Rebecca Rusch: Be Good, Be Vulnerable and Don’t Stop Learning

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Rebecca Rusch’s nickname is the Queen of Pain — for good reason. She has pushed herself to excel at every outdoor adventure imaginable, continuously reimagining what’s possible and leaving her mark on everything from mountain biking and adventure racing to solo pursuits in the Alaskan wilderness.

But it’s not just her world championships, Emmy Award winning movie, or records that inspire so many. Rebecca has found strength in honesty, vulnerability and in listening to an inner voice telling her “to see what’s over the next hill.”

As you’ll find in this feature and podcast, Rebecca is as articulate about building a framework for a personal mission statement as she is talking about training and nutrition for her next adventure.

We get into the business and community she’s building, filming Blood Road, and the impact of the pandemic. She captures the moment perfectly: “Everyone in every country, in every corner of the world, is feeling some kind of stress, and how we manage that is more important now than ever.. I think it’s important that we call our mothers, call friends, and stick together.”

Listen to our podcast with Rebecca Rusch on The Common ThreadsApple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify.

Follow Rebecca on Prokit @rebeccarusch!


Getting Started

Prokit co-founder, David Swain: What did you have for breakfast?

Rebecca Rusch: That’s an easy one. I had rice and eggs with some basil from my garden, coffee, and some beet juice.

 Is beet juice part of every breakfast or just during training season?

I like to drink a few greens, drink some beet juice, and take a probiotic. I try to start the morning with not just 12 cups of coffee, but a glass of water and some good stuff, too. I take a few supplements to start the day off right.

How is your breakfast evolved over the years? 

Eggs, rice and avocado with some amino acids are pretty much my go-to. That’s often my pre-race breakfast. I always have eggs and rice in the fridge, so it’s a really easy, low maintenance breakfast to make. I’ve never been one who can skip breakfast. I always wake up hungry, so that’s a pretty basic go-to that I always have around.

Talk a little bit about the progression of growing up to finding the love of the outdoors.

I found the love of the outdoors as a kid. I grew up in suburban Chicago in a little sleepy town called Downers Grove. It was pretty awesome. I was that kid digging in the dirt and camping out in the backyard. I think I was just born with that spirit of exploring. As a kid, I always wanted to be looking around. 

I have to give credit to my mom because every summer she took us camping and to a lot of the national parks. We’d just pile in the car and head to places like Zion. I credit her with my appreciation of the outdoors and feeding that wanderlust that I was born with.  

I found sport in high school with the cross country running team. It might not seem like running cross country in Chicago was super adventurous, but it was to me. I didn’t really have any athletes in my family and running around in the woods made me feel like a little kid. I still feel that way, decades later. I’ve been a paddler, rock climber, mountain biker, and I still feel like I’m that little girl who wants to see what’s over the next hill. Right now, the bike is the vehicle that I use for that, but the motivation really hasn’t changed. I want to see how far I can go and see what’s out there.

Many elite athletes stick with one sport their whole life. How have you progressed through your sports? Are you constantly looking for the next new thing?

I would say it’s from listening to myself. You can liken it to somebody who has an entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of people choose a career, go to school for it, and stay in that path for the rest of their lives. Entrepreneurs are not that way. I’m not that way. With my sport, it has been an evolution, not because I said, “I’m going to master all these different sports.” It was more because I was listening to my heart and soul and what was popping up at the time. 

There is a common theme of wanting to adventure and explore, whether I’m rock climbing or on a bike. The tool for achieving that goal might be different over the course of my athletic career, but the motivation is still the same. I have always wanted to go places and push myself, and the sports are my teacher. I feel like life is a constant education and when you stop learning and growing, then you’re not really going anywhere anymore. 

I always get asked, “Why did you do so many different sports, and why did you transition so much?” The answer is because I wanted to. I got introduced to climbing when I was working at a health club in Chicago and met a bunch of climbers. I thought it was really interesting. I fell in love with that for a while and lived out of my car as a dirtbag climber. That, in turn, introduced me to paddling, and paddling introduced me to adventure racing. Adventure racing introduced me to mountain biking. It may seem like a really circuitous and unplanned path, but really, each sport was a foundation for the next one. I started as a runner, and I still run, but the bike has become the main tool for exploring. I ski, swim, and do a lot of other things because variety is the spice of life. But I always have that main focus of exploring, feeding my soul, and seeing the outdoors. 

Rebecca Rusch rock climbing

That’s transitioned into being able to share what I’ve learned through sport with other people, and through my foundation, being able to do good things through my sport. It’s been a cool evolution of getting to explore and do all these things myself, but then also to pass them on and share them with people around me.

