Monday, June 26, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Rebecca Sauber

Photo Credit: tmbimages
I played soccer at the University of Louisville until I blew my knee out. Eventually, I started running and was a PE teacher in Southern California. Fun article to read...scroll down..maiden name was "Grissom"

I suffered from an eating disorder, a bad combination of running and not eating. In 2004 I tore another meniscus during Camp Pendleton Mud Run. Then I moved back to Minnesota and ran into my now husband at "The Local" on St. Patrick's Day in 2005. I had just bought a Felt road bike and started doing tri's. I did a number of races that year.  

Lonie (hubby) and I went on our first date, a bike ride. I then went and watched him at Buck Hill and I was hooked! I bought a mountain bike and started biking. I was so bad at the beginning! The first summer, I was in the emergency room two times wondering if this was for me.


I remember being so proud making it through the easy loop at Lebanon and not crashing. I slowly improved and the highlight of my biking thus far was placing 3rd at the Chequamegon 40 with Jenna Rinehart and Lea Davison

2016 I had a third knee surgery, but I'm now back to lifting weights (which I love) and having my husband train me. We're starting a health coaching/training business this year!

Things important to me: God, my family and I really like the beach and the southwest dessert. 
I am currently a special education teacher, working with students with autism.

The introduction to your #bikelife happened later in life after dealing with several sports injuries. What inspired you to seek out two wheels as an alternative to your other athletic ventures?
I was inspired to start biking after watching my now husband (Lonie) at Buck Hill. I went and watched him race in 2005 and then wanted to try it too. It looked fun and I thought it was something we could do together. 

What styles of cycling do you enjoy and why?
I enjoy mountain biking the most. I like being in the woods and nature. I have never competed in a road race, just a few crit races. I also did a few cyclocross races in the past. Now with 3 knee surgeries, cyclocross is not an option.

Tell us about your favorite cycling event that you participated at and why you enjoyed it?
My favorite race is Chequamegon Fat Tire. I like the atmosphere and it is not technical! 

Do you have any suggestions/tips for those who haven't participated at an event before?
I would encourage anyone to try a bike race- Life is so short, try something new!

Take us back to your first few mountain bike rides. What was the experience like and what inspired you to keep at it?
My first mountain bike was from Target; it was my dad's Magna. I actually raced it at the WORS Cup in the Citizen Class. After that, I bought a bike from Penn Cycle's basement. It was fun! I was so bad when I started. I was in the emergency room the first summer 2 times with stitches. 

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
I have used clip pedals because I feel you can control the bike better.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I had 2 trips to the emergency room with stitches in both arms in 2005. One in June and one in July. No biggie- I still wanted to bike! 

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I actually really struggled with shifting the bike. It took me forever to figure out when to shift up and down..:) I also struggled with turns. Remember to break before the turn! Power out of the corners. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love riding my bike with my husband and being outside when it is warm out. I am not a fan of the cold. I just started Zwift this weekend and it’s so fun!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride a Specialized Fate Mountain Bike and it rocks. Super nice handling and small for me! 

You have dealt with an eating disorder, do you feel that cycling has helped with your recovery process?
I think cycling has helped my eating disorder because I have to eat in order to bike well. My husband and I are "Primal Health Coaches" and I learned a lot about proper nutrition. I realized how food is medicine. Food is your friend, it is just about eating the right stuff.

Do you have any words of encouragement or suggestions to pass on to folks who may be going through or recovering from an eating disorder?
I am more than happy to talk to anyone struggling with an eating disorder. Life is so precious, make the best of it. I am launching "Sauber Health Fit" shortly. There you can find more about nutrition and future health coaching! 

What do you enjoy most about having a partner who enjoys cycling as much as you do?
I love having a husband that is athletic. That was one of my favorite things about Lonie. We spend quality time together on the bike. We also work together too! :) 

Do you have suggestions on how to ride together as a couple? Especially when you went through the learning stages of off-road riding?
When I first started mountain biking, I liked to ride alone. I didn’t want to slow anyone down, however, Lonie never cared about that. He was and always encourages me new things. 

Photo Credit: True Lives Photography
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think the fear or crashing deters women from mountain biking. Crashes will happen, but don't let it stop you from trying. I think the new outer loop at Lebanon Hills and places like Carver Lake are super fun for women beginning to ride. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Women should focus on being out there and not worry about being fast. Just enjoy! 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Random fact about me: I used to hold the course record the Camp Pendleton Mud Run in California.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Tina Ooley

My name is Tina Ooley. I live in Durango, Colorado with my husband and our two wild boys. I started riding mountain bikes in 2006 and I am a strong believer in the magic of riding a bicycle.

In 2010, I lost my brother to brain cancer. That is when everything changed for me, including my relationship with my bike. I pedaled through my grief, one day at a time, and my life unfolded in ways I never imagined.

In 2013 I started coaching kids on bikes with the Durango Devo program and found a passion for mentoring/coaching. I am now a PMBI certified instructor, and I coach with the Trek Dirt Series.

This year I started my own mentoring/adventure program, EveryPedal Mountain Bike. 


The focus has been to get more girls on bikes in an inclusive, supportive, non-competitive environment where we share a connection and improve our mountain bike skills one pedal stroke at a time. EveryPedal has also worked with local nonprofits providing access to bikes for under-served youth in our community.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to discover life from the seat of a bicycle and I am committed to sharing the love of bikes with anyone that might be curious about it.


Your #bikelife started in 2010, what would you say was the most therapeutic about being able to ride your bike?
Honestly, in the beginning, the therapy was in the suffering and physical discomfort of pedaling hard. That and doing something intimidating and a little scary! My brother passed away after a long battle with brain cancer in January of that year, so I had just watched him suffer unimaginable pain- with unimaginable grace - in the final four weeks of his battle. It feels a bit weird now to talk about, but I needed to suffer psychically. I was riding singlespeed at the time and really had no technical skill at all. I would put my head down and just push the pedals… and often cry. I was dealing with pain and grief and I literally pedaled it out.

If you can recall, tell us about your first mountain bike ride. How was the experience and what did you learn?
My very first bike ride was with my roommate back in 2000 in Prescott, Arizona. I had just moved there from NYC, fake nails and all, and riding beach cruisers on the boardwalk was the extent of my cycling experience. I remember thinking, “Mountain biking? Sure, sounds fun!” And off I went, not realizing that we were riding from the house uphill to the trailhead- I was miserable! We ended up at the top of what I now know to be an intermediate trail, but I was clueless. He told me he would wait for me at the bottom and off he went. I am lucky I got there without seriously hurting myself! I remember laughing out loud awkwardly the entire way down and not much else… I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed most of the way. The experience was exhilarating, but my intention was to never do it again. My main takeaway was that I clearly was not cut out to be a mountain biker! I didn’t ride again until six years later.

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
I often think of a quote by Neale Donald Walsch: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." When I finally decided I wanted to mountain bike regularly, riding off-road made me really nervous, but I had made up my mind that I was done with allowing fear to stop me from exploring things that I was drawn to. Six years earlier, I told myself that I had no business riding a mountain bike, but there I was, a 36-year old mother of two learning something new and really enjoying it. So empowering!

Part of what makes mountain biking so powerful is the connection to others, especially women. So one mistake I’ve noticed is really easy to make is to avoid riding with others because we don’t want to hold up the group. Huge mistake! You’re missing out on the company of others and they’re missing out on you. Do yourself and others a favor: find a no-drop group ride. Get out there and share your stoke! No matter what that little voice of inadequacy tells you, there are lots of women who love getting other women pumped on bikes and they don't mind waiting for you. So ride with others. Also, be kind to yourself. We all start somewhere. Start where you are and celebrate every little bit of progress.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?

I like both. I think it’s helpful to stay on flat pedals as long as you can when you are first learning and developing fundamental skills. One of my mentors told me that you should ride flats until you can do a proper bunny hop and I think that’s about right. It’s important to learn the proper mechanics of your feet when they are not clipped to the pedal.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?

I’ve had many. The mental piece is a big part of my process on the bike. Falling can really mess with your head and lead to a temporary regression in skills. That’s normal, but you just have to get back on the unicorn. Take it one ride at a time and again, start where you are, be patient and kind with yourself. Before too long you'll be back to making rainbows.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

For a long time, I struggled with switchbacks and cornering, which was usually about not looking where I wanted to go. It helps me to have a mantra that I would repeat in my head as I rolled up to something that I needed to work on. Sometimes it would come together and sometimes it wouldn’t. We all have particular things that are challenging for us and in my opinion, the key is allowing ourselves the time and space to practice and fail, then practice some more. Most of us want to improve ourselves more quickly than is actually realistic, and when those changes don’t happen as quickly as we’d like, it’s easy to let it get you down. We do ourselves a favor when we commit to enjoying the journey itself.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There are lots of things that I still find tricky! Some of them I have struggled with from the beginning. Another mentor of mine often reminds me that it is a gift to be challenged on our bikes, it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to learn and to grow, ongoing. I have frustrating days on my bike and try to remember that even the frustrating days are a pretty great gift. Every pedal counts.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom. The wind, the rainbows, the sunsets. I love the wild, magical places I can access on my bike. I love the people my bike has connected me to. I love what I have learned about myself and about life. I just love everything about a day on a bike.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a 2016 Trek Remedy with Fox suspension, which is the bike I ride most of the time. I have only been riding a full-suspension, geared bike for two years, and I love this bike! It is so playful and I am giddy when I am on it. It climbs well and then descends even better, but I would be lying if I said the purple lotus sparkle paint job had nothing to do with my decision!

