Sunday, November 5, 2017

Resetting the soul – an endurance athlete’s guide to sanity

Every Fall after a long season of training and racing, I become overwhelmed with a great feeling.  Something comes over me — the desire to throw my bike in a dark corner, and never ride it again.  Okay, maybe not never again, but for at least a month.  That’s right, while many are enjoying arguably the best time to bike in Colorado, I’m thousands of miles from home “recharging”.  No bikes, no (structured) training, no scales, and most importantly, no dieting!  It’s my way of hitting the reset button on my soul, and reconnecting with my family.

Deep In the hole

When you’re deep in the hole of training and racing, the mind can become unclear.  Any endurance athlete knows it takes so much more than just getting in the miles.  There’s making race weight by tirelessly logging every calorie, getting in more sleep than a hibernating grizzly bear, doing yoga/stretching, strength training, and so many other small things.  Essentially, being an endurance athlete so much a part of your being it consumes every aspect of your life —and we love it!

The love affair of being an endurance athlete is complicated though.  Everything it takes to succeed also takes a toll on one’s soul — especially after months of grinding.  More importantly, it takes a toll on your family.  After all, living with your typical narcissistic endurance athlete isn’t easy.  Alas, the fogginess of the mind can make anyone unaware of just how unbearable they are to be around.  That’s when it’s time to press the reset button for the sanity of yourself and loved ones.

Pressing Reset

When you’re deep in the hole, there’s only one thing left to do — fill that hole back in to the surface! 

Refocus your energy

Even when you’re not trying to be an endurance athlete, you can’t just turn off all that energy.  The offseason is a good time to refocus all that pent-up energy elsewhere.  For example, if you bike, run — if you run, bike.  Personally, as an endurance mountain biker I like to run while also focusing on strength training.  Signing up for an event outside of your field of athleticism can make things fun.  One of my favorite achievements as an endurance athlete is running a half marathon in Lisbon, Portugal.

Another option is to focus your energy on getting things done around the house, especially if you’ve been neglecting projects amid training.  I once spent a whole month remodeling a bathroom before the birth of my son — working on the project after my nine to five and on the weekends.  Although it wasn’t the most fun I’ve had during an offseason, it was incredibly rewarding.

If you’re an endurance cyclist, and you just can’t stay off the bike in the Fall then another great option is cyclocross.  These fast-paced races are great for increasing VO2max, and working on corning skills for both road and mountain cyclists.  Working on dismounting/remounting to get over obstacles is another skill for all those hike-a-bike sections in endurance mountain bike races.  Also, by trading in long rides for shorter all-out rides, you’ll still have more free time with the family!

Putting your main athletic endeavors aside for a while helps you carve it after a long period away.  By the end, you’ll be itching to get back to it for another great season!


What kind of body type do you have?  Can you get away with having a beer and/or eating badly from time to time during training/racing without much weight gain?  Awesome!  You probably don’t need to take a month off from dieting and can skip this section.

Some of us aren’t as lucky — present party included.  For us, we magically gain five pounds overnight just from one bad evening of drinking and/or eating.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take several days to get back on track.  When you have this body type, it’s not feasible to splurge here and there; especially closer to race season.  We must stay dialed most of the year or else risk being above race weight.  After months of this, it can become unbearable.

For us fat kids, I suggest taking a month to say f@*k it!  That’s right, indulge!  Don’t try to hold back, don’t log a calorie, don’t even look at a scale.  I usually do this whilst traveling in Europe where it’s ludicrous to even try to hold back.  After a couple of weeks of this, you’ll start feeling lethargic.  You’ll remember how much better you felt well dieting properly, and be ready to get back on it!  There is a disclaimer though — only do this if you know you can loss the weight by your first race.

A season’s worth of benefits

After a long hiatus, you will be given the gift of a clear mind.  This is a great time to take advantage of your clarity!  I strongly suggest taking this time to write down your thoughts — especially if you feel you’ve really gone over the deep end during the training/racing season.  This aids in not falling into the same pitfalls you may have had when you were close to the grinding wheel.  For instance, write a blog entry — hey, look at me!

