘The Growth Mindset’
Consider this question: In your sport, what percentage of success is derived through natural talent and how much is developed through training or skill development?
Good question, right?
Now ask yourself, what balance of talent and training or skill development do you possess?
Natural Talent, ____%. Skill Development & Training, ____%.
Chances are, this series of questions reveals a lot about your personal mindset and how you believe you can achieve success in sport, and life.
Athletes that believe that a skill can be developed and honed through consistent training, evaluation, and practice exhibit what is called a ‘Growth Mindset’.
Conversely, Athletes that subscribe to the idea that talent is the chief determinant of success and see their skill-set as a fixed-asset, exhibit what is called a ‘Fixed Mindset’.
The Growth Mindset is a fairly new topic of study in psychology, one that has been finding a particularly powerful position within the athletic community.
This novel approach reflects a sizable departure from the status-quo in the way Athletes view themselves and how they judge successes and failures.
The main tenant of the Growth Mindset is that every training session, performance, or experience, represents an opportunity for growth and development.
Utilization of the Growth Mindset focuses on creating learning opportunities out of each training session, performance, or experience. Here, Coach Joy uses a rainy day to test equipment and develop her mental toughness. Photo Credit: Nick Kova.
The Growth Mindset Defined
By definition, a Growth Mindset is possessing the belief or understanding that any talent, ability, aptitude, or characteristic that one possess can be developed through practice, dedication, and hard-work, in order to produce better results.
This mindset is applicable to many aspects of our lives and is particularly useful to help create successful outcomes in school, sport, work, and even personal relationships.
An Athlete that exhibits a Growth Mindset will look at every training session, performance, or experience, in a way that assesses their execution of strategy and evaluates their performance.
In essence, these Athletes ask themselves, "what can I learn from today."
This evaluation is done in an effort to improve future events and performances.
Simply put, for an Athlete with the Growth Mindset, every participation offers the opportunity to get better at their craft.
Tallying wins is simply a secondary benefit of the growth process.
The Fixed Mindset: A Dangerous Dance Partner
To exhibit a ‘Fixed Mindset’ is to believe that your basic qualities such as talent, aptitude, intelligence, or characteristics are traits that are static or ‘fixed’.
An Athlete that relies on a Fixed Mindset will likely shy away from events or situations where there is a significant risk of failure.
That is to say that such an Athlete relies heavily on their talent and ability to achieve sporting success.
The danger with the reliance on the Fixed Mindset is that it discourages growth and limits opportunity.
That is not to imply that the Fixed Mindset is inherently bad, rather it is that the ‘real world’ is such a dynamic and changing place, that long-term success, in life and in sport, requires the use of a Growth Mindset.
An unfortunate side-effect that comes from the Fixed Mindset is illustrated in this simple idea: winning is winning, and thus ‘not winning’ equals losing.
The logical deduction from this statement is that if one is not a winner, they must be a loser. This is dangerous to our self-image across all aspects of our life, not just our athlete-selves.
The Fixed Mindset In Practice: Courtesy Of Hollywood Satire
To put a comical spin on this type of mindset, consider the movie Talladega Nights, a film where the main character, NASCAR Superstar Ricky Bobby (played by Will Farrell), is driven by a simple racing strategy:
“If you ain’t first, you’re last!”
The movie is hilarious and satirical because as the plot develops, Ricky Bobby learns that his ‘if you ain’t first, you’re last’ mentality is holding him back from regaining past greatness, following a dramatic racing crash.
It is only when Ricky Bobby confronts his no-good, drunken, father, that Bobby is enlightened to his plight. In the movie, the exchange goes like this:
Ricky Bobby: “Dad, you always told me, if you ain’t first, you’re last!”
Father Bobby: “That doesn’t make any sense at all, Son... You can be second, third, fourth…hell you can even be fifth!”
It is that moment when Ricky Bobby breaks his slump, dumps his Fixed Mindset, and embraces the Growth Mindset.
Thus, all is right in the NASCAR racing community as their champion, Ricky Bobby, returns to achieve new levels of dominance.
A comparison diagram of the Growth and Fixed Mindsets. Take special notice of the final results for each mindset. Courtesy of Nigel Holmes.
Why Endurance Sport Necessitates The Growth Mindset:
On a serious note, cycling, running, and triathlon are three difficult and challenging sports. Each takes significant investment in time and effort to become competitive.
Moreover, each of these sports are unique in comparison to traditional ‘stick and ball’ sports for the number of competitors competing in a single event.
In baseball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, and most other sporting contests there are only two competitors or teams vying for victory at one time.
Simply put, on any given Sunday a Little League baseball player, NFL superstar, Rugby champion, or charity soccer match offers participants a 50/50 chance of winning.
This is not the case for MTB racers, Runners, Road Cyclists, Triathletes, and other Endurance Athletes. Most often they are competing against groups as little as five or as many as a couple of hundred at national level competitions.
As a competitor or participant in Endurance Sport, you must learn to embrace every event or training session as an opportunity to grow and develop your skill and fitness.
In reality, if winning is all that matters, who in their right-mind, would sign-up for an event that offers a 1-in-20 or 1-in-100 chance of winning?
