Monday, February 27, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Jen Hanks

I have been riding mountain bikes since the mid 90s and started training and racing more seriously when I graduated from Occupational Therapy school in 2004. I upgraded to Pro in 2006 with an emphasis on Cross Country racing. In 2007, my racing career changed with the participation in my first MTB stage race, the TransAlp. While I continue to race in a variety of disciplines including cross country, marathon, ultra-endurance, and even some cyclocross, my passion lies in traveling to new cultures and competing in multi-day stage races.

In 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. I feared that my racing career and especially my ability to participate in MTB stage races would come to an end. I did return to racing in 2012 only to be diagnosed with an axillary breast cancer recurrence in 2013.

Treatment this time included more surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and an oophorectomy (google it:). Today I am in remission. I attribute a clean diet, excellent medical/alternative care, and most importantly my bike for helping me heal and stay healthy. I continue to race at the Pro level and have even returned to MTB stage racing!

I ride my bike because I can. My bike has taken me to the most amazing places whether it is a secret spot in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah or a remote beach in Cuba. Nothing makes me feel more alive or frees me from my worries like riding my bike.

Social media:
Facebook athlete page: @JenHanksMTBracer
Facebook cancer page: @athletefightscancer
Insta: @HanksJen
twitter: @HanksJen

What was the main cause of you discovering your #bikelife in the 90’s?

I grew up riding horses and competing pretty seriously. When I went to college I needed a less expensive and more accessible “replacement” sport. Mountain biking was a new “cool” sport that I was intrigued by. My first mountain bike was a fully rigid Univega that I used for commuting and riding the local trails. It didn't take long for me to upgrade to a “plush” hardtail. I was hooked and have been riding ever since.

What would you say was the biggest motivator for you becoming a pro athlete?
To be honest it just kind of happened. After I finished grad school I started to train with more structure and intention. I’m a naturally disciplined person so ‘training’ is never too hard for me. As my results improved so did my motivation. I kept training hard and upgrading through the categories until I found myself racing as a Pro.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
My dream race is Cape Epic, an 8-day mountain bike stage race in South Africa. It is intriguing to me not only because it is probably the most famous stage race, it is also brutally challenging. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment, especially if it’s in South Africa. While being a glutton for punishment may make me sound like I race for masochistic reasons, the truth is racing makes me stronger, not just physically but mentally as well. After completing an especially challenging race, I am better equipped to face the challenges of life.

Do you have tips or suggestions for folks nervous on participating in their first competitive event?
The best way to overcome nerves is to put a smile on your face and have fun! And remember, everyone is nervous. I’ve been racing forEVER and I still get nervous. I try to turn my nerves into excitement. It (usually) works.

You really enjoy multi-stage race events. Tell us about the draw these events have for you and what one can expect-
I have been racing for a long time. I have done a lot of different formats of racing from XC, National Championships, Marathon, Ultra-endurance, 24-hour racing, Short Track, Cyclocross, and Stage Racing. I think Stage Racing is so special to me because it is as much about the community as it is about the racing. For many of these races you sleep, eat, race, and hang-out with your fellow racers 24/7 for a week. Add to that the cultural experience of being in a new country and it is a recipe for an adventure of a lifetime.
Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What was the experience like and what did you learn? 
I started mountain biking in Iowa of all places. There is a trail system, Sugar Bottom, near Iowa City and that is where I did my very first mountain bike ride. Since there aren’t a lot of trails in Iowa Sugar Bottom is where I spent most of my time riding for those first few years. I had zero skills and zero friends who were mountain bikers, so I kind of taught myself to ride. I figured these ‘mountain bikes’ were made for trails so I would ride down and plow into most of the features. It wasn’t pretty, but it was fun. I would ride the Sugar Bottom lap over and over again always trying to get faster and master new technical features.

What would you say was your inspiration for learning to mountain bike?
Like I mentioned before, I needed a sport-something to give my mind and body a rest from studying during college-and mountain biking was a “cool” new sport. Little did I know just how therapeutic for the soul this “cool” new sport would be!

Clips or flats- what do you enjoy and why?
100% clips although I am open to the new trend of riding flats to practice pedal efficiency and skills. For racing, though, 100% clips! Xpedo are my clips of choice!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Fortunately I have never had a catastrophic crash. The crashes that are the hardest for me to overcome are the ones that happen for no good reason. For example, a few years ago I was cruising down a fast downhill between two rocks. When you’ve been riding your bike for awhile you learn exactly how much clearance you have between your pedals and rocks. Unexpectedly, my pedal hit one of the rocks and my bike came to a screaming halt and I catapulted over the bars and hit the ground hard. Later I figured out that my rear shock was low on air causing my bike to be a bit lower to the ground. I admit that I still hesitate when squeezing through rocks at high speed , but I guess the take home message is to be aware of correct shock pressure!

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 don’t think I will EVER be satisfied with my handling skills. I’m always striving to improve. I do recommend taking a solid skills clinic and then practice, practice, practice. Sometimes practicing foundational skills in a parking lot will exponentially increase skill on the trail.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that my bike is 100% powered by me and it takes me to some of the most amazing places I have ever been. Amazing destinations aside, I love that no matter how I feel or what is going on in my life I always, always, always feel better after a bike ride!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why you chose them-

I have been sponsored by Pivot Cycles since 2013. My first Pivot was the Pivot Les 29 hardtail. The geometry of this bike redefined cross country race bikes. It had a slack head tube angle and short chain stays that made it climb like a billy goat yet ride stable on the descents, especially for a hardtail. I still have my Les! Recently, the bike I have been racing the most is the Pivot Mach 429SL. With my increased focus on marathon, ultra-endurance, and stage racing having a full squish bike is a real benefit. True to Pivot’s progressive geometry, this bike climbs like a race bike and descends like a trail bike.

You had some major health challenges that had to have been trying on an emotional and physical level. How do you feel cycling helped you thru your recovery?

Cycling had a profound impact on how I tolerated cancer treatment and recovery. There is a common misconceptions that people undergoing cancer treatment need to rest, rest, rest. Research (and my personal experience of undergoing chemo twice) actually shows the opposite. Moderate exercise during cancer treatment helps patients tolerate treatment better and reduces side effects. I rode my bike to every single chemo infusion and exercised throughout treatment. The hardest part was actually getting out the door. Chemo has a way of sapping all motivation making you feel exhausted, but once I got out the door and started cycling I always felt better! I truly believe that exercise and especially cycling helps flush the chemo toxins out of the body resulting in improved tolerance of treatment and reduced side effects.
In addition to the physical benefits, cycling gave me a sense of normalcy that helped me emotionally push through treatment.

Since cancer and recovery, how would you say your cycling has changed now from when you first started riding/racing?
It sounds a bit cliche’ but I have more appreciation for being able to ride and race my bike. Being healthy and strong is a gift and I try not to take it for granted…ever. I work my ass off training, and while I love good results, I can still be pleased after a mediocre result if I put forth my best effort. Also, during an especially difficult ride, like when its sub-20 degrees and I’m outside doing base miles, I remind myself that it is still better than sitting in the chemo chair. That perspective goes a long way in changing my mindset.

Since you started riding and competing, what would you say was the best thing you've learned about yourself?
On one level competing in ultra endurance events has taught me that I am a strong and stubborn woman who doesn’t give up easily. However on the more fundamental level I have learned that the simple act of riding a bike can make most things better. I have been handed my fair share of adversity these past few years and hopping on my bike always makes me feel better and more capable of attacking life’s difficulties.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think women new to mountain biking are often afraid of getting hurt. Mountain biking just sounds dangerous. In reality, once a few basic skills are mastered, it is a relatively safe sport. Taking a basic skills course from a reputable coach can easily increase safety on the bike as well as the fun factor! Also, women new to the sport seem less likely to shell out the money to purchase a high quality bike. I think they feel that they need to be an elite racer to deserve the best bike. Having a rad bike exponentially increases the fun factor! Women, you are worth it, get yourself that nice bike!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think products should be marketed toward individuals instead of genders. Honestly, the shrink it and pink it trend is frustrating. While pink is fine, too often products targeted toward women are low(er)-end and not up to my personal high standards. Just like men, some women want a bike to go on social rides and some women want a bike to tear the most technical trails up. A full range of products that fit women should be offered to meet these individual needs. I can’t tell you how often the “high-end” product I wanted to meet my demands wasn’t offered in my size. Companies investing in developing awesome products that “fit” women will help show women that they are valued on the trail.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Women are rad and fun and I want more to ride with! Seriously, though, riding a bike is life changing; I think ALL people should experience this, especially women. It is such a simple activity, is so good for your health, and can be done most anywhere. You can ride by yourself or with a group. You can ride pavement, gravel, or dirt. You can ride long or short, hard or easy. You can push your limits by competing. No matter how your ride a bike, it will increase your quality of life.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have eleven toes. Haha. Just kidding. If I weren’t riding my bike I would probably be riding a horse.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Yes I Can- Embrace a New Challenge.

