Monday, February 26, 2018

Women Involved Series: Kate Courtney

Hi! My name is Kate Courtney and I am a Professional Mountain Bike Racer for the Specialized Factory Team. I started racing as a freshman in high school through the NorCal League in California and never looked back.

Over the past few years, I have had the incredible opportunity to race around the world in the UCI MTB World Cup series and continue to chase bigger and bigger goals in the sport.

I graduated from Stanford University in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in Human Biology and am excited to spend the next few years focusing full time on my cycling career. Off the bike, I am a big lover of waffles, dogs and anything that involves being outside!

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it has influenced you-
I was introduced to cycling by my dad. Growing up, we spent weekends riding a tandem bicycle up Mount Tamalpais. It never occurred to me that cycling was such a big competitive sport and I wasn’t introduced to racing until high school. I think this introduction has had a big impact on me. I fell in love with the sport because I loved riding bikes with my dad. No matter where racing takes me, I can always come back to that and remember why I love what I do.

What was your motivating factor for getting into bike racing?
I began riding mountain bikes with my high school team as cross training for cross country. I was a dedicated runner at the time and was looking for a way to stay in shape in the spring. At the time, I had no idea I would fall in love with the sport and community and never look back.

For folks on the fence about participating in a cycling event, why should they try it at least one time?
In my experience, nothing brings people together like cycling! It is a sport that is accessible to so many people of different ages, skill levels and with different goals. I think it is pretty magical to be a part of that community by participating in an event. It is an opportunity to push yourself but in an environment filled with supportive people that share a love for the bike.
What were some handling skills that challenged you (or still challenge you?) Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I first started racing in World Cups, I was shocked by how technical the courses were. I struggled to ride the A lines and was particularly scared of big drops. I was able to start working with a skills coach and develop tools to attack harder and harder features. For example, in developing the skills to go off bigger drops - we started with extremely little ones (I’m talking curbs!) and practiced the techniques. That way, when I arrived at a bigger feature with more fear, I knew I had the skills to ride it.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s hard to pick just one! I love being able to explore the world on two wheels and spend time with like-minded people out in nature. I also love that cycling never fails to give you opportunities to challenge yourself. Early on, my goals might have been to ride a feature on a local trail or be able to do longer rides. Now, those goals have progressed, but still pose the same type of challenge. There is a way forward for everyone!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I am so lucky to ride for Specialized and get to be on what I think is the best equipment in the sport. I ride the new Epic full suspension and the Epic HT hardtail during the race season although I also spend a lot of time on my road and cross bikes for training. My favorite bike would have to be my new 2018 Epic from World Champs. It is hot pink, sparkly, extremely light and one of the best handling bikes I have ever had the pleasure of riding. It was a great bike for world championships and I have been riding it ever since!
Looking back on the past year, what did you learn about yourself during the race season and why will that help you next season?
I learn a lot about myself from every race. Over a season, that can really add up! I think one of the most important things I practiced and learned a lot about was the idea of balancing expectations with believing in yourself. It is hard to both believe that you can win and manage your expectations if things don’t fall into place perfectly from the beginning. At world championships, for example, I crashed in the first few minutes. I believed I was capable of winning, but I had let go of expectations and was really in the moment. Instead of being completely discouraged, I was able to fight back and walked away with a silver medal. It is a constant battle to both push yourself forward towards bigger and bigger goals while meeting yourself where you are at this moment, right now.

What are you looking forward to for the 2018 season?
I am looking forward to the move to Elite! It is going to be a big step up for me and will be full of new challenges. This offseason I have definitely felt very motivated by the opportunity to race in the Elite World Cups next year and it will definitely keep me training hard.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think there are a lot of ways to get women involved in cycling. One of the biggest ways, in my opinion, is through other female riders. Being able to go out and ride with other women really made my introducing to the racing scene really fun. Likewise, I see a lot of women just getting into the sport who really enjoy female companionship and encouragement out on the trails.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I hope to encourage everyone to ride - regardless of gender. I think the bike is a really amazing tool to connect people and push them to be their best selves.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Random Fact: My spirit animal is the shark!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Holly Cass

I have 4 beautiful children that all ride, as does my husband Will. We have our daughter Zoë, son Justice (JDog), Marley (Gnarly Marley$), and Willie (Fat Baby). They send it!!

I’m the owner of a real estate brokerage in Big Bear Lake, CA called Summit Real Estate. Even my personal real estate branding is bike-life centered. Every Trail Leads To Home. Real Estate has been my jam now for 12 years and I absolutely love it from the non-stop chase to my favorite part- the "kill!"

We moved up here last summer to literally live our dream life and it’s working out well, we're flourishing! My two older kids have really enjoyed the extra time training and racing DH. My 15 yr. old daughter Zoë has her eye on nationals this next season. We are currently prepping her to race Jr. expert for the full winter Fontana series and a few bigger race series next summer. She wants to go all the way so as a crazy race mother, I’m all in!

