From the outside looking in, all looked well with Gutiérrez, but in recent years he’s been struggling with stress and ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease. Gutiérrez came to a realisation that the fast life wasn’t making him happy and decided that he would take 2020 off completely. Instead of training for the next race (and the next, and the next), something he had been doing relentlessly since he started riding elite World Cups back in 2008, he would eat good food, relax and embark on new projects.
Watch Gutiérrez explain what steps you need to take to have the perfect ride when you go out on your MTB in an episode of How To with Marcelo Gutiérrez below:
What to include in the perfect MTB checklist?
Here’s how taking a break helped Gutiérrez become happier and more at peace, while still retaining his health, fitness and his drive.
Home is where the heart is
Whatever your career, being at the top of your game requires a lot of dedication, and often a lot of time away from home. For Gutiérrez this meant visiting at least 15 countries a year. Naturally, eventually you need a break from that grind.
“I was away from home easily up to seven months per year. Maybe eight. It cost me a lot. When I started back in 2011/12 I used to go on the road four months in a row. I used to love it because it was all new: new lifestyle, new places. But I never came home, I would just keep going. But year after year, you do miss your house, your friends.”
Exercise has become fun again
The training regime for racing World Cups was pretty intense. Talking about what he used to do each day, Gutiérrez says he very much put the ‘work’ in workout. These days, he says, his exercise regime is much more enjoyable.
“Before taking time out, a typical day in my life involved waking up early, then going to the gym for about two hours. Right after that, I’d either do a sprint or technical training, like going to the parking lot and doing a lot of bunny hops, wheelies and drifting. I’d normally do two lots of training per day, sometimes three. It was really useful, but boring. At first I used to enjoy every day, but then it felt like going to the office. You need passion to be able to perform.
“These days, I wouldn’t even call them ‘workouts’. I stopped working out. I ride my bike. That’s a whole different thing. Before it was ‘work’, now I just go for a ride and do what I want to do. If I feel good and my legs are good, I’ll push. If I’m tired, I’ll take it easy. If I go out to do five laps and feel tired in the middle, I’ll stop.”
There’s more time to try new things
The lifestyle of a cycling pro is not without its benefits. For Gutiérrez, this came in the form of free bikes, and the opportunity to discover new places, new cuisines and experience different cultures. He now has even more time than ever to explore, and of course eat what he likes.
“Discovering new places was my favourite part of travelling. And I’m a big foodie. That was the best part, enjoying all those little things. I do have to look after my food a bit more now, because if I eat how I used to eat I’m sure I would gain weight right away. Some days I even eat more than before though, because something I really enjoy doing now, and missed before, is road riding. So if you’re out for four, five, six hours, you do need to eat a lot to recover.”
Taking things slowly has brought life/work balance
The benefit to taking time off, of course, is having all of this free time to try new things. The global health situation and lockdowns imposed by it has forced Gutiérrez to go even slower.
“Last year was so hard that it was easy for me to take time off this year. That said, I’m such a hard worker and I struggle to stop, but quarantine made me slow down, spend time at home, do yoga, spend time with my girlfriend Valentina, cook good food. I realised, ‘Man, this is it, this is what I want.’ I’m really grateful life gave me that chance.
“There’s a Spanish expression that translates as ‘When there is rush there is nothing left but fatigue’. It’s so true. It means that life is about slowing down and when you’re rushing you don’t enjoy the little things that are part of life, all you get is exhausted.”
New avenues have opened up professionally
Slowing down led to some self-reflection and, through that, Gutiérrez decided what he wanted to do next: a project to give back to his fans, and celebrate his home country.
“Last year I felt so determined when I decided to take a break. I decided this was a cool chance to share what I know with my followers. For so many years I tried to gain, now I want to give back through a How To video series.
“I wanted to show people what biking really is. There’s a small niche that follow racing, but there are so many more people who enjoy riding bikes without necessarily following racing. The video series was a way to speak to those people too. Also, I’m a really proud Colombian, so I wanted to share who I am and what I love, my origins and my people.”
This new life is just as fulfilling as racing
Gutiérrez is used to the adoration of his fans, of course. But he says there’s a difference between winning competitions and getting feedback on his video series. Surprisingly, he finds even more joy in the reaction to his videos.
“People have been really grateful about the video project and offered lots of positive feedback. Compared to the feedback I was getting when I was winning races, I feel like this is more human. It’s easy to celebrate the winner and cheer for them. But once you’re yourself, just a person talking to them face to face in a video, and they enjoy that – that’s more valuable feedback than just winning a race.”
True happiness has been found
Any career pivot can be risky, of course, but Gutiérrez wouldn’t change a thing. These days, his time is his own; he’s able to spend more time with his partner, and he’s able to interact directly with fans – all of which has changed his life for the better.
“I realised I’d much rather spend the time trying to do what I feel like doing, which is what I’m doing this year. I’m a happier guy, a much freer guy!”