Women Involved Series: Katie Macarelli

Katie Macarelli: Marketing Manager for Feedback Sports. I'm a mom of two teenage girls, a wife to a fellow bike lover and I'm an equal-opportunity lover of all types of cycling. I commute year-round in Colorado choosing from my road bike, Cx, Cx w/studded tires, MTB, and a fat bike. I love riding in Colorado. I do race a bit but I don't really train (aside from commuting intervals plus a daily lunch-ride). Whenever I've tried to get on a "training plan" it doesn't last very long because I can't resist rolling with the weather and changing things up on a whim.

If I want to ride 50 miles and the weather is good, how can I resist because I'm supposed to do intervals that day? If it's snowing, I'm not likely to ever hop on a trainer. I'm just going to put on more layers.

I wasn't ever really a great athlete as a kid. In fact, I was chubby and slow. But (like many former chubby kids) I used that as motivation. And I have a pretty good sense of humor (also like many former chubby kids). I always preferred individual sports like swimming and track where I could compete mostly against myself and not have to be the center of attention on the court.

How I got into cycling:
I grew up on a farm in eastern Colorado. Aside from hearing about the Tour de France, I didn't really know anything about bike racing. We were a football town (puke). In grad school at Boulder, a friend introduced me to triathlons. As someone who loved swimming, I instantly fell in love (even though I'd never ridden a road bike in my life). I rented one from a local shop for my first race...which was comical.

I enjoyed racing as an age-grouper and was able to get on the podium a few times with the sprint distance. I went on to Olympic distance and did one 1/2 Ironman. Training for that race and finishing it made me realize that running isn't my favorite. :) This is how I found cycling as a passion. When my daughters were both in school full time, I got a job with Bicycle Colorado as a Safe Routes to School educator. This was the perfect job for me (formerly an elementary school teacher). I could still teach kids, but it was in PE and out on the playground. This opened up the world of advocacy to me. As a teacher, a parent and an athlete, I started to realize the overwhelming importance of keeping our roads safe. And then I started to use them by bike more than I did by car.
I still dabble in triathlons about once a season. I was proud (and shocked) when I got 1st at a tri I was expo-ing and announcing at in my 40+ age group this summer. Imagine my surprise when I flipped the page to read the winners and saw my own name. "And first place...well, folks, this is a little awkward and really unexpected...". Hadn't done that race since I was 30. I compared my times, this year I was faster. Maybe I'll race it again when I'm 50. #boom

I've "been in the cycling industry" now for 7 years. From Bicycle Colorado to 303cycling.com and now Feedback Sports. I like that I am fairly new to this industry because it gives me a fresh perspective. I see the importance of getting more women into roles like mine. For instance, I have a say in the events we do, in the ads we run and I am the voice of our company's social media accounts. You have no idea how many men say "thanks, dude!" when we converse over social media. I want to say, "Dude, you're WELCOME! P.s. I am a woman." Lately, I've been announcing a few of the local races. So many women tell me how much they appreciate a woman being up there and actually acknowledging them as racers. This is both wonderful to hear and sad. Things are getting better on this front. It's just a slow process. Lucky for me I've never been fast. I'm in it for the long haul.

Your #bikelife is diverse mixed with several styles! What was the inspiration to expand beyond one format of biking?

I went from being a beginner road cyclist for triathlons. I was very shaky at stops and turns and super pleased when I first rode 10 miles. It became my favorite portion of training for triathlons. Then my only training and form of exercise. I went on to train for centuries and such and then found road racing--mostly as a method to find more women to ride with. Around this time I met a mommy friend through mutual pre-school children and was introduced to mountain biking (something I always just thought wasn't really for me). Having other women to ride with and follow lines was massive. I was still fairly shaky on the mountain bike, so when the team manager told me about cyclocross, I thought I'd give it a try--mostly to get better at the mountain bike! I borrowed a bike to give it a shot at a team intro to Cx practice. I instantly fell in love. I stopped racing road/crits and mostly raced cyclocross and a few mountain bike races. I was so amazed at the transfer of skills from each bike to the next. Riding in the snow is like riding in the sand. 'Cross is like crits only you have to get off and hop over things. It's messy. Getting on and off the bike fast is a great skill to have if you ever want to rob a bike, but also when you mountain bike. Then I started commuting to work. That brought it alllllllllllllll together. And I realized I needed a fat bike. :)
Triathlons were what got you firmly vested in cycling, what do you enjoy most about the triathlon experience?
How inclusive the community is. Everyone is competing against themselves and each other but they are very willing to share what helps them succeed. This information isn't kept close to the chest as I feel it is in road racing. I also love that with short races you don't really ever have time to get in your head. Too much going on. If one leg wasn't the best, boom. It's done and you move on to the next. There is a beauty to the transition area. I really enjoy getting there early before the sun comes up and seeing the nervous faces. People aren't really trying to look tough and psyche each other out--at least at the level I compete at. And for short races (unless I'm expo'-ing AND racing) you're done by 10 am and home with your family.

