Home may be where the heart is, but for more and more homeowners in the Hudson Valley, it’s also where their heart rates are measured. The region’s natural features make it the perfect stomping ground for endurance athletes — that is, those who participate in marathon or half-marathon competitions that involve running, swimming, biking or some combination of all three. But what happens when adverse weather or another less predictable event (like a global pandemic and resulting stay-at-home order) limits training opportunities? For some local athletes, the answer is to convert part of their home into a suitable (and inspiring) place to train.
Carving out a space to train
Local resident Tom Eickelberg is the winner of last year’s Survival of the Shawangunk’s triathlon, which includes three swims in three different lakes, a 30-mile bike ride and four runs that add up to over 19 miles ending at Mohonk’s Skytop Tower. He works at Bicycle Depot in downtown New Paltz. He recently purchased a home due to its “proximity to the mountains and its basement. I needed a place to train if I couldn’t get outside.”
He and his wife, both former college swimmers, made sure that they had a level surface in their basement for their treadmill and bike trainers. “I found a treadmill on Craig’s List because honestly, who has money for a brand-new treadmill and if you did, why would you buy one when you can get a good used one?” asked Eickelberg.
Trainers let athletes pedal in place on a road bike with variable levels of resistance. “We sell basic ones for $250 if you’re on a budget but sure, you can spend up to $2000 on one.” The triathlete said that the level floor is key “because if you’re going to be doing a lot of repetitive movements you want to be on a level surface or else you’re going to get injured.”
Like most modern gyms, the basement has a television, but “most of the time I just crank up the music and stare a little piece of tape on my bike,” he said. Eickelberg said the training makes him realize “how lucky we are to live where we do. I mean it’s outrageous. I train as hard as I do indoors so that I can be fit enough to do the adventures I have planned as soon as I can do them.”
Some of these adventures include trying to repeat his victory at the S.O.S. “I have my alarm set to the exact time I have to beat to get the record,” he said. Other plans call for a 100-mile mountain bike race in the Midwest and a local challenge in which serious mountain bikers ascend and descend a hill at Minnewaska State Park until they’ve totaled 28,000 feet of elevation, the equivalent to ascending Mount Everest. “These are four-hour adventures or longer and you have to train all year to be able to do them.”
While Eickelberg has a more modest athletic space in his home, some local athletes take things a bit further. Lindsay Stevens of Stevens Realty Group in New Paltz recently sold the Taj Mahal of sporty homes. “It had an endless pool, an entire wall covered with race-bibs as wallpaper, his and her trainers set up and a half-mile running path around the outside of the house. It was like the mecca for triathletes and it’s right up against the s.”
Stevens explained that she sold the home to “two longtime friends who are both serious triathletes. They’re planning on having nine of their friends come, who are all part of a triathlon training group, to compete in this year’s S.O.S.”
The broker, an endurance athlete herself, is seeing an increase in buyers seeking homes close to the mountains or trails as well as those with a dedicated training room or the potential for one. “I had one client who was willing to spend a million dollars to find a home where he could be able to step out and get on a trail to run,” she said. “That was his main criteria. He didn’t want to get into a car. Almost all of the clients I get from the city that are transitioning to the country are doing so because they love to hike and bike or run and climb.”
Some climbers don’t want to have to travel to the mountain to hone their craft. “There was one home I showed that had a two-story climbing wall inside!”
The pain cave
Glenn Lapolt, a veteran teacher at Wallkill High School and swim coach as well as a two-time Ironman Triathlon finisher, ten-time S.O.S. competitor, and creator of the Cabin Challenge, a 60-mile road bike climb to his cabin in the Catskills that draws dozens of hard-core cyclists each year, coined his family’s basement workout space. “the pain cave.”
“When we bought our house, we knew it needed to have a basement where we could train,” said Lapolt, a father of three whose wife is also a triathlete.
“We have several trainers so that we can have group rides and then we can organize some indoor riding, run around the neighborhood and come back in and do some dryland. Because here’s the thing: Being an endurance athlete in this area is also about a certain culture. Yes, there’s solitude involved, but there’s also [a] community of athletes here and we support and try and train together when we can. So, I wanted the pain cave to be big enough that we could have a bunch of people over and riding together.”
Lapolt agrees that indoor training has to be kept up for the athlete to be able to compete outdoors. He said he’s always wanted to have enough training to be able to put together an Olympic-size triathlon any day of the week, any month of the year. “To do that, for starters, I always make sure to get outdoors. I don’t cycle in the winter, but I do get out and run twice a week all year round.”
To that end, Lapolt likes to keep a bit of Rocky Balboa spirit in his pain cave. “There’s no heat down there because I don’t want people to get too comfortable,” he says with a laugh. There is, however, a large sound system and flat screen television and all kinds of race-bibs, medals, trophies, and various race-memorabilia to keep the inspiration level up even if the cave is at meat-locker temperatures.
Clearly, these athletes are committed. While others may have spent the last few months ordering takeout, watching Netflix or having Zoom happy hours, these folks were sweating in their basements on their trainers or swimming against the man-made tide in their endless pools, dreaming of climbing toward the Route 44/55 hairpin turn on their bikes, closing in on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge while immersed in the Hudson, or kicking their heels up as they inch their way to the top of Castle Point with sweeping views of the Hudson Valley, the Catskills and the Adirondacks.