Coaching a Rocky Mountain high

Phil Morton at Loveland Pass, looking good. Photo courtesy of Phil Morton.

Phil Morton at Loveland Pass, looking good. Photo courtesy of Phil Morton.


By Michael Collier

This is a feel-good story. Well, not all feel-good.

It’s about a guy named Phil Morton, who is an experienced cyclist and member of my bike club in Berkeley, California. This Spring, he decided to reach out for support from his friends as he prepared for the ride of his life in the Colorado Rockies.

One of the first things he did in his quest to ride a grueling, six-day bike trek was to find me. I am a cycling coach, and my specialty is helping endurance cyclists like Phil train, physically and mentally, for difficult rides. Phil was my first student and a very good one.

Last year, Phil participated in Ride the Rockies, an event sponsored by the Denver Post newspaper. It was a lot more struggle than fun. His legs ached, his stomach was upset regularly and, well, he wasn’t really a happy camper.

A new view

My goal as his coach was that he would turn things around — that he would be physically comfortable enough on the bike and find pleasure in viewing the breathtaking vistas of snow-capped peaks and reach a meditative-like state as he turned the cranks, one revolution at a time, and ascended mountain passes with elevations approaching 12,000 feet.

On my first on-the-road coaching session with Phil, we rode up Mount Diablo together. The first thing I observed was that he panted a lot. I demonstrated how to breath deeply and he tried it. He made it to the top (3,850 feet elevation), still practicing a “one one-thousand,  two one-thousand” breathing rhythm. With his mindful breathing, much of his physical struggle disappeared and he had enough oxygen to feel more energetic.

Phil is a coach’s dream; a motivated student who listens well and learns quickly.

Training regimen

I wrote up his weekly goals for distance and difficulty, leaving it up to him to ride routes of his choice. I encouraged him to keep up his yoga class and add more core strength exercise. In the four weeks before he departed for Colorado, Phil rode two hilly centuries (100 miles each) and logged more than 40,000 feet of climbing on his Strava page.

On our last ride together before his mountain adventure, Phil and I rode to the 2,500-foot summit of Mount Tamalpais. He was riding at his optimal pace with confidence and grace. He was fit and several pounds thinner than before he began training.

Nasty weather

Phil arrived in Colorado the first week in June, ready to roll. On his first day, he pedaled through thunderstorms, hail and snow. With snowflakes accumulating on the highway and temperatures dropping into the mid-20s, the Colorado state patrol closed the course and pulled Phil and others into waiting rigs.

The next morning, Phil awoke in his tent to temperatures in the teens. The weather improved a bit after that. Phil seemed unflappable.

On the fourth day of the ride, Phil wrote this on his Facebook page:

In the groove

“RtR Day 4: … It was just a great day of riding. It started off quite gently, and the rhythm of pedaling was like a meditation”

On the final day, Phil posted this: “This is it – Loveland Pass @ 11992′. Anticipation or dread?” Then this, in the final miles: “It was quite simple — just turn the pedals at your pace, drink enough water and eat sugar.”

This tale shows how one person can achieve a major life goal with undying devotion. It is also how a coach who is similarly devoted to a holistic approach to training cyclists can help get the student to the top.

Michael Collier is a USA Cycling certified coach. For more information about his approach to coaching, click on Coaching on the home page of




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