What inspired you to compete in the first place? Any suggestions for folks nervous to participate in an event?
As I rambled above--I wanted to find more fast women to ride with. I got to a point where none of my friends wanted to ride with me. It got old. And I've always feared competition a bit (okay, a lot). In school, I loved track and swimming way more than team sports which seemed to make me crumble under pressure. Competing in bike racing, in the end, is only competing against myself. Plus, I figured it would be a good example for our children.

Can you take us back to your first couple mountain bike rides? What inspired you to stick with it?

Yes. Total shit-show. Shaky, nervous on the dirt, everything seemed like a huge obstacle that wanted to end my life. ;) Again, the women I rode with is what kept me going. It helps to ride with people who are better than you, but not too much better. Good teachers. Patient. That's who you want to ride with. I had actually tried mountain biking with my husband when we were first married (pre-kids). I did one ride with him and ended up crying. I've cried on rides with women too...but it's been from laughing so hard. Now that I've ridden and taught our daughters to ride (now 13 and 15), I know exactly what it takes to help someone nervous succeed. And it's my duty to do this as payment to the women who taught me.
What was your inspiration to commute by bike? Especially all year-round?
Moving to the place we really wanted to be was a financial sacrifice for us. We went from 3 cars and a camper to 1 car. But the place we chose to live was somewhere that we could pull it off. When we first made this change we were 1 mile from pretty much anything we needed. The library, the elementary school, the Community Rec Center, restaurants, our family doctor, dentist, hair stylists, etc. And at the time I was working from home. This worked out fine (for the most part). We moved about a mile farther up a HUGE hill so we're still in walking/biking range of everything, but it's a little bit farther and harder. I have become faster and a better climber, though. ;) And our girls are older now so they can take it.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why? 

Clips. I used to have an urban and cruiser bike with flats. But that was about it. If I have to commute in regular clothes--like to a meeting at the school or something like that, I can make it work. It just works better for me for the majority of my riding.

Have you had any biffs (crashes) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Yes. The first season of cyclocross I fell all the time. Hard. It actually helped me get over the fear of falling. Commuting on ice and snow will do the same. I am afraid of falling on ice, but I know it's not likely to kill me having done it several times. I've crashed pretty hard on my mtb, but broke nothing. I got a concussion crashing on a mountain bike racing my daughter to a concert in a park back in August. That was dumb. And I was lucky. Didn't realize I had a concussion until the next day. A few years ago I fell really hard on my road bike going about 26 mph. Hit a lip of grooved pavement in the rain that I didn't see due to puddled water. That was definitely the hardest I've ever crashed. I seemed to slide on my side with my bike for a minute. Last February I got hit by a car on my way into work. That one just made me really mad. Thankfully I was able to adjust at the last second so I mostly bounced. But that one really shook me up--you shouldn't have to have mad skills to ride through our sleepy little town. Most other people would have been dead. But I still rode to work that day.

It takes a bit of time to get over these things--physically and emotionally. Taking stock of your body, your bike, then your life. With the car crash, it actually spurred me to get in touch with my estranged older sister and make amends. I rolled away from that and went through a mental check-list: 1. Told my kids I loved them this morning. 2. Told my husband. 3. My friends know too. 4. My co-workers are pretty rad people. 5. I live in a great place and am thankful for that. The only thing nagging at me was my relationship with my sister. I realized that truthfully, "life is too short". And I got more hi-vis stuff and better lights. You'd have to be drunk, high, stupid and texting to hit me now. And if you kill me, I'll definitely haunt the hell out of you.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
It seems silly, but stopping and starting can be the scariest for everyone. We take it for granted but I taught a looooooooooooot of kids to ride of all ages while at Bicycle Colorado. Basically, any skill you see a child struggle with is a skill worth practicing. Riding through sand. Over curbs. Cornering safely and confidently. Being able to look over your shoulder while you ride without veering into traffic or off the trail. All great skills. I encourage people to go to an elementary school playground on the weekend. You have everything. You have marked lines to practice riding on (balance beam style) on the blacktop. You have sand to ride through. You can pick a start/stop point. You can practice weaving. Stop suddenly with your weight back. Ride down a grassy hill. Ride UP a grassy hill. Ride that hill sideways. PLAY.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I could definitely be better at riding off large drops. Big chunks of rock still freak my roadie heart out. Things that help:

