El Tour De Tucson 2021


The El Tour De Tucson is an epic cycling race in Arizona. It goes around the perimeters of the city of Tucson. This race is a historic event of the year 2021, as the 2020 race was cancelled due to the pandemic. The race had 6500+ registered participants with race challenges of 28, 57 and 102 miles. I am Karthik Krishnamani, an amateur cyclist from Phoenix, AZ who had an ambition of competing in a 102-mile ride and finishing it in less than 6 hours 30 minutes. Well, setting a goal is half of the effort, planning and achieving is the other half. Let’s dive in and get a picture of what it looks like to signup, commit and compete in a bike race and achieve the goal.


First things first, we need to understand what the El Tour De Tucson is https://eltourdetucson.org/ and my specific goal of a 102-mile ride course. Once I learned the rules and course map, I was thrilled and also anxious to see if I would be able to complete the race. A little monkey in my head said, you have always done things weird and things that are somewhat challenging. I also recollected the following quote to motivate myself to sign up.

 Happiness does not come from doing easy work, but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.

-- Theodore Isaac Rubin (famous American psychiatrist and author)

After a little mental drama, I signed up for Nov 2021 102-mile race in Feb 2021. Knowing me, I know I will at least crawl and finish the race/goal     


I have never had a professional trainer all my life, but this time I wanted to be the best version of myself. I researched a lot and found someone who was willing to work with a non-pro cyclist and who was flexible to my work schedules. The best thing to when you are unsure about how to systematically approach a goal is to seek professional help. Mentorship, coaching and guidance are key to the success of anyone, especially when the goal is time bound. I met with my coach, Stephanie Holbrook, and explained my goal to her. I let her draft a plan and she came back with a 10-month workout plan having 6 workout days and 1 rest day. Every week I needed to ride 3 times (2 short interval rides and one long ride on Saturday) and the remaining 3 days are strength training workouts for cyclists. Sunday is rest day.  The first 3 months are called base building, that uses your optimal heart rate. The goal is to have a high-volume low intensity workout so the body can adapt to the racing load for prolonged time. I’ll be honest, after week 4 I wanted to quit, as riding and workout 6 times a week for 1 to 1.5 hours a day is very hard for working software professional. If at all, the pandemic has taught us something, to be patient and resilient. It is always a mind vs body game. The mind says I am done but the body says I can do more. I spoke to my coach and asked her if she could reduce the ride /workout days from 3 times to 2 times a week. Well, like any other typical coach, she said if you reduce the volume, it will take more time to get the base and eventually the goal might be tougher to achieve. I didn’t believe her and watched thousands of YouTube videos and online blogs to check how to train smarter and quicker. As said in history, there is no short cut for success, I end up getting the hard but real message: base building and volume training 6 times a week is a must for achieving optimal results. I have no choice other than to adapt & fit the training schedule along with my work schedule. If at all, this training has taught me something, it has made me super organized and efficient in time management. I started blocking my time between 5 to 8 am in the morning, 12 PM to 1 PM at noon, and 8 to 10 pm in the night. I decided to have all my work and family duties strictly during this time. In short, if it is not in my to-do list for work or family, it is not getting done. 3 weeks after shuffling my schedule, things started falling in place with a few exceptions days which no one can anticipate and avoid. Base building was super successful and I was able to ride for 4 hours with a constant pace, however I faced a lot of knee pain which proved to be a bike fit issue. I changed 2 bikes, but still no luck. With the help of my friends, I found an old soul bike mechanic in downtown Mesa who I think is the official Man of the series in my epic ride. He was the one who changed everything about my bike fit, shoe fit and my pedal stroke. 2 sessions with him changed my pedal power from 15 mph to 16 mph for shorter rides. In the cycling world, improving 1-2 mph over a 70-100-mile course is simply 3-4-months of effort, but his profound wisdom and my professional coach enabled me to achieve this in less than 2 months. I am super happy that I found Mike my bike mechanic and Stephanie my cycling coach. Both of them are the sole reason for my great training season in 2021. Now coming to the important section, the diet . Knowing me and my cravings for spicy, fried food, diet is something I can’t keep control of and simply have failed for years. Let’s see how I survived the diet plan…


