Lessons the Mountains Taught Me

by Mike Coughlin

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the EC Colorado Climbing Camp. In addition to the big training, camaraderie, lack of non-training stressors, and other well-known benefits of a training camp, we had the opportunity to train in the Rocky Mountains.

I have always felt a special connection to mountainous terrain, even though I have rarely lived close to it. My first experiences in the mountains were as a teenage downhill skier, and I quickly learned to respect them. More recently I have discovered that endurance training in this environment offers unique challenges, and that rugged terrain can be a great teacher. Here are some of the lessons the mountains taught me:

  • Pace yourself. This is a common lesson in endurance training, but nowhere is it more evident than when faced with a long climb over a big mountain pass. It also became clear over the course of the week that there is great value in pacing the camp as a whole.

  • Altitude magnifies mistakes. Not all mountain ranges are at high altitude, but the Rockies certainly are. Most of the camp took place between 8,000ft and 12,000ft, with a climb over 14,000ft on the final day. At those altitudes, factors like hydration, pacing and nutrition become critical and you learn to develop keen body awareness that is valuable when training and racing at any altitude.

  • Beauty is powerful. I had some rough days during this camp. However, even when things were tough, I was looking at some of the most stunning scenery in the world. This really helped me see beyond myself and how I was feeling, and take a big picture view.

  • We achieve more together than apart. The mountains are such a challenging environment that even the strongest athletes are humbled. The most successful climbs were those where we worked together for at least part of the time.

  • Descending quickly and safely is a skill. What goes up must come down, and we spent a long time going downhill during this camp. Long, fast descents offer an opportunity to practice skills in a way that isn’t possible in flat to rolling terrain. Knowing to put your weight on the outside pedal and look through the corner is one thing. Practicing it again and again as you fly down endless switchbacks is quite another.

  • We are connected to nature. With training speeds and distances nowhere near my typical range, I found myself ignoring most of my training gadgets and focusing on the environment around me. Summiting a climb on foot or two wheels carries its own satisfaction and reward, and swimming in an outdoor pool watching the sun come up over a mountain defies description. You can feel connected to nature anywhere you train, but in the mountains you can’t help but feel that way.

Endurance athletes have been using mountainous locations to train for a long time, and the camp has taught me why. If you don’t have local access to such a location, I recommend scheduling a training vacation in the mountains.

Embrace the challenge!

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