I’m the president of the Inland Valley Mountain Bike Association. An IMBA chapter. This is something I’m still tryin to wrap my head around.

My husband, Will, has really been the catalyst for all of this bike craziness. I’ll explain later, ha!
Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you-
After coming home from having a horrific c-section with baby number 4, my husband surprised me with a bike. I had always had natural deliveries so the c-section left me feeling somewhat less than a “woman”. Hard to explain but being a natural mom has always been something I was really proud of. I realized after they pulled 9 lb 15 oz Willie form my poor body I wasn’t in charge, he was!

Waking in and seeing that bike really gave me a goal, albeit a small goal at first. I literally had to duct tape my abs, I was 80 lbs heavier, and I felt like crap. With that, feeling the wind in my hair, even for a cruise around the block, was intoxicating. I needed more!

For the past 15 years I had been on a uphill battle post-cancer. I was also diagnosed with very painful, genetic,  rheumatoid arthritis (thanks Mom). Over the past years I had really lost all health and at times, hope. After baby Willie was born, I had the help of a local naturopath, that bike, and my incredibly supportive family. I had been depressed, in pain, and sick about all of the time; I had been on my way to my death bead and we all knew it.

In my younger years I had spent years traveling and being athletic: rock climbing, triathlons (half-Iron Man), marathons, snowboarding, surfing (and anything I could paddle!) You name it! If it was an outdoor adventure, I was in. That made the tailspin of declining health so terrible- every tie I would try and work out I would be back in bed. I had lost myself. Everything in my body, including my organs, was inflamed. My poor kidneys had just about given up on me.

Every morning while breastfeeding my little boy I focused on my next ride, no matter how little I just wanted to be in the saddle. After weeks and months went by the healing had begun! It was a huge lifestyle shift. Lots of acupuncture and nutritional therapies; a lot of work on handling the stress of motherhood and a full-fledged career.

Take us back to your first couple mountain bike rides, what did you learn from them and why did it inspire you to stick with it?
I learned that I had a long way to go! I learned it was okay to not be the fastest, gnarliest, or most talented rider. It was a hard pill to swallow as I was a natural-born competitor. The bike truly humbled me mentally and physically.

What do you love about Enduro compared to other forms of mountain biking?
Wow! Where to I begin? Enduro is magical. Combining the suffer of the climbs with all the technical prowess of Down Hill racing. Enduro is the perfect BEAST! It rattles me to the core and I love the pure adventure of it.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Kamikaze was definitely my favorite this past season, it really tore me down on every level. I was such a nervous wreck leading up to the race that I don’t think I slept well for a week. I was terrified. It was everything I expected. Just stage after stage of radical gnar. I crossed the finish line and literally sobbed. I had dedicated the event to my father who had passed 17 years earlier to the day. It was emotional for me and I felt like it was my coming out party. It was for me to show myself that I was pretty awesome! (Sometimes I’m not sure!)  We all have our demons and self-doubt has always been mine. Enduro slaps me a good one.

Any suggestions for folks looking to participate at their first event?
Pick a small race. Keep it to a couple stages if possible and local to you. Pre-ride like crazy. Make sure your bike is dialed and learn from my biggest fail-not knowing how to fuel. Get that down way beforehand! With all my autoimmune problems it was a struggle to find something I didn’t puke up. Carborocket Evil 333 is now my best fiend, my XC buddies spilled the beans on that one. I can’t eat when I race, so I drink all my calories.

Why was it important for you to ensure your children were introduced to off-road riding?
I wanted my daughters to be bold and my sons to be disciplined. I want them to experience life outdoors. The rest is history. Even my 2 year old, Willie, scares the death out of us. You’ll hear him yell “gonna send it” and we all go running! Marley loves pump track and anything on two wheels as well. Both Justice and Zoë love to get their wheels off the ground; my husband is an accomplished dirt jumper, so I blame him.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?
Clips all way for me. Too many years on a Tri bike. I would break my ankles if I wasn’t clipped in as I’m incredibly clumsy and I have horrible form. Clipping in keeps me straight.

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?
I’ve had some good ones. The least painful and most scary was at Crafts and Cranks last year. I knocked myself out cold on Fall Line. It was loose, I was tired and I took a tree to my head. The most painful was a few months prior at a really technical riding area. I was really working on my speed in berms. Took one way to fast, washed out my front tire and body slammed, knocking the wind out of myself. I had a bruise from my ankle to my thigh from due to my bike frame. My acupuncturist had to manually dig out a large hematoma on one of my tendons on the inside of my knee, it was insane! Both wrecks got in my head; both were caused by my errors and I learned a lot from each. At Crafts and Cranks I was low in fuel and I make poor decisions when I’m tired. The other wreck I was greedy- too much speed and my weight was in the wrong place. I got checked!