I also have a steel singlespeed and that’s what I pedaled for six years. I’ve had a couple Spot Brand bikes and then a Surly Karate Monkey that was built primarily with parts from the bike that my friend, Sarah, used to ride. She lost her battle with breast cancer in 2013. My singlespeed is sacred space for me. The journey I had pedaling one gear for all those years really changed my life.

I also ride a Surly Pugsley fat bike, which I LOVE riding in the winter. We moved to Colorado from Arizona a few years ago. In Arizona, you could ride 350 days per year, so not pedaling for weeks on end didn’t sit well with me. And I can’t do the indoor trainer/rollers thing. I need to get outside for my mental well-being and because I crave the connection to the mountains, so fat bikes have been such a blessing. Riding in the snow is some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike.

What was your inspiration for getting PMBI certification?

Durango Devo. When we moved to Durango, I was definitely looking to create even more of a bike-centric lifestyle, but I didn't know much about mountain bike skills or coaching. I was just a woman from Arizona who loved to ride and maybe I was a bit evangelical about it… I’ve always loved turning others onto mountain biking. Within a few months of arriving, Sarah Tescher, one of the founders of Durango Devo, gave me an opportunity as an assistant coach with Devo Junior. I really tapped into my passion for coaching there and was inspired by what that organization was doing. I got my PMBI certification a year later when I started coaching U-14 Girls. Sarah really put her faith in me and supported my development as a coach. Devo is well-known for developing great riders, but it’s also great at developing coaches. I learned an incredible amount from the people I worked with there.

What have you enjoyed the most about being able to work with kids on off-road skills?
The confidence and connection that the kids can gain from riding a bike. What I love about biking is that you can really see how far you have come from one week to the next. Cleaning that climb that you thought you would never clean or finally letting it roll in that spot where you always grab your brakes too hard and get off. Watching these kids realize what they are capable of is awesome! And a bike is one more tool they’ll have to navigate their lives.

Tell us about the Trek Dirt Series program and why women should consider going to one of the clinics-
The Trek Dirt Series has been empowering beginner to advanced riders with its mountain bike skills camps for 17 years now. We offer both women-specific and co-ed camps in the U.S. and Canada. The weekends are full of skills instruction and group rides, as well as maintenance clinics. Whether you are just starting out or you’re a seasoned rider who wants to step it up, the Dirt Series is an incredible experience.

Attending a skills clinic can benefit just about any rider. The more tools you have in your skills toolbox, the better prepared you are to have awesome days on the trail. Beyond the skills you’ll pick up, Dirt Series camps and clinics offer a fun and supportive environment to get more comfortable on your bike and a connection to other riders in your community- a lot of mountain bike friendships have started at Dirt Series events!

What would you say was one of your most inspiring moments with Trek Dirt Series?
Every event has been super inspiring! For most riders, it takes a lot of courage and humility to step outside of your comfort zone and just show up. I have witnessed an endless number of "I did it!" moments. And just as many moments of frustration. Other rider’s effort and determination, the fact that they put themselves out there and push their limits… that inspires me!

Tell us about your EveryPedal Mountain Bike program what it's all about-

EveryPedal Mountain Bike is something I created with the intention of getting more people on bikes. I’ve dedicated EveryPedal to creating a fun, adventurous, connection-oriented environment for people to explore the sport. It's about fitness, technical skills, and adventure, but it’s also about noticing and embracing the ways that learning to mountain bike teaches us about life and about ourselves. My hope is that EveryPedal encourages people to connect with one another and share the ride.

What would you like to see happen for EveryPedal Mountain Bike in the next few years?
I’m expanding the girls programming this year and adding a couple women's weekends. I was really happy- and a little surprised- by how popular the program was in its first year. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so the response was encouraging and seeing the impact the program had on the lives of the girls was even more rewarding than I expected. More of that, please!

I also did a test program last summer with La Plata Backyard Adventures, which is a collaboration of Big Brothers Big Sisters, La Plata Youth Services, and SOS Outreach. Our goal was to get the kids engaged in outdoor activities via workshops, community service, and other outdoor pursuits during the summer. EveryPedal facilitated an introductory mountain biking workshop with the support of two local bike shops (thank you, 2nd Ave and Pedal the Peaks!). We were able to provide bikes, helmets, and other equipment and spent a few days throughout the summer riding bikes together. So much fun!

I believe in the power of the bicycle to promote positive change in our lives, so I’m really passionate about getting kids on bikes and want to look for more great ways of making the sport more accessible to them and their families.

What has been the most inspiring moment for you, to date, with EveryPedal?
I am inspired every day I spend on the trails with these kids. Showing up, pushing ourselves and being vulnerable isn’t easy for any of us, so the fact that they do is inspiring in itself. I have seen tears of joy, frustration, disbelief, you name it. These kids are brave, and they make a choice to show up, push themselves and push limits on their bikes. I get to share that ride with them and it’s the best.

Why do you feel it is important to get young women involved with mountain biking in a non-competitive environment?
I think it is important to create as many access points to the sport as possible. I race a few times a year and love it! But competition can be an intimidating introduction to the sport. There are a lot of people, and especially women, who are curious about mountain biking but never give it a try because it feels competitive or they otherwise get caught up in comparing themselves to others. They don’t feel confident enough to ride alone, but when they ride with other people they worry about holding the group up or whatever, they get anxious and then the magic is gone. And without that magic, the ride just isn't the same and maybe they stop showing up. People stay in the saddle when the environment is supportive and fun and when we focus on making connections to others, to ourselves, and to the outdoors.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

Learning to mountain bike can be pretty scary. I think a lack of confidence can get in the way for a lot of women. Our tendency to compare ourselves to others can really be self-limiting. If we continue to create access for all types of riders and cultivate a culture that values an inclusive, supportive vibe, more and more women will get involved.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think the industry is doing a great job right now of encouraging more women to ride and be involved, which is so nice to see. Brand ambassadors and advocates, skills clinic support and sponsorship really help to bring women together and create access all over the world, so I’d love to see even more of that. And I applaud Epic Rides’ commitment to offering the same cash purses and prizes for women as they do for men. That has been a long time coming and even for women who aren’t competing, it conveys the message that the sport and the industry are welcoming to girls and women.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am 44 years old and if someone would have told me 15 years ago that one day I would be an influential mountain biker (of sorts) and find my life's work through bicycles, I would have laughed at them. I never imagined this for myself and yet here I am and I have never felt more certain of my path. Mountain biking has brought me some of the greatest friendships and self-discoveries I’ve ever known and a depth of connection that I have craved all my life. What inspires me to get other women on bikes is knowing that for many women out there, mountain biking could be for them what it has been for me.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I worked in the television and music business
in NYC for most of the 90's. Never thought of mountain biking. Not once :)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Almost Famous

On Thursday morning while I was grinding my coffee beans, Travis asked what link I had shared on the Decorah Mountain Biking Trails page that was getting so many likes. "I didn't post anything.... I just got up!"
Then I remembered the email I received from a fellow at IPTV stating that the portion about mountain biking, specifically my involvement with getting more women into mountain biking, would be airing on Wednesday night.

It would be a segment on an episode of Iowa Outdoors and be within the first 10 minutes or so of the episode. I knew instantly what had been shared, and I was extremely nervous for I'm not quite used to being in the limelight.

The whole thing started back in late September with Andrew asking me if I would have an interest in being featured on the episode. There was interest in learning more about our off-road trails but also the work I had been doing on getting more women involved with off-road riding. I was absolutely stoked at the opportunity yet anxious. What if I sounded dumb? (Yes, that was legitimately a thought.) What if I messed up? Would people find it worthwhile? There were a lot of questions.

We did the interview segment and Andrew wondered if we could set up a time to get some folks together to ride some of our trails and take some footage. "Sure!" So on October 2nd, I ducked out of work about an hour early with some friends so we could get ourselves filmed while riding some trails. Once it was all said and done, I was told sometime in June the episode would air.

When I received the email last week, I let out an "Ooooooh....." and a deep sigh. There wasn't any going back.
My face. My voice. My riding...it would all be exposed to the public on t.v. and online. I was going to be out there, more exposed to the public than ever before. I was nervous because....

