But there's one thing that often gets overlooked: weight.
I'm not talking about the weight of the bike or the weight of the gear. Most of us obsess about that stuff. How many of us have weighed our kit and wondered if anyone out there makes a lighter rain jacket? Or a lighter sleeping bag? We dream about how much weight we could save if we upgrade to a titanium frame. Or a lighter seat post, handlebar, or derailleur. Even now, I'm contemplating buying titanium pedal spindles so I can shave 70 grams off my rig.
70 grams. For the love.
But what about the elephant in the room? In all of that weight-weeny furor, it's easy to overlook the heaviest - but most important - piece of gear. I'm talking about the weight of the rider.
Hold on, you say - does rider weight really matter? Uh, yes it does, and it matters more than you may think. This year's Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali struggled with his weight in the months leading up to the big race, so much so that his doctor speculated he would not win unless he got serious about shedding those last few pounds. Nibali set a goal, achieved it, and won the Tour.
Now, I concede that the Tour Divide is a whole other kind of race. But losing weight still makes a difference, whether it comes from the bike or the rider. Some studies have shown that losing body weight may make a greater difference than shaving grams off the bike.
Lose weight? Like, a significant amount of weight? Probably not gonna happen.
Are you listening to yourself? You're about to attempt the world's toughest bike race! If you don't think you can set a physical goal and hit it before race day, then brother, stay home.
As I write this, I'm 6'3" and about 185 lbs. That works out to a BMI of about 23. According to the National Institute of Health, the "healthy range" for BMI is anywhere from 18 - 25. So I'm good, right?
Yes and no. Yes I'm a healthy weight for life in general, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm still too heavy to sustain race pace - or even touring pace - for days on end.
That's why my goal for race day is 170 lbs. That works out to a BMI of approximately 21. Well within the healthy range, and not even that big a jump on the BMI scale. But think about it - how much money would you have to shell out to drop 15 lbs off your rig? Is that even possible?
I think it's a given that dropping weight has benefits with regard to wind resistance and the power required to pedal at speed. However, the other significant benefit - maybe the most important one in a multi-day bikepacking event - is wear and tear on the rider. Knees. Ankles. Saddle pressure. The less body weight you carry, the longer you'll be able to stay on the bike.
Reducing body fat is part of an overall strategy for creating health for my life in general, but it is an essential ingredient when it comes to optimizing my chances for success in the Tour Divide. Dropping weight in the weeks leading up to race day is a losing proposition, so I'm doing it now. Achieving target weight this far out will have a positive snowball effect on subsequent training as well, allowing me to build my body and my mind with confidence as I gear up for the big day.
Can I do it? Time will tell, but I'm confident that I can. If you've read the "about me" sidebar of this blog, you already know I'm a health coach with Take Shape For Life. My wife and I have had tremendous success with TSFL in the past, and are dedicating our lives to helping others transform their lives too. I believe in TSFL because I know it works.
And it can work for you too.
So here's the pitch. If you're gearing up for a major life event, or if you simply want to create health in your life for its own sake, contact us - we can help. If you're reading this in September 2014, you can even join us in our Thin It To Win It Meltdown Challenge. I can't think of a better way to kick off the fall - and head into the holidays - than making health a front burner priority. Creating optimal health starts with burning off unnecessary fat reserves as you learn new habits of health.
Where you go from there is up to you.