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 still struggle with keeping my elbows out and my ass back. My daughter has to constantly yell at me “boobs over the bars”. We remind each other all the time. I'm not sure why but I always want to be so upright on the bike. I think much of this is due to lack of fitness and that I get tired. On a long race stage I battle this constantly. My husband takes video of me often and we critique it. I’m always shocked at how terrible my form is. Seeing it on video is huge.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I love to jump my bike even though I'm super sketchy at it. I have a hard time compressing off the jump. As I explained above I’m always too high off my seat. I still hit some big stuff, mostly so my kids and husband don’t clown me (and I know my hubs thinks I’m sexy in the air.)  Haha! Seriously, they all have pushed me to be a better rider and we all push each other.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that it’s just me and my breath. It’s simple. It’s a solid game against fear, my body,  and my goals. It’s a meditative place. I cry often in pure gratitude when I ride. It’s bliss.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’m a bike hoarder. The bike that started it all was a Turner Czar, a 29'er XC bike. It’s a carbon climbing machine but loves technical stuff as well

Then I have a Turner Flux. My Flux is built for Enduro. I really love this bike because I can pedal really well, but it’s nice and light so I can flick it around in super scary stuff. If I get back behind the saddle and drop the seat I can literally roll just about anything on this bike.

My new fav is my Turner Cyclosys. This is my gravel bike. Whoa! I have really had some fun on single track around Big Bear on this bike. Gravel bikes are super punk rock and I love how nuts you can get on one!

You are heavily involved with the mountain biking community in your area, what inspired you to become president of your local IMBA chapter?
Yikes. I didn’t pick this position, it picked me, and it happened so quickly. One day I was the head of fundraising, then next thing I knew they were voting me in. It’s a huge honor. It’s a heavy burden that I don’t carry lightly. I saw the incredible issues within our community and the trails we all ride. There are some serious cultural issues I hope to adjust with my wonderful board of trail advocates and educators. This group of selfless volunteers and I have some major work cut out for us. Exciting times!

How can folks become involved with your local chapter? Especially women?
Since I came to IVMTB, I have added two stellar women who have added so much depth to our meetings; I love watching the dynamics! We always welcome people to our board meetings- we have local race directors and community politicians who show up. We really need more memberships going out this year; without support we are kind of dead in the water. I’m starting a podcast soon that I hope to use as a tool to get more people engaged.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It’s intimidating with (sometimes) lots of maintenance. Bikes are crazy now. If my husband didn’t ride, I don’t know if I ever would’ve gotten involved. For this reason I try to support as many women on bikes as possible like our local Girlz Gone Riding Chapter. A lot of men take women on trails they shouldn’t be on when first learning. One bad experience and they are over it, who wouldn’t be? Men if you are reading this, call me! Don’t take your wife out, you don’t get it- women do.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We need to unify the culture of mountain bikers as this is a lifestyle. Like in advocacy, we need to take baby steps toward a larger goal. For instance: I love to jump, but gaps scare the turds out of me. I would love a jump line that’s built for me and my ladies where we could fill the gaps with plywood, hit it, and then remove it. I have to go to work on Mondays and I can't take huge risks anymore, my children and clients depend on me. What I don't want to hear is "if you can’t ride it as is then don’t hit it."  Also, women need more moral support from other women. That’s my take. We don’t ride like men. We are women. So we need other women to guide us, at least I did. My husband annoyed the hell out of me when I was learning. Christina Turner and some other local bad asses took me under THEIR wings and it was life changing. Grab a friend and teach her to ride.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Well, I love bikes and I know what this freedom can do for other women. It’s a power we all deserve.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I had dreadlocks and hairy armpits well into my 20’s. My husband is happy those days are gone. Though I think he secretly wonders if I will revert again in retirement!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Radio Silence

This winter I have taken way more time off the bike than anticipated.

I've been dealing with feelings of inadequacy and the worry of "Will all of my gains go down the drain?" in the same breath, I've been secretly grateful for the time off two wheels.

What do you mean?

I've been enjoying time off the bike. I haven't fallen out of love with biking, but I've needed a mental and physical break from it. I also needed time to prioritize Fearless Women of Dirt along with other projects. I needed time to recover, reset, and plan.

In general, I've had a difficult time having a 100% healthy relationship with biking and with myself. I've written about the eating disorder that I had throughout high school and years after and how I was able to reign in the behavior. Even with years of establishing a healthier relationship with food (Food=Fuel=Life), I still find a small part of myself battling obsessive tendencies. When stress is high, the desire to have an iron-clad grip on life grows stronger. I battle with releasing control, because the more I try to control, the less in control I actually am. Funny how that works!

The riding fix clings to the back of my mind, quietly whispering to me that if I'm not busting my ass on a ride EVERY DAY that my world will crash down around me. It also whispers tales of how I'll never be fast nor good. (What am I trying to prove, anyway?) Let me tell you, that inner voice you have in your head can be your best friend or your biggest enemy.

