Lauri Brockmiller, the Queen Bee of Brockmiller Elite Endurance, will make you pedal till you hurt. And you’re gonna like it.
This story is featured in the April 2018 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy!
For many cyclists in Northern Michigan, Lauri Brockmiller is the reason they rise each morning and choose spandex. For just as many cyclists, she is the reason they feel a tremor of trepidation as they pull on the shiny black skin.
Because when the first class of the day launches at 5 a.m., there’s no telling what she has planned. To be sure, it will be a challenge. Most riders will finish, a few will bonk, and a handful will have to put together something of a comeback before it’s over.
Lauri is the owner of Brockmiller Elite Endurance (BEE), and her cycling classes have a reputation around Traverse City of being tough. Very tough. Crazy tough. Throw-up tough. But the weird thing: everyone who has taken her classes ends up urging their cycling friends to sign up, too. Which is precisely how I found myself in “The Hive” being pushed to the breaking point in Northern Michigan’s most talked-about cycling class.
WEEK 1: WILL I DIE?
I am a nervous wreck. I have biked my entire life and participated in mountain bike races for the last 10 years. But I have rarely stood on a podium. Mostly I’ve only seen the victor stage from the parking lot as I loaded my bike to head home after a race.
I walk in the first day of class assuming that I will find a room filled with men and women as big around as my wrist. But no, they all appear to eat.
Then I see a gal wearing a sweater … and a guy wearing a polo shirt, collar up. There, a guy who has gray chest hair. Up front, a woman who says she doesn’t even own an actual bike.
So not everyone here is a hardcore athlete. I am relieved. (But don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of svelte riders in jerseys, giving us all something to aspire to.)
Lauri puts me on bike 1, row 1. Also known as Nowhere to Hide. But I am OK with this. I know from other cycling classes that if you aren’t eye-to-eye with the instructor, you’re gut to gut with the ice cream man. I need accountability in a big, big way. I’m getting it here.
The warm-up lasts 20 minutes and I’m already sweating through my tank top. I’m usually nearly halfway through a regular cycling class by now, and this one is about to begin. The entire class will last 75 minutes or more. There are 12 bikes. Lauri’s studio is tucked into the backside of Building 50 in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. The exposed brick lends a Brooklyn-esque hipness, and a bevy of windows brings the light of the day inside.
Lauri reaches down and turns on a fan for me. Every bike has a fan positioned on the floor in front of it. Every bike also has a box of tissues, a towel, a wastebasket and a heart-rate monitor. Next, she tells me I will have the same bike for every class. Bonus: I won’t have to come early and claim my bike—no scuffles in the back of a dark room. Not a bonus: I’ll have nowhere to hide all session.
I’m confused … it’s just too lovely. I have been warned that class will be brutal, but somehow she has adorned all the hard work with glitter. She’s good.
Next, I get my own private notebook, a record of fame (or shame). After each interval of riding, I write down my heart rate and the watts from my bike’s power meter unit. Lauri will review my numbers after each class. More of that accountability. Worrisome in a good way.
On the first day, she announces we will do four eight-minute intervals. This sounds like a lot. I only did one- or two-minute intervals in other cycling classes.
And, after surviving the first interval, I notice my heart rate is quiiiite a bit higher than the gal’s next to me. Lauri opens my book and looks at my numbers. She assures me not to worry. “Some people’s hearts race like a rabbit’s,” she says, “while mine could never get that high.”
Makes sense. Lauri is tiny, and her heart would only have to pump once a day to fill her veins. She assures me that I will not die on Day One. She does not offer any other guarantees though.
The eight-week sessions are about building layers of fitness like a pyramid. Working from long, steady rides in the winter sessions, then building to a pinnacle of short, hard intervals in the spring sessions to mimic hills or sprints during a race.
Lauri calculates goals for each rider in class based on their watts and heart rate during a ride, along with their rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of one to 10: 10 is maximum effort, eight is hard, no talking, you want it to end soon. Seven is you can talk briefly to your neighbor.
The end game of the class is to increase power at every level of perceived exertion. “The structured training in The Hive is very difficult to replicate outside,” Lauri says. “In here, there is a consistent load during the set, no coasting, no letting up, certainly no downhills. You can toggle down your watts, but you don’t want to do that. You have a goal to meet. Fight for it harder in here.”
WEEK 2: POWER TEST
It’s the second week of class and my big question is, Why aren’t I super skinny yet? In fact, I am up a pound. I drape a cutesy tank top over the problem, and walk into class. My look could go either way: Is the new girl trying to lose weight or is she delighted she’s finally fitting into spandex?
Today is the power test. It’s what Lauri will base our individual goals on for the rest of the eight-week session. The idea of the power test is to ride at an ABSOLUTE MAX effort for eight minutes.
For the first interval, Lauri tells me to start at 160 watts. I finish at 200! She looks at me and raises her eyebrows. I burst with pride. I could have gone harder. But I don’t say this. I am saving some for what’s next: the big kahuna: the 20-minute interval.
Lauri tells me to consider every five minutes a different push: “Can you add another 10 watts at five minutes, at 10 minutes, at 15 minutes?” she asks.
Yes, yes and yes! I can. I do better than expected, again.
She seems pleased: “You’ve been holding out on me.”
I am happy. It’s a small victory in an otherwise normal day.
WEEK 3: LOVE NOTES
I open my three-ring binder and find a note from Lauri about my last ride.
I die a little inside with happiness: When was the last time someone left me a little note that said I was “Killin’ it”?