That is insane, but is a great example of a Fixed Mindset at work.
Three Ways To Embrace The Growth Mindset:
#1-Adjust your perspective to look at training and competition as an opportunity to learn. Growth and development happen when we learn from our experiences. An Athlete with the Growth Mindset embraces learning in every situation.
#2-Instead of focusing on wins and loses, embrace the work and effort required to achieve better results. Focused effort is the more accurate judge of success than winning or losing.
#3-When faced with adversity or setbacks, embrace your mistakes and evaluate what led to them. Then develop and implement a plan to eliminate or minimize mistakes in future events or practices.
The Growth Mindset is applicable to athletic endeavors and many other aspects of our life. Here, psychologist and Growth Mindset pioneer, Carol Dweck, explains her perspective on the Growth Mindset. Photo Credit: Carol Dweck
Coaching & The Growth Mindset:
The benefit of using a Growth Mindset does not reside only with our Athlete-selves.
The promise of growth, development, and greater opportunity to achieve meaningful goals, is supported through good coaching as well.
At Big Wheel Coaching, our coaching-methodology is not based on winning or losing. Sure, we enjoy tallying wins for our Athletes, but the real value in the Athlete/Coach relationship is having a Coach that can ask good questions and develop relevant training strategies for improvement.
This evaluation and feedback helps the Athlete assess their performance in a way that spurs unbridled growth and development.
This is of particular importance and value in Endurance Sport because strategy and tactics are of equal importance to achieving success as is the physical prowess gained from training.
It is through a solid Athlete/Coach relationship that we can challenge, test, and evaluate, Athletes of all abilities, in order to see their ability and skill-set grow.
By embracing the Growth Mindset as Athletes and Coaches, we can see incredible gains and find reward in each experience, something that the Fixed Mindset cannot do.
Simply put, the Growth Mindset is the key to unlocking the potential of any Athlete, student or business-person, regardless of how much talent they may or may not possess in their field of endeavor.
For more information about the Growth Mindset we suggest the following references:
"Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" A Book By Carol Dweck
The Mindset of A Champion, An Article By Carol Dweck: http://www.sportscotland.org.uk/media/894520/the-mindset-of-a-champion-by-carol-dweck.pdf
The Power of Belief: Mindset & Success, A TedTalk By Eduardo Briceno: https://youtu.be/pN34FNbOKXc
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching
Taming a Gran Fondo is no small task, after all, they don't include the word 'Gran' in the title for no reason!
With a slew of late Summer and Fall Gran Fondos on the calendar, we thought it appropriate to share a few ‘event-day’ tips to help you make the most of your next Gran Fondo!
What’s more, we outlined three of our favorite Fondo’s that more than live up to the lore and legend of the Italian translation for “gran fondo” or ‘big ride’.
Riding an epic route with riders that have similar goals can make your Gran Fondo even more enjoyable! Photo Credit: DeAnn Para
Tip #1: Share The Work & Join A Peloton
Most Gran Fondos are well attended and feature riders of every fitness and skill-level.
This makes it easy to find a ride buddy or a small group to pass the miles with.
Besides the fact that spending five, or more, hours in the saddle is always more fun with a group, the main benefits to riding with a peloton are energy conservation and increased speed.
Much like riders in a break-away on a stage of the Tour de France, you and your Fondo friends are a small team that can help each other make a quick pace.
It should also be said that the larger the group, the quicker the pace (most of the time).
That is why we suggest encouraging other riders to join your peloton, whether it be along the route or at an aid station, the more the merrier!
Part of what makes cycling a unique sport is the shared experience of doing something epic together, like riding a Gran Fondo with new friends!
Stick with what you know, don't try new flavors or different food choices on event day! Photo Credit: Danny Munson.
Tip #2: Perfect Your Hydration & Nutrition Strategy
This simple tip cannot be over-emphasized.
Most Fondos are full of lavish ride stops and luscious food options… which is a good thing, but with that said, your big event is not the opportune time to try a new drink-mix or introduce a new food choice to hard-working body.
Despite training hard for a big event, it’s all to easy to get caught-up in the buffet-frenzy that can be Fondo SAG stops.
We suggest bringing enough of the food and fuel you regularly train with to get you through the entire ride.
Use the SAG stops for water and bathroom breaks, save the extravagant food options for post-ride, when you can savor a job well done!
Except in dire situations, event-day is not the time to experiment with new products or flavors! On event-day, food is fuel, plain and simple.
The course map and route profile for an event, like this one for the Mammoth Gran Fondo, is a handy tool to plan your event-day pacing. Photo Credit: Mammoth Gran Fondo
Tip #3: Study The Route & Know The Critical Sectors
This may seem obvious, but the degree to which you are familiar with the route is very important.
Because Gran Fondo’s are generally mass-start events, meaning that the entire group rolls out as a huge procession, knowing the route and terrain is key to being confident and remaining calm.
This knowledge allows a rider to focus on the wheels around them and staying safe within the robust and dynamic pelotons that characterize mass-start Gran Fondos.
An experienced rider will always know the route, but will also have an idea how the peloton is likely to tackle the days difficulties.