For the first time in a long while, I think I finally got that voice to shut up for a little while- or I've learned to not to listen as hard. Either way, it's progress.

My time off the bike first started with a stupid cut that I gave myself while trying to pry wax off a bottle of Surly Darkness. Due to the location, I avoided riding off-road so I wouldn't open the cut back up. That was about a week or so before our Honeymoon.
Then we were gone a week for our Honeymoon.
Then I caught a terrible cold that fully blew up a few days after coming back from our Honeymoon (right before Thanksgiving.)
For the first time in a long time, I stayed home instead of going to work. Even tho I got a little better, the cough lingered for weeks.
I had about 2 weeks of well-time before I was hit with another cold right before Christmas. That had me out for another week+ of personal misery.
Riding the trainer sounded exhausting and I had a hard time getting up in the morning because I had been getting poor sleep during my cold(s).
The weather became bitterly cold and I had a hard time convincing myself riding outside was good for me when temps were -15 and below. I didn't want to compromise my immune system.
I wasn't able to adapt to the cold temps as well as previous years since I stayed indoors.

The majority of my winter biking was commuting. That's it. I got a lot of prep work done for the 2018 riding season! Rides scheduled, Women's Nights scheduled, Mini-Maintenance Clinics scheduled, working on getting Introductory Skills sessions scheduled, FWD Membership solidified, and more. All things to be excited about, and all requiring time in which to do so. This year feels more put together than last, and I'm beyond stoked.
Fearless Women of Dirt jersey!
Click photo to order.
Another job added to the plate- playing a larger part with our local mountain bike trail organization. I can add Vice President/Secretary to my resume of "Things Josie Does" and I'm pretty stoked. DHPT: Decorah Human Powered Trails is making some excellent headway on being able to create new trails on land given to the city of Decorah. These trails are going to be made with purpose, and it will be a different feel than what we currently have. A couple main points will be a perimeter loop that is double wide, that will provide very easy dirt riding for folks new to riding off-road. It can also be used for walking/running and in the winter for fatbiking and skiing. The overall concept is to build a stacked trail system that will be NICA compliant and offer a more positive riding experience for new riders and youth. This means, in the following years, we may have an excellent area to have a Little Bellas chapter and a perfect area to go to for FWD rides since we can graduate to different trails as riding improves.

Taking on the position of DHPT Vice President/Secretary has me going full-force into updating and reviving our key points of communication, the website and the DHPT Facebook page. It's time to shine the light on a group that is going to be part of creating something extremely awesome for the Decorah community.

This doesn't mean riding is off my radar, not by a long shot! With Time Trials on the horizon I know I'll need to make a plan to get in some saddle time before too long. I would prefer to wait until I know the roads aren't slick with secret ice. I'm also extremely excited to get on the new S-Works Epic HT...a short parking lot ride on Maui brought a huge smile to my face. SO light. So nimble. Oh my gosh, I could've kept riding in circles all damn day. This season is literally going to be epic with both Epics vying for my attention and butt. Haha! I might find a renewed love for a hardtail on the trails again...we'll see.

It was glorious to feel that swell in my heart, the butterflies of anticipation, and feel the joy spread across my face in smile-form. Taking a step back and reflecting on the past months, I came to the conclusion that this break from riding was just the thing I needed. Time away from the bike isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're able to reignite your passion for riding in other ways. Fearless Women of Dirt is very important to me, and seeing it grow and become more successful excites me beyond words. Becoming more involved with the trail organization that built the trails I love is a wonderful way to give back- and becoming involved in a future trail project really excites me!

I know my fitness has not gone down to zero.
I know that not biking will not result in me gaining lots of weight.
I know that not biking will not put me back to "beginner" status per skills I've learned, etc.
It's been a necessary break and I no longer feel the need to apologize for it.
I'm ready to hit the trails as soon as conditions square away, I actually feel excited!
I'm determined to make 2018 one heck of a good year.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Nikki Strickland

I would describe myself as a designer, traveler, creative, and lover of all things animals and fitness (if I can combine the last two, even better). I currently live in Atlanta with my husband and 2 dogs. Our world revolves around our dogs Emmy and Hutch, traveling and cycling. My husband and I started a business together about a year ago and officially launched in January as an agency focused on helping companies with their culture and employee experience.

We are both very passionate about this topic because it impacts so many lives, and we come from a strong HR and recruitment branding background. Our main goal is to change the way people view work. It shouldn't be a chore, but rather a positive piece of your life.

Outside of work, most of our time goes to the dogs and cycling. My husband has been a cyclist for about 20 years and has encouraged my passion for cycling over the past few years. My journey into cycling has actually been a rather long one that started with dabbling in triathlons in college, then deciding I wanted to get a single speed to commute all over the city (I'm pretty sure this prepared me for anything because of the hills and traffic ha), and then finally getting a road bike, riding with groups and racing. I fell in love with the sport so quickly and am very passionate about getting other women into cycling. Atlanta is probably one of the most underrated cycling cities, but what people don't know is that we have an amazing robust cycling scene. There are multiple groups rides every night that have 50-100 people at each ride, it's insane! I love the culture of cycling and everything it stands for--it promotes mental strength as well as physical strength, but it also supporting each other and lending a hand when someone is new or just having a bad ride.