I walked into Grand Bluff Running, feeling timid and completely out of my element. I'll blame Spring Fever and this unpredictable winter we've been experiencing here in Northeast Iowa. I had been longing for some time outdoors yet the mountain bike trails have been either ice-covered or too soft for riding.
Gravel riding wouldn't be much better, and I am not able to do much for a gravel ride prior to heading off to work.
The paved trail still had ice (and then flooding from the thaw), so riding that wasn't an option, either.

I look at the concept of running the same way as I looked at riding my bike in my younger years- my greatest enemy. Granted, as a kid I did learn to ride a bike- I could ride it around the yard and not feel like my lungs were going to burst. Running? I avoided that even more. I hated how it made me feel both physically and mentally. The mile run in school was the most dreaded time of year for me. One year I know the P.E. teacher cut a lap for me out of sympathy. Why make everyone wait for someone who was so slow?

Running, like biking, gave me a sense of shame because of my lack of ability.

Later on, probably in the 2008/2009 era of my life, I gave running another go. However, where I had been living wasn't the most scenic of towns and I struggled to feel incognito in my attempts at fitness. I didn't have a route that I felt comfortable on and I felt vulnerable to the gazes of folks either on foot or in their vehicles.

When I moved to Decorah I thought that I would give it another shot and managed to make my way to the Dug Road portion of the Trout Run Trail to try out my jogging legs. Full disclosure that I was a light smoker at the time, but I found that I could barely jog for any distance. I had a hard time breathing, I was around so many other pedestrians, and I felt frustrated with my lack of stamina. I gave it a couple attempts and it didn't take long for me to deem it "impossible."

Why after all these years, did I decide that I wanted to conquer a physical activity that gave me so much insecurity? Honestly? I'm not sure. I figured that with what I've done to improve my health that I would have to have a better shot at it. I wanted to do it right- go to a store, get properly fitted for shoes, and give myself time to adapt. I felt it had to go better than before, and I wouldn't allow myself to give up easily.

Walking into Grand Bluff Running for me is probably similar to how folks feel when they walk into Decorah Bicycles. Granted, our inventory outmatches theirs in terms of what we have on the floor- it was enough to make me go "Woah..."
A wall of shoes that would be a mystery to me, clothing options to look over, and various other accessories that I might find myself wanting. I knew I'd come out with a pair of shoes, 2 pairs of shorts, and one pair of lightweight tights. I anticipated running 1-2 days a week at most during my biking season, so no need for "all the things."

I talked with the sales associate who was more than happy to help me figure out the ins and outs of what I needed to start my journey. I was given a pair of shoes to try on and made my way to the treadmill to have my gait analyzed. I was pleased to learn there wasn't anything too much about my stride to worry about in terms of pronation. Hooray! No inserts for me. Now the hard part was to figure out what type of shoe would work best for my foot- something with minimal cushion or something with some cushion. I absolutely did not want full cushion, because I felt it would be too much. My goal was to take on trail running and like with riding, I want to feel a little something under me- I dislike being "desensitized."
I walked out with 2 pairs of Asics in colors that I actually liked, one with Goretex for wet/cold days and the other would be my "summer" shoe. They were in the middle of the spectrum for cushion, which with test-jogs I found more comfortable and supportive for my finicky feet. Then I had to figure out what type of shorts to go with- baggy or snug? I opted to go for a light, baggy style short as when it's hot, I absolutely hate being hot. I went with tights that were black with a little bit of pattern on them, because I have tendency to wear black cycling shorts a lot. Live it up a little!

So I came home with two pairs colorful shoes that the Josie of years prior would have buyer's remorse over due to price- and a commitment to myself that I would use these shoes enough to warrant the money spent. Now the challenge was finding time to go for my first jog, which was something that intimidated me.

My first jog happened on a Friday evening, under the cloak of darkness. I made my way from my house to the dike that runs parallel with the Trout Run Trail. I thoroughly questioned my sanity for going out in the dark without a light, hoping that I wouldn't somehow find a gopher hole. I managed to jog from the house, to the end of my route, and back without stopping for more than a photo for proof and a little bit of stretching.

My legs the next day felt like they were on fire. The thought of running anytime soon was not thrilling to me- but I went out again a few days later to find that it actually seemed to help. Then another jog found me feeling more confident with myself being able to handle this whole "running thing."

As of writing this, I've gone on a total of 4 jogs- minimal, but enough for me to feel like that this is a very real probability of my being able to get better at another thing that intimidated the crap out of me. I'm taking the reigns again, choosing to not allow a physical activity to get the better of me.

Using another activity to hopefully improve myself on the bike, plus, it will allow me some necessary time off the bike to keep chronic pain flair-ups at bay. Hopefully I can keep burnout at bay, too!

For folks looking to get involved with a new activity, I feel you. This isn't my first rodeo- I have been thru the same, painful process of inadequacy and uncertainty when I bought my first bike. Going into the experience as a "new to me" person, I would say was helpful for me to remember what it's like to be on the other side of the equation. In the bike shop, I'm perceived as an "expert" when I truly feel I'm a far cry from that. I'm a woman who loves biking who just so happens to want other people to love biking, too.

I started from the ground in terms of bikes and worked my way up, in a short time I learned the stark differences between budget bikes vs. spending a little more to get a bike you can grow with.
I knew based on my experience that I wouldn't skimp on shoes. Sure, you can go anywhere and buy a pair of shoes to run in, but does that mean they are actually right for you?

I was on the receiving line of respect for getting into a sport that intimidated me. Time and care was taken to ensure I had the best experience possible with learning the ins and outs of fitting. No question was perceived as "dumb." I got to experience a fellow woman who loved her sport, being able to help another woman get started. It was inspiring on many levels. I also loved the feeling that I was supporting another local, brick and mortar store.

Maybe this is the year you decide that you want to get into another form of cycling. Maybe this is the year you decide to find your #bikelife for the very first time. Possibly, you're like me looking to find something else to immerse yourself with so you can keep improving and enjoying a sport you already love. Either way- go into it with an open mind. Allow yourself to be vulnerable- ask the questions on your mind and communicate what you hope to do. If you are with someone who truly knows their stuff, they will listen to you. They will give you honest feedback. Interact with someone who cares about your experience- be willing to explore options.

I can't stress the importance of not shortchanging yourself. Allow yourself to spend the money and
time to get properly set up with whatever it is you want to do. If you cut corners, sometimes you end up setting yourself up for an experience that will not be beneficial to you or your growth in the sport. Seek knowledge, gain information, and make the best investment on your behalf that you can. No one likes the thought of putting money down on a bike they will outgrow in a season- it's the same as putting money into a pair of shoes that really aren't made for running.

As nervous as it made me, I learned that it's fun to embrace a new challenge! What will your next adventure be?

#ThisGirlCan #neverthelessshepersisted

Monday, February 20, 2017

Women Involved Series: Thursday Gervals-Dubina

Meet Thursday Gervals-Dubina, rider for the TIMEX/Trek multi-sport team and self-employed artist who has quite the adventuresome #bikelife.

In this interview we learn more about Thursday's life as an ultra-endurance athlete (who is raising funds for the National Kidney Foundation as she trains for her biggest endurance event yet, the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme.) Thursday hopes to be the first woman to complete this epic bike journey!