#1. I absolutely love talking about subjects I'm passionate about, yet at the same time, I'm a bit shy of the publicity. I'm introverted yet extroverted and it's a funky combination that can challenge me yet make me feel so alive at the same time. This would be my biggest "Five Minutes of Fame" to date!

My voice and how I talk is a source of insecurity; I know I have a "small" voice...I also have a fairly monotone voice as well as a hyper-animated voice. It all depends on my environment, how excited/nervous/serious I am. Basically, it can be any or all of the above at any given time. I also have a talent for rambling...and losing my thoughts in the midst of conversation. 

#2. This wouldn't be the first time I would feel "Almost Famous." Last year I was honored to be featured in the Des Moines Register and this year I was featured in the most awesome Inspire(d) Magazine. However, I have never, ever, seen myself on t.v. At first, I thought "Oh, this is a station that my grandparents watched." In my local community, I knew IPTV is beloved by folks of all ages, thus I came to the realization that a lot of folks would be seeing this show. I was a ball of excitement and nerves.

I decided I would go for a bike ride Thursday morning to clear my head. I wasn't ready to see what many other folks had already viewed. I opted to ride the Palisades trails, doing my usual loop up top and riding back down. It's not quite the same mileage as my Dunnings or Van Peenen loops, but it was fun to do something different than the usual set of trails I typically ride and challenge myself with the Dead Pet trail.

After my ride and shower, I sat down with my bowl of cereal and decided I better watch the video so I could see what I would probably be asked about as I had no idea what to expect. I hit play, hoping for the best.

As the video progressed, I smiled. it was fun to see everyone else riding bikes- and then I hit the emotions pretty darn hard. Especially when they play you riding in slow motion making you look so cinematic. I started to cry and my half-eaten bowl of cereal would have to wait until the segment was done. I had all the feels while listening and seeing myself on my laptop screen; the narrator did an excellent job. I was beyond thrilled when I heard "Fearless Women of Dirt" and "Josie's Bike Life"...the two greatest things to have come from my hard work, passion, and dedication.

So often I express myself in writing. It was different to see myself share my experiences and hopes with speaking. How I move my hands to express what I want to say rather than standing there like a log. I keep moving; action is part of my life.

I felt that there should no longer feel shame with my voice and how I sound (or think I sound) when I talk. This voice, like my hands, has a story to tell and a mission to share. Much like sharing my personal experiences with riding on this blog, I feel like the video will bring more humanness to Josie's Bike Life. She's very real, she works at a bike shop, she rides bikes- she has the drive to get more women on the off-road. She may sound small, but there is a mighty spirit. As the motto goes "Lil' Bit Don't Quit."

I know there are many women out there who inspire others to find their #bikelife, be it on roads, gravels, or trails. This blog is filled with inspiring women from all over who I feel are even more involved and skilled than I am with advocacy and riding. For me to be interviewed for IPTV, Inspire(d), and the Des Moines Register due to my story and involvement with mountain biking and advocacy- has me feeling honored, grateful, and humble for the opportunities. Especially as I feel there are women out there who are even more inspiring than myself. I suppose you could say we are all our own worst critics. I am thrilled that some consider me one of those women. 

"Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success." -
Swami Sivananda

Each year brings forth new challenges, new experiences, disappointments, and great joys. There might be missed opportunities, yet at the same time, I keep finding new growth and possibilities. There is renewed drive and passion for my mission: Fearless Women of Dirt, Josie's Bike Life, and mountain biking in general. I'm grateful for everything mountain biking (and biking, in general) has brought to my life and I can't wait to continue sharing that joy for the years to come!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Ellen Noble

My name is Ellen Noble. I am a professional cyclocross, road, and mountain bike racer from the great state of Maine!

I am currently racing cyclocross for Aspire Racing, and will be racing my first professional road season with Colavita-Bianchi this spring.

I have spent the past three years climbing the professional mountain bike ranks, but decided to make the switch to the road this season for a change of scenery and to pursue more growth opportunities.

I am a full time student, studying public health at UMass Amherst's University Without Walls. This amazing program has allowed me to pursue my degree while traveling the world racing my bike! I feel like the luckiest student athlete in the World!
I am a dog lover, a huge fan of the outdoors, a problem solver, and a wanna-be chef (it's a slow process...)

I grew up riding the rocks and roots in the Maine forests, and began my professional cycling career at just 16. Since then, I have won 5 national titles, 2 Pan-American titles, and am currently leading the u23 World Cup Overall. Most importantly, though, I've continued to fall in love with the sport the longer I race, and have nothing but excitement for the years to come. My goals are lofty and ever-changing, but if there's any message I want to spread to the women of the sport its this: if you believe whole-heartedly in your goals, and chase them with confidence, nothing can stop you!


Instagram/Twitter: @ellenlikesbikes 


Tell us about how your #bikelife got started-
I stated riding/racing when I was in kindergarten. My parents were both elite level mountain bike racers, and I wanted to do whatever they were doing. I’ve been extremely competitive and energetic, so cycling was a great way for me to satisfy those needs.

What was your motivation to start competing in cycling on a professional level?
I think because I have been competing for such a long time, it was sort of a natural progression. I’ve wanted to be “professional” since before I really knew what that meant. I knew that I wanted to be racing against the women I had looked up to for so long. I guess that I realized I wanted to race professionally and took the big steps to get on a pro team when I started racing cyclocross. I was 15, and the atmosphere, coupled with huge, competitive women's fields and a knack for CX really pushed me to start taking it seriously. Along the way, there have been so many amazing women that inspired me to race professionally. I looked up to the local elite MTB racers a lot when I was young. This was a little before the internet was as big as it is now, so I didn’t know the big names as well. When I joined the Gary Fisher 29er crew, I started learning that other small women rode big wheeled bikes. I think Willow Koerber was the first pro I really idolized. She was so badass, and so technically gifted. Of course, after that there have been dozens of women that have inspired me in different ways, whether it be due to their professionalism, technical ability, grace, or all around bad-ass-ness. But regardless, I look up to a lot of women and they still inspire me to be pro to this day.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
That is such a hard question … I'm not sure if I can even answer that! There are so many good races, across all three disciplines. What makes a good race for me is usually the energy of the crowds along with a good course. Races that have a great turnout with spectators that are exited to be there and cheer are events that go high up on my list! I love competing because it’s always been really natural for me. I love the chance to put all my hard work to the test, and another opportunity to go hard and do my best!

For folks who have yet to attend their first event, what advice would you give them?
I would just say go for it! Cycling is such a fun, inclusive community that you’re bound to have a good time! And don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be upfront that its your first time. Cycling is a small enough sport that people are happy to help out the newbies.

You race in several disciplines: cyclocross, mountain, and road- what do you enjoy and what would be one challenge for each?
I love all three of them because I love racing my bike. It’s actually been tough, because as I get older and take racing more seriously I have to start to focusing a bit more, which means I can’t race all the time. But, I love road because of the community, actually. Since the professional road scene is so crazy, with a lot of travel and waiting around at stage races, there’s a lot of time for the racers to get close. I loved how quickly I felt a part of it when I raced road this past summer.
For mountain, I love how challenging the courses are. Anything goes, and I love being able to challenge myself in a new way every week. For cyclocross, the racing and the spectators, just really the essence of cyclocross all together is what I love about it. I could go on all day about what I love about each discipline. I think with each, the challenge is just managing my expectations. It was hard for me for a long time to trust the process, and realize that not everything would happen overnight.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
When I was 16, my dad passed away pretty suddenly after a short battle with cancer. I using cycling as my outlet through that time, but there were a lot of down times through the grieving process. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression a bit my whole life, but it was much worse after my dads passing. I am still processing his death in my own way. But with my anxiety, I have just tried to keep myself from thinking bad thoughts. My mantra is “be positive; be present” and that’s helped me a lot.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I’ve been riding mountain bikes for so long, that it came really naturally. I grew up riding in Maine where it’s really rocky and rooty, so that part of cycling has always been easy. Learning to ride behind my saddle on really steep drops and learning to bunny hop were really the two main things I had to figure out as an adult, but both just take practice and confidence. Confidence is key!

You decided to pursue road racing for a change of scenery and growth, tell us why you are excited for this new chapter in your #bikelife-
I’m excited because it’s a new challenge! Mountain biking will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope to go back to it someday. However, the road will be a great chance for me to get faster and learn more about another discipline of cycling. Like I mentioned, the community is amazing so I’m looking forward to that part — it’s something missed in mtb — and it will help me in cyclocross as well.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love all of it. But I love going outside, having time to be with nature, be along in my thoughts and just be present. I love that cycling has allowed me to travel the world. It help me be confident, and I think that’s pretty special. Not a lot of young women have been fortunate enough to find something that makes them feel confident. I hope everyone finds that someday.