1. Check it out first. Ride up to what scares you and watch a few people do it. Or preview just a section and have a bail-out in mind.

2. Eyes ahead instead of down. This helps for EVERYTHING. Don't look immediately in front of you or AT the obstacle. Look beyond it.

3. Instead of thinking "I suck at _____________" think "I am getting better at _______________".

4. Compare you to you and your own growth. Not to the Olympic athlete (and in Colorado, they are EVERYWHERE). ;)

What do you love about riding your bike?

Speed. I love that my body powers my travel. I love the colors, the weather, the sun-rises, and sunsets. I love being a little afraid that first week after the day-light savings time change and it's pitch black after work. There's a beauty about riding in the dark and when it changes back in the Spring I miss it. I love that I'm not ever dependent on a car. I want our girls to know that. Particularly if there is ever a Zombie Apocalypse.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Giant Road bike (TCR). I've had that for probably 10 years now. It's fast and somewhat light--though not as light as my HUSBAND'S and reliable. It was my upgrade bike after starting with a steel Jamis. That was also a good bike. If I still had it, it would be perfect for commuting.
Trek women's TopFuel 9.8 SL MTB-It's simply amazing. It's a 29'er. Went from Yeti 575 full suspension that my husband and I SHARED for a few years, then it became mine and now it belongs to our daughters. I love this bike so much. I have a lovely friend--Katie Compton who rides Cx and MTB for Trek. She let me try hers at a bike camp-out and I was in love. She walked me through finding the perfect bike, knowing my riding style and what I'd be using it for. I still text her pictures of it sometimes. And we used it in a life-size photo ad for our booth at Eurobike. I took a selfie with it and sent it to her. ;)
Rocky Mountain Blizzard fat bike. It gets the job done. You'll never feel like such a kid, laughing your face off than when you ride a fat bike. They are a blast. Racing them is great fun. Very fun, silly community.
Ridley Cx Bike. I love this bike. It's fun and nimble. And now it has red Feedback branded bar tape. The only downside is the brakes are not the easiest to adjust, and it's getting a bit old. But it's still my all-around fave. Fun to race Cx and after Cx season, I swap out the wheels for studded tires. It's bulletproof.

What do you enjoy most about being a woman in the cycling industry?
I love redefining what this means on a daily basis to myself and others. We still have a long way to go but it's getting better. It's also nice when meeting other women in the industry--you have an instant bond. Defenses are usually down because you're so HAPPY to have found ANOTHER LIKE YOU! Instant friends.

Why should more women consider employment in the cycling industry?
Most industries could probably use more women. The cycling industry is worse than others...and maybe better than others...although I can't think of any off the top of my head. ;) It will only change if there are more of us. I've almost thrown in the towel a few times but the next day is always brighter and I work with a really solid crew. That helps.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Men. No joke. Even well-meaning men can get in the way. I'm a firm believer in "women-only" events at shops, clinics, practices, etc. And then there's body image and self-doubt. "Oh, I could never do that." Well, yes. You could. You don't have to look any particular way. You don't have to wear any particular thing. Think back to riding bikes as a kid. How great that was. Heck. Watch Stranger Things and you'll be reminded of what a lost art it is! Bring back that joy and freedom. HOP ON A BIKE. ANY BIKE WILL DO. Entry level bikes at your local shop, Craigslist, Facebook markets/groups--all of these are options for finding an inexpensive bike to ride.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?

Gosh. The obvious--less sexism, talk, ads, articles. HIRE WOMEN. PROMOTE THEM. We work hard. We are invested. We have grand ideas. We will rock your company.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

My old self, my children, and my bikes.

Tell us a random fact about yourself! 
Having grown up on a farm, I can give antibiotics to baby calves and can drive a tractor.