Thursday is passionate about the world of ultra-endurance cycling and hopes to inspire other women to find out for themselves that they are also capable of endurance and ultra-endurance cycling, too.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife
Like many folks, I had a bike as a kid. I rode it everywhere- to school, to visit friends, my high school job, and swimming practice. Literally everywhere and even in the rain or snow! We lived in the country, so I had some distance to ride if I wanted to go anywhere. Most kids would get a car, I got a bike. My sister-in-law owned a bike store so I had my pick of pretty much any bike I liked. She was also a triathlete from way back when, when doing Ironmans as a female was different than it is today.

What inspired you to take on triathlons and ultra-endurance style events?
Watching my sister-in-law was my first introduction to triathlons. I was amazed by her abilities to go out there and compete in an extreme sport most women wouldn't consider doing.

It was also in the mid 80's and there were some great cyclists out there racing on the track and on the road. Mario Cipollini was my first big cycling influence and I started watching and reading as much as I could about the Tour de France and trying to learn more about the history of racing. The TDF was really put in the spotlight back then. Few women had been at the TDF and I had wild dreams that one day, I could do it. Again, back then, there weren't any women's races, no TDF for women, and female racing [in general] was hard to find. I still rode, just not in race settings. I found myself getting lost in my own world on my bike, for hours at a time, and I think this was really the first seeds of my growth.

What would you say is your favorite event that you've done to date?
They are all special for different reasons. Each ride is a different adventure with different people, and that make the experiences unique. I've met so many inspiring people at every event! If I really have to pick just one, I would say it was the 24 hour World Time Trials in Borrego Springs. It featured the best ultra racers from around the world and the support we all have for each other. It's a unique bond we all have because we know how much work goes into it.

For ultra-endurance events, what do you do to train yourself physically and mentally?
There is so much that goes into my training. Gradual builds in distance, strength, whole nutrition, and fueling. Add to the mix that some rides are 24 hours or longer, you've got to be prepared! The mental game will break you down before your body gives out.

For those who are interested in doing their first ultra-endurance event, what suggestions would you give them?
Get a good bike fitting- Comfort is the key to going longer distances. You may need to get fitted more than once- don't be afraid to tell your shop that you need a readjustment. The bike you are currently riding may feel great for shorter distances, but as you put in more miles, you'll notice new aches in your body that weren't there before. Pay attention to any numbness or limbs/digits falling asleep and let your shop help you! 

Be seen- Wear hi-viz/reflective clothes and use lights in the day time, always!

Go with a group- Others supporting you will help you gain confidence and during those long hours in the saddle, you'll enjoy the company. Designate each person to be in charge of something specific, have one as your designated route planner, one person as your repair person, another in charge of nutrition, maybe one for medical. This way, you don't need to bring everything yourself. If you share the duties, you'll make it less stressful. 

Break your rides up- If you can't go the planned distance in one shot and you need to stop, then stop! Look around you, enjoy the scenery, take pictures, stretch out, plan water breaks and bathroom breaks. First, work on dialing in your bike fit and becoming comfortable riding longer distances on your bike. You can put focus on form and speed later! I like to ride with people who are better racers than I am because it pushes me to do be better.

Most importantly, remember to HAVE FUN! Make each ride a positive experience and don't let any minor issues prevent you form continuing on. Trust me, everything that can happen on long rides, WILL happen sooner or later! Good planning and preparation will keep your wheels spinning.

4 years ago you had a battle with cancer- how did that affect your #bikelife and how has it influenced it?
I was out for quite some time with tumors on my ovaries and had a full hysterectomy that didn't go so well. After 3 months in the hospital and almost a year on my couch recovering, I couldn't take it anymore. This was not me and I wasn't going to let it control me; I definitely wasn't going to let being sick define who I was. I refused to let "it" keep me from achieving my personal goals. I took the whole experience as a dare, like being sick was just daring me to fight hard, and that's what I did. I fought back by riding my bike and getting healthy again.

I threw away my medications and said "Nope, this isn't my way. " The best medicine and therapy was getting back on my bike, being around my friends who supported me, and eating a proper all-natural diet. I set minor goals to reach like doing a local sprint triathlon. Then from there, as I was getting stronger, I started entering longer distances again, a 70.3, then a full Ironman. I did every race I could featuring triathlons and cycling.

At first it was just a way to get healthy again, but my competitive edge came back and it felt great! It wasn't about beating anyone but myself. To me, these races are more of a celebration of my life. That I'm here- alive and able.

I've met so many amazing people at races with virtually the same story as mine; they are inspiring to be around. The energy is so positive, and that energy helps your whole body and mind.

The better I felt resulted in my goals becoming bigger and longer. When I completed my first 24 hour ride, I knew at that exact moment, what was next on my list to do.

You are training for the Trans-Siberian Extreme- tell us why you are excited to participate in this event and what you hope to accomplish-
First let me say, I'm very honored to have been accepted. Only 15 riders are allowed to race, and I feel very fortunate to be one of them. These are the best ultra racers in the world that I have an opportunity to ride with, and I still can't believe I'm doing it!

There's a huge range of emotions I'm going through with my participation. Excitement happens about every 45 seconds throughout my day!

It's the most extreme race on the planet and to cross the finish line will be the ultimate test to my body and mind. I love to challenge myself, which is why I wanted to be a part of it to begin with. Last year only 3 men finished, this year, I plan on being the first female solo to ever complete this race.

With being the first female, I've put a lot if pressure on myself to cross that finish line for all women in the sport. This race is dedicated to every female on a bike that had to fight. I'm extremely serious about my training and my planning for this race. It's all very well thought out and I hope on race day, to do my best. This is a race of unexpected factors and anything can happen; how I deal with those unexpected things and trusting my training will help me get across the finish line.

More than anything though, I will take all these kind words of encouragement I'm getting from friends, family, and strangers and put them in my memory banks. When it gets tough out there I'm going to reflect on all the hope everyone has given me!

The personal goal for me is to finish, but the bonus goal is hoping I can inspire a few more women to join the sport of ultra cycling.

Women out there can do it, we are designed for endurance. We belong in this sport and we are just as good at it as men. These long races are a true challenge to the body and mind, a true test of overcoming, perseverance and tenacity- traits that make us strong women.
How can people help support your cause for the National Kidney Foundation?
The National Kidney Foundation is the leading organization in the U.S. dedicated to the awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease for hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals, millions of patients and their families, and tens of millions of Americans at risk.

You can help by getting on the organ donor list and the living donor can also help by going to my gofundme page and donating whatever you can at-

Why is it important to you to support and give back to an organization thru your riding?
I've been on a few different charity boards for the past 15 years. I've personally seen what a difference fundraising can make to help the lives of others.

On a more personal side, I also know how many people helped me when I needed it. These people are forever in my heart. I know I wouldn't be here today without their help. They took care of me for months,and I cant forget that, ever.

This is my way of giving back. I was given a chance at life, and to participate in this race, and I want to take that chance and do whatever I can to help others in the process. It's a great opportunity and its a win-win-win for all of us♡

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Hahaha!! Yes! So many!!! I've had over 23 broken bones from my younger years of being an equestrian and working with stallions. Those have had some lingering effects now that I'm older! I break more easily now because of osteopenia, but I've been fortunate in not having any serious bike crashes.

I think most of the physical challenges were at my own fault of over training and not letting my body rest and heal. I'm the type of person who says to myself "the pain isn't that bad, get over it, you've got goals to reach, you've fought bigger battles."

It's hard to accept that some days, I need to unexpectedly rest my body or risk further injury.

I try to keep my emotions out of racing. They don't belong there, but they do creep in on those long rides and I have to talk myself out of the negative doubts. The hardest one for me was 24hr Worlds. It was much colder than I was prepared for. My hands and toes were freezing, cramping, and stiff. It was painful! I had stop, jump inside the car, and thaw out for longer than I wanted.

It was the first time I've ever had to stop and get off my bike during an event. I knew I had lost my target mileage goal and I struggled with wanting to quit, which was another first for me. I had to keep telling myself, "I'm not a quitter, I've never been a quitter. Thaw out, get over it, and enjoy the rest of the ride! It's not the end of the world."

My emotional side comes out on the back side of the finish line when the race is over. I usually shed a few tears of joy, but I think it's just a release of emotions that were held in during a race.