Tell us what you would consider your biggest challenge with being a professional racer-
I think being away from my family a lot has been challenging. I love racing, and I have a pretty good grasp on the concept that if there is an issue in my race, I will fix it. But the one thing I haven’t been able to fix yet is the time I spend away from home. I would love for my family to be able to travel with my every now and then, especially since I’m always away for the holidays. That said, the time I do spend with my family is always quality. So I am surviving :)

With pursuing a racing career, what would you say has been your most fulfilling accomplishment?
For me, there have been two moments that felt like my most fulfilling moments.

First, when I signed with Aspire racing last February. It was such a huge accomplishment, and something I had dreamt of for many years. To finally make that step and be a full-fledged professional racer was one of the most exciting moments for me.

Second, getting a medal at Worlds was for sure the most exciting result of my career. It was a breakthrough ride, and it felt like all the hard work from myself and my amazing team and support village had really paid off.


What would you like everyone to know about pro racing in the cycling world? What would you like to see change?
The first thing that pops into my mind when I see this question that I hope people being to understand (and this would also be a good change) is that pros are just regular people! I mean this is both a positive and a negative sense. In one regard, I’d love to see more fans and amateur racers interacting with pro racers. We’re just normal people, so don’t be afraid to talk to us! On the other hand, I want people to understand that, like regular humans, we are not immune to hurtful comments or heckles. I see what mean stuff people write about me online. I hear people make fun of me while I race. I know other pros feel the same. So in both regards, I hope people start to have a better understanding that pro racers are just regular people!

What do you feel could happen locally and/or industry-wise to increase the involvement of women in cycling and/or the industry?
I think a lot of what is happening now is actually a great step. I think it’s just going to take time to see a change. I think the unfortunate mentality is that people often expect an instantaneous response. If a promoter offers equal pay out one year, and not a lot of women show up, then they’ll stop offering equal payout! However, it takes a while for things like this to catch on. So I think one of the best things that could be done right now is for people to just keep doing what they’re doing. As I’ve said a lot about growing the sport: if you build it, they will come.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Really, it just boils down to realizing how much cycling has done for me in my life. I want other girls
to have that opportunity as well. I know that a lot of who I am today is because of cycling. I want to share these amazing life experiences with other women, and hopefully I can serve, in some small way, as a person who pushed them into a great life choice.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am obsessed with curry!!!!! My favorite meal, and favorite ingredient. If I see something with curry in it — I’ll buy it. I could eat a red curry dish for every meal, I swear.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Race Day Adventures: Borah Epic

If you had told me 2 years ago that I would sign up for a mountain bike race that was over 30 miles in length, I would've told you that you were nuts. That is how I felt when I signed up for Borah Epic in January. "Josie. You're nuts."

I went with the idea that I was able to do the Chequamegon 40 and finish, so I would undoubtedly be able to do the Borah Epic and finish.

Air and mystery surrounded the CAMBA trails, which prior to the event I had only ridden a couple. I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to go and check out 30+ miles of singletrack for a race that I had no idea on how I would do or where I would finish. Unfortunately for me, the months ticked by quickly and it was time to head to Hayward before I felt ready. The lack of saddle time on gravel rides stressed me out, so for mental sanity I went against my "you should rest" rule and allowed myself a short mountain bike ride on both Thursday and Friday. The drive is long and my legs hate being stagnant.

Weather was also playing a game of roulette with us, threatening to make the mountain bike race a 2-loop gravel race. I didn't want to be without mountain biking for that long, and figured if I at least got a ride in at home- it would make up for the lack of dirt given the worst case scenario.

I also had added worry when Curtis and I stopped by Decorah Bicycles before we rolled out of town- it was surprisingly busy and I had a shadow of guilt. Travis had said we'd make this event work out for me, yet there was going to be a lot of additional stress with my being gone. I can't thank Travis and the guys enough for making this race opportunity work for me.

When we arrived in Hayward and had checked into the motel we went straight to registration. We had enough time to register and get in a short pre-ride which totaled about 10 miles. I never really had the opportunity to pre-ride for any event that wasn't the Decorah Time Trials, so I appreciated the opportunity to get a taste of what I would be getting into.

Definitely not Decorah trails! There were some rounded rocks you had to roll over and sometimes that got to be a little old, but what impressed us both was how the trails flowed. I mean flowed. We did an out and back on a few, and on the way out we had in our heads "man, this might suck on the way back..." yet when we rode back it rode just as easily if not better! It was amazing.

For supper we at at the Angry Minnow Brewery- a recommendation that O'Gara had given to me during Chequamegon yet I felt too exhausted after to deal with public outings. Curtis and I drove past Angry Minnow, and in truth- it's easy to do so. The outside of the building looks like it's abandoned, yet when you go inside it's absolutely awesome. The decor is simple and pleasant with a lot of dark wood and both indoor/outdoor seating. The waitress was super helpful with beer choices and food recommendations. I opted for a fresh white fish sandwich, figuring it would be light yet filling...nerves are great for curbing appetites.
The beer was delicious and the food was excellent. I attempted to feel hopeful about getting some rest for the evening. That was a joke.

My nervousness was up to the highest octave and I simply could not let my mind quiet down enough to let me sleep. I had turned the AC on to make the room more comfortable temperature-wise and had thought "Oh, white noise will be good." Boy, I was wrong. I tossed and turned. At one point I saw a bright light flash while my eyes were closed....a storm. Rain. Great....I looked at the weather and there was a big blob over us. I closed my eyes and faced away from the window, hoping beyond hope that there would be SOME type of race tomorrow. Anything. Just don't let it be cancelled due to storms (during the day.)

6 a.m. my alarm went off, I was awake in the first place but unaware of the time. I shut it off and laid back down, thinking "Any rest is better than no rest." I had literally been up all night. I would be mountain biking on no sleep.

The thought of breakfast made my stomach curdle. I drank some lemonade and ate a Honey Stinger Caramel Waffle. I felt like I wanted to barf...but didn't. My stomach still had pre-race issues, as I typically do. I waited as long as I could before taking a swig of Pepto. I choked down a doughnut hole and decided that I was done trying to eat anything more.

We rolled out around 8:30 a.m. so we could get to the start, have time to park, and have time to hit the portapotties before the race. You know. Important stuff.
When it was announced that folks could line up behind the front riders, Curtis ushered me to get my spot. As always, it's said that if you aren't fast, don't put yourself up near the front...but I am...kinda fast. I knew I would give myself further disadvantage if I started towards the rear...what to do, what to do. I guessed my best and rolled up to my spot, feeling completely like a poser with my flat pedals and Five Tens. "Josie, you are not a poser. You are a good rider."

Prior to rolling up to the start, Melissa, a rad women I had interviewed gave me some advice, "Push hard on the pavement and grass so you can get to a good place on the singletrack."
I was nervous because that would lead to my potentially blowing myself up before the race really started going anywhere. I figured where I chose for my spot would allow me the opportunity to stay ahead of folks who I would be passing yet let a solid number of folks pass me who were stronger riders. I had also overheard someone saying that there are likely folks who will be faster on the pavement and grass, yet not be as good of singletrack riders, thus, having to pass folks who passed you. This was going to be interesting. When we reached the first grassy portion I discovered my first mishap. I had just drained my Camelbak bladder. I didn't even think to look at how much water I had left after the pre-ride and assumed that I had enough. This was going to be challenge #1 during a race on a very warm and humid day.

It's intense when you all pile into the singletrack, you fall into a train because it takes folks time to get over/around obstacles or they mess up and you have to wait. This happened for a little while until we all started spreading ourselves out a bit. I had a kind fellow behind me aid in passing a fellow as he apparently knew I could go faster than the person I was behind, yet I had too much doubt on myself at that point. He was a hospitable trail rider who made me feel more comfortable and I wish I had gotten his name so I could give a public "You rock, dude!"

I did my best to be responsive and courteous to those who were behind me, making sure to allow quick passing so long as I felt confident on where I was at.

I ended up behind a woman for awhile who I thought was really awesome. She looked to be older than me and all I could do was be in awe of her pace and skill; hoping I could be like her at whatever age she was at in life. I did pass her due to a trip up on a bridge section (if I remember correctly.) Thankfully there were few bridges to cross and they all came up so quickly I didn't have time to overthink!

The race continued and I kept pushing myself as much as I could. I was prepared with a couple gel pouches taped to my bike. Unlike Time Trials, I wasn't going to lose any due to crashing!

The Gravity Cavity was definitely entertaining, tho I did worry because of our lack of berms in Decorah, that I would fall over in the middle of one and look like a fool. (Thankfully I didn't!) It was so fun and I was really pleased with how well I did!

Another takeaway was how I would surprise myself with being able to maintain space between myself and other riders. I would be plugging along and suddenly there would be a group of 3-4 coming behind me. I'd lose them on the climbs, especially if those climbs had some downhill flow after. There were times when someone would catch up to me and I'd let them pass, but then there was another fellow who was a fine trail companion.