My personal reflections

As the candid author I am, allow me to share my own personal reflections.  In my own clarity, I decided to change up my race schedule for next year to better suite my family.  I was signed up for a seven-day stage race in the Spring.  Although this would have been an exciting endeavor, the amount of time training would have been far above my normal pace.  In addition, it would require taking vacation days from work to race my bike.  All this adds up to sufficiently less time with the family.

In my clarity, I realized just how selfish I was being with my time.  Especially true with having a toddler at home and working a nine to five job on top of training.  I may never get the opportunity to do this race again, but I also will never get to experience my son being three ever again either.  Perhaps when my son is older and more involved his own life, the old man will get another shot at stage racing.  For now, I know in my heart this is the best choice.

Remember what’s important

Without clarity, the endurance athlete’s decision making can become irrational.  Yes, being an endurance athlete must be a top priority if you going to succeed.  However, there is a point where you need to recognize that the same athletic drive that makes you great could also be negatively affecting the world around you.

Taking some time off can help you address these issues, and give you the clarity to stay somewhat sane into the next race season.  Not just for yourself, but for your loved ones as well.  Just remember to cease the moment of clarity and put your thoughts on paper. I can only say somewhat sane though because we all know you must be a little crazy to choose the path of an endurance athlete!  Stay somewhat sane out there my friends!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Siena – City of Enchantment

Siena, Italy is a well-preserved city of enchantment and wonder.  It’s first settlers date back to 900-400 BC.  Other than upgrading the store fronts to gelato joints, not much has changed.  The amount of effort put into keeping this city as it was hundreds of years ago — astonishing!  It truly is something right out of a fairy tale.

Hoofing Around the City

Although the main streets are crowded with tourists, it’s easy to find less populated side streets were the locals roam.  The city can be confusing to get around at first, but soon you will discover that you’re never truly lost.  Everything flows back into the Piazza del Campo, a large piazza where all the locals get together to hangout and/or see events.  From the Piazza, everything within the city walls can be walked to in about ten minutes.  If you’re a runner/biker looking to explore less populated routes, there is an abundance of beautiful country roads just outside the city as well.

Photo taken from our AirBnB balcony

The Contrade

Per Wikipedia:
A contrada (plural: contrade) is a district, or a ward, within an Italian city. The most well-known contrade are probably the 17 contrade of Siena whose representatives race on horseback in the Palio di Siena, run twice each year. Each is named after an animal or symbol, and each has a long history and complicated heraldic and semi-mythological associations.

Not only is each contrada its own district, each has its own museum, social hall, and fountain.  Finding all seventeen fountains becomes a magical treasure hunt and offers an exciting way to see the city.  These small, tight notched communities within the city of Siena gives this large metropolitan area a small-town aura.

What to see while in Siena

Churches Galore!

There is an abundance of awe-inspiring Churches to explore from the Duomo di Siena to the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico and many lesser known Churches scattered around the city.  Make sure to dress appropriately for the Churches; men can’t wear shorts, ladies can’t wear short skirts or anything revealing shoulders.

Museums and other attractions

Other than the Churches, there are many museums to venture into as well.  If you’re already seeing the Duomo di Siena, I suggest getting the OPA Pass which includes everything surrounding the Duomo as well.  The Santa Maria della Scala is worth the cost alone.  For a more detailed list of attractions, I invite you to visit the site of my favorite travel blogger, Megan Collier – What You’ve Been Missing.

Nighttime Strolls

Taking a stroll through the city after the sun goes down makes you feel as if you are living in a different era.  At times, you’ll feel as if you have the city to yourselves as many tourists are already off to the bed.  The city is completely safe, so don’t be afraid to venture down dark alleys to reveal the magic this city offers.  Also, make sure to look up every once in a while to view all the intricate details of the buildings above.

Where to Stay

Accommodations vary from budget AirBnB’s to five star hotels.  Personally, I always prefer an AirBnB equipped with a kitchen.  Not only does this keep cost down for the accommodation itself, but gives the ability to prepare meals during your stay.  However, I understand the comfort of a hotel with room service, housekeeping, and a flexible check-in/check-out time.  My rule of thumb is if it’s only one night, hotel; extended stays, AirBnB.