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 think the hardest part has been cornering on a TT bike. They aren't meant to turn like a crit bike and a lot of tri courses have plenty of turns. It’s also hard to sprint through a corner on a TT bike as the front aero bars are completely different than drop bars, and you can't get good standing positions either.

I've learned to check how many turns are in the tri or bike courses now to calculate my estimated finish times, as I know I lose speed on the corners. Overall, my TT bike is still my favorite because it just slices through the wind, and there's nothing more relaxing than sound of a disc wheel!

What do you love about riding your bike?
There's no quick answer to that question! Being outside is always a new adventure. I've driven to places, but when I bike the same route, I notice more things in the scenery that I didn't see from the car. It keeps my mind active on the ride and it's like discovering a whole new place from a different point of view.

I love the peace of mind I get while riding my bike, too. I completely forget other things that are on my mind when I'm cycling. I'm focused on my ride and that's it. There's a truth in that cycling is therapeutic.

I've met so many different people on either my group or solo rides; I love coming across other cyclists on the road! We might stop for a quick chat, maybe join each other for the rest of the ride, or it's simply lending support to a fellow cyclist.

The health benefits of riding are also high on the list. I know I'm physically healthy and mentally healthy because of cycling. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially ultra-endurance riding?
This us the golden question! We could write another whole article on this!

I think it is lack of confidence to begin with. Sure, there are plenty of confident women riding, but what I come across a lot, is a lack of confidence at the ultra distances. There's always the lingering "what if something happens" feeling, "I'm out there alone, I'd get lost, what if I forget something, what if I get hurt, or what if my bike breaks?" There are also questions about the physical abilities that arise. Women tend to think that they can't physically go the distance, but they can! I believe women's bodies are designed for endurance. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
There is a lot to choose from from that I own and ride. I've got a pretty serious collection of classics that I've acquired over the years and love each one for different reason. I love my old triple 3x7 chain rings, and the styling of some of my older Campy components. I've still got a beautiful set of Shimano 600 Arabesque and another Sachs Huret groupset and wheels. I love the old lug work on bikes too. Timeless...

I'll start with my first "big girl" bike. It's an '83 Cannondale that I had to have because I wanted to be like Mario and it was one of the first aluminum bikes on the market. I raced around like a demon on that thing and have tons of great memories from growing up with that bike. I recently gave it a new paint job and upgraded all of its components.

My next bike was a Lemond track bike. I rode that in circles for hours at a time with a 54 chainring way back in the day as a kid. I also still ride my Gary Fischer Katai. It's a classic, literally, and its one of the very first mountain bikes he built.

There were a lot of others in between before settling on my current favorites, my Trek bikes. Over the last 15 years, I've had many Treks.

My new all time favorite award goes to my Trek Speed Concept. It fits perfectly and I'm extremely comfortable in the aero postion pushing big those gears. This is my 24 hour TT bike and we have a special bond. I also love the Trek Silque. It has a great women's specific design with dimensions suited for a women's body. It takes me on long training miles, group rides, and road races. It's extremely adjustable, light, responsive, and comfortable.

Nextt on my list of bikes that I "need".. are the Trek Madone for races I can't "legally" ride my speed concept, and a Trek Domane SLR Disc- it's the do it all bike in my opinion.

I could go on and on about each specific bike I own and why I love them, but we'd be here for days!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Simple. Employ more women in the industry! When you enter a bike shop, what do you see? You see more men's bikes compared to women's, a mostly male staff (hardly ever do you see a female mechanic), and more bike gear and shoes for men that far outweigh the choices for women.

Lack of women in the industry, I think, is one of the major contributing factors for women's lower confidence. Newer riders don't want to discuss to a man about their saddle discomfort, or their shorts and padding. We want the support of women we know who are also riders in the shops to give us advice on our bike choices, shoe fit, and clothing. We want more women specific shop rides that cater to all levels, too!

Interestingly, women make up 80% of consumer spending!

You can't just make something pink and call it a women's specific product.
Women's bodies are different and there need to be more choices in women's specific bikes; how many women's road bikes have you seen compared to men's with disc brakes?

How many women do you see in the pits at races wrenching compared to men? How many races still have prize purses that are less than for women than the men's purse for the same race??

It's not yet an equal ratio but, on a positive note, I think the bike industry has finally started noticing women who cycle and are in the industry.

For instance, Trek has a whole women's division that is rapidly growing . They offer a Women's Specific Certified Mechanic Course and scholarship. I was very proud to have been a recipient of one of their scholarships. They also employ many women who work at their Waterloo facility, doing everything from assembly to design. Their focus on educating women and making it a fair playing field is a gigantic movement that is empowering women. It gives them confidence in the industry, racing, and leisure cycling; I think others will follow with their business models. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
When I see women successfully reach their goals or things they didn't expect to be able to achieve, it makes the joy of being on a bike even more special.
When I see a group of women out bonding, being adventurous, kicking some butt, and taking time out for their health and enjoying the sport, it proves to me that we can do anything we want and do it well!

There are more and more strong females who are becoming involved with cycling than ever before, and it's inspiring to see these women share their stories and become role models.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm an artist, I've been painting for over 20 years professionally and I have had my work displayed in many galleries and museums world wide.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Women Involved Series: Brittany Greer

For being a Colorado native, I regret to say that I didn't grow up spending much time in the outdoors. My parents were busy running their business, so the opportunities to discover Colorado's greatness were far and few between. I did however grow up snowboarding and wakeboarding (neither of which took me too far out into the wild), so I poured my athletic energies there. When I was 21, I saved up $10K, graduated college and moved down to Argentina for a year. It was there that my outdoor life all began!

Now, I run that small business alongside working in many facets of the mountain bike industry. I'm more passionate about the spoken wheel than almost anything else in life. The sport has sliced open my heart and soul, and allows me to live the adventurous outdoor life I never knew existed. The intense thrill of the sport, the adventures it takes me on, and community of humans around it, seize to amaze me. Biking has truly changed me life!

My calendar can certainly attest to this, as it's constantly CRAMMED full of local and international biking adventures, enduro races, coaching VIDA clinics, Deuter fueled adventures, COMBA board of directors tasks, and whatever else comes along! I want as many humans as possible to find the same captivating ecstasy that I've found through biking! Cheers to more butts on bikes!! :)

Instagram: @brittdgreer

Tell us what inspired you to discover your personal #bikelife and how has it changed you?
When I was 21, I moved down to Argentina for a year, and it wasn’t until then that I truly discovered the great outdoors. When I came back to Colorado, I was quickly introduced to biking. I wish I could say it was love at first site, but it wasn’t. It look me a while to develop a love for the sport, but when I did, everything changed. Once it clicked, I became obsessed. I’ve never in my life come across something that instills such passion in me. My goal is to keep that fire alive forever.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?

Any of the Big Mountain Enduro races. Really any of the local enduro races. The group of girls that show up every year have become like a family to me. For me, one of the best parts about racing is the incredible, like-minded humans you’re surrounded by. We ignite each other and bond through a deep mutual love. Also, the atmosphere of a race naturally pushes you to be your best - to dig deep and to push harder than you thought possible. The improvements that occur from just one day of enduro racing, might take a month otherwise.

Do you have suggestions or tips for those who have not participated in an event before, but would like to?
Always remember that you are racing for you and no one else. Even if you have sponsors or a specific placement goal, at the end of the day, you are doing this for YOU. So enjoy it. Do the best you can on that given day and don’t be hard on yourself if certain outcomes don’t occur. Keep it fun. After all, that’s why we do what we do, because its fun as hell! Don’t ever do anything that takes that away for you. Also, racing isn’t for everyone and you might find that, which is totally okay, but at least give it a go! You’ve got nothing to lose.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

Ha! Frustrated as hell. I remember thinking “This is certainly NOT my sport. Nope. Not for me. Good try Britt” Growing up, I was always naturally good at sports. So when I hopped on my first mountain bike at 23 and was terrible, my reaction was to hate it. But, I also hate giving up… so I kept pushing. And as all things in life, the better you are at something or the more you know about something, the better it becomes.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?