Twitter: @NTStrickland
Instagram: @NikTic

Tell us about how your #bikelife evolved over the years, and why it's such an important part of who you are-
My bike life has evolved from spending most of my time commuting via bike to dabbling in triathlons, and then eventually becoming very serious about road cycling. My husband and I both ride, and our lives revolve around the bicycle. Our vacations are always bike vacations, and most of our friends are cyclists as well. I even ride my bike with my dog running alongside me to get his exercise in as well! (He loves it.)

When it came to commuting by bike, would you say your location made it easy or challenging? Do you have suggestions for folks who would like to start commuting by bike?
I am fairly centrally located in downtown Atlanta, but there are quite a few hills to climb if you are riding around town. My biggest tip for commuting is to find the right bike and be reasonable. I ride a single speed around, but I don't work in a traditional office where I have to be in work clothes. However, if you work in an office, I would suggest getting a change of clothes, a good saddle bad if you are going long distances, and gears!

Tell us about your introduction to road riding, what inspired that choice of riding and why do you enjoy it?
My husband introduced me to road riding. I'm really fortunate that he has been riding for 20 years because he knows all the tips and tricks for riding with a large group. The community of cyclists in Atlanta is amazing, and everyone encouraged me to start riding.

Tell us about an event or two that you have enjoyed participating in, why did you enjoy them and what did you learn?
I raced my first criterium a few months ago and it was by far my favorite race! I learned so much about myself at that race and realized how mentally tough I can be if I put my mind to the challenge.

Do you have any tips or advice for folks on the fence about attending a biking event? Why should they do it?
I would start out with a Grand Fondo or Century because these tend to be less intimidating and more beginner friendly. Once you get into more serious races, make sure you have your bike handling skills down, as there are bound to be people bumping into you, hitting potholes, or crashing in beginner races.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Cycling has been a really positive experience for me so far, so I haven't faced many challenges, outside of hard races or group rides. I always tell myself to never give up, never stop pedaling, and when I want to quit, I take 10 more pedal strokes and see how I feel--and I always keep going.

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 everyone is challenged when they first start riding in large groups. You have to be very self-aware and respectful of the peloton. I don't talk much when I'm riding in a group at a fast pace, because I feel that most crashes occur when people get distracted, rather than a bike handling error. Focus on the road, be aware of all surrounding riders, avoid "sketchy" riders, don't get trapped in the middle of a giant peloton, and respect the rules.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I always practice bunny hopping over potholes or reacting quickly to objects in the road so that I don't put myself or others in danger. I also practice cornering quickly and moving throughout the peloton safely. I don't usually get down on myself, I just have fun.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Riding makes me feel free. I love going really fast (literally as fast as I can possibly go haha). I get very depressed if I don't ride my bike, and I don't feel like myself if I take long periods of time off the bike. Cycling is such a huge part of my husband's and my life, we bond riding together. Most of the time when we ride together, we don't even talk to each other, we just clear our minds and silently encourage each other to focus on pushing ourselves mentally and physically. Some people might find this strange, but we find it peaceful. We don't need to talk to communicate or enjoy each other's company.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have an S-Works Amira and I am obsessed with this bike! It is so lightweight, perfect for racing and doing long climbs up mountains.

Tell us why you applied for the Specialized Women's Ambassador program-
I applied to the Specialized Ambassador program because I wanted to make a difference in my community and have the support from Specialized to host fun events, group rides and encourage other women to ride bikes!

Why do you feel programs such as the Specialized Women's Ambassador program are important for the cycling industry and community?
Ambassador programs are important because it gives women a reason to come together and encourage each other to ride bikes. The Specialized brand is so powerful in the cycling community and is very respected even to the most junior of rider.

What are your goals for the upcoming season?
I am planning on racing a lot more this season. I've been training like crazy and I'm hoping to bring my A-game in 2018.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I can't speak to mountain biking, but I think the biggest barrier to entry for road cycling is all of the education you need in order to get the proper bike, gear, and locate group rides.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Locally we have been hosting weekly group rides that are specifically for beginners. We help people get the gear they need and learn skills that will help them ride in larger groups.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I think it takes a special type of bad ass female to get on a bike with a bunch of guys and turn yourself inside out in order to stick with a group ride. We are probably a little crazy, really feisty, and the most determined women you will ever meet--that is what I love about the women I meet in cycling. It is the toughness, pride, and confidence that cycling gives to women that inspires me.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I can play the piano, ukulele, and Kazoo! Haha! It's always loads of fun singing and playing with friends!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Women Involved Series: Whitney Pogue

I am a mother of 4 who has always been an avid mountain biker. I met my husband while completing my graduate studies in Occupational Therapy in Kentucky. We have been married 22 years and mountain biking has always been our thing. We raced locally while living in Kentucky and also when we moved to Utah. It's what we do! As a mom, racing took the back seat to raising my family but I have always stayed connected with the local MTB community.