This guy was really awesome, and I feel maybe gave me more credit than deserved. We rode together at least twice during the race. He would announce he was behind me, but not to worry. Just ride my ride, it was all good, and he didn't need to pass. I'm like "Really? Are you sure?" He was completely cool with it. I think at one point I had lost him, then he rolled up behind me again and said the same thing- this time adding that I'm really good at climbs, so it was pointless to pass when I'd just leap fog him. I had a good pace, too, so he wasn't concerned. I felt legitimately honored.

When we exited singletrack and came to another grassy climb on the Birkie, I lost my trail friend because I had dropped my water bottle. He asked if I was okay and I let him know I was, but I had to stop for my bottle since it was the only water I had left! I felt like he was up and over the hill by the time I was able to get going again. I hoped that anyone else behind me would be just as kind.

I took a little time to stop at the aid station that came up next for some energy drink. I wanted to ensure I wouldn't cramp up as I was being bullheaded and not stopping to take my salt tabs. It was warm and muggy; amazing how you would enter certain trail areas and just be riding thru a mist of humidity.

I kept going, but found myself having a hard time mentally after awhile. My shoulder/neck muscle that gives me a lot of grief during long gravel rides was being particularly troublesome. I tried to do some stretches while on the bike, but found little relief. I found my hands aching on the palms on the side where the ulnar nerve runs. My head was hurting from my helmet; I released a little bit of the tension and hoped it wouldn't be flopping around all over my head.

I'm used to riding with minimal water and food, but the humidity and heat were getting to me and I found myself forcing my last Honey Stinger gel down. Being I was on singletrack a lot of the time, I was able to keep my water sipping minimal to conserve fluids for the whole race. I didn't want to stop longer than necessary for anything. I had to keep going, if nothing else, for my mental sanity.

I started ticking down the mile markers, which were helpful and at the same time not. I would think when I saw a number "I've biked that many before." When I saw 17 miles I thought "That's doable" and further down "That's Time Trial length" to "That's just over fitness loop length" to "Holy crap I'm almost done!"

At some point between the 17 and 7 mile marker I crashed. It was a steeper downhill turn with some loose rock and sand. I was allowing myself to roll fast because I had seen some folks coming up behind me. My front wheel went out and I slammed down on my right knee and shoulder. I hustled to get my bike off the trail and moved off to the side so the guys could roll by. It was a relief because I wasn't sure if I could stay ahead of them much longer. I looked down and saw blood on my knee, and a twisted part of me was pleased. If I'm doing the Epic, I might as well look like I had an epic biff instead of my usual "I crashed, but all I got was this bruise and a story." A volunteer had asked me if I was alright when I stopped for some water, and I assured her it looked worse than what it was.

I was asked by only one person if I was truly riding flats. You betcha! I'm here to prove flats rock.

I would bounce back and forth between a balance of renewed energy and plummeting down to bonk. When I was at mile 7 I forced myself to eat two chews, more or less because I knew I'd be biking up a big grass hill to the finish.
 
A nice fellow passed me and assured me that we were almost finished. Yes!!! I then witnessed the most epic crash I've seen in person, literally within feet of my front wheel. He went over the bars on an uphill and it looked mighty uncomfortable; he was a trooper and rode to the finish!
Yup. I have bowed legs.

I crossed the finish line with a sense of disbelief. I did it. I had actually biked over 30 miles of mostly singletrack. I didn't cramp up, I survived with low water, I rode almost everything, and I only crashed once. I wasn't sure exactly how I would feel when I crossed the finish...at Time Trials I was emotionally and physically drained, but this time I was just drained.

I went to look at the results, not banking on anything spectacular. I knew there had been a good number of fast women out there, my goal was to be in the top 5 or 10 of my age group depending on how many were in said group.

I plugged in my race number.....
I was number one!
I was number one?! Holy crap!
6 total were in my age group for this year. I felt proud to have been another woman out on the course.

I grabbed a brat and a beer and sat down. I didn't feel hungry, but I knew I'd probably feel better if I ate something that was "real" vs. a gel or chew. Gosh darn if that brat wasn't sitting between my legs for a good 10 minutes before I took a bite. The beer was light and refreshing- I did a lot of thinking.

After relaxing for a bit and retrieving my plaque, I chatted a bit with Tad, a wonderful fellow who does great things with Borah Teamwear. Chis, the main man, also came over to congratulate me and we chatted a bit about the course, tire pressure, and simply how grateful I was to have had the opportunity to come up. Borah has been a fantastic company to work with in terms of our shop jerseys- and really, even tho I'm not "sponsored" by Borah, I feel like part of the family, and that says a lot.

After Curtis finished, he went to get the car while I mingled with a few riders- Ella and a super nice woman named Jana. She, her husband, and their friend were great company while I sat under the tent to stay dry from rouge sprinkles. I felt proud of myself that I struck up conversation with folks because my shyness kicks in sometimes. Once Curtis came back we loaded up and made our way back to Decorah- but not without a beer stop at Marketplace Foods.

You might ask, "Josie, what were you thinking about as you were sitting on the ground with your brat and beer?"
Well, for one thing I was very grateful that I was able to make this event work out in my schedule. Leaving the shop in Travis' hands with new help isn't the easiest thing in the world. Anyone involved in a small business or who owns a business can understand. I wanted to experience this event at least one time. I think the end result was fantastic and I couldn't wait for Travis to learn of my personal victory.

The second thing was giving into the fact that my body really, truly didn't feel great. Having to deal with chronic shoulder/neck discomfort with long rides can wear a person out on a mental/emotional level very quickly. I managed to keep myself in check and work thru the race 10 seconds at a time. I decided I really needed to have a heart-to-heart with myself and what I am capable of. I am capable of a lot of great things, however, putting my body thru so much stress is likely not the best thing for me to do on a regular basis. I crave high mileage events, but it pains my body so much- it's a tough pill to swallow.

I will still do Chequamegon 40 this year, but I've come to the conclusion that doing events over 40 miles isn't likely going to happen much. I'm not going to decide on anything for certain other than I will continue to do the local Time Trials and I'll likely still do the PertNear 20 event in Viroqua- but after Chequamegon this year I'll take some time to evaluate myself and what I'd like to experience.

I love the idea of riding miles and miles for hours at a time, but I think it might turn into making sure we take some fun trips out-of-state for "mini-vacations" in the fall months to ride and explore awesome trails in a non-race setting. Less stress on the mind and body...get out of Decorah and ride in other areas and challenge myself with new experiences, terrain, and still make new friends! I can be a women's mountain bike advocate without as much racing if that is what I need to do to ensure I can keep biking (enjoyably) for as long as possible. It's a humbling thought, but I have to be realistic.

Third...I'm so grateful for what I've been able to accomplish in my short time of mountain biking. I am still in awe of what I've found myself capable of. Learning I have grit, determination, and patience. The drive to push myself beyond my limits has rewarded me with some beautiful discoveries and wonderful relationships. This is #bikelife and I am a #fearlesswomanofdirt forever humbled by the sport and the wonderful community of folks within it.
Thanks to-
Travis for making sure Gaston aka BEASTFACE was in good shape. Plus taking care of the kitty kids.
The Decorah Bicycles team for covering for me.
ESI grips & TOGS for keeping my hands as comfortable as they could be for 30+ miles.
Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled.
Borah Teamwear for the raddest kit I own.
All of the volunteers and folks who coordinated the event- you are all awesome.
Curtis for being the transportation and good company.
My friends & family who keep rooting for me even when I think I'm trying to do the impossible.

Women Involved Series: Rebecca Rusch

I am an athlete, author, adventurer, part time firefighter/EMT, dog-mom, wife, homeowner. Mostly, I’m just someone who likes to explore, challenge myself, be outside and share the lessons I learn with others. I’ve worked super hard to build a career around those passions. It’s important for me to make a difference in the work I do. 
This includes constantly pushing myself to be better and continuing to learn, but also going beyond just my own development and making an impact in a bigger way. 

The bike and sports in general have been my vehicle for change and the tool I use to accomplish these things.



Tell us about the introduction to your current #bikelife and how has it changed your life?
As an adult, I wasn’t very fond of bikes. In adventure racing I was terrified of mountain biking but when adventure racing ended, I had to make the decision to either focus on mountain biking or get a real job. To capitalize on my biggest strength—endurance—I started looking around for the longest things I could find. My friend and fellow adventure racer Matthew Weatherley-White suggested I try 24-hour mountain bike racing, where you race around the clock. Even though I’d done a fair share of biking in adventure racing, this seemed like a stupid idea. I’d never learned to love it; in fact, I hated it more than any other sport I’d tried. Bikes were complicated. They always broke. And I wasn’t any good on technical terrain, so I’d end up pushing or carrying the damn thing.