Well when I first started, there was always nervousness. EVERYTHING seemed so challenging and nearly impossible. But then I learned to celebrate the small successes, recognizing that one day the small successes would add up and lead to big ones. And they have. I hold onto that mindset to this day. If something makes me so nervous that I have to stop and contemplate for too long, I have to remind myself of the day’s other successes and tell myself it’s okay to walk it. Leave it to be conquered another day, but it’s important to come back and do just that!

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?

Clips! I personally feel they’re more efficient. And they push me when I least expect it. I might be doing a technical uphill section, and midway through I want to put a foot down and give up, but being clipped in keeps me going. It’s often disastrous trying to unclip in the middle of a tech section and come out gracefully, so instead, I dig deep and push through it. In other words, with clips, I’m less likely to give up and put a foot down ;) With that said, I think it’s important to learn on flats. You need to learn proper bike handling skills (weighting the bike, jumping, bunny hopping) without having the cheat factor of clips.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Ha, far too many to pick one in particular. That’s sort of the nature of the sport. The most important thing I’ve realized is to not let the failures and crashes eat at me emotionally. You can’t help what they do to you physically, but attitude is everything in life, so always find the positive. You tried! Sometimes that’s enough. Crashes and failures are bound to happen, they’re a part of the sport, it’s how you learn from them that shapes you as a rider.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Looking ahead. It was one of those things I knew I was supposed to do, but was always too focused on what’s right in front of me. It hampered my riding a lot and I didn’t realize it until I started to practice it. My suggestion, start from the get go. Remind yourself every few minutes on the trail to look ahead, even on the uphill. Have it be a part of your pedaling mantra.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

Cornering. I think it’s a skill that all riders are constantly trying to get better and better at - how to corner quickly, smoothly, and effectively. I try and practice as much as possible on the DH mountains, pump track, and cones in the parking lot. I don’t let it drag me down. I tell myself that I’m doing my best, and if I brake too much on one corner, it’s more incentive to nail the next one.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything. Literally everything. But mostly the fact that getting on my bike allows me to explore the outdoors in a way where adrenaline and mediation are beautifully fused together. I’ve never experienced anything else in life quite like it.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

I have a dirt jumper, a road/town bike and my mountain bike. 97% of the time I’m on my mountain bike, which is a Yeti SB5C. I chose it because it’s the best all around bike for the daily Colorado grunting climbs, and my weekend enduro races. The bike can do it all!

You are a coach for VIDA MTB, tell us what inspired you to get involved with coaching-

Mountain biking has changed my life in such an enormous and positively impactful way. I found a passion in it that I’ve never found elsewhere. Naturally I want to share that passion. I want as many people as possible to have the spoken wheel ignite their hearts and souls the way it has for me. Coaching is one of the best opportunities to share, ignite, and grow that passion with the world.

Why did you partner with VIDA and what would you like folks to know about the VIDA MTB organization?
Because I believe they’re the best at what they do. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore many other female specific clinics, but I do know that the community behind VIDA in unlike any I’ve ever seen. The community is so full of love. Everyone wants the best for everyone else and we push each other in such a beautiful way!

Why do you feel skills clinics are important for those new or seasoned in riding?
They’re HUGELY important! Whether you’re new or seasoned, you always walk away with gems to work on that will change your riding for the better. New discoveries that you hadn’t heard or thought of before. Whether you’re a newbie looking to get the basic bike handling skills down, or a vet looking to jump bigger, VIDA offers it all. It’s a loving and encouraging atmosphere to push yourself within your comfort zone.
What do you love most about being involved in the cycling industry?

The people. Everyone has this deep rooted passion for the same thing which is a powerfully connecting piece no matter how different you might be otherwise. Generally everyone in the industry has similar values, ideals and ways of life, which is a cool thing to share.

Tell us about your position with COMBA and what it entails-
I’m on the board of directors for the Colorado Mountain Biking Association, which (if you’ve ever been on a board, you’ll know) entails SO MANY things. Our main role is to advocate for mountain bikers and mtb trails in the Denver/Golden area and beyond. To make that happen, we’re involved in so many things; community, events, trail building, awareness, education, advocacy, etc.

Why do you feel it is vital for women to be involved with their local trail group?

I think women participate in sports in a much different way than men. Surrounding yourself by strong women, is generally a much more comfortable atmosphere to push yourself and improve. Also, the comradery of women cycling groups is an extremely beneficial component to the cycling life.

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

I think a lot of women shy away from it because it’s “dangerous.” It’s true that the crashes can be brutal, but it’s also true that you can easily choose to stay within your own comfort zone that doesn’t ever allow for crashing. Start within you zone, and gradually push yourself more and more. Don’t be afraid of the potential crashing! We all fall in life (whether we bike or not)… it’s all about how you pick yourself up!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
More local women’s groups, opportunities, events, etc. We need more entities (whether it’s bike retailers, manufacturers, organizations or entrepreneurs) specifically supporting the women’s scene. As a whole, we need to put more and more energy into that sector of the sport.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
See “tell us what inspired you to get involved with coaching.” I’ve found such a deep passion and love through mountain biking, and I want as many women as possible to experience that too. The world would be a better place if we all had something so healthy and vibrant that we were passionate about!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m terrified of heights. The shaky knees and sweating palms, kind of terrified. Harness or not, I’m horrified!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

There Will Be Days.

Ron Plinske and Touch the Sky Blue
"I will embrace what I cannot change. That doesn't mean it will be easier to accept."
I thought those words as I was participating in a fatbike race, knowing full well that the expectations that I had set for myself were lofty and likely not realistic.

I think the reason behind those feelings are due to my surprising myself at several events. From a shocking 3rd place finish at my first Decorah Time Trials to achieving 2nd at my second ever fatbike race on trails that were new to me. Add to that, a couple wins under my Camelbak (haha!) in 2016 had me feeling fairly confident in myself.

As I continued on with my race, feeling completely humbled, I came to the conclusion that I simply had to embrace what it was. A race that wasn't going to be done with my A-game, and I had to accept that it was okay.

I look at cycling as something that defines who I am, after purchasing my bike in 2012 it has become a huge part of my identity. Participating at events was something that scared the crap out of me, but once I found out I didn't do terribly, I became more confident. I was hooked with the idea of testing my limits.

My very first race will be something I will always remember- because I had my ass handed to me! I was frustrated that I was DFL, because my pride was too big to handle the idea that it didn't matter nor did it reflect anything about me as a rider. It was my first race on barely a season of snow riding let alone a full season of mountain biking. Conditions were the main issue and I found myself falling and fumbling more times than I cared to admit.

I was encouraged to go for my second lap, given time to eat and collect myself- seeing people supporting me even tho I was the slowest was humbling. I felt inspired! Why not? I had a plan of attack for a couple tricky areas and spent most of my time walking my bike than riding it. In the end, I rode a portion of trail that hardly anyone else could ride and finished as 2nd place female (but still DFL.) I didn't care about being slow and inexperienced anymore, I was elated that I did something that I never thought I would be able to do and THAT, my friends, is why I decided I liked racing.

Fast forward 2 years later and I'm having an experience that started to remind me of my first snow race. This time with a few events under my belt, I had developed expectations of myself and what I felt I could do. First race, you have absolutely nothing to go off of so don't have solid ideas of what you may be capable of. As I said, I've had some really awesome experiences at events in the past year+, thus I felt I knew what I was capable of.

Sometimes, even tho you know what you can do, doesn't necessarily mean that is what will happen. That is the reality of event participation- go in and expect your best, but keep an open mind that you will not always get the results you want. Mechanicals can happen, courses can change, and even if you felt like you trained pretty well for it- maybe that day you just aren't feeling it. That is the beauty of the situation, it can change quickly and even if you aren't ready to embrace it- it's there. It's happening. You roll with it and do the best you can. Maybe that means you don't place where you hoped, and for some it may mean a DFL or a DNF. Some may feel disappointment and frustration, because that's normal, but they do not let those results define them. They know it doesn't change the fact that they love going in and giving it the best shot possible- it's motivation.

It gives us something to work towards.