Photo taken from our AirBnB balcony

Giving personal information

Please note that is it Italian law for guests to provide personal information like address, date of birth, and passport number to their hosts/hostels/hotels.  Hosts take a huge risk by not asking for this information which comes with hefty fine if caught.  However, since this information is required, I would suggest taking extra care when choosing an accommodation.

Eating out on the town

Choosing a restaurant

This is why you came —to eat!  Within the city, there are many, many restaurants to choose from.  There are couple of resources I like to use to select a restaurant.  First, TripAdvisor is king when it comes to restaurant reviews in Europe.  Don’t completely trust TripAdvisior though.  Ask yourself, does it look like there are locals at the restaurant, or mainly tourists?  The locals know the best places to eat, so follow their laid.  Also, if it looks trendy, in my experience that equates to underwhelming meals at overpriced rates.  However, if the restaurant looks like it hasn’t been remodeled for a couple of centuries, you’re in for a treat.

What to expect

Unless you’re at a pizza joint, menus are typically split up into antipasta – starters,  primi piatti - main course, secondi piatti - second courses, contorni – sides, and dolci -desserts. 

Primi piatti is where you will find all your pastas.  You can’t go wrong with gnocchetti or risotto which you are most likely familiar.  A pasta special to Siena is pici — a thick pasta that resembles fat spaghetti.  Most places will have pici cacio e pepe (pici with cheese and pepper) — sure to be a delight.

Primi piatti is where you’ll find meat entrees.  Admittedly, I haven’t explored too much since the main course is always enough, but anything with wild boar is going to be amazing.

Dolci for me is often tiramisu — no one restaurant does it the same.  Another treat is almond cookies.  If they bring small glasses and a bottle of brown-tinted liquid in it, you’re in for an experience.  This is vin santo, a 16% dessert wine.  It is absolutely delightful, so don’t shy away!

Antipasta and contorni are self-explanatory, so I won’t waste your time going into detail.

As far as drinks go, I strongly recommend ordering the house wine which typically comes in half or full liters.  If you want water, unless you ask for tap water, this is an extra charge.  I recommend ordering sparkling water — it’s okay guys, nobody will judge you whilst in Italy so indulge!

Eating on a budget

Want to enjoy Italiano but are on a tight budget?  Meal prices can be kept low by shopping the local grocery store, Conad City.  Looking for a quick Italian meal at the quarter of the price of restaurants, and have a kitchen to cook?  Here’s an easy Italiano diner!  Pick a Conad brand pasta of your choosing, and pair with a Conad brand sauce like the Pesto Rosso or Pesto alla Genovese.  Add a freshly made baguette, and a bottle of wine (hint: the best & cheapest wines are on the bottom shelves) —amazing Italiano cuisine — prego!  Oh, and the store-bought pizzas are amazing as well!

Other options

Although not an Italian cuisine, I cannot leave out how good the Indian food is ANYWHERE in Europe.  If it has “kebob” in the name, no burgers on the menu (this is key), and the staff are Indian themselves — prepare to have your mind blown!  These are fast food style restaurants, so expect to leave with a full wallet as well as a full belly.

Best places to eat

Looking for a couple “go to” restaurants?  Here a list of my top choices in a couple of categories!

Sit Down Dinner
Osteria Il Carroccio - Via Casato Di Sotto, 32

Quick Lunch
Prètto Prosciutteria - Via dei Termini, 4

Sit Down Lunch
Osteria Trombicche - Via delle Terme, 66

Quick Pizza
Le Prinipesse - Via S. Pietro, 49

Sit Down Pizza
Il Pomodorino - Via Camporegio, 13

Gelateria Kopakabana - Via dei Rossi, 52

Indian (Kebob)
Siena Chicken Kebab - Via Camollia, 23

Drinks with a view
Vivace Pizza & Griglia - Via Stalloreggi, 62


Getting to and from Siena can be challenging as there is no airport within the city.  The two main modes of transportation are train and bus from Rome or Florence.  Taking the bus is the most direct route of getting into the city.  The bus schedule is difficult to find online, so your best bet is to just go the bus station with your baggage and ask for the next available bus.  Buses run so often, you won’t be waiting too long.  Siena isn’t very big, so no matter where your bus drops you off in the city, it won’t be far from your accommodation.