It didn't seem like the best option but at that point it was the only option and I took it. What else was I suited to do? I really couldn’t come up with any other ideas. The more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe I could make it work. At this point I had a nice race bike and, since living in Idaho, I had met some other women who rode. I actually had been on some pretty enjoyable rides with them. As an adventure racer, I was well trained to stay awake to race for days on end with no sleep, let alone just one 24-hour period. I could hold a steady pace when it wasn’t too technical. The checks in the plus column were adding up. I figured I had one year to dabble in some sort of sport to fulfill my requirements to Red Bull. It was going to be a bit of a celebratory lap at the end of a great athletic career.

At 38, I decided to start racing mountain bikes at the age of 38. Now, at 46, I’m a multi-time world champion in the sport that was once my biggest weakness.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom, exploration. The work to go up and the fun of coming down. You can choose to make a ride super challenging or hard…expanding your skills and fitness, or you can just spin casually with the dogs and friends. It’s a universally accepted and understood form of transportation and movement. It brings people together.

What inspired you to start competing in cycling events?
I had just moved to Ketchum, Idaho and When I was still mulling over the cycling thing when I decided to hop into a local 100-mile unsanctioned race in Idaho, a grand tour of the local mountain bike trails. It started in nearby Hailey and made a giant loop through the surrounding mountains and valleys, including Ketchum. There are all kinds of strong riders in this area, many of whom would be on the ride. I figured it would be a pretty good test to see if I could ride 100 miles straight, much of it singletrack. I had no visions of being able to stay with the group, but I wanted to see how I would do on a big ride. I was also excited about exploring unknown territory around my new home, and it’s tough to pass up a free event.

Though I bumbled over the technical stuff, I loved the challenge, the exploration, and how far the bike could take me. I was awakened to what there was to love about riding. The Pioneer, Boulder, and Smokey Mountain ranges we rode through went on farther than I could see or fathom. I didn’t have to travel to an exotic country to find adventure. It was right outside my back door. I craved to see what was over the next mountain, up the next drainage, and beyond.

Any suggestions that you can give folks who have yet to attend an event?
I’m living proof that it’s never too late to learn a new sport and take on a new challenge. I recommend getting educated and using your experience to help you take on the new challenge. Getting started is just that. Get started. Sign up for races, get involved with your local club, shop and let it grow from there. The opportunities to ride and race are out there, you just need to go grab them.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What were those first introductory rides like for you?
When I first began adventure racing I hadn't ridden a bike in years and had never touched a mountain bike. This was my first personal encounter with mountain biking—and it was a reluctant meeting, to say the least. I had zero interest in the sport, but there was no getting around it: I had to learn to ride if I was going to do the race. I purchased a used bike from a woman who used to race downhill and was much shorter than me. It was a heavy bike, and no one educated me on how to adjust the suspension for my body weight. It was a chore wrangling it where I wanted it to go, but I just assumed it was my lack of experience that made it so hard to ride. I never considered the possibility that it was actually the wrong tool for the job, and no one told me otherwise. I trained with my team for every sport and it was a crash course in cycling, with virtually no instruction except “Follow me” and “Get your weight back behind the saddle for the downhills.”

In the first race, the my team reached mountain bike section just before midnight and all I could see was that it went up and up, forever, and he told us we’d be riding uphill for many hours. I braced myself for the inevitable. We rode in silence, and I entered my own world of steely concentration. I rode a bit ahead of the team to gain my focus and make sure I didn’t fall behind. I had never ridden or seen a hill this big. I started playing little counting games to keep me motivated. First, I just focused on counting 10 pedal strokes at a time. I told myself I wouldn’t stop until 10, then 10 became 20, then I began to count to 100. I have no idea how much time passed climbing that hill, but finally in the middle of the dark night, I could see the road flattening out and there was nothing above me except moonlit sky. We were at the top of the hill—I’d made it on my own power.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
There were so many things I didn’t really know how to do in this new discipline and it showed as my bull-in-a-china-shop technique was a liability on such a technical course. After 24 very intense hours of racing, I came in second, I vowed to work on my technical skills. Over the course of the next year, I did just that. I dedicated myself to training on my mountain bike with an intensity I had not tapped before. With my coach’s help, I worked until I was in the best shape of my life, and Greg, who grew up riding on the technical trails in Virginia, showed me how to be a better bike handler. I also got some tips from mountain bike legend and Specialized teammate Ned Overend. He didn’t hesitate to tell me everything I was doing wrong within 30 seconds of riding with me. “You’re too stiff. You brake too much on the downhills. You’re not flexing your knees and elbows to float over bumps . . .” It was hard to hear the laundry list of everything I was doing wrong, but if I was going to live down my reputation for “winning ugly,” I had to make some changes.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Overcoming- It’s really as simple as the old saying, you just have to get back on the horse. Everyone experiences fear while riding. I mean, everyone from the newest beginner rider to the top, elite racers.  We ALL have uncertainty and fear. Start slowly with terrain that is easy for you and comfortable and just have fun. Slowly build and challenge yourself when you’re ready. Don’t delay, just get back on the bike. The longer you delay, the more the fear will build. You said it yourself, you’ve not fallen off your bike in 30 years. Your friends are not you. Give yourself a pep talk and remind yourself of why you love riding. Focus on the positive, not the fear and stay within your comfort level.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride for Niner Bicycles and what I love about them is they are family and they are innovators and risk takers. The company was founded on the crazy idea of 29 inch wheels when it wasn’t popular or accepted yet. I’m aligned with them in that I’ve never taken the easy or predictable path. Niner fits with who I am, what I stand for and embodies all of the things I love about cycling: freedom, access, trails, acceptance for all riders and innovative risk taking.

I have different bikes for different purposes:
My XC race bike is the RKT 9 RDO…voted best lightweight XC race bike by Bicycling Magazine in 2016! I didn’t need to wait to hear that vote because I already knew how fast, light and nimble this bike is. I use the RKT for endurance races, multi-day MTB bike packing events and lots of my training at home. It’s an awesome race bike, but also with beefier Maxxis tires and a Rockshox Reverb, it performs really well as an all around bike that’s great in almost any situation.

The Niner RLT (Road Less Traveled) 9 RDO (Race Day Optimized) is my gravel bike for endurance races like Rebecca’s Private Idaho or Dirty Kanza and also bike packing events that have more dirt road than single track. This bike is the new carbon version of the RLT. It’s super light and also the lower bottom bracket and geometry changes make it way more stable and comfortable for the long haul than the cyclocross bike from Niner (BSB 9 RDO). This is a race bike for me, but also a stable in the training fleet and a great bike for going long distances.

The third bike I’m riding now and really excited about is the new Niner JET 9 RDO. This bike is a awesome trail bike with the capacity to put 27.5 plus wheels or 29 inch wheels on it. It was my first experience with plus wheels and when I got on this bike for the first time, I could ride almost anything! There’s something about this bike that makes me feel invincible on technical trails and I couldn’t stop laughing because I was having so much fun. This is my new trail bike and has me thinking perhaps I should race an enduro or two this year. It has opened up so much terrain for me that I wasn’t confident riding before. This is the super FUN bike in the quiver.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I’ve asked this question to many women during the 5 years of hosting the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour women’s clinics. I launched this program precisely to address this issue and help women feel more comfortable getting involved with cycling. The biggest barriers are lack of knowledge with the equipment, lack of confidence in their skills, lack of a supportive community or group to learn from. One of my main missions with my business and reach is to get more women cycling by taking away those barriers. With a little education, some instruction and a group of like minded women, the intimidation factor diminishes and everyone is out riding and having fun. It’s really not that complicated. If you just crack open the door for women and make them feel welcome, they’ll soon kick it down and charge ahead. I will continue these efforts with everything I do during the #JoinTheRusch events and clinics this year.

What do you feel could happen industry-wise to encourage more women to become involved with riding and the industry itself?
The good news is that things are changing and that there is still a ton of room for improvement, so we can have a big impact with not too much effort.

5 years ago when I launched the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour, there were few women’s cycling programs. Now they are popping up everywhere. There is a collective energy from female cyclists and now instead of complaining that there aren’t women’s rides, we are just starting them on our own. More women are working in the industry, becoming mechanics, applying for management positions because we now have mentors and visionaries who’ve paved the way. The most important thing is that women keep speaking up and putting their name in the hat and keep joining the discussions. Men and women are different and I do feel that representation from both makes for the most creative ideas, the most cohesive teams and the best working environment. For all of us, it’s important to change the language we use in the media, among our friends and in public. While it’s important to have support networks for all types of groups, including women…we also need to realized that we are all human and part of the same group. We have that in common. So, I don’t refer to myself as a female athlete, female firefighter, female author. Instead I’m simply and athlete, firefighter, author. It’s important to celebrate and support differences, but also equally important to celebrate and support our similarities so that we can start to erase gender biases and get on with doing great work in the cycling industry.
Photo Credit: Linda Guerrette
What inspired you to do what you can to help women have a positive introduction to off-road riding?
As a cyclist, I want everyone to experience the joy I get from being in the saddle. As a female mountain biker, I want other women to tap in to the confidence and innate capability that can be produced with just a few pedal strokes. Many women are timid to get on the trail and often feel intimidated to ask questions in a testosterone dominated world.

