Brandon Altbush, a 10th grader at El Camino Real Charter High School, set a big goal for the 2021 season: to achieve the WRMB Completionist Award. To earn the Completionist a participant must have completed ALL 25 challenges, which includes riding 3,558 miles AND climbing 327,360 feet during the 3 1/2 months of competition. We knew that in order to reach this award, it would take a full season of commitment, goal planning, and the ability to stick with the plan. We were thrilled when we saw one student-athlete went after it…and got it!
SoCal: What made you decide to go after the Completionist award?
Brandon: The biggest thing that made me want to go for the Completionist award was simply to challenge myself. I’ve never taken on a challenge this big as it was spanned the course of a couple months. Something in the back of my head said to go for it, and to be honest, I didn’t know if I would complete it or not.
Coach Stefan: When he first told me he wanted to go for Completionist I honestly thought he couldn’t do it. We started planning in November and I gave him targets to hit for mileage and climbing, he hit every one of them and so I started to think that he could do it as long as he stayed healthy and focused.
SoCal: Did your coach, Stefan, help you plan out your goal?
Brandon: There are two answers for this one…yes and no. Coach Stefan and I talked a lot about what mileage and distance I would need to be during per day, as well as per week. We also went over strategies such as planning to ride as much as possible when school is not in session. This allowed me to have ‘padding’ in case I got injured or came down with a cold. On the other hand, I had to figure out what routes I would take for the majority of the challenge.
SoCal: Coach Stefan, did you have other kids on your team going after high-achieving awards?
Coach Stefan: Brandon’s friend Jacob Stutz was just one award away from completionist. He wasn’t able to get ‘There and Back Again’. Also we had twin Sisters Rebeca and Marisol Mendoza grab The WRMB award, they both have very heavy class schedules and were squeezing in late night zwift rides to get the mileage an climbing.
SoCal: What was the most fun achievement to get?
Brandon: I would say that the most fun achievement to get for this challenge was Dirt Zone Cartographer one. This is where we had to go and ride 3 different SoCal venues that had either been used in the past, or ones that were active already. I can’t even say how much I loved this one as I got to ride some of my most favorite trails ever. Exploring was so fun…I loved every second of it.
SoCal: What was the most challenging achievement to get?
Brandon: Out of all of the WRMB achievements, the most challenging had to be the climbing or distance one. I think they would have been a lot easier if I only had to go for one of them, but since the challenge required 3,558 miles and 327,360 feet of climbing, my rides were much longer. Instead of doing a hilly 20 miles with 5k of climbing, I had to do 45 miles along with the 5k. What made it even more difficult was that I only had one day of rest per week…
SoCal: Coach Stefan, what awards did you get?
Coach Stefan: I got The WRMB and a few extras, 20 in total. I was super inspired by all the riding our team was doing and so I put in extra effort to go for ‘Operation Skyfall’ , and just missed ‘Ford the River’ by about 100 miles. Still the most winter riding I’ve done since college, it feels great to be on the bike when everything has been so crazy. This has been the most rewarding of my 6 seasons on coaching, even without racing.
SoCal: Was it hard to stay motivated some days?
Brandon: In the beginning, I was super fired up about completing this challenge. I did almost 400 miles the first week with around 34,000 feet of climbing which brought a wave of stoke over me. Halfway through the challenge, however, was when it got really hard mentally. I had already done so much, but I was so insanely tired. It was this massive hump I had to get over mentally where I had to push through the tiredness and burning legs. This lasted for a couple weeks…the hardest ones of the entire challenge.
SoCal: Do you thinking getting the Completionist award helped you for when SoCal races come back?
Brandon: Yes absolutely. I think that the fitness benefits greatly outweigh the award though. At the end of the challenge, I was checking stats out in Strava, and I came across a number that said from January 1st to April 18th, my fitness had increased by 163%. Granted, that number is most likely not super accurate, but if it is anywhere in the ballpark of what it actually is then wow. This challenge has provided an immense amount of base miles which has laid the foundation for me to start proper training.
SoCal: Coach Stefan, do you think the WRMB Challenge will be good even when racing comes back?
Coach Stefan: I am stoked to have WRMB along side racing, we’ve always been a team that emphasized adventure riding and keeping things fun, but for riders who don’t like racing we didn’t have a good option for them before WRMB. I think WRMB will also be helpful for racers too as they can push to gain WRMB awards and race results at the same time. The combined effect is that racers and adventure riders will have something in common, it doesn’t matter how many miles you put in for a season or if you got a podium at the latest race, when the whole team goes for froyo after practice we’re there to put on smiles, not just miles.
SoCal: Are there any stories you would like to tell or anything else you would like to add?
Brandon: I don’t necessarily have any stories, but I do have some advice. Easily the biggest thing you can do to complete this challenge is to stay consistent. This may look different depending on the person, but overall consistency is a recipe for success. No matter how slow I went, I knew that as long as I completed that day, I would be on track to finishing the challenge (and early at that). When you finish those final miles, you will feel so good as if you are on the top of the world. Remember that commitment is key :).
Coach Stefan: There have been so many great moments this season, but my favorite practice this year actually came a couple of weeks after WRMB ended. We had a group of riders with many different abilities, but they’ve been consistently showing up all year. We decided to try a no drop ride, where at no point could we let riders fall of the back of the group. We were practicing on freshly graded fire roads and so we formed two pacelines. The stronger riders took long pulls at the front, and others worked hard to just hold on at the back. We rode for almost an hour with the whole team together, and we covered the most mileage we had all season. We’ve tried keeping the team together in the past, but we’ve never had riders who were consistent, confident and strong enough to pull it off. It nearly brings tears to my eyes as I write this. Not that a paceline is such a beautiful thing, but to think about how far the athletes, coaches and our team have come this season, it’s truly magical, and it wouldn’t have happened without WRMB.
SoCal: Coach Stefan, any tips for coaches and getting kids stoked to participate in the WRMB Challenge?
Coach Stefan: I’m always learning as a coach, this year I learned to not hold back praise. Praise is powerful, especially when it’s heartfelt. We forget sometimes as coaches that we’re working with teenagers who have all of the life questions and insecurities that we did when we were their age. Emotions have been high this year, and some of our athletes have gone through things that we can’t even imagine. But we can provide a space where they feel encouraged and accepted. Giving praise easily doesn’t mean that I praise everything or that I don’t hold them to a high standard, but instead I pay attention to the small wins, the unexpected triumphs that come from pushing hard when they “just ‘aren’t feeling it” or clean an obstacle that has been troubling them all year. Enthusiasm is infectious, you can use that to your advantage. I wasn’t perfect this year and had some hard lessons too that I will use to improve next year.