Knowing the “critical sectors” of an event-route gives an Athlete the confidence to push themselves, when appropriate, to stay with a peloton or slow-up so they don’t “blow-up”.
No one wants the memory of their goal event to be marred by a “bonk” or to spend a lot of time at a SAG stop trying to recover after “cracking” out on the road.
The moral is this, knowledge is power, do your homework and you will be rewarded with a better performance at your next Gran Fondo!
Three Of BWC’s Favorite Gran Fondo’s
#1: The Mammoth Gran Fondo
What Makes It Grand?
No other Gran Fondo that we have participated in can boast that over 75% of the route is closed to cars… yes, CLOSED. Bike riders are the only ones on the road!
What’s more there is only one stop-light on the entire route, meaning the only thing slowing you down from a 100-mile PR is being distracted by the beautiful Eastern Sierra views!
To add to the grandeur of the Mammoth Gran Fondo, BWC is leading our own peloton and giving the riders joining us a unique “yellow jersey” experience. We call it the Sub-Six Peloton Experience.
Our group will be fully supported out on course and feature a full-contingent of BWC “sled-dogs” that will be on domestique duty for our peloton.
When Is The Ride? Saturday September 8th
For More Info: https://www.fallcentury.org
#2: The Tour de Big Bear
What Makes It Grand?
The Tour de Big Bear is a seriously challenging route with stunning views all centered in the self-styled “capital of cycling” in Southern California.
To add to the events lore, the Tour de Big Bear offers the HC or "H’ors Categorie” route.
This beyond-category event features a particularly brutal route that covers 125-miles and includes 12,000’ of climbing. It’s a challenge that only toughest will survive!
When Is The Ride? Saturday August 4th
For More Info: https://tourdebigbear.com
#3: The Mike Nosco Memorial Ride
What Makes It Grand?
The Mike Nosco Memorial Ride is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
It’s more than a Gran Fondo, it’s a “must do” event that every cyclist that can attend should put on their bucket list.
Besides a brutal route, event organizers have decreed that their peloton is “on a mission” to provide financial relief to families or individuals who are confronted with life-threatening illness.
The Mike Nosco Memorial Ride embodies all the best that our cycling community is, dedicated, supportive, and tough as nails!
When Is The Ride? Saturday November 3rd
For More Info: https://mikenosco.com
Having a great event performance and riding to your potential requires many things to go well, but utilizing these tips, will go a long way to getting you through event-day with a smile on your face!
By sharing the work in a group, perfecting your personal hydration and nutrition needs, and having intimate knowledge of the route profile, including the ‘critical sectors’, you are much more likely to have a great experience at your upcoming Fondo.
Good luck and we hope these tips will propel you to an incredible event performance!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching
Coach Joy has been training for a different kind of ‘goal event’ over the past nine-months, namely, giving birth.
Without knowing the specific date for this target-event there was a degree of urgency to her preparations that encompassed both body and mind.
Although she knew it would be approximately June 28th, anything can happen with pregnancy, meaning preparations could be cut-short by an early-arrival or the process could be agonizingly drawn-out if the baby went beyond term.
So, how does a professional Athlete, Coach, and planner like Coach Joy strategize, prepare, and taper for an event like giving birth?
The same way we advocate each of our Athletes' do when approaching their goal-event(s), by seeking professional advice, devising a plan, and talking with experienced people!
And given that our learning will never cease in our pilgrimage to be great parents and coaches, our work is just beginning, but fortunately we are in love with the process!
Coach Joy's Birth-Story lead her to choose a Mid-Wife assisted birth at a local Birth Center. Moments after the birth, both Mom and Baby were excited to pose for this photo! Photo Credit: Erin Hart
So without further adieu, we are excited to report that just a couple of days beyond her due-date, and after over thirty-hours of labor, Coach Joy gave birth to the newest member of the BWC family, Seamus Brian McCulloch, on Sunday July 1st at 2:52AM.
As we open this new chapter of our lives as a couple, parents, and coaches, we want to give thanks and share our excitement for the future.
After announcing the birth of Baby Seamus through our personal and professional social media channels we have been absolutely humbled by the love, support, and well wishes we have received.
"Are you surprised that I have more hair than both my parents?" That's our best guess of Baby Seamus' facial expression in this photo! Photo Credit: Mama Joy
We are so thankful for the gift of a healthy baby boy and excited to share him with our BWC community that is filled with amazing people, Athletes, fans, and friends.
Please know that if you are reading this, we are thankful for you, thankful that you are a part of our community, and thankful for the trust you place in us to help you achieve your cycling goals!
Baby Seamus' first holiday is Papa Brian's favorite, Independence Day! From our family to yours, we hope you had a great 4th of July holiday! Photo Credit: Mama Joy
So although our two-coach team will need to “divide and conquer” at upcoming events, such as our Sub-Six Experience at the Mammoth Gran Fondo, we are certain that Baby Seamus’ presence, smile, and bubbly-demeanor will be the anchor of our BWC cheering section!
We look forward to seeing everyone on the road soon and introducing you to our baby boy!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, And Have Fun!
Brian & Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching
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