After the 2010 Leadville, I was officially climbing, and I wanted to make sure I was doing some lifting too. It was my turn to share, provide opportunity, and give nudges that bring out the best in other people. As I lined up at races around the world, I kept wondering where all the women were and why I was in such a minority. I’m very familiar with the barriers that keep people from riding, because I’ve struggled with them too, things like intimidation with the equipment, a lack of technical skill, a shortage of other women to ride with, or uncertainty regarding where to ride. But if I could learn to ride, become a pro cyclist at 38, and improve my skill to the world champion level, then anyone could eliminate the barriers for entry. I wanted to help facilitate this and erase some of the excuses.

What inspired you to take to writing to share the story of your #bikelife?
Well, for years, people have been telling me, ‘You should write a book, you should write a book!’ But I was always just like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to write a book, no one wants to read about me …’ That said, I had been blogging for a while and sharing my stories that way, but it wasn’t until VeloPress approached me about writing a book. So it really just sort of landed in my lap. Selene Yeager and I had chatted about it a few years earlier, so it had been tossed around for a little bit, but it wasn’t until VeloPress asked me, and I started thinking that it was either now or never.

I consider writing my book the toughest endurance event I have completed. It was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was much like a long race – while I was in it, it felt really difficult, but at the finish line, you’re just happy and proud.

What has been the most humbling thing you have experienced since you published your book?
The most humbling thing since publishing Rusch To Glory is that people actual read it and liked it. Honestly, I had no idea how it would be received or if we would sell even one copy. It’s done well and I get really nice comments all the time from people who found inspiration and motivation in the stories. Getting a note from a young girl or a new racer or a seasoned pro or even a non-cyclist that they could relate, makes all of the hard work it took worth it. Through this book, my other writing and speaking engagements, I’m realizing how important it is for us as a community to tell our stories.  It’s what brings us closer and makes us better.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m a part time firefighter / EMT with Ketchum Fire Department. Going on 11 years.
Doing a TEDx talk was probably the 2nd hardest thing I’ve done recently (book is the first) .

Thanks go to Rebecca and her team for the photos used in this piece and for making this interview happen in general! Also, a hearty congrats to Rebecca on her 2017 DK 100 finish! 2nd overall and 1st female!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Courtenay McFadden

Photo Credit: Chris Rose
I’m Courtenay McFadden, I race cyclocross at the Elite/Professional level all over the country and in Europe as well. When I’m not training, traveling, or racing I’m usually at home spending time with my husband and my kitty Nugget. I live in Bellingham, WA out of the Pacific Northwest, and I couldn’t be more proud of where I’m from! My next love after biking, includes the human body. I have both my BS and MS in Exercise Science, and until last summer worked as a Personal Trainer. I decided to take some time off to focus on racing, myself, and have surgery at the end of the 2016/2017 cyclocross season. I know I’ll go back to working as a trainer, as I love watching my clients improve their life through exercise, and I love working and watching the magic of the human body. It’s absolutely amazing what it can do. Even though biking is my all-time favorite outdoor activity, I enjoy running (short distances), hiking, any fun water activity in the summer, and yoga.


Follow Courtenay on: Facebook, Instagram, Website

Tell us about your #bikelife, what inspired it?
I got into riding my senior year of college. Prior to riding bikes I was an avid runner, and a pretty bad one at that! I don’t think I’m built to be a speedy amazing runner, so I’m pretty glad I found the bike. I’ve always been active my entire life, I grew up playing soccer, dabbled in lacrosse, and loved riding my bike growing up. When I was 12 years old it was a beautiful day and I decided I wanted to go for a bike ride. I was having a fantastic time, but upon heading home crossing a busy road (walking my bike through a crosswalk as we were taught to do) I was hit by a car. There was more mental trauma to this event than physical trauma, as the car actually hit the bike and not me, but I was thrown to the ground when it happened. After this day I had no interest in riding a bike ever again, until I was 22. It was my senior year of college and I had been teaching spin classes at a local gym for 3 years (plus other group fitness classes). I had been very interested in getting a road bike as an alternative to running, because running was really starting to hurt my feet and knees. Being a college kid, I had no money, so it was just a dream. A couple of the members of the gym I was teaching at (still do!) pitched in and bought me my first road bike. It was great, I liked it, but it was way harder than I thought it was going to be, and my motivation to riding in the rain was pretty minimal, which meant since I live in the PNW, my riding my bike was minimal was well. At the time I was still enjoying my college years and being 21 years old, so riding wasn’t really a priority, I just did it when I wanted some exercise. I tried road racing that spring with the collegiate team (how I met my husband), and strongly disliked it. I graduated college winter of 2007, and didn’t really ride my bike after that. It wasn’t until summer of 2008 that I started putting more time on the bike, and went back to for my masters that Fall. Since I’m not one to give up, I decided I should try racing one more time, I had been riding more and was enjoying it more than I previously had. I joined the collegiate team and did the collegiate road racing season in 2009. From there it’s history.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Cyclocross is by far my favorite! I don’t think there is one event that I love more than the other. There’s something sooo amazing about racing cross. The community, how it’s like nothing else you can do on a bike. You can mimic both road racing and mountain bike racing, but you just can’t mimic cross, you really only have the cross season to soak it up. Last Spring I did some of the Epic Rides events (Grand Junction and Carson City) and I was (still am) extremely impressed with the level of those races, the competition, the courses, the weekend of organization, is top notch. The equal payouts for men and women is also wonderful. I love competing, I think because I’m competitive! Although, I’m really most competitive with myself. I found myself getting stronger and stronger on the bike every year I was riding, that I just kept wanting to get better and see how much better and how much stronger I could get. It was like this game with myself, it’s changed a little bit as I’ve become result focused I’ve learned that I need to tap into some competitiveness with those around me and ACTUALLY race my bike! This year was a really good year for me to remember that we don’t just ride hard in circles, that there are other people you are racing against and racing isn’t just about laying out the power, but also being smart about when you lay out the power, and of course off road racing you need the technical abilities as well.

What advice or tips would you give to someone who is nervous with participating in their first cycling event?
I would tell them there is nothing to be nervous about. I think some of what I love about cycling is the community. Everyone is here to lift each other up, we want more people on bikes so we aren’t going to make it a scary scene for new people to join. Sometimes I think that racers get big ego’s, especially around those that don’t race, but I always remind people, you were that person once too, don’t be rude, be welcoming and teach and share your knowledge.
Photo Credit: Dave McElwaine
Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn from those experiences?
Technically my first time on single track was on my CX bike and I was TERRIFIED (of going downhill). I ride those trails on my mountain bike now, and given they are the XC easy trails on our local mountain, but not really fun on an entry level cross bike with brakes that don’t work (also..I don’t miss canti brakes)! I vividly remember my first mountain bike ride. My (now) husband helped me purchase the mountain bike the summer after my first cross bike. It was a 26in hardtail Norco Fireball. It was a good bike to learn on. It took a lot of beatings and it kept trucking! He took me on a very short loop up to this trail called SST and I was scared the entire way down. I got off my bike multiple times, there might have been some cursing and yelling his way. I swear the trail was steeper then, than it is now!

Those experiences taught me that entry level cross bike brakes are terrible for single track descending and to never give up. It took me a long time to ever want to ride SST again, or any trail marked with a black diamond, and that I should ride my mountain bike with girlfriends before riding it with my boyfriend. Girls know the good trails to ride that aren’t scary, they aren’t trying to kill you, and it’s always easier to learn from your friend than your significant other.

What inspired you to keep with it?
When I got my mountain bike in 2010, at that point, I loved riding. It was nice to have another modality to ride for a change of scene. Mountain biking had a lot more casualness and fun around it versus road riding. Also, because I’m not one to give up on things, I wanted to master it. Every ride was like a puzzle, how am I going to get through, over or around this obstacle? I remember going for a ride and being so frustrated because I didn’t know how to get over larger roots, so I would get off and walk over it. I went back and told my roommate how annoying it was to get off my bike, and she told me “Oh you just need to lift your front wheel, this how you do it, I’ve been working on it too.” it clicked instantly and my ability to ride my mountain changed forever! There are still things to this day that I haven’t conquered, and that’s what I love about the sport. You can always keep pushing yourself to become better.