I'm unrealistically hard on myself and I'm also a perfectionist. I suck at taking my own words to heart, even if they hold practical and good advice. I hated myself for a moment, because I felt that I wasn't having fun- and that was the whole point of doing the race. To. Have. Fun.

I'm not one to hide feelings from myself, because I feel that doesn't help you process them and heal; I was legitimately feeling down. I told myself that I had to make the most of my situation- what is the one goal I know I could do? Finish.

By the time I finished, I was still disappointed but I wasn't overrun with frustration. I was relieved that I was able to cross the finish line and stoked that I finished in under 2 hours, even with all of the challenges the first lap threw at me. I was relieved.

Remember, every ride and race is as different as it is similar- some days will not be the best and others will feel like you have transformed into a super hero. There will be days that you feel strong and other days where it feels that it requires monumental effort to make the bike move forward. Races can be fun but they can also be challenging, sometimes conditions are fantastic and other times you're riding in crap. What makes the perspective different is how you approach the situation- smiling truly makes things seem less frustrating. I forced myself to smile a few times and in doing so, it reminded me that I was outside doing something I absolutely LOVE. I was another woman out on the trails riding her bike- which there needs to be more of. I got to be around an inspiring group of people, even if it was for a short period of time.

Time Trials, 2015
Photo Credit- Raina Barloon
Take a challenge as a lesson to learn and grow from. Know that it's okay to have expectations of yourself, but remember that sometimes situations may not play out quite like you had hoped. Even if cycling or whatever sport you enjoy, has become a large part of your identity- it's okay to not do as well as you hoped. The experience plays a large part in your growth in sport as well as simply being human.

If we never had an opportunity to grow further, then what fun would our sport be?

There will be days, and know that no one will judge you as harshly for your "off" days as yourself. So allow yourself to feel what you're feeling, but take it as an opportunity to re-discover the power of believing in you and what you can do. You'll have more opportunities to show yourself (and others) what you're capable of as long as you keep embracing the challenges that come your way.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Sara Johnson

An unexplainable joy overcomes me nearly every time I am riding my bike which causes me to crave riding all the time! Yet I must constantly work to find a balance.

I am a wife to a biking husband, a homeschooling mother of four children, ages 5 to 10, and a mountain bike racer. It is a challenge to devote the necessary time to all areas of my life but I make it work by choosing to enjoy my love of biking with my husband and children.

This equals lots of quality time together! I love to inspire other women and mothers to get out and find something that brings joy to the every day munedaneness of life.

I truly believe that spending time in nature on my bike has made me a better and calmer wife, mother, and friend!

Tell us about what helped you discover your #bikelife and how it has influenced you over the years- 
I started really riding my bike in Mankato during my undergrad work there. My husband and his best friend were into trials riding-bouncing on their little trials bike’s back tire over every obstacle possible, so I followed along and would attempt some of their stunts with an extra small Gary Fisher frame. I even did a Trials competition in Colorado and placed 2nd out of 2 female participants! I did a little mountain biking during that time too but then I started pharmacy school and right after that, started having babies so I had a big break in my riding. About a year after my fourth child was born (2013), I started riding again and purchased a new bike. I went a little overboard after that once I realized that I really enjoyed the “alone time” I had while riding. My husband and I have had to compete for time to ride our bikes since having kids…we do get babysitters though on a regular basis so that we can ride together. We also go on frequent family rides whenever possible-usually at Lebanon, the River Bottoms, or somewhere fun to get a treat. 

I’m pretty sure that I never knew the impact that biking was going to have on my life. It has really become a big part of my identity. I am more joyful, healthy, and purposeful. I am able to process and think more clearly while riding. I’ve also had some amazing times of worship and revelation on rides. Being in nature fulfills me in ways that I cannot put into words. I love to get to the point of exertion where my frontal cortex turns off (the reasoning part of your brain) and just flow on my bike while being able to think more freely. It’s similar to a runner’s high…I call it the weeeeee! factor and it makes me crave riding!!!

Biking is a family affair for you, with your spouse and kids being involved. Why is it so great to have cycling be a part of your family?
It’s what we do together as a family…we don’t have our kids involved in activities because we made a commitment early on to not be a family that is running to events every night and weekend. So since we bike, they bike too. It’s a great way to encourage them and to help them become overcomers. They love going to the weekly summer Buck Hill races with us-it’s funny how normal it is to them to have parents that race mountain bikes together. They just assume that’s what they will do too!

What is your favorite event to participate in and why do you enjoy being involved in events?
I LOVE the Chequamegon 40! I think that it’s the ideal distance and challenge for me. What I love most is the training leading up to it-doing longer rides on mixed terrain and trying to hit every hill around the area that I live. I’m very talkative on my bike during races so when I get to ride with about 2000 other racers, I’m in my happy place. Some appreciate this and others just think that I’m super weird and ignore me! My strength is definitely climbing, so I get a thrill from passing lots of guys on the uphills during that race!

In general, I like to race because it helps me stay focused and push myself during training. It gives me a purpose and a goal to attain. I’m certainly not super fast but I enjoy challenging myself to reach my own goals and I work on not getting disappointed about how I finish relative to the other racers. For me, it’s all about having fun. If the event isn’t fun, then it’s not worth my time and energy!

What helped you feel comfortable when it came to attending your first event? Do you have suggestions for those new to competing?   
Your first event can be very nerve-wracking! A lot of riders look professional in their matching kits and others appear to “size you up” from their super-focused mode. This can be really intimidating! What I did and still do, is look for someone who makes eye contact with me and then start small talk about the race details. This calms me down and helps me to feel like I’m part of the group. I also always admit that it’s my first race of that sort and just be honest that I have no idea what I am doing! It’s very freeing! You will find that in general, racers are really nice people and are just as nervous as you are!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? 
I do!  A college cheerleading friend took me mountain biking at Mt. Kato one day and I was absolutely hooked from that day forward…although I was SO incredibly sore for the next week!
 It was thrilling and I loved the exertion and concentration it took to stay on the trail.  I remember being told to “look ahead,” but other than that, I didn’t receive any formal training until much later. I have always enjoyed a challenge while doing physical exercise-for example, I hurdled in track because running in a circle would be way too boring-so mountain biking fits me perfectly!

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?  
I was very nervous but I also didn’t really know what I was fully in for. Once on the trail, I was concentrating so hard and experiencing so many adrenaline rushes that I didn’t have any room for nervousness anymore!

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?  
Clips! I rode flats for a long time but now that I have switched to clips, there is no going back! I feel more connected to the bike-like a “oneness”. It definitely helps with climbing too. I have my clips set super loose so I can usually clip out in time before crashing but I still take the occasional spill because I can’t get one of my feet out. It’s still worth it!

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 crashed bad in 2015 at a Wausau 12-hr race during my last lap. It was dark, plus I was very tired mentally and physically. I hit a rock at too-slow of a speed, mistakenly grabbed my front brake, and slowly tipped over my handlebars without unclipping. I proceeded to land on my hip onto a pyramid-shaped rock. I seriously thought that I had chipped some bone off my hip or something. I was on mile 6 of 11 and somehow rode slowly, coasted, and walked the rest of the trail in the dark to the finish. The next morning, I had the EMTs assess my hip and it was determined to thankfully just be a very bad deep tissue bruise. Unfortunately, I still don’t have complete range of motion in my right hip. I was very shaken mentally for quite awhile. I rode that same race again this year and had some serious overcoming of fear to do during the pre-lap. What helped me was to simply make it my goal to have fun, walk sections that were causing me to tense up, and cheer myself on out loud during the race. It sounds silly, but when you encourage yourself on the trail, you get a serious boost of confidence! Try it!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?   
Bridges totally freaked me out at first and I always slowed down way too much for every turn. I also was on the brakes too much at any new trail because I was concerned about the unknown. I have to constantly remind myself of the first advice that I ever received in this sport-LOOK AHEAD! You go where you are looking so don’t stare at the big rock to your left or the close tree on your right. Scan the trail ahead constantly so that you have enough time to safely react. It seems so simple yet it’s so easy to forget.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?   
I’m not one that loves obstacles. I don’t need to ride the “skinny” or go over the large log pile to have fun on a ride. Sometimes I get discouraged by this because I see my friends doing it, but then I remember that it’s actually amazing to just be on a mountain bike trail as an almost 40-year old female and that I don’t have to do every feature to have an excellent ride!

