Mind of a Champion: Rebecca Rusch
I had a chance to interview Rebecca Rusch again after her second victory in the Leadville 100 Race. In last year’s Leadville 100 she won the women’s division and shared the podium with the men’s winner, Lance Armstrong (read more about the 2009 race) and it was dramatically documented in the film Race Across the Sky. This year, although racers were blessed with better weather conditions, Rebecca had some serious competition as she raced against Amanda Carey. Finally, Rebecca had a definite goal: she wanted to break the women’s course record this year. The filmmakers were back, and this year, Rebecca was on their radar. She became one of the main focuses of Race Across the Sky 2010 documentary (see below.)
Was the Leadville 100 Race your main focus this year?
Leadville was 100% the focus for this year, which was interesting to put all my eggs in that one basket. You could get sick or hurt and then you’re saying, “Oh! That didn’t work out!” But it went great, like clock-work. In the beginning of the season I was actually a little worried, I had some physical problems; I had low energy and, in the end, it involved putting it all into place on the right day. It was a big highlight!
Last year, I just went in without knowing anything, it hadn’t been the primary focus for the whole year, I didn’t know the course. I just kind of went in and winged it. This year I came back and I went there early; I rode a bunch of the course, and timed the climbs, I brought my boyfriend with me. He rode his motorcycle so he was doing all my personal feeds, we worked all that out with a musette bag so I didn’t have to stop or get off the bike.
I really kind of dialed in a lot of those tactics thinking of the minutes saved. I was for sure focusing on breaking the record, I focused on the minutes and it helped just knowing the course. Whereas last year, I’d be thinking, “Oh, I wonder how long this is? I wonder how long this is going to take me?”
Knowledge is power and this year I was much more able to race it. I made it my race because I had educated myself. I definitely went really, really hard. People said:”Oh Amanda was never even close, it looks like it was easy for you.” But I was way more tired than last year and ended up with a lot of cramping during the last ten miles of the course and I couldn’t even raise my hands as I finished. I had put it all on the course, even though she wasn’t right with me; I wanted to get that record.
How much did you break the record by? (Rebecca came in at 7:47 this year)
By 11 minutes. It’s a lot, but it’s not a lot. So I was still racing, racing, racing toward the last straightaway.
How is the support handled at Leadville?
There are four supported stations that are for everyone –you can have friends and family there and they have a couple neutral aid stations with Gatorade and whatever else they have there. At the Twin Lakes station there are hundreds of people there for their families, cheering on the riders, handing out food to them and extra bike parts. That’s totally legal so I prepared for that. I was watching the movie from last year and I saw Lance and all those guys do musette bags; it was road tactics. I thought “Oh!” because nobody does that in mountain bike racing. This year I decided to practice it; I wanted to try it. I’d never done a musette bag and I feared it would get caught in the spokes or I thought I might not be able to get it over my head while I’m tired. I was worried I might not be able to do it. So we practiced that the day before until I knew I could do it. I really trust Greg. So (at the aid stations) I didn’t stop. I just rode straight through and grabbed it perfectly. It was cool—a musette bag is great!
Aid stations are such a big boost during the race. There are so many people there and they are all cheering for you, yelling your name and it’s kind of the closest thing to Tour de France for a mountain bike race. It really gets you pumped! Normally in a mountain bike race, you are out there by yourself; you are so in your own head. There’s no one around except maybe the racers, whereas here everyone is cheering all the racers. It’s really cool!
Last year, you were with a bunch of guys in a group, working together during the race. Did you race that way this year as well?
For the first 40 miles I tried to go out faster, trying to break Amanda away from me. We ended up in this little group of about 3 or 4 guys and then the two of us. I have to say, I was doing a lot of pulling and the group was kind of sitting on me a little bit. I was thinking, “I’ve got to get rid of these people.” By Columbine, I’d broken away and was on my own for the last 60 miles.
Do you have some advice for how you play the mental game in a cycling race? Or do you just zone out or ’space out’ during the ride?
Sometimes I just space out during a ride, and at other times , such as in 24-hour racing, really long stuff, I’m doing math. I’m converting kilometers to miles and just preoccupying myself, but in a race like Leadville, I’m pretty focused the whole time. Eight hours seems like a long time to stay 100% race focused but I find it best to break it down into little segments, so I knew the first climb was twenty minutes so I thought “I’m going to push really hard for 20 minutes trying to get away from Amanda. And then, okay, relax on this downhill; I can get away from her.”
Then I know the next hill is 30 minutes. So I break it into these little segments so when I was on a breakaway on the Columbine climb, it was like a little time trial for me, an hour-something long climb. During the climb, I was looking at my odometer and trying to keep my miles-per-hour above a certain number. So if I’d drop down about .1, I’d be thinking I’ve got to keep it up, at 8-miles-per-hour or whatever the number was. By playing those little games, it would break it into segments. If I’m just out there thinking “I’ve got 8 hours to hammer, then (laughs) it doesn’t work!” It becomes: hard-easy-hard. I also pick other targets: other guys or people who are racing me. They may not be in my category, but I try to stick with them.
What will you be doing the rest of the year?
I have one more race in November: La Ruta. It’s a super hard race, but it’s not high pressure. (La Ruta de Los Conquistadores is a 4-day mountain bike stage race which traverses Costa Rica from the west coast to the east on the Caribbean and takes cyclists from a hot humid tropical climate and into very cold high mountain temperatures.) Over the winter,I really like to stay home when I can. I just want to keep in shape, not get too fat. I’ll ski all winter (in 2008 she was the Masters Cross Country Skiing World Champion) and then go to Arizona and South America for a little bit for some bike training, but mostly I don’t ride very much in the winter because I can’t here (in Sun Valley, Idaho).
On Thursday, November 4th, Race Across the Sky will premier simultaneously in more than 500 theaters around the nation. Click here to see a list of theaters that will be screening the premiere event. There will also be an encore showing on Tuesday, November 9th. Prior to the movie’s premier, you’ll get to watch a live athletes’ panel discussion where Rebecca will join Leadville Trail 100 2010 Men’s Champ Levi Leipheimer, and famous blind adventurer Eric Weihenmaer who rode this year’s Leadville on a tandem, Olympic cyclist Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, and the six-time Leadville Trail 100 champion Dave Wiens and other top racers. (Last year, the live panel only included the male riders.)