As many know any endurance sport training requests you to have a proper training accompanied by a good balance of nutrition consisting of proteins, complex carbs, vitamins, and minerals. Coming from a South Indian background and our love for rice, I had to give up the quantity of my rice intake. For 4 weeks, I reduced my rice intake from 500 grams to 200 grams a day and guess what, my body resisted it so much with head spin, nausea, and a constant craving for sugar and so on. Thanks to my coach and trainingpeaks app notification, somehow, I managed to survive but the human body is astonishing. Beyond 4 weeks, I got used to the low rice intake and adjusted to the high protein diet and the result is that my muscle mass grew a good portion. All was well until we hit peak summer in Arizona in July/August 2021. Well, with the heat and dehydration, I couldn’t simply hold on to low intake of carbs because my DNA/body enzymes needed more fuel (sugar lolz) to survive than what my coach/dietician thinks. I made up my mind that I will not reduce the food intake, rather increase my workout intensity from 1 hour to 1.30 minutes. Making that change and eating my regular carb intake has really helped me to mentally focus on the training and then get back to no sugar craving days. Many may argue that this is incorrect, and they might disagree with my food adjustment. While science says it is incorrect, I know my mind and body better than anyone. What works for me might not be same for others. I overrode science and went with my DNA’s ask, however let’s remember I have increased the daily workout by 30 minutes. 300 grams Sugar + 30 mins high intensity workout= zero calories . With the diet/workout pattern being sorted out for my goal, it now comes down to final race preparation. In the next section, we will discuss my last 12 weeks of focused race preparation.

Race Preparation

It’s September 2021, temperatures are still in the upper 100’s in Phoenix, AZ, but the adrenaline rush for the final race day continues as you see more and more athletes getting shredded/training hard for the race. One thing you have to remember which I learnt the hard way is not to compare others and their plan. Your goals, your plan. Comparing with other athletes only blocks your mind and increases stress . Thanks to my brought up and let it go attitude. I started joining rigorous group rides with the group “Uphill into the wind” comprising of 12 to 15 riders to learn the concept of drafting, group riding, and cornering skills in biking. The initial 3 weeks were awful, as I was always left out as last one to complete the group ride challenge. As one might say, failures and setbacks let you analyze more and teach you what to improve on. I focused on improving my cadence and let go all group riding pressures. I focused on cadence and having a good time in biking than following the group. Yes, I was still left out in the group rides as the last one, but week by week my fitness level, my cadence, and my focus slowly increased to its optimal state. I started noticing this on one of the group rides in Fountain Hills, AZ when we were climbing 3500 ft in a prolonged 70 miles ride, I came out of the bike ride with no pain and no increased fatigue. Well, my body loves this torture and didn’t complain. “Hallelujah!”, I am living my dream of being fit  and pain free. After completing all my 12 group rides, I wanted to test my endurance and complete my maiden 100-mile ride, considering that I will be doing this in the race as well. I started the ride on one fine Saturday, the weather was beautiful at 75 degrees (Let’s be honest, 75 is great weather in phoenix ). I was joined by my coach after 25 miles and she rode with me until mile 60. After 60 miles and two pit stops, I still felt good and wanted to complete what I started as the day’s goal. I rode the remaining 40 miles alone in higher elevation and scorching sun (Yes, temperature shoot up to 87 degrees with dry heat) however at mile 98 I ran out of water. I called my wife to bring some water and help me complete my challenge. With water in and the temperature ticking 87 degrees, I rode the remaining 2 miles to finish my maiden 100-mile challenge with an overall ride time of 6 hours 55 minutes. Well, it is awesome I have the endurance to ride 7 hours, but remember my goal is to ride 100 miles in 6:30 hours or less. It’s time to analyze and go back to the drawing board to draft a plan of how to shave 30 minutes in an unknown racecourse with 2000 people in the track. Let’s see what happened on race day 

Race Day

I drove to Tucson a day before race day (Nov 20th, 2021) to collect the registration packet (course map, bib number and time chip to go in the saddle bar) at Armory Park in downtown Tucson where the race starts. Seeing the pre-race day crowd and festival mood, I got super excited for the race. Preparation was good enough that all of my fellow group riders felt relaxed and ready to rock and roll the next day. We had a prerace team get-together and dinner at the Marriott hotel in downtown Tucson where the strategy for the next day’s ride was chosen. All 102-mile riders were grouped based on their speed and the goal was to get in 1 hour before the race started to ensure us a front row spot near the Gold riders’ zone so we can have a better start without any accidents. Below is glimpse of me and Stephanie (my cycling coach) standing in line and ready to roll. 