When it came to mountain biking, did your husband introduce you or was it something you were already doing? 
As I mentioned before, a friend in college introduced us to the sport but my husband did not take a liking to it at first like I did. Then, somewhere in the baby birthing time of my life, he started riding and racing with some buddies of his and he was hooked. After the last baby, he thankfully urged me to start riding again. Now he can’t stop me!

What do you enjoy most about having a partner who you can ride with?  
I love that we share the same passion! It’s actually super helpful for a successful marriage. We are usually thinking along the same wave length and we get excited about the same things-like a new bike, or a fresh snow fall to ride in, or one of our kids riding without training wheels at a young age. It also makes for really cheap and healthy date nights!
Were there ever challenging moments when riding together, especially if he was the one to introduce you to mountain biking?  
I can get discouraged sometimes because he’s so much faster and better at handling than I am. But…I’m usually the one to place at races because my field is so much smaller so that makes me feel better…I’m not competitive at all, am I?

How did you introduce your children to off-road riding? Any tips or suggestions for parents who would like to do the same?   
We highly recommend starting children out on a balance bike at about 2 years of age. They can safely take those little bikes everywhere! We built little ramps for them to go over at home and encouraged them to go up and down curbs. Simple and effective! Once we started going to trails, we took it really slow and gave lots of praise and encouragement along the way. They really just like to do whatever their parents are doing at a young age!

Why is mountain biking such a great activity for kids to participate in? 
It’s an individual sport that builds confidence, character, and amazing fitness. Kids can set goals for themselves and celebrate their victories along the way.  It gets them outside and exploring nature while getting a rush of excitement as they speed through the trees! It’s also a lifelong activity that can be shared with the whole family-that’s pretty rare in today’s sports scene.

What do you love about riding your bike?  
I love that when I ride solo, I have my own time to worship and process my thoughts freely while getting energized, rejuvenated, and renewed. I have been told that I literally “glow” after riding a trail. It makes me feel younger and I am usually bubbling with energy and excitement from all the adrenaline rushes. I used to shy away from letting my non-biking friends know about how much I ride (thankfully they are not on Strava!) because I had been afraid of their judgement concerning the amount of time I spend on a bike. But I had a good friend tell me not too long ago that I need to do what brings me joy and not feel guilty about it. Best advice ever-I have experienced so much freedom since she changed my mindset. 

I also love to go on group rides with friends because that fulfills me in other ways. I have the hardest time sitting still so hanging out at a coffee shop while having a conversation just doesn’t do anything for me!  It’s so much better to be riding and having a heart-to-heart talk with a wonderful friend instead! 

Then there are family rides…these cause me to slow down a bit and intentionally connect with each of my children. I also love to watch them compete with each other yet come together to bond over the same activity. There’s a sense of pride that comes over me when we all ride together. It’s really easy to have self-doubts while parenting, but when we bike together, I feel like we got it right.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?  
My husband just built me an Otso Voytec and it totally rocks! I am absolutely loving the 27.5 plus sized wheels and perfect geometry! Plus, it’s dark grey and blue…so beautiful! The color of my bike has always been really important to me. It rides like a mountain bike with the benefits of a fat tire on dirt. Now that we are experiencing a very snowy winter, the Voytec can simply be converted to a fat tire. I am a huge fan of becoming comfortable on one frame that I ride for the majority of my rides so this new bike fits me well since I can ride it all year. 

I also share a Specialized Diverge gravel bike and a Specialized Roubaix road bike with my husband (we are conveniently similar heights) for riding when the dirt trails are closed. I enjoy both of these bikes for training but I am definitely made for the off-road trails in the trees!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?  
Fear of the unknown and thinking that you have to be a serious risk taker to try it. I have found that when I introduce a woman to mountain biking for the first time, they almost always love it and experience the same thrill that I do. I think that a lot of women have had a negative first-time experience when their husbands have introduced them to the sport simply because guys have a hard time acknowledging some of the fears that women have.

What would you like to tell women who are on the fence about riding off-road?  
Borrow a good mountain bike and find a female friend or group to ride with and have them teach you some simple safety tips to think about during your first ride. Don’t be afraid of going at your own pace and walking when you feel uncomfortable. Try not to apologize for your lack of skill or speed but feel good about yourself because you are not sitting on the couch!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved? 
I really feel like the high school mountain biking league is already making a serious impact in getting more women on bikes at a younger age. The cool thing is that I know of several moms that started riding because their kids started the sport and they didn’t want to just wait in the car while their children rode!
Otherwise, I think that it’s truly up to each of us that already ride to invite newbies to experience
some of our fun!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride? 
I want more friends to ride with! I get super excited to invite others into sharing some of the joy that I receive from riding. It’s been life-changing for me and I would love to help others have a similar experience.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love to dance and have the privilege of dancing at our church during worship. I love to be extreme and fierce on a bike and then change into a poised and graceful ballerina. It makes my life full of variety!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Race Day Adventures: Cuyuna 45NRTH Whiteout

Pre-Race Selfie
I signed up for the Cuyuna 45NRTH Whiteout on a whim, being one that likes to "go big or go home" I had dubbed the 30k option the best choice for me. I figured since I would be doing (hopefully) a 20 mile race the following weekend, I felt it would be a great way to test myself. Test myself I did. Let the journey begin! The drive to the Cuyuna area was not bad, with traffic on our side we managed to get up there in record time.

(Because 5 hours+ on the road is super duper enjoyable!) My nerves were running rampant and had been for a few days prior, and that was highly typical. We arrived at the hotel and unpacked our luggage and housed our bikes in our room, then we headed to registration.

Registration gives an elevated air to the whole thing, because then it feels truly real. Everyone is excited, beer is flowing, people are laughing, and you start to feel giddy. You even see the Yeti, which is neat as can be, yet you are too nervous to go up for a photo. However, while sipping on Abrasive, a delicious Surly brew, you get to meet and chat with Jules, who you interviewed back in her Surly Bikes days. It was awesome.

Then I saw with my wee little eye, a pair of knee high 45NRTH socks, which your friend, Curtis, said "why not?" Chances are, that would be my big prize of the weekend- and they were size smalls, so I had to get them.
Being that I am a complete sock hound and I always love new socks, I deemed it destiny.

I went up to the counter at Red Raven Bike Cafe with my humble purchase, paid for with cash by the way. I didn't realize until later on the bottoms of the socks, one says Warm and the other says Biscuits. How could I NOT purchase socks that have the word Biscuts on them? Gimmie a break.

After beverages and sock-hoarding, we went to a little bar restaurant that was attached to an actual liquor store. So game plan was eat, then go next door to see if there was any local MN brew worth taking home. I actually didn't order chicken strips, but had a spicy chicken sandwich. I ordered cheese curds for us to split, because I honestly hadn't eaten anything all day minus my goldfish crackers. I suck at eating prior to races.
We stopped next door and I procured two beers to try- Fulton Sweet Child of Vine IPA and Indeed Brewing Company Let It Roll IPA. I'm pretty tame when it comes to being adventurous with beer- IPA and stouts are my go-to styles of beer. Back to the hotel to attempt to sleep, which is always something that seems to elude me prior to race day.

Sleep was difficult, but I did manage to get some crappy amount as I had weirdo dreams that didn't make sense. Otherwise I laid in bed and stared at my bike, in the darkness. A giant, blurry object leaning against the wall telling myself all of the words that Travis wrote on my mantra taped to my handlebars "I am good enough. I am strong. I am fast enough. I am loved."

Saturday came and I was wide awake, this was me for the day and that simply was what it would be. I managed to drink some hotel coffee and down two muffins. I think I have a record for the least amount of Pepto swigs to date...2.

It was nice to be so close to the event so we didn't have to dress and drive many miles to. We did have to park a wee ways away, but that wasn't a huge deal. I figured it would make for an easy out when we were done. I got to say hi to April Morgan, as she and her crew parked in front of us, which was exciting for me!

