My name is Syd Schulz and I am a professional mountain bike racer, focusing on enduro events. I am also a writer, blogger and lifestyle athlete. Currently based in Taos, NM, I grew up in Ohio and started riding bikes as a kid in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Over the past three years, I have raced my bike on four different continents and traveled all over the United States in a dirt-bag van. My blog focuses on inspirational content and stories of my own personal development. My goal is to inspire others to tackle their biggest hurdles in life (and on the bike).
Van life is pretty trendy these days, but sifting through the hashtag on Instagram doesn’t shed much light on what it’s really like. Apparently, you can cook gourmet meals on a single burner and wake up every morning with a view of the beach, but what about the everyday grind? And what about working out? Perhaps the average van life instagrammer gets enough exercise wrestling with the pop-top on their 1970s vanagon, but as professional mountain bikers who also happen to live on the road, my fiancé and I have to take our training a little more seriously. That means fitting in workouts around the every day logistics of van life. Whether you’re living in a van full time or just traveling for a few weeks in the summer, these tips should help you maintain your fitness routine on the road.
Prioritize your training schedule and PLAN AHEAD. This is pretty obvious but it’s also probably the most important tip on the list. While it’s always important to prioritize your training, it’s extra important if you’re living in a van, because van life has a tendency to throw the unexpected at you. If you’re not careful a lot of little things (filling up water, dealing with mechanical issues, setting up camp, driving into town) can swallow up your entire day. But, as with most things, if you have a plan, you’re way more likely to succeed. Make sure you plan around where you’ll be, so that your schedule is realistic to the time and resources (gym access, good mountain bike trails, etc.) that you have available.
Make sure your workout gear is easily accessible. If you have to spend half an hour digging around the bowels of your van to find all your riding gear, that’s going to cut into your workout time. Staying organized in a small space can be a nightmare, so when you plan your van build, make sure your organization reflects your priorities — If all your workout stuff has an assigned spot that’s easy to get to, you’ll save valuable time (and mental anguish). Ideally, when you arrive at the trailhead or the gym, it will only takes you a few seconds to find what you need.
KEEP A MINI-GYM
Better yet, have your own mobile mini gym. It’s amazing what you can do with a few resistance bands, a TRX, a jump rope and some creative body weight exercises. A pretty small investment in exercise equipment can mean you have no excuse to skip your workout, even if you’re camping in the middle of nowhere. I keep all these goodies together in a bag, because, even if I am going to a gym, you never know exactly what sort of equipment they’ll have, so it’s good to bring the essentials with you. I also use this bag to store some spare gym clothes and my Jaybird X3s, so (as per my second point) I can be ready to workout in no time.
Here’s what I have in my mini mobile gym bag:
– PT bands
– Resistance bands
– Jump rope
– Tennis balls (for juggling or rolling out sore muscles)
– Foam roller
– Voodoo floss band
– Jaybird X3s for the tunezzz
USE GYM SHOWERS
Speaking of gyms, shower at the gym. Finding showers while living the van life can be a challenge. Sure, you can have an expensive shower set up in your van, or fiddle with a solar shower — but if you’re an athlete, the best thing to do is just commit to showering at the gym. You’re not going to pay the gym fee for just a shower, so you’ll probably follow through with your workout as well. (Note: may not be financially sustainable if you feel the need to shower more than twice a week — but hey, you’re living in a van, so you’re probably on the level.)
GET A MAT
Invest in a tumbling mat. This was one of our best Amazon purchases ever. Why not just a yoga mat? Well, the problem with van life is that you don’t always have smooth, rock-less surfaces to set up a yoga mat, and having a thick tumbling mat means you can literally stretch on any surface, no matter how bumpy. The mat also doubles as a wind blocker when cooking in the desert, or a privacy screen for changing in the parking lot. Yes, it takes up a decent bit of space in the van, but it’s always the first thing we pull out when we make camp and it’s probably our most used item, so it’s well worth it.
Hopefully this inspired you to get out there and get your workout done, whether you live in a van or not!
Check out my playlist of the week:
Keep in touch with Syd!
As a Professional Athlete and Business Owner, I find myself dissecting situations all the time. What went wrong? What went right? How can I get better? The number one thing I can attribute to my successes has been a willingness to try. Without a playful curiosity with the unknown, we’d be frozen in stagnation. (e.g. how will the race go; what happens if I try this with my training; what will this person say about my proposal, etc)
There are two ways that people fail:
1. Giving up before giving it a try.
2. Looking for the win in the wrong place.
Number one has always been easy for me, but number two is something I have had to make a conscious mind shift and train myself to do.
