Queen of Pain in the Holy Land- One on One interview with Rebecca Rusch

 Noa Luria   
Queen of Pain in the Holy Land
One on One interview with Rebecca Rusch

Photos: Brian Lipstick, Corey Rich, Yoav Lavi, Almog Halili
This October was particularly exciting. Just being registered for Epic Israel is enough to provide unreasonable amounts of excitement, so then to suddenly learn that Rebecca Rusch is coming over to compete? Who would have believed it?
For those who've been sleeping the last decade or so, Rebecca Rusch, 47, is a living legend of ultra-endurance with a long and very exhausting list of world championships, outstanding achievements and victories in XC, marathon, 24-hour, multi-stage, bike-packing, and everything else difficult and extreme. Her deep career earned her the nickname Queen of Pain and huge amounts of fame. She is an ambassador for Niner and Red Bull and even has her own gravel race, in her backyard in Idaho. In addition to all that, she's a part-time firefighter.
Rebecca entered Epic Israel in a women’s team with Selene Yeager, who herself is a fascinating personality: in addition to being a very, very strong rider, she is also a fitness, health and nutrition guru with a sharp pen and highly recommended writing. Selene is the co-author of Rusch to Glory, which documents Rebecca’s formidable career.

It was fun to see Selene and Rebecca liven up the women's podium at Epic Israel, and even more fun to get an invite for a day-ride with the foreign riders and journalists. The ride, which was organized by Nimi Cohen (Mountain Goat) and Eran Gil-Bar (Recycles / Niner), had to be relocated due to “the situation” from The Sugar Trail to Adulam-Kanim Trail, which received us in awesome condition. I did my best to utilize the last remnants of the remainder of what was left in my legs two days after the Epic, so I could ride alongside Rebecca and harass her with various questions, mainly in the field that interests me and is somehow common for both of us – promoting women in MTB.

How did Epic Israel go for you? Was it different from what you'd expected? What were the special challenges for you?
I didn't really know what to expect from riding in Israel. I was pleasantly surprised with the organization of the event and also the great riding. I had no idea there was such great mountain biking there and a really big and thriving cycling community.
The challenges for the race were the long travel, the heat and, of course, just the unknown of traveling to a new area. However, once we got there, I felt at home among other mountain bikers. I find that no matter where I go in the world, cyclists are a family and all share very similar motivations.
On her Facebook page, Rebecca wrote that she had stomach issues for all three days and was certainly not at her best. “What my mind wanted to do and what my body was able to do were two different things. It’s frustrating when the motivation is there, but the body doesn’t cooperate. I had to rely on lots of brain tricks and motivation to dig deep and finish with a good attitude“.


This is your second team race with Selene. Could you tell us a bit about the choice to ride on a women's team as opposed to a mixed one.
When I can, I love riding as a women's team.  A big reason for this is to promote more women getting involved in cycling.  It's important for me to show women that anyone can mountain bike and anyone can race. I've raced on mixed teams before and I love both. The most important factor is finding a teammate who shares the same goals as you and who you like spending time with.



You started professional mountainbiking only later in your career, at the age of 38 and this was after being a competitive athlete in a variety of disciplines: Rafting, Climbing, Outrigger Canoe and more. In your book you say MTB wasn't your strongest discipline. What made you go for it? When and why did you start feeling differently about it?
I started mountain bike racing only because my strength has always been endurance, no matter what sport. Going long is what I'm good at. Even though mountain biking was my worst discipline, 24 hour solo racing was really popular and that was the longest type of racing I could find. I transitioned to this sport from doing Adventure Racing, where the races were often a week long (and combine XC running, rappelling, paddling and more – NL).  I decided to focus on it and get better at riding.  I started to love mountain biking once I got a little better at the skills and realized how much I could see of the world from my mountain bike. It's the best tool for traveling and exploring.

In your training rides, how much time do you devote to technical training? Do you feel you’re still learning?
I often try to go for rides where the downhill sections are technical and challenging enough to serve as training for me. I learned a lot from my partner who is also a strong competitive rider and I am still learning. I have no doubt that it is possible to learn and advance at any age”.
I asked this question after riding the first single track section of the course, the nice one that descends from Shukha Hill with lots of rocks and switchbacks. When I realized that Rebecca is “sitting on me” I offered her to go in front. Her response stunned me a bit, 'No, no, go on, you pick good lines! ". I admit I had to pinch myself, just to make sure I’m awake.



You teach women's clinics. Why do you it and what do you love about it?
I started the SRAM Gold Rusch tour 5 years ago. These are all women's events and they are free. I launched the Tour because I could see my own barriers to cycling, such as intimidation with the equipment, lack of skill, no friends to ride with. I knew if I was experiencing these things, so were other women. I found cycling later in life and fell in love with it.  I wanted to open the door for more women to fall in love with cycling, so the Tour events just provide opportunity and education for more women and girls to get involved.
Do you find that women face different challenges to men? 
I think the biggest challenge women face when getting involved with cycling is just finding other women to ride with and a community to join.  Women are social and like to learn in groups.  Once you provide that, they will take off and fall in love with the sport like I did. 
What are your challenges as a teacher/mentor?
The biggest challenge for me as a teacher/mentor is that I can only be in one place at a time. That's why I always encourage other women, other athletes to start cycling clubs, bring a girlfriend riding and to continue to grow the community in their area too.


Do you think it's important to push and promote women to participate in races? Why?
Of course. My answer is "why not?" Racing allows you to push yourself harder than you would alone and more importantly, you become part of the cycling community. You don't need to be going for the win to really benefit from everything that racing offers.

What do you think about women-only events?
I think these are a good way for women to get involved without feeling intimidated.  I find that once women get started in a relaxed atmosphere, they easily move to co-ed events and have no problem riding with and racing with guys.

And finally... What is your next challenge?
My next challenge: promoting my book Rusch to Glory. Writing it has been the hardest challenge of my life, so I'm drawing on my own racing lessons to keep pushing ahead and get the book out to as many people as possible.
Athletic goals:  the Colorado Trail Race and other ultra-endurance bikepacking adventures are what seem to be motivating me right now. I think it's important to follow your passions and do events that are exciting for you. There are so many good cycling events in the world that sometimes it's really hard to choose.


Before we parted, Rebecca gave me a copy of her book and at the time of writing this column, I’m still reading it. It is a fascinating book, flowing and full of amazing stories. The most surprising thing is to find that this strong figure, who is so used to standing on podiums and traveling all over the world as a professional athlete, started out as an asthmatic girl with a problematic body image and eating disorders. I have a feeling this book will give me a lot more inspiration and food for thought, and maybe even power to pass over some obstacles. I hope it will do the same for other women riders. My personal inscription reads: Thanks for making a difference.
So no, Rebecca. Thank you.