Time ticks as 6:58 AM approaches and the announcer got everyone excited by saying: “How many of you are doing their maiden El tour de Tucson”? About 100 of us yelled and said “We are!” . Excitement in me went sky high.  Then an announcement came in and said get on your bikes, set, go. Damn, like an opening of a flood gate from a dam, clusters of bike gears started to roll and the noise was super high that I went back to my teens and thoroughly enjoyed the start. Below is the picture that was taken a minute before race start. Look how anxious we were 


Mile 1 -30

Almost 2550+ riders rolled in the 102 miles ride and before I could think, I had 10’s of riders in front, beside and behind me. It was super fun but also scary to see people taking off in full throttle in such small and congested roads/corners of downtown Tucson. After 10 minutes into the ride, I found my spot and got into a group who were in my speed range of 16-20 mph. I drafted with them and went with the flow until mile 18 where there were a few minor cyclist crashes and that took a toll on my speed, putting me out of draft. I started to ride with random small groups between mile 18 and 25 and then came a steep climb with 6% gradient. I got dropped again, but I was confident in my training and endurance. I kept going at my usual pace of 14-16 mph.  I completed my first 25K miles with no pain or issues then the actual fun part of the race starts. Let’s see what happened for next 14 miles . Below is a pic of me coming out of mile 27 in style 


Mile 30 – 60

As soon as we came out of the 6% gradient, the course was downhill and I got super excited to draft with the high-speed group (25-30 mph) and enjoyed a top speed of 40 mph and pushed over my endurance limit to stay with them. Guess what, rule number 1 in cycling, don’t get your excitement ruin the endurance. After riding for 14 miles with the high-speed group, my left knee started to hurt a bit which alarmed me to slow down and stick to my 14-16 mph pace. Between mile 39 and 60, I kept my normal pace and cruised slow & steady. My goal was to do non-stop 102 miles with 3-5 minutes water filling breaks. I kept this in my mind and did not chase or get chased with any group. Riding alone is the best decision I took and continued to finish mile 60 with no major pain except some slight soreness in my left knee.


Mile 60 – 90

At mile 60, I found a couple of riding buddies who asked me to draft into a small group of 16-18 mph speed. Though I was hesitant, I later got into the draft. I cruised with them for 7 miles before I decided to go solo again. One thing in long distance cycling to remember is to always listen to your body, know your limits and don’t burn out. It’s a long day in saddle, you need to figure out your optimum energy burn. Well, all was good but mile 67 to 73 is an uphill course with horrible road conditions/potholes. I knew I had to keep cool and just focus on a slow speed high cadence concept. I did exactly what I do the best, just lounge in my saddle, taking my time to complete the hard course of 6 to 7 miles. After mile 73, I stopped for 1.5 mins to grab water/orange slices. An old veteran at the sag stop said, “Don’t worry son, it is downhill for the next 17 miles”. Those words of wisdom motivated me to keep cool and wait for the right time to hammer. As soon as I hit mile post 75, I saw an opportunity to hammer in downhill, I leveraged my pedaling skills to make best use of gravity and finished mile 90 in style with a little fatigue/pain in left knee.


Mile 90 to 102

I was 12 miles away from the finish line but I had only 45 minutes before my end time goal of 6 hours and 30 mins. My left knee was slightly sore and my energy levels were dropping as the temperature was at topping 75 degrees. There is a saying, when you stay and think positive and focus on your strengths, lucky charms will shower. I got my 16-18 mph medium pace group crossing me and waving hands to say, “come join us”. As soon as I saw them, I got super excited as they had 10+ riders forming a great draft opportunity. I got sucked in the middle of the group.  The last thing I noticed was that I was just a mile away from the finish line. I clocked 21.2 mph in the last 10 miles, which was my best of the best performance after riding for 6 hours. Finally, I caught my breath, slowed down a bit to enjoy the last one mile of the epic ride of 2021. I came close to the finish line, a huge crowd was  cheering loud and congratulating us for successfully finishing the race. I clocked 6 hours and 26 minutes of total race time with 3 mins and 34 seconds of pit stop time and averaged 15.9 mph. I am super happy to finish the race with my best results and complete the goal I started 11 months ago. It feels great to compete with an elite group of people and achieve a silver group status on my maiden race. The joy you get in achieving a  goal like this can’t be expressed in words. One can only feel it when they do this kind of challenge. 

Last mile rush 

Finish line crossing

Race graph below

Until the next race in April 2022

What I learned from this hard training and yearlong focused effort is to develop a habit of keeping the mind and body healthy. Happy minds set everything else in place without you knowing it. If you are reading this article, please focus on picking any endurance sport be it running, walking, hiking, biking, body building, marital arts, tennis, badminton etc, I guarantee that your mindset towards life will drastically change and provide a positive balance to whatever you do. Fitness is key to physical and mental success. With a week of rest, my next challenge is ready. This time it is going to be hard training for next 4 months, so I can survive 3.5 mile ,14% gradient climbing in Usery mountains of Mesa, AZ. Let us catchup soon with a training session blog. Happy healthy minds. Stay safe and keep pedaling!!!!



  1. Nicely written and motivating 😎💪🏼

  2. Wow.. simply amazing.. add for sharing the full details right from the start till the race day.. great job Karthik... quite inspirational.


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