Originally Published 6 December 2019
I first became interested in mountain biking back in Cuba – I used an old, rusty Russian steel bike to move around in Havana, and I even did some road cycling as a teenager. When I migrated to Mallorca in 2005, I got a mountain bike (Specialized Hardrock) to move around in the city and started exploring by myself on some easy trails. After some months, I got to meet some other bikers – since then, unless I’m injured, I try to ride 4-6 times per week.
My name is Yaroslav Jesusovich Alpizar Zhuravlev. I have a Russian mother and a Cuban father – I was born in Moscow and grew up in Havana, so I am a proud half Cuban half Russian. I’m a software engineer that started as a developer donkey years ago, slowly drifted into databases as no one liked them. I turned into an “accidental database administrator (DBA)” one day and jumped into a full-time DBA position with Verizon Connect in Dublin, Ireland – I never looked back.
My father was a chemistry professor at Havana University – when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I was lucky enough to see one of the first-ever 8088 computers arrive at the university. Think back to 1984 in Cuba (not related to George Orwell): green letters, 8” floppy drives, all noisy and intriguing. I asked my Dad what could I do with the computer – he loaded some old game (I can’t remember which one it was). As you can imagine, I was immediately hooked. And just a couple years after, I discovered that I could type some stuff and order that machine to do some things. Fast forward 30ish years, and I’m still that kid typing in front of a machine, server, terminal, PC, laptop, or cell phone trying to do some nice things.
Outside of my job, I love mountain biking, mountains, biking, mountains and bikes (did I mention mountain biking?). Whenever I can, I also take photos of others doing mountain biking. And sometimes, if that particular mountain allows to, I do some canyoning too. In general, you will find me in the mountains if I’m not at work.
I currently have 3 bikes – the first is my old (11 years) faithful Transition Covert 26 with 27.5 wheels. It is heavy and all scratched, with old geometry but brand-new components (if she could talk … oh man). When I moved to Ireland a year ago, I got a hardcore steel Hardtail Nordest Bardino; it’s a 2020 prototype that the frame builder sent me to test. And the latest acquisition is a Vitus Venon CR to commute and do some road routes on this beautiful island. So far with the road bike, I’ve done the Wicklow 200, Ring of Kerry, Ring of Dingle, Ring of Beara, and some road cycling in the Wicklow region.
I started mountain biking as a weekend warrior. One day, someone in our group signed up for an MTB Enduro Race, back in 2011 – one of the first ones in Spain (in Cercedilla, not far from Madrid). I was curious and wanted to check it out, so I signed up for the race too. From that point on, for about 5 years, I tried all kinds of races. I raced as an amateur, of course – I was never aiming for podium positions, not even top 50. At the end of a race, I love to just have a post-race cold beer and have tons of fun.
Some of the most outstanding races I’ve participated in are the MegaAvalanche Alp d’Huez, the Mountain of Hell in Les2Alps, Vallnord MaxiAvalanches, Cervinia MaxiAvalanche, Les Arcs Enduro2, and the full Spanish Enduro Series for a couple of years. I have also done some road racing, but mostly as a challenge, just aiming to finish it: Mallorca 312, Wicklow 200, SierraMorena XC marathon, and a couple more.
As with any other sport, the more you do mountain biking, the better you become at it. At a certain point, if you want to be faster, you need to start paying attention to specific training, diets, rest periods, stretching, etc. You also need to be mentally strong for endurance races or for short timed downhill runs – both are equally demanding, physically and mentally. In my case, I try to ride as much as possible – it doesn´t matter the weather conditions; there is no bad weather, only bad gear. With the Irish winter, it sometimes feels like I don’t want to get all muddy each day, so I try to do some calisthenics at home. As for food, I’m not on diet and I don’t have a nutritionist – I just try to have balanced meals and have one or two pints in between.
I have gone mountain biking in a lot of fantastic places. In 2016, I spent 1 month in Whistler, British Columbia: the mecca of mountain biking. This is one of the best places in the world to enjoy mountain biking. I’ve also been to Madeira Island twice, and it is astonishing. If you want longer routes, several days in the saddle in the middle of nowhere, and an off-beaten path, the Alps have so much to offer. Spain has so much to offer too – each place has its own particularities, different trails, terrain, people, and culture.
Hand in hand with MTB, I started a Spanish blog years ago. That blog grew more and more – at some point, I stopped racing and started going to every race I could to write about it. I ended up getting an old VW T4 van in 2017 when I came back from the Dominican Republic. I did a very basic camper transformation to be able to sleep and cook inside, and I travelled all around Europe following the Enduro World Series and any other race I could cover for my blog or do freelance coverage. Two full years got me totally hooked into the “van life” style. Nowadays in Ireland, I’ve done the full coverage of the Irish Vitus Gravity Enduro series, as well as the Northern Ireland Vitus First Track Cup Enduro Series. I am planning to do the same in 2020 and travel as much as possible in Europe, planning 2 weeks in Scotland and some races in Spain and France.
I do see similarities between mountain biking and my current occupation. With both, you need to be committed and prepared. As a rider, you need to commit yourself to that rock garden or jump over any other obstacle, and train to get fit and last longer on your pedals. At the same time, you should know your bike, have some basic workshop skills, be able to set up your suspension (or at least know the importance of it). As a DBA, I need to daily improve my skills, either by just learning, getting certified, or doing some training. I need to get to know the tools I use and learn each different option they can offer, as they will help me do my work faster and more reliably.
Mountain biking has been a benefit to my technological career, but mostly with soft skills. I try to be patient, breath twice, and relax before tackling that obstacle – I need to be prepared for that project, write everything down, and expect the unexpected. The more prepared you are for it, the better opportunity to get from that situation without injury (riding your bike) or a production issue that could affect business.
There is always more than tech. I know that there are many of us engineers that prefer to spend all their time coding or tuning that server or learning the latest and newest language, and they indeed enjoy that. But work is work; you are not taking that with you on your last day – you will remember your family and your most fun moments. Go out there, enjoy yourself, find something you really enjoy and embrace it. Run, walk, cycle, climb, explore, swim, yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, gym – whatever it is, shut down that PC or put away the phone or tablet, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Feature Photo is of Endurama Cuenca 2019. To read some of Yaroslav’s blog, be sure to check the following link: https://elyari.com/
You can also listen to a podcast Yaroslav did about his Mountain Biking with MTB TRIBE: https://www.mtb-tribe.com/105-from-software-engineer-to-pinkbike-blogger-we-chat-with-yaroslav-alpizar-aka-yari/