1. Giving up before giving it a try
To achieve anything meaningful in our lives, we set goals. Maybe we want to get a promotion at work, run a faster 10k, lose weight, or finish our first mountain bike race. When we set goals, the goals are important to us and we get attached to the outcome. What happens if we don’t reach that outcome? Fear claws our vulnerabilities and we start to worry what people will think; maybe we weren’t “cut out” to do this; maybe we’ll never get there. These concerns and excuses are all a fear of the unknown. Sometimes, we get so paralyzed by some of our dreams that we won’t even attempt to reach them. Our limits are often self-imposed due to a lack of confidence. I’ve been there in many different areas of my life. The best reward is proving yourself wrong. It’s not always comfortable to push our limits, but that stretch zone makes us capable of so much more in our lives.
Ten years ago, the dream of becoming a pro mountain biker seemed impossible but through hard work, it happened. If you told me 5 years ago that I would be a World Champion in endurance mountain biking, that I could go off a 6’ jump on my bike, or that I would race in over 20 countries, I would have laughed in your face and said, “yeah right!” The stretch zone will surprise you and show you that you are capable of more than you think.
The point: the more you do, the more you believe you can do. Each time you stretch yourself, each time you grow just a little bit, your frame of reference expands a little more. Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that what brings us satisfaction and happiness as human beings is to strive to reach our potential. That’s why when we aren’t go-getting, we feel like something is missing and we are looking for inspiration.
“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
2. Looking for the win in the wrong place.
There are two main intimidating parts of a big goal: the time it takes to get there and getting started.
The second part of overcoming failure is redefining your win. What happens along the way when you fail? If you are truly intent on a growth, you will have letdowns along the way. Failure is only permanent if you allow it to be. How do you survive failure? It lies in within your focus. An example is my last race. It was a big goal of mine to win but when race day came, I had no legs and despite my best efforts, I finished in a lackluster 5th place. I was irritated because I knew I was capable of so much more, but I didn’t let it ruin my day. Instead of focusing on where I should be, I chose to look at things that I was doing well. It was pouring rain and I had been working on slippery, technical riding. For the first time ever, I felt confident and enjoyed the sketchy, slick descents. How else can you soften the blow of failure? Always do your best. Your best on one day may be different than your best on another day, but that is okay. With each challenging experience, it gives you something to fall back on the next time it gets hard. How many times have we thought, “Well I survived [x], I can get through this.” Adversity is good. It’s what makes us stronger.
Our perception is our reality. The goal should be to grow and get better, not to be perfect every time.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Lately, I’ve been discovering the joys of road biking around my home of Salt Lake City, UT. I’ve never been a serious road biker and it’s a whole new world to me that I didn’t fully understand until immersing myself in the sport. Now, I’m hooked and I want to encourage everyone to try it out! Before I got my own bike, I demoed one from a bike shop to get a sense of it. May was national bike month, but I think every month of the summer can be a good month to ride.
Here are my top ten reasons to get on a road bike:
- The access. There are roads everywhere. You don’t need to drive to the gym or to the trailhead to get your workout on. You can go right out your front door.
- Running, swimming and biking offer the most bang for your buck for cardio. If you’re short on time but need to get a workout in, road biking is a great option.
- Being able to eat dessert (or whatever you want). Because you can burn so many calories, you can enjoy that cookie or ice cream for dessert. Plus, food tastes better after a workout.
- Low Impact Burn. Compared to running, biking is super gentle to joints, muscles and bones. It’s a valuable training tool for anyone who has had injuries, especially knee, ankle or foot.
- When you’re riding a bike, you can’t type or check your email. The mind doesn’t wander far from the 30 yards ahead of you. This is especially true for the descent and for beginners. You have to focus on the road and all the hazards it presents. This type of forced mindfulness practice is good for the brain.
- Exercising outdoors adds challenges like wind and weather that help push you past mental and physical barriers. Getting outside of your comfort zone is the key to progression.
- Joy/Freedom. It’s hard not to smile when you’re cruising on a road bike. It evokes a childlike sense of wonder and freedom.
- Camraderie/community. Even when I’m riding solo, I feel like I’m part of an exclusive gang. Road bikers are so friendly to one another. It also opens you up to a huge community of people who chose to make fitness a priority and spend their time outdoors. If you want more of this community vibe, it’s really easy to sign up for a group ride, non-competitive or competitive event! In my home city, there are tons of races every weekend for every level of athlete.
