Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to his son, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Last weekend, Keith Parker, Principal at Trillium Professional Services, kept moving in the 200+ mile Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP). In a recent interview, Parker shared his thoughts on the bike ride and a few other things:

First, tell us a little about the STP.

The Cascade Bicycle Club of Seattle produces the annual Group Health STP which is the largest multi-day ride in the Northwest, with over 10,000 riders participating. STP is also the primary fundraiser for the Cascade Bicycle Club, and a major fundraiser for groups like Altrusa International, Portland Wheelmen, Spanaway Junior High, St. Helens High School Band, Gold Wing Touring Association, Centralia Chehalis Chamber of Commerce, and many other community groups.

How did you train for the ride?

It is hard to find time for training, but it is critical if you’re going to enjoy the ride and stay injury-free. I trained mostly on the weekends by slowly increasing the distance and speed I was riding the closer it got to the STP. I hadn’t been riding much for several years, and it took me about 5 months of progressively longer and longer rides to get ready. When I first started training, I found rides as short as 25 miles to be tiring. I knew that there was a lot of work to be done. By early July, I knew I was ready to ride “a century” in a day at a decent pace.

Did you have a special diet in the days before the ride?

I try to stay with a high protein, low carb diet while training, and I stop all training activities for the last week before the ride. During that last week, I stayed away from any junk food and sugary drinks. The evening before the ride, I had a big spaghetti dinner. I don’t know if that’s the best thing to do, but I love spaghetti in marinara sauce, so any excuse to have it is a good one.

What did you eat and drink during the ride?

During the ride, I ate a lot of energy bars. In fact, I had one at every twenty-mile rest stop. I also had fresh orange slices and bananas provided by our excellent support crew, who followed us the whole way. Bananas are great for cycling because you get the natural sugars and potassium to help avoid leg cramps. You get tired of energy bars pretty quickly, but they are just the right size to give you nutrients and protein without causing side cramps, which happens to me if I eat too much during a ride.

What was your average pace?

According to the two GPS devices and several smart phone apps tracking our progress, we averaged between 15 and 18 miles per hour.

What was the best part?

Seeing our support crew at each rest stop we set up. The crew consisted of our wives and parents who followed us in an RV. To have someone cheering you on and making sure you’re fed and hydrated throughout the ride was great.

The worst?
Occasionally, you have to ride on roads that have heavy traffic. I don’t particularly care for riding a bicycle close to cars, but you have to on some stretches of the ride. Those are my least favorite parts, but the Cascade Bicycle Club does a great job of marking the route and keeping the heavy traffic areas to a minimum. That was really the only thing remotely negative.

Jumping topics now, you are a Principal with Trillium and provide program and project management services for your clients. Do you see any similarities between riding in the STP and program/project management?

Absolutely. The STP is a project for both the producers and the riders. The Cascade Bicycle Club takes the full year to plan out each STP, more than a full year when you consider the need to reserve locations and resources even further out than that. I’m not involved in any STP planning, but looking at the ride from a strategic planning standpoint, you can quickly see how big a job it is. The STP involves coordinating with two state governments and many, many smaller counties and municipalities who not only need to know the ride is passing through their jurisdictions, but also must take an active role by providing police for traffic control, fire and aid resources – and in some cases even close roads and re-route traffic to make room for the riders.

For the riders, it’s a project that must be planned out in order for it to be an enjoyable experience. If you are a two-day rider (like me) you have to decide when to start, where to take breaks, where you will sleep at the midway point, and how you will get home when it’s all over. The planning we do as riders pales in comparison to what the STP organizers have to do, but it takes project planning just the same.

Any final thoughts?

I think Einstein was right about the bicycle analogy, and it’s true about projects too. When you start a project or a bike ride, you are optimistic and full of energy, but it takes you a little while to get up to speed. Once you’re cruising, the exertion begins to take its toll, and you begin to think about the finish line. You’re still far enough out that you can’t see the end, so you dip into the “Trough of Disillusionment” in Gartner’s Hype Cycle. It can be particularly difficult to “keep your balance” during these times, but if you keep moving, you can persevere and rise back up, then begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel …or across the bridge in the case of the STP.

But seeing the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the same as crossing the finishing line. Even though you’ve reached Portland, you still have a few miles to go, which I equate to the last 20% of a project, before it’s truly complete and transitioned to operations. You have to dig deep, give a final burst of energy, and finish strong.