In 2012, I heard rumblings about many of my teammates (we raced for a local shop) certifying to coach in the newly formed Utah High School MTB league. I wanted a part of this action, I had a daughter entering 9th grade and I wanted her to have this opportunity. That's how this all began.

We started a small team at a local charter high school that our daughter attended in 2012 (the local HS was under construction at the time). The next year, the local HS opened and we moved our posse over to Corner Canyon HS. Since that time, we have been the largest team in the country year after year. First growing from out roots of 18 to 75, then to 125, to 150 to 142, to this years 160. It is INSANE to see the growth of high school mountain biking. So to answer who I am.....I am kind of the face of high school MTB in my area. I created this opportunity (with the help of a small army) for hundreds of kids who filter through my program. It's an opportunity for kids to be a part of something...something truly high school. Do any of us need a reminder of how hard high school can be? This is a safe space for these kids to be.

So who am I? I am just a person who had a vision and wanted to give these kids a chance. I am volunteer coach who truly loves these kids and wants to mentor them into being lovers of the sport and also good people. To my own kids...I am just mom...but I am grateful that I have a ginormous extended family with this team!

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it evolved-
I grew up the only girl of 5 children. I was always trying to prove myself as someone who could hang...especially in sports! I tried MTB in the late eighties, early nineties and was immediately hooked. I loved how it pushed me, the cool things I saw and how I could hang with the boys!

How were you introduced to mountain biking and what about it made you go "Yeah! This is for me!"
I was dating a friend who worked at a bike shop so I was sucked in...I LOVED IT! I bought my first bike from his shop and rode that thing into the ground.
Clips or flats? What do you like best for your riding?
CLIPS- my now husband bribed me with "new shoes"...little did I know he meant bike shoes....but I had to stay with it for a month. Now I don't think I could go back. I have heard that going to flats will help make some of my bad habits go away. I also have dear friends who are scared to death of it's entirely personal preference! If it is keeping you off your bike.....switch!

Tell us about your favorite event that you've raced in-
One of my favorite events I have ever done was the FIRECRACKER 50 in Breckenridge, CO. I loved the terrain and the hometown vibe of the event. I have wanted to get back and race the BRECK EPIC or another event in the area again but raising my own kids has been too much fun on the side. I also loved the Leadville 100, but it isn't the quaint little gathering it once was.

Any suggestions for folks who are looking to participate in their first event?
Don't be afraid! So often people, especially women, tell me that they are scared. Scared of wrecking, scared of failing...I always respond with the only failure is failure to try! Events are challenging and not for everyone, but they are fun and you meet the coolest people everywhere you go! JUST DO IT! (at the risk of sounding cliche!)

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?
When I was 43, I was stronger and faster than I had ever been. My husband encouraged me to try and race in the PRO category in a local race. So I did! About 30 min in I crashed fighting for 3rd place...breaking my collarbone. That hurt! It gave me the quick perspective that a) I am 43 and b) What was I trying to prove? I have only raced once since because I had encouraged my team to do a race and it seemed fair to race myself. Otherwise, I ride for me now.

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 back, I was CLUELESS when I started riding! Now that I spend most of my time teaching others to ride I think, IF I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW! Hahahaha! With the advent of the internet and YouTube you can get so much information on bike handling skills. Learn the basics from the start and you will improve exponentially. The year I took my coaches training I started to really improve on the descents. Because I finally had some skills to back it up!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
CORNERING! Those kids who lay it down in the corners don't have my fear levels and haven't ripped lots of shorts like I have! I don't profess to be expert at anything but having fun!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that it is therapeutic for me to ride my bike. I love that it is freeing and makes me remember that I have a strong body that can take me amazing places. It is absolutely my happy place. I get to see places people who don't bike will never see....that is awesome...and so sad for those who don't bike.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I am not a gearhead at all. I used to ride a NINER AIR 9 RDO. Then our local bike shop sponsor for our team suggested he wanted me on a bike he carries so I switched to a SCOTT SCALE 900 RC. I LOVE THIS BIKE! It's a hardtail and it is soooooo light! It fits me like a glove. We're like old friends and have so much fun when we're together. This year, the shop gave me a TREK TOP FUEL 9.8 to ride. I had NEVER ridden a FS bike before that time. Not gonna lie, I LOVE IT! I upgraded some components on this "loaner bike" to lighten it up and I do love some of the fun descents on this bike. But when I really want to haul...I pull out the SCOTT.