- Cross-training. As a professional ski mountaineer, doing long amounts of cardio is the key to being successful on summit day. Most other athletes will find that biking is a great way to develop muscles and endurance when they can’t do the sport they are training for.
- Spandex doesn’t lie. It’s easy to ignore a few extra pounds in street wear, but spandex will call you out on any extra weight.
Have fun and be safe out there!
The engine of my ’94 Nissan Sentra sputtered as I turned the key. My $300 mountain bike was jammed in the back seat of my car (affectionately named The Tough Bastard) and I muscled my way through the turns up the switchbacks to Sandia Peak Ski Area outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. My car didn’t have power steering, but it took me where I wanted to go. I was about to line up for my first mountain bike race; never mind the fact that I had only started mountain biking 3 weeks ago. I labeled myself as a runner at the time and was excited to try something new. When I strapped that very first crisp number plate to my handlebar, I didn’t realize it would change my life. It’s now been over a decade since I started mountain bike racing and it still baffles me that I have made a career out of my passion and travel the world doing it. It’s the adventures and the long shots I’ve taken that continue to define me.
The Tough Little Bastard.
I started as an eager XC racer (that’s 15-20 mile total racing distance) and started racing in the “pro” category 2 years later. When I like something, I’m all in and I went head first into cycling (and tried to avoid going head first when I crashed although it happens on occasion). I enjoyed the competition but after several years, I grew bored racing for 1.5 hours in the same places and riding around in circles. I felt like there was something missing. It seemed that XC racing was more about beating other people and less about a personal challenge. 5 years ago I changed my discipline to ultra endurance mountain biking. The romance of long rides on the unexplored Rocky Mountain backcountry trails clutched at my spirit. I’d unsnap the lid of the black sharpie and trace massive trail loops on maps, load my pack with food and water, and set off to see what would happen and how long it would take. I was struggling with motivation to do the 1.5 hour short interval training rides necessary for XC racing because for me, they lacked substance. There wasn’t a lot of adventure in staring at my bike computer doing intervals on the same stretch of road or trail though it’s almost required if you want to get faster! With an unquenchable thirst for more, I started picking the longest and hardest single and multi-day events around the USA. I found my niche; 100 milers and stage (multi-day) racing. I was able to progress and start winning races around the world and racing across regions of countries like Sri Lanka, Haiti, Nepal, Mongolia, and Morocco and even winning a World Championship. I am hooked because it makes me feel alive.
One of my races through the Sahara Desert
Stage racing, particularly in third world countries teaches you more about yourself than you could ever learn during the daily grind. It strips you down to the essentials- food, water, basic shelter, and getting from point A to point B in one piece. You live like the locals. You learn the importance of community because that group of people you are racing with and against for a week is all you know. They become your family. Everyone has one and the same label: “mountain biker”; as opposed to the labels and expectations that society can place on us in a city. Rich, poor, big house, small house, CEO, janitor- none of those descriptors matter at a stage race. Dinners are spent sharing stories of what you saw or of personal encounters creating true camaraderie. To top it off, no matter what the fitness or skill level of rider, you are physically pushing yourself to the limit for days on end in foreign conditions. If you are not mentally strong, it will break you. I’ve learned some incredible life lessons from racing. Lessons that I use in my every day life, for work, and in relationships.
Here are the three most important.
- Attitude is a choice. We are lucky! We get to choose the lens for the world. Choosing to scan for the positive things around you instead of focusing on the negative makes you more successful and happier. Just ask Shawn Achor, Harvard PhD, author of “The Happiness Advantage.” When I see something challenging in front of me, I feel the apprehension, then laugh at it and kick its ass instead of withering and dreading how painful it’ll be.
- Be brave. It’s worth it. It takes courage to believe in your dreams and take the necessary steps to make them happen. It won’t always turn out the way you expected, but simply getting started when you want to do something will change your life. Overcoming the “what ifs” and taking action will change the way you approach all future challenges.
- You can do way more than you think. Anyone who has taken on a challenge can relate to this. You can think back and say, “Wow! I did all that!” It can be raising a child, running a marathon, or even taking guitar lessons. The more you do, the more you believe you can do.
If you live with these key points in mind as I do, you’ll find yourself doing extraordinary things! If you’d like to hear how I define success, watch my TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYiflJvxTac)
I would love to connect with you! Choose your flavor! instagram (www.instagram.com/looneysonya), facebook (www.facebook.com/looneysonya), twitter (www.twitter.com/sonyalooney) or snapchat (SonyaLooney).