Although I can’t promise these links will be relevant when you are traveling, here are some bus company options at the time of this writing:

  • Tiemme SpA
    • Look for routes under extraurban
      • 131R A is Siena -> Florence (rapid route w/ less stops)
      • 131R R is Florence -> Siena (rapid route w/ less stops)

Breathtaking Siena

Siena is a breathtaking city with a lot to offer to anyone wishing to explore it.  Ask enough of your friends, and chances are you know somebody that has been to Siena.  More than likely, they will exclaim “I love Siena!” and will be happy to give you a more intimate viewpoint of the city.  I strongly recommend visiting this enchanting city yourself, as words cannot explain all its amazement.


For a large array of random photos taken around the city, I invite you to visit my photo album Siena – City of Enchantment.  Of special interest, you’ll find several 360 degree photos!  Prego!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Living the Dream - My Crazy Lifestyle of being an Athlete with a World Traveling Family

Somehow, I have found myself sitting in my AirBnB in Siena, Italy on a cool, rainy afternoon with some time on my hands. Since it has been more than two years since I've published a blog, I figured now would be a good time. So why not give a quick update of my life, shall we?

That Biking Thing

I suppose I will start with biking - since that is the basis of this blog. Yes, I am still an avid mountain bike endurance athlete. That won't be changing for a very long time. Every year I continue to exceed prior results.  It feels good to be thirty-five and still getting faster — I've always been a late bloomer you know.  To ramp things up in 2018, I'm signed up for a six day stage in Spain during the Spring.

She Carried Him Nine Months — I'll Get the Rest

Training has changed drastically since now a days I have a training partner.  My two (nearly three) year old Nolan is usually in tow.  As an athlete Dad, I do what I have to do to get the job done.  Climbing up a mountain road with a toddler in tow isn't going to win me any "greatest father" awards, but with a trailer featuring a five point harness and roll cage he's safer than I am.  I also pick times of the day that are less busy, and select routes that it are less populated with vehicles.  You're gonna see the Instagram pictures, so figured I'd ease your fears.

Digital Nomad Extraordinaire

Another drastic change in my lifestyle is becoming a digital nomad — a person who works "remotely" via laptop and internet connection.  To be fair, I have blogged about traveling while working in various locations in the past .  What's new is the level has now reached a status worthy of  the "digital nomad" title.  Since my last blog alone, I have been (and going) to the following location:
  • Lisbon, Portugal - One month, Fall 2016
  • Milan, Italy - One week following Lisbon, Fall 2016
  • Las Vegas, NV - One month, Winter 2016
  • Miami, FL - One week, Winter 2017
  • Santa Barbara, CA - One month, Spring 2017
  • Oregon Coast; Missoula, MT; Livingston, MT - One month, Summer 2017
  • Siena, Italy - One month, Fall 2017 (at time of writing)
  • Palm Spring, CA - One month, Winter 2017
  • Córdoba, Spain - One month, Spring 2018

Gotta Keep Moving

My wife Megan, Nolan, and I travel roughly half the year. This means when we are "home" in Golden, CO; we are scrambling to get things done for our next trip. This includes preparing our home as AirBnB hosts - an incredible endeavor that helps finance our traveling lifestyle.
Somehow, with the help of an incredible wife, I am still able to get in the required training needed to be an elite athlete.  And you wonder why I haven't blogged in two years!


So there you have it.  Digital nomad, husband to a travelhoic flight attendant wife, and athlete dad of #AdventureNolan.  I lead an extremely fortunate lifestyle, and my goal is to embrace every day I have.  Live, love, and travel! To keep up the craziness, follow me on Instagram -> @nathancolliermtbr