You are a NICA coach for the league in Utah- for folks new to NICA give us a rundown on what NICA is:
Oh boy! NICA is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. They are the governing body of high school mountain biking leagues all over the country. They have provided the framework for what we do to bring thousands of kids to the sport. Without going on and on and on I would go to to find more info. Most notable...NICA is founded on 5 core principles which guide our decision making and program development: INCLUSIVITY, EQUALITY, STRONG MIND, STRONG BODY and STRONG CHARACTER.

What influence would you say NICA has on high school youth?
In my area, NICA has provided hundreds of youth the opportunity to be a part of something really special in high school. Our school is HUGE and not everyone will/can make the sports teams. We take anyone who wants to be on our team and play by our rules. We have been the largest team in the country 5 years running!

What has been one of the greatest moments for you since coaching the NICA league?
One of the greatest moments for me as a coach was probably the darkest moment for me as a coach as well. Last Nov, we lost a rider on our team in a horrific car accident. The rider was a twin and both girls were on our team. While this was the most difficult time for us, it united us as a team. The love that came from our team family, from our entire NICA community was overwhelming. I know we all preach the NICA values and we all profess to love each other and what we do. Through this tragedy, there were no questions that these are the best people around. I had coaches from all over the state who traveled to sit by my side at the funeral. Schools who united and wore our school colors afterward, attending our candlelight vigils. Like I said, overwhelming support.It was so touching. This season, the surviving twin competed for her senior season. When she crossed that finish line in the first race of the year there was not a dry eye in the place. So I would say the greatest thing for me as a coach is that I created a space for all of this love and safety to exist. That is pretty cool.
For parents who question having their child participate in NICA, do you have suggestions or food for thought to pass on?
I would emphasize that this league teaches youth that they CAN DO HARD THINGS! As you know, mtb racing is hard. Get involved and help make these teams happen on a local level for you if they don't already. This is a lifetime sport and a beautiful community to be a part of. It's a win-win!

Anything else about NICA that parents or interested youth should know?
Just that it is really awesome. It IS all volunteer-led, so prepare to be involved heavily! It's sooooo worth it!

What do you love most about having your own children being involved with mountain biking?
A few years ago we took a last minute trip to Sun Valley and took our youngest 2...our boys. THEY SLAYED IT! They could finally ride with us and it was the best sharing something I LOVE with them. We wore them out every day and they just wanted more and more of it. It truly opens the door for more and more adventures for our family. That makes me so so happy! My boys are way involved with comp soccer. They may not choose to race, but at least they have this life sport that they can do forever and with us.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
FEAR! Fear of crashing. I always say, sometimes you have to wreck to learn you can get back up! Women are afraid of being too slow or holding people up. Again, the only failure is failure to try.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think it truly comes down to other women being advocates for the sport. I used to feel like such a minority and hung so much with the guys as a biker. Now, I see more and more women wanting to get involved. I believe NICA has facilitated some of this. I have seen whole families getting into the sport because of one kid who rides. I LOVE the opportunity to teach these moms and get them out of the dirt. Local shops could hold workshops and support efforts to get women out on rides. One thing I have loved seeing lately is the influx of cuter gear for women! Why do we have to look like dudes? So many cute bike apparel brands have been enticing, to say the least! I have also seen more women-only events in our area. The future is mountain biking.... let's get everyone involved! Women beget more women.....

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Just to share something I love so so much with my friends and my peers!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My kids think it is super cool that I can do the splits on both sides. Probably 'cuz I am old and old people can't do that who knows! I'm not that interesting. Random fact: I have wrecked so many times and jacked up my hands that both of my pinkies will never straighten again.....yet I continue to ride!
I love this sport!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Hardest Part of Mountain Biking

"How to Fail at Introducing Women to Mountain Biking" is coming up on 10,000 views and it feels absolutely amazing to have a post that has been so well received and shared. I feel it has a lot of great info that could be used to introduce anyone, not just women, to mountain biking. I know full well that not every aspect of the post will apply to each person, and that everyone learns differently.

I am grateful that some have found my writing to be helpful, inspiring, and encouraging. The success of that post got me thinking about what the hardest part of learning to mountain bike was for me, and it hit me like a brick.

The most challenging, difficult, and trying part of learning to mountain bike was...


I was extremely fortunate to have my husband as my instructor when it came to learning the basics of mountain biking. He was (overall) patient and understanding. He spent countless hours working with me, building a bike (or...ahem...several), and encouraged me to push myself beyond my comfort zone. With all of that said, we (I) definitely had my moments, and you could say we "survived" some great relationship tests out on the trails.

Learning to mountain bike meant I had to put myself back in the role of a student. I had to accept that during the process I would be constantly vulnerable.

One of the biggest struggles of learning something new from your partner is the feeling of vulnerability. Raw and exposed; you'll feel that failures are magnified when they happen in front of your partner. I feel this is why many will typically recommend that you shouldn't learn a new skill from your partner. In my opinion, it depends on the partner but it also depends how you go into the situation. Really, the both of you can make or break a great opportunity.