And that’s when it hits me. I’m paying Lauri to be mean to me, and it’s the nicest thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. She’s not just pushing me, she’s acknowledging my work. It’s a delightful antidote to a mother’s everyday life.
And maybe it’s that: I am not a mother in here. Or a business owner. Or a daughter, sister, wife. I am a cyclist. And that’s all that matters for the next hour or so.
I bask in her praise the rest of the day. I’m so happy that I did something just for me, something I was scared to do, something I’d thought about doing for so long. I was doing something NEW and meeting someone NEW—me.
WEEK 4: SHE KNOWS
It’s recovery week at BEE, so the rides are at about 50 percent effort. I wake up and think that I’ll try to eat 1,200 calories a day this week and lose weight because I won’t have any hard workouts …
Then I get to class and, seriously, Lauri says, “Don’t think you can eat 1,200 calories and diet this week. It will hurt your recovery.”
OMG, she is the queen (bee).
WEEK 5: NO BANANAS FOR YOU!
Today’s workout is four intervals of 12 minutes each at threshold, a pace where you can barely hang on. We dig in. But during the second interval, it happens: The woman on bike three eats a banana. And when she is done, Lauri announces to the class: “You shouldn’t be able to eat a banana during a set at threshold.”
Everyone is in shock. But it’s just Lauri’s way. She is matter of fact. You need to be riding hard enough that you can’t eat or she will call you out. End of story.
I up it another 10 watts and push harder for the rest of the class. We all do.
WEEK 6: DEATH MARCH
Today’s ride is so hard that I think about how much I hate Lauri Brockmiller for most of the ride.
I’m getting tired of the all-out effort required each week. It’s brutal. Even with my own fan. And let’s not forget the huge amount of sweaty, long hair I have to deal with after each class. My arms are weak from holding a blow dryer. On top of that, I’m going in on Fridays too for a third ride each week. I’m worried that I can’t keep this pace much longer.
Which is when Lauri opens class with an announcement: she’s put together a Death March.
Her goal is to make every ride so hard that only 85 percent of the class can finish it. And she goes on to admit that no one was able to finish the ride in the previous class. Every one of us looks at each other in dread, that trepidation I told you about.
But Lauri just gets the class started. And that is what I like about her. She has goals. This isn’t about burning 500–600 calories over the next hour-plus. This is about building layers. Getting stronger. Doing things differently, whether it kills you or not.
She asks the quiet class just one question: “If you aren’t here to push yourself, why are you here?” She’s right. I’m here to get stronger, ride longer. I look down at my bike’s monitor and see I’m on target. I’m tired, but I don’t quit. I dig in.
The ride is as hard as I have ever pushed myself in class. It feels exactly how I feel in a race when I am trying to advance or when I’m pushing as hard as I can for the first couple of miles (which is always a mistake). It feels … AWFUL.
But I finish.
WEEK 7: MENTAL STRENGTH DELIVERED BY LB
Today we are to complete three 20-minute intervals. The class has been dubbed “The Shredder.”
I finish the first two sets. Everyone is doubting the third set. But as we start the third one, Lauri pushes us: “This is where it’s at. The first two intervals were to wear you out, the third one is where you prove you have it!”
We all regroup and take off in unison. She walks around the room, watching, waiting, gauging.
“Listen to what you’re telling yourself right now,” she says. “Are you telling yourself you can do it?”
Every one of us is now going to finish the third interval or die trying. This is the mental training that comes in The Hive, too. It’s powerful. Persuasive. It’s why riders keep coming back.
It seems impossible, but I finish the third set. I realize how far I’ve come from the eight-minute intervals just six weeks ago. The class isn’t getting easier; my mindset is changing.
WEEK 8: LET’S DO IT AGAIN
In celebration of the guy who wears a polo shirt every day, the entire 1 p.m. class decides to wear polo shirts, too. Lauri puts a cowbell at every bike and there’s lots of ringing and laughter for every 10 minutes clocked on the bikes. Somehow in the last eight weeks, it’s gone from being a room full of strangers to being a pack of friends on a ride. I sign up for the next eight-week session at The Hive.
Lauri started her business, Brockmiller Elite Endurance (BEE) nine years ago, and it has since grown to more than 100 athletes in every eight-week session on her fleet of 12 bikes.
One surprise: Lauri advises her athletes to forget about the podium. “The podium is great, but you have to look for other ways to celebrate your work,” she says. “It’s important for your longevity in the sport. You can be doing really awesome and still not win.”
Instead, she says to look at personal victories like completing your first race, fueling right, having a great start or great finish, meeting someone new to ride with at a race.
“It was freeing and empowering to learn that my personal best didn’t have anything to do with the person next to me at the start line. Some of the races I’m most proud of are races I didn’t win.”
It was a race that she was expected to win—and didn’t—that sparked her BEE business. Despite hours of training, she came in almost dead last in a race. She found herself alone, under a tree, near the finish line, in tears. “I was brokenhearted. I put every last drop of energy into finishing that race.”
After that, Lauri decided to hire a coach for the next year. She learned a new approach to fitness, both physically and mentally. And that, combined with nine years of working with athletes, has given her the expertise that other riders are standing in line for. “My athletes are the greatest and most important part of who I am as a coach, rider and racer, not my races,” she says.
“I have learned more from them than any book, coach or six years of formal education provided me.” For the record, Lauri earned a master’s in exercise physiology from Michigan State and a bachelor’s in health fitness from Central Michigan. A two-month block of classes—two sessions per week plus open gym—at The Hive runs $250.