By Alex Pavon
Winter and spring are prime times to build base fitness, and unless you’re lucky enough to live in a place where you can ride or run year round, cold temperatures and snow can mean a lot of time on the trainer. I am lucky enough to live in Arizona, where year-round riding and warm temperatures attract thousands of athletes every shoulder season. Tucson is a familiar pilgrimage for many due to its amazing terrain and perfect weather, so it was a natural choice for The Cyclist’s Menu inaugural training camp.
While the area might be familiar, The Cyclist’s Menu is a training camp like no other. Hosted by Heidi Rentz, a professional multi-sport endurance athlete and coach, and Zander Ault, a professional chef and cycling enthusiast, the camp is centered (as you might have guessed from the name) around the table. The table functioned as both the vehicle for Zanders delicious creations, but also as a place where we gathered, breakfast lunch and dinner, to recap the day, tell stories, and make new friends. Both Heidi and Zander have worked in the industry for several years, combining their talents to create their very own premier fitness destination, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to come down as a guide. (Obviously I said yes!)
The day before camp started was jam-packed from beginning to end. Heidi and Ryan went to set up the house, which meant that Chef Z and I were on grocery duty.. Quality over quantity is a key feature of Chef Z’s menu, and his ability to prepare and shop for his clients shows his expertise as a private chef and caterer. We visited a handful of Tucson’s spanish markets, chatted with street vendors and finished at Whole Foods, where we spent a solid hour just selecting meat. I think we bought 20 lamb chops, a 7.5 pound pork shoulder and 5 or 6 skirt steaks; along with 12 boxes of arugula, spring mix, and spinach; 5 bundles of cilantro; 16 avocados; 24 lemons and limes; a bazillion apples; 5 dozen eggs; etc., etc. With Chef Z, grocery shopping is elevated to an art form.
Of course, shopping for 10 people for a week is also a hefty and expensive task, but it says a lot about how important the food is to Heidi and Chef Z. The food we bought for this camp was as fresh as we could get it—not from bulk or full or preservatives. Heidi and Chef Z bought a lot produce from local farms, and even worked with a baker in town, who supplied us with artisanal bread crafted from wheat and barley grown just miles from Tucson.
When we got back to the house, we set up the “feed zone”, a massive countertop full of sports nutrition organized by brand. Each product was near and dear to Heidi and Chef Z; all, (except one) hailing from Colorado, where Heidi and Chef Z live. This made choosing ride food a lot less stressful, in fact, I found myself choosing bars as snacks on many occasions simply because they were all so good. There was constant debate about which products were the best or which Enduro Bites flavors were our favorites-- but we couldn’t really go wrong with such an amazing selection.
Most people go to a training camp with one thing on their minds: miles. Camps can last around five days and provide the opportunity to ride around 250 miles total. Aside from arrival day (a mere 30 miles and 1,700 feet of climbing) we rode from 60 to 100 miles a day, with 3-6,000 feet of beautiful rolling hills and mountain grades. So we got the typical experience there, but the difference was made in our fuel. Heidi and Chef Z had a very straightforward approach to the structure of their week: fuel your body with the right food and you’ll be able to conquer your personal goals and more.
To that end, each morning Heidi and Chef Z were up bright and early, making breakfast for everyone and prepping lunch so it could be loaded into the SAG wagon for immediate post-ride consumption. After climbing Kitt Peak on the first day, we rolled into a picnic area off of Ajo Highway to find Chef Z preparing a salad and making sandwiches with guacamole. After climbing Mt. Lemmon the very next day, we rolled back to ProBike Tucson (the premier shop in town) to find him dishing out hot tomato and basil soup with Euro-style grilled cheese baguettes. Following our 70 mile “Tour of Tucson” ride on day 3, we were greeted with delicious Asian-inspired soup and noodles. Can you see what I’m getting at?
Dinner was what I looked forward to the most. Never have I ever eaten such delicious, artfully made, well-presented and healthy food on a trip. Each dinner was a different cuisine: Moroccan, Indian, South Western, Ecuadorian; and each was designed not only to be delicious, but to help us recover and get back on the bike the next day. We were encouraged to eat with the chopsticks Heidi and Chef Z got each of us; which helped us slow down and really enjoy each bite. I mentioned earlier that the dinner table was supposed to be the nucleus of the camp, and it truly was. So many great moments were had at that table, so many stories and jokes were shared; laughter was abundant, and everyone eventually became proficient with chopsticks.
Any athlete knows how important food is to their training; you get out what you put in—mentally and physically. If we don’t give our bodies the fuel they need to work hard, we will struggle to reach our true potential. At the Cyclist’s Menu camp, I learned to be mindful and to take the time to appreciate fuel, on and off the bike. I came home with a new perspective on food and on training thanks to Heidi and Chef Z, and I’m sure our guests did as well. I’m very thankful to have started my 2016 training season with The Cyclist’s Menu, and I can’t wait to see where this season takes me.