It’s early in the morning when we get hold of Rebecca Rusch on Skype, sipping her coffee. There’s sunlight streaming in behind her and she says that they’re just shaking off winter where she lives in Idaho. The trails are set to open for more riding just 15 miles from her house, so she’ll be stowing away the backcountry skis for another season, and swap her snow bike for a her mountain bike. (If you were wondering, Rusch rides for Niner bikes)
It’s hard not to feel slightly in awe of Rusch’s energy and excitement for being outside on her bike. The smile doesn’t leave her face as she humbly reels off her achievements to us. We want to find out who this ultra-endurance polymath actually is. Arguably one of the most accomplished ultra endurance mountain bikers ever, Rusch is somewhat of a living legend. She tells us how she’s ridden to 24-hour World Championship titles, scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, written books, won the Leadville 100 multiple times and still manages to crack a smile on every ride. Right now, as she chats to us, she tells us how she’s about to embark on a promotional film tour with Red Bull’s latest film, Blood Road.
Rusch didn’t follow the typical trajectory into mountain biking, and she can arguably be called a latecomer to the discipline. ‘Before mountain biking I was doing adventure racing, and spent 10 years leading a team in races that could be anything from 24 hours to 10 days. These were races where I kayaked, ran, had to navigate and bike too − but that was always my weakest discipline,’ she breaks a broad grin, clearly thinking back with humility to how she transitioned at the age of 38 from world-class multi-sport athlete to mountain biker. Now 10 years on, she’s certainly taken to this off-road discipline of cycling, but admits with a smile that it took her some time to get her technical skills up to scratch.
We posed her some questions to try to get to know more about the ‘Queen of Pain’ prior to her upcoming film tour. We started chatting about the project:
On the ‘Blood Road’: ‘Hands down it was the hardest ride I’ve done to date. My father was a fighter pilot who got shot down and killed in action during the Vietnam War when I was a child. And I have always wanted to find out more about the circumstances of his death. This led to the Blood Road, which is a film that follows me as I ride the length of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in search of the crash site of my father’s plane. Physically and emotionally it was harder than anything that I have ever done before.’
On the transition from multi-sport to dominating one sport: ‘Going from 7-day events to one-day events suddenly seemed really short to me. So when I thought about marathon mountain bike racing, I knew I had the endurance even if I lacked the technical skills*. The second race I ever did was the 24hr USA National Championships and this win launched a 10-year cycling career that’s still ongoing. ’
- testament to this is the fact that she stormed to overall victory in her second ever mountain bike race.
On what she loves most about long-distance mountain biking: ‘I’m excited by the distance that you can go on a bike. I find that you get the most reward for going really hard. The bikepacking side of going the distance is super appealing to me. It’s not a new form of riding, but more and more people are discovering it — me included!’
On strength: ‘You need the physical strength to survive, but the mental strength to finish. And that’s where I’ve managed well; I’ve always gravitated towards the longer stuff. Of course, you have to train and have a solid fitness base in order to survive in these races. But no matter how fit you are, the body can be volatile.’
On women’s participation in mountain biking: ‘In the 10 years that I’ve been riding it’s amazing to see the change in participation. In ultra riding it’s a different scenario to other disciplines; here, we all line up together and ride the same distance. Finishing in the top 10 amongst the guys gives exposure and notoriety. It’s a way of expressing to more women that you can line up with these guys, and it’s ok to do so. Five years ago at Sea Otter I launched a bunch of women’s events, and this year there were a ton of other brands doing stuff too so this is brilliant to see.’
On training: ‘Throughout winter it’s all about long training sessions, and just being outside: skiing, hiking, running with the dogs. I learned that there’s no magic wand; you just put in the time on the bike. Yet we all struggle with limited time these days, but if you’ve built up the endurance then a 1-hour interval session is really beneficial. I do a lot more traditional training than you’d expect!’
On suffering in comfort: My first test of the ASSOS shorts was a ride of 450 miles / 724 km, and I set out on this without ever having tried ASSOS products so I was a little sceptical. In the end I rode for 4 days in the same pair of shorts. It was actually a game-changing experience and I finished in complete comfort. I think I realised then that these were shorts that I’ll be wearing for years.;
Everything about Rebecca not only exudes her love for riding, but her passion for live. Sharing her career as an athlete is a the centre of everything that she does. Take the photos used in this post for example, they were take during a trip back to the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos, where 13 invited riders joined Rebecca on a 8 day adventure. The trip was not only about exploring the amazing scenary, but also allowed first hand experience of the scars that the Vietnam War has left on this area. All the riders were raising money for the Mines Advisory Group, a charity that clears unexploded ordnances, still found there. Our words alone can’t really do justice to this work this film does it much better.
To date, Rebecca has raised money to clear over 12,000 square meters of UXO in Laos in her father’s name, a great achievement and just another string to the bow of this amazing athlete.
We want to welcome her to the ASSOS fold and are proud to support such an icon that’s so willing to suffer in comfort for herself as well as others. Inspirational is a word that’s often bandied about but we’re going to put it out there this time.
To find out more about Blood Road, click here.
For more info on ASSOS, click here.
HAVE A GOOD RIDE! Or as Rebecca says ‘Be Good!’
Photos − Todd Meier Photography