Looking back on my first season of mountain biking, I realize that I took advantage of the situation of my partner as my instructor. I had a difficult time differentiating between Travis, my boyfriend vs. Travis, my teacher. It was far too easy for me to take Travis' critiques of my technique as a personal jab.  My "fight or flight" mode was on hyperdrive and my emotions would take over. I would bicker with Travis over just about everything; I would shut down and prevent the learning process.

I thought back to the time when I attended a mini-grit clinic in Hayward. It was a situation where I went out of my comfort zone willingly and opened myself up to the opportunity to learn skills from women.
It was different to go to a clinic taught by women, for women.
It was helpful to have things explained to me by another woman.
It was awesome to experience such camaraderie between all of us.

My greatest fear happened during this women's clinic, and that was going over my handlebars while trying to put together all moves to make up a bunny hop.

If I had been with Travis I would've crumbled under the pressure I put on myself. Swearing, tears, verbally beating myself down, and rattling off all the thoughts I assumed Travis would be thinking. Talk about putting my foot in my mouth.

At the clinic, I felt humbled, but I didn't feel the immense pull to unleash all of my emotions with reckless abandon. I was able to internalize, accept what happened, and rolled with it. It was apparent to me that everyone attending the clinic cared about how I was, if I was okay, and didn't hold the mishap against me. I found that I could break down how the accident happened without beating myself up over it. I was simply trying to do too much at once- it's near impossible to make a whole movement combined of several if you cannot do all of them correctly and in time.

I realized that my biggest lesson with learning to mountain bike was being open to the process without throwing in all of my fears, anxieties, and worries.

It can be challenging when your partner is the one who you're learning from and riding with most of the time. It's hard to turn off the feelings of vulnerability, and it's way too easy to unleash emotions. I drowned Travis in my feelings of anger, fear, embarrassment, and frustration. I saw him as my "safe" person, the one who which I could unleash all my emotions on, but when I went "all out" during my heightened state, things went south very quickly.

I came to the realization that my constant state of panic was making the learning experience unpleasant and downright impossible. I hated when Travis encouraged me to do something out of my comfort zone, and he only did when he felt I was ready to do so. I would often disagree, and my lack of being open to trying made the process quite frustrating.
Fact: He knew more of what I was capable of than I did.
Fact: I am bull-headed.
Fact: Having your partner as your instructor might not always be rainbows and sunshine. You have to go into it with an open mind, and if your personality is similar to mine, you'll feel attacked by every critique made when it's given to benefit you and keep you safe. If you can make it work, it will be immensely beneficial. Really? How many folks have such easy access to a wealth of mountain biking knowledge? All. The. Time?!
Fact: You may very well be your biggest enemy when it comes to learning to mountain bike. You will sell yourself short, you'll avoid challenges, and you'll make yourself feel like you really can't do anything.

It doesn't have to be that way, you just have to open yourself up to understanding a couple key points-
#1. We have all been there. I didn't wake up one morning and become a badass mountain biker (I will never consider myself truly badass as there are definitely styles of mountain biking that I'm much happier to watch on t.v.!) I spent countless hours practicing, failing, and working to get to where I am. If you ride once or twice a week you will not improve quickly; you accept it and keep at it or you make changes to your schedule (if possible) to work in more rides or skill-building. Remember- very few are "naturals" and most of us need to spend 10,000 hours to learn a new skill.

#2. Your riding partner/instructor is not out to get you. Tips and suggestions are given in order to keep you safe and benefit you in the long run. Don't be afraid to mention if you feel overloaded with "stuff." You can always request to have lessons broken down to one key point at a time per ride, and someone who is considered a good riding partner should be able to do that for you.

Do your best to treat your partner/instructor like you would a professional instructor- be open and willing to listen and learn. Would you freak out on Lindsey Richter during a clinic or would you keep your cool?

#3. Find other people to ride with! Finding a women's group or co-ed group is a great way to find new friends to ride with, some who may be able to help you grow in skill. If groups aren't available, seek out someone to ride with one-on-one. It sounds intimidating, but if you find someone who is open to riding with you, knowing that you're a newer rider- go for it! This is an individual who understands "we've all been there" and they know full well what they're getting into when they agree to ride with newer riders. They don't care how slow or inexperienced you are- they want to help you gain confidence and will do so in the most unselfish way possible. Being there for you.
Riding with someone who has more experience than you is a great opportunity to learn! Sometimes hearing it from someone else makes it "click." Finding another friend or two to ride with can also help make the rides you go on with your partner more fun because they become less about lessons and more about just riding bikes together.

Key points:

It may not be easy to keep emotions in check, but you'll accomplish more if you do. If you can keep an open mind, listen, be respectful (even when frustrated), give feedback on what you're learning, and practice- it will make the learning process much better.

Will Smith says it well- "Fail early, fail often, fail forward."