We rode to the start area and after a couple bathroom breaks for my nervous bladder, we went to test the track. I knew right away I'd let a little more air out of my rear tire. The snow was packed but soft and corners were especially tricky. I was feeling glad for the Vanhelga tires that Travis put on, yet I was anxious over how much air I should have. I didn't want to dump down super low and make the adventure more cumbersome, yet it felt a little mashed potato-y to me. Not having had much for a snow season in Decorah, I was excited and nervous as heck for this race.

I entered the gate a little late, I had envisioned myself being closer up front at the 2nd wave, but that wasn't going to happen. Damn me and my final bathroom break, however, I look back at it now and say it was for the best. Wave one went and my stomach was fluttering, then it was time for wave 2- in my mind I tried to tell myself to roll with it.

The first lap for me was brutal and completely not what I had expected. I should have had lower air pressure in my tires (tho later on, it was fine.) I was nervous and having a hard time riding the way I had hoped to ride. Even tho the trail was groomed, there was a legit section where everyone rode and that was the best and easiest line to ride. Had I bigger tires, I probably could've maneuvered the softer areas better for passing.

Passing was a challenge because if you went off the good line, you were in softer snow that wanted to drag and pull you willy nilly. There was difficulty in making a good pass, folks would end up hitting bars or falling into each other in their attempts. Corners were to be taken with caution, but it was still plenty easy to get sucked into a tire rut and go down. A few times I had the challenge of a poor line or hitting soft snow and that took me down. I embarrassingly caused a pile up with folks behind me, and I kept being pushed away and couldn't figure out what the frick to do. I wasn't sure if the fellow was trying to use me to balance himself or what. I was able to get myself back on my bike and riding again, hoping to ride away the thoughts that were creeping into my head "What the hell, Josie?!"

I was starting to feel down.
As I was further up on top and riding pretty well, my front tire got into soft snow when I was going around a corner and I went over the bars. My helmet visor struck a small tree and my brake lever smacked my knee. I heard "Rider Down!" and folks asked if I was okay as they rode past. I was humbled. I let them know I was alright and looked on as I kept seeing a literal river of riders roll past. There was enough of a break in the flow and I got myself back into the race. My head wasn't in a great place at that point, my heart felt sad. I had lost time, I felt a complete lack of confidence- but I had a 30k to finish.
I came down a hill and had to make a sharp right turn down a little steep slope. I have no idea what exactly happened other than I went down again. "Crap!" I said in my head and I quickly grabbed my bike and moved off to the side, lest someone was directly behind me. I then knew something was off, because when I went to get back on my front wheel wasn't budging. "NonononoNO!" I reached a point of high mental panic, wondering what I was going to do. First lap not even done and I feared the worst - a DNF. I smacked my tire, squeezed my brakes, I noted my front brake felt really firm. I thought maybe I had did something to the caliper as I went down, making it self-adjust. I moved the dial, and because I was looking down- I noticed that my cable housing wasn't fully down in the caliper. Once I pushed it back into place, I was good to go! Relief set in and I got back on my bike and pedaled away.

I finished the first lap, struggling mentally, but there was no way I would give up or give in to the negative self-talk. I ended up passing folks on the second lap and found myself riding with more confidence. I can't say that I fell one time on the second lap, which boosted my confidence. I knew without a doubt that this race would not be something that I would "place" in. I had not nearly the fitness level of the top riders and that was okay.

I had fun meeting Curtis in passing so we could exchange some "Woohoos!" This was an interesting race as you shared some of the uphills/downhills with riders going the opposite direction. I will admit I always worried when I came down, that I hoped to stay in the track of snow that was packed and not cause a huge pileup. There were times you got pretty close to riders coming the opposite direction, every time I did a section like that successfully I felt relief.
Ron Plinske and Touch the Sky Blue
As I kept going I felt more at home with the trail, I would say my biggest challenge was when I rode the climbs I knew I could power up them faster than what I was allowed to do. You couldn't pass on most of them due to being 2-way traffic, so you had to make due with where you were at during the moment. I used it as a positive- this would help me conserve a little energy so I could ride better up top.

I felt good after the second lap, and was proud of being able to eat my Honey Stinger chews and drink water from a non-frozen Camelbak. This was a complete change from my first winter race where I had no nutrition or hydration for 20 miles due to my inexperience. I could literally feel changes in myself as I ate and drank. I would feel low and then feel energized- my body and emotional self were tired, but I knew I had the sustenance and determination to keep going.

The final lap came to be, this was my last opportunity to push myself, but I also knew I wanted to be smart about it. Again, I had good riding without mishaps. I was able to pass some folks, tho I was always nervous I'd mess up. I came back behind a tall rider whom I shadowed for a large portion of lap 2, this time he asked if I wanted to get by. I said I'd try, did, and thanked him.

I ended up behind another woman, we had leapfrogged a bit, and she asked me if I wanted to pass stating I was "a faster rider than herself." I wasn't entirely sure I believed that, but said okay and thanked her. I tried to do my best to thank folks for their offers of passing as well as the volunteers.

I came to a section where I was riding behind a couple folks on a downhill. One of the riders was a woman who had a fall because her tire probably caught some potato snow. I heard her say "Damnit" or something similar. I felt bad, I had been there more times than I wanted to that day. I had been there several times during my winter riding season- I felt like I could feel her disappointment and frustration to my very core. I wanted to stop and give her a hug...something. Anything. I continued on, tho, because I knew that sometimes added attention to a situation was not what would make a person feel better. "I feel you. I know. I understand." I said in my head, hoping that she'd get the message somehow.

On my way up a climb Amanda Dekan and Erika Pond passed me on their downhill- giving me some whoops of encouragement "Go Josie Go!" I wish I wasn't climbing, so I could've given a better whoop back! I was also surprised because I had originally thought after my first lap, that I would never see them again. I looked at it that I did make up some form of time, even tho I wasted a good 2 minutes with my falls.

Eventually another climb later I heard someone say "Hey Martha!" and I knew then that I was behind another rider I respected- Martha Flynn. This lady is absolutely amazing and what she is accomplishing after healing her broken ankle/leg in July of last year is awesome. I wasn't sure, and I hated to ask, but I felt like I wanted to keep pushing my pace. Breathless from the climb I said from behind "Hi Martha! It's Josie!"
We said our hellos and she asked if I wanted to get by. I said I'd try, and made a wobbly yet successful pass. I thanked her and we continued on. I pushed the last bit of my ride hard, especially after I saw on my computer I indeed had a chance of pulling this off in under 2 hours. Oh my gosh, if I could, I would be so happy!

I hammered as hard as I could, crossing the line, and feeling so many emotions- I was relieved, I was happy, and I was a little disappointed. I had come into the event with high expectations and had my ass handed to me on a platter. Several times I wondered "why the hell am I even out here?" but I knew I was there because I wanted to be. I was there because I wanted to show other women that doing an event is completely possible- even if they don't place. It's not about winning, but simply proving to yourself you can do something. I proved to myself that even tho I had a challenging first lap, I could pull a 10th overall woman for the 30k race and 8th for my age category with persistence and determination and I finished in under 2 hours. (See official results here.) For those not wanting to see official results, I had a solid mid-pack status.
At the finish, I got to say hi and received more kind words from folks- Erika, Amanda, and Martha. Even Sonia Pond, one of the most genuinely kind women I can say I've had the pleasure of interviewing for my blog. Not really knowing any of them, yet being connected via the biking community, I have comfort in knowing that I know some truly badass women who inspire me and many others.
Nothing better than Darkness after a 30k!
I came away from the 45NRTH Whiteout with an appreciation for myself and what my body was able to do, even tho it was given challenges galore. I learned how to better my multi-tasking skills of taking in nutrition/hydration while riding. I learned to accept that sometimes you need to alter your goals and accept that there will be races that will not go as planned- and that's okay.
I also came away with more respect than ever for the amazing women who participate at events, and I'm not just talking about those who podium. I'm talking about those who ride for the pure joy if simply being there and doing what they can for helping to encourage their fellow women. It's absolutely beautiful, and I hope that I can better be that women who is able to do so for others during events that I participate at in the future. I keep being inspired by these fabulous folks and I hope that those of you reading this- who are either the ones making the podium or the ones that don't- that you keep on being awesome as you are.
Keep it silly :)