Clips or flats- what do you enjoy and why?
Oh boy that’s easy! I’m an XC rider, so def clips! Clips…because that’s what I learned on. I have ridden on flats (at the dirt jump park) and it’s scary. I do think there is a place for flats and they are good to learn body position on the bike and how you need to distribute your weight, what to do with your feet to help you maneuver the bike. I would like to practice a little more with flats, even though I find them scary.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I haven’t had any crazy scary emotional crash that has left me scared. I have my fair share of crashes, that’s for sure! I have absolutely crashed on stuff that when I get to it in a trail I get a little nervous trying it again or I wait it out until my confidence has built back up again. A couple years ago I had my friend from Seattle come mountain biking with me in Bellingham. I took her to a pretty techy trail, and she was walking a lot of the stuff I was riding. I vividly remember her asking “how did you get so good”, and I said you just try it and don’t be afraid to crash. Of course, after this I crashed on some steep part of the trail, but told her you can’t be afraid to try it out, it’s the only way to know your limits and improve. Typically, in a ride after 1 or 2 crashes I am little more timid, or some days I’m just not as open to crashing as others and I’ll play it more safe. I think the biggest thing is, you can’t be afraid to crash. The best riders in the world crash, it’s a part of the sport, take it in strides, and remember to relax, the more stiff you are when you crash, the more it’s going to hurt!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I’m still working on being a better turner. I know that sounds somewhat ridiculous considering there’s a lot of turning in cycloross, but it’s such an easy way to make up and gain time. In mountain biking switchbacks were SOOO hard. The main trail to access our mountain is a series of switchbacks up (and down if you go down that trail). I could make it up, but down was so hard. I would purposely take that trail down so I could work on my switchbacks. I’m still not amazing at them, but I’m working to be better, faster, and smoother! Learning the front wheel lift changed my life! Once I learned how to do that, my riding and my enjoyment of riding increased dramatically. Not really sure on the best tips, I wish I had taken a clinic when I first started mountain biking. I think I would have learned a lot and also not picked up the bad habits I’m trying to lose now.

What do you find the most challenging about cyclocross? What suggestions/tips can you give for someone who is interested in trying it?
I believe the most challenging thing about cyclocross for me is the intensity. You’re pushing your limits the ENTIRE race, and not only physically, also mentally, you need to be able to handle your bike and be confident with it when you’re nearly in the red zone.

What would you say is the most challenging part about setting up your own program for racing?
Time and energy. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of time, but honestly I really enjoy it. It’s challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone and ask people for things, which I’m so bad at. It’s taught me a lot about marketing, because ultimately I’m a product that I need to market, but also how I can market my sponsors product. It teaches me about proper communication, keeping people in the know and being friendly, smiley and positive. I’ve learned more than I possibly could have imagined by running my own program. I honestly didn’t know how long I would do it, since when I first started it, it was because there weren’t any pro-team prospects, so I knew if I wanted to race I had to take matters into my own hands. I was hoping that I would do it just 1 year and then jump on a team, but after a year of running my own thing I felt this huge connection to my sponsors and I didn’t really want to drop that, and now, I’ve really built something for myself.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career so far?
The people. Absolutely, and how much it’s taught me about…me. As I said before, not only have I stepped outside of my comfort zone in asking people for help, sponsorships, etc, I’ve traveled to Europe…alone! For someone that is terrified of traveling because of irrational fears of being kidnapped, I think that’s pretty big to take matters in my own hands and travel to Belgium, alone, more than once! Given, I was staying with friends, but I figured out how to rent the car on my own, how to drive in an unknown country, how to navigate the races. That was such a big growth for me personally, it taught me that I can truly do anything, and I don’t have to let my anxiety get in the way. I pushed my boundaries, it was hard and I cried, but I did it.

Tell us about your introduction to the cyclocross world, how were you inspired?
My husband introduced me to cyclocross in that I watched him race and then a couple of years later I decided I wanted to race. He didn’t actually teach me anything about it. I learned from my friends boyfriend the night before my first race. My friend and I were living together at the time, and so we went to the park across the street and he gave us a 10-minute lesson on how to dismount, remount and jump over barriers. That’s literally how I learned my cyclocross skills…hence I picked up some bad habits that a couple of years later I worked REALLY hard to get rid of (like the double hop remount). In all seriousness though, I think it’s hard to learn a new skill from a significant other, and I think the best thing for both parties involved, is to learn from someone other than your significant other! Less arguments more love.

What do you enjoy most about being able to ride with your partner?
I love that it’s a simple way for us to spend time together, and when I need to go out for a training ride we can go together, and he doesn’t get mad thinking I’m not spending time with him. Plus, it gives him motivation to keep riding to make sure he stays faster than me and fit! He’s also a great adventure buddy when on vacation and we’re out finding new places to ride.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I absolutely love riding my bike, everything about it. I love that it takes you to places you wouldn’t ever imagine going. I love an all day adventure out on my mountain bike with friends climbing to the highest places and seeing the amazing views that riding can take you to. I love the healthy social aspect of riding. I love that it takes me outside on the nicest and worst of days. I love everything about it!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Oh boy. I have a slew of them.

Road Bike: Pinarello FP3. I love this bike! It’s my second road bike and was my first carbon bike! I bought it in 2010, so I realize it’s a little outdated, but it’s so comfy, I love the way it rides, so I don’t really feel a need to replace it. I bought it when I was in the market for a road bike upgrade, and wanted a carbon frame, I saw it and immediately fell in love, it’s pink, white and black. I loved the way it rode and of course loved the color scheme, so I bought it.

Mountain Bikes: I have 2. I have a Transition Scout, which is 140mm Front and 130mm Rear travel at 27.5 wheel size. I love this bike, it’s not particularly light, but pedals well uphill, plus it’s SO MUCH FUN to go downhill with, plus it’s super playful and inspires a lot of confidence on the descents. Once I got this bike it really changed my riding style for the better. I bought it because I wanted a fun bike, and this is my fun bike! My other mountain bike is a Liv Lust XC full suspension mountain bike. I bought this last summer when I wanted to do some XC racing, and knew I wanted a full suspension. I chose this particular one because I think Liv is doing awesome things for women and their bikes. Plus I knew people who had it and loved it, so you can’t go wrong with that. Also being a small person it’s hard to find bikes that fit well. Hardtails (while light) trash my back (because my hip was/is so unstable from it’s issues), so my back would take a big beating on a hardtail, and the weight saving isn’t worth the uncomfortable back! I love this bike as well, it climbs really well, turns well and can handle the gnarliest of trails. I was really impressed with this bike when I got it.

Cyclocross Bikes: I have my most recent addition to the family the Focus Mares. Focus was my bike sponsor this last year, and I love riding my Focus. I approached Focus for a sponsorship because of their huge involvement in cyclocross that it seemed like the right fit. I’m really glad they were able to step up and help me out. The bike is super light, accelerates out of corners and handles really well. My other cyclocross bikes (because I have a tight connection to them) are my Rock Lobsters. Previously to riding my Focus bikes, I was on Rock Lobster, and those bikes are just plain FUN, plus you can’t knock a custom frame built for you. Once you have a custom bike it’s really hard to NOT get rid of them, so..my family of CX bikes is quite large.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking/cyclocross/off-road?
I’m not really sure what deters women from cycling, I think it could be fear. You hear it a lot that women are afraid of riding on the road because they’re scared of the cars, but the idea of screaming downhill on a mountain bike seems scary too! Also time accessibility plus cost. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to go buy a pair of running shoes and try to be a runner than it is to find a bike that fits, get shoes, cycling clothes, and a helmet. I think it’s harder to get women involved off road because it can be very intimidating. Riding off-road requires handling and skill, which can add another fear factor as a new rider. I think if you have young ones (small children) it also becomes harder to get into cycling due to time, again it’s a lot easier to grab some runners and bring the kids in a stroller and go for a run than it would be to find a sitter and go for a ride!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Industry wise I think more women IN the industry would help get more women on and into bikes. I think companies like Liv are leading the way for the industry. I love what they do. Locally, I believe if women can team up and help lift each other up and be encouraging and show women new to the sport how fun it is, that could really help to increase women in the sport. Also, I think all women clinics are very encouraging to new women riders. The past 2 years I’ve lead a women’s CX clinic where I live, and it’s been so much fun! With this type of environment it’s incredibly welcoming to new women and far less intimidating!
Photo Credit: Yet Another Bike Photo
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I think the most inspirational thing is how positive, encouraging, and fun women are to ride with. Mountain biking in particular, riding with other women pushes me to be a better rider and try things I might not otherwise try if I were riding with only males (or my husband). This aspect of riding makes it easy to encourage women to ride, letting them know that riding with women is FUN!

Tell us a random fact about yourself
I’m a large fan of playing Nintendo, particular the Mario games. ☺ I love Mario Kart on the Wii, but Super Mario Kart (on Super Nintendo) is my favorite. I literally grew up playing this game against my older brothers. I love pretty much any of the Mario games.