Honesty in a Pandemic

The whole country has been on some form of lockdown since March. What has been your experience during the pandemic? 

We came off the Iditarod Trail Invitational on March 8. We had been quite isolated, no news or anything while on the trail for eight days. We came out to COVID really blowing up and flew home through Seattle. It was a culture shock to come out of the chosen isolation of the Alaskan wilderness and return to the forced isolation of COVID and lock down. My husband is a full-time firefighter, and I’m a volunteer, so we quickly became immersed in the emergency that was happening locally in our community. We didn’t really get to process what happened on the Iditarod trail because we came right back to this global pandemic and had to get right to work on the frontlines.

Rebecca Rusch with her fat bike at the Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2020
Rebecca and her fat bike at the 2020 Iditarod Trail Invitational

I think we’ve all gone through these different layers during this pandemic. There’s the initial shock, and then denial and anger, and months into it we’re settling into what life is now. There’s obviously a lot of fear about our own personal health, our economic status, the world’s economic status. This has been a really hard time. I’ve reflected a lot on the races that I do. I thought I had been training for races all my life, but now I realize these races have been training me to deal with challenging situations in everyday life. I’m drawing on what I know as an athlete to try to get through the challenge of a global pandemic and health crisis. Things seemed easier on the Iditarod trail at -40 degree temperatures and pushing my bike through the snow than this unknown path now. 

I feel like this is navigating without a map. None of us have ever been here before, and we’re having to draw on whatever life experience we have to help guide us. We’ve had to be creative, business-wise, and pick ourselves up. Not to be super cliche, but we’re all a little bit lost here and trying to get found is challenging. Some of the tools I’m using are asking questions of myself and asking questions of friends, mentors, and people in business who I respect. 

Ultimately, I’m making sure I can control my health and fitness. While it may seem unimportant in this time to go out and ride my bicycle, it has been more important than ever for me and my emotional health. I think you’re seeing that globally. People are finding the outdoors and nature therapy because we need it. The one thing we can take control of is our own personal wellness. That’s more important than it’s ever been in my entire life.

Michelle Obama explained it as our entire society has a low grade depression right now.

We really are in a global depression. Everyone in every country, in every corner of the world, is feeling some kind of stress, and how we manage that is more important now than it’s ever been. One of the blessings is that we are all in this together. I think it’s important that we call our mothers, call friends, and stick together. 

What have you’ve learned about being able to talk about your emotional health?

Professional athletes are expected to have it all figured out. We’re expected to always be strong and go full steam ahead, but humans just don’t operate that way. The first exposure I got to the power of being honest and vulnerable was when I wrote my book, Rusch to Glory, which came out six years ago. I was really honest about being afraid of rock climbing, being a lousy mountain biker, and struggling with an eating disorder. I was honest about everything, and it was cathartic for me to put those words down. What I was surprised by when the book came out was that people really resonated with the vulnerability and with me admitting that I wasn’t perfect. They could see some of that in themselves and that you could be scared or unsure of yourself and still succeed. That was my first realization that being honest with myself and with the world was actually a more powerful position to be in. 

All of a sudden, your superheroes, the people you look up to, are human, and they’re like you. You can take advice from somebody because they have gone down that road. It’s pretty powerful when your heroes become human. It doesn’t make them seem weak or bring them down a level. It actually brings you up. You can say, “I can see myself in there.” Everybody becomes a superhero. 

I think it’s important to be honest, and we’re seeing that more in writing and in social media. People admitting that they’re not perfect is pretty powerful. Instead of me having to keep this strong exterior, I can say, “That was really hard for me.” Then I can ask for advice or ask someone to help me. It’s important that we stick up for each other in that way, whether you’re a pro athlete or whether you’re a mom or a CEO. Being able to lend a hand to somebody and also to be able to raise a hand and ask for help is so important. That’s when our world is going to progress, when we can all play the role of the mentor and the mentee.

Building a Business, Lifting a Community

In the endurance and outdoor sports world, there is no playbook. It’s as much a lesson in entrepreneurship as in being an athlete. You’ve built a foundation, ran your own events, wrote a book, and produced a movie. How have you approached all these things? Have you asked for help from mentors?

At first, I thought I was supposed to have it all figured out. I wasn’t very good at asking for help. I co-wrote my book with Selene Yeager, an amazing writer. Some people told me I should have done it by myself, but she elevated me. I learned writing skills from her, and she kept me on task. We made a great team. It’s the same reason I have an accountant. I’m not good at accounting, so someone helps me with that. Look at any of the most successful people in the world, and they’re not doing it alone. 

As my business has grown, the sheer workload has increased. It’s forced me to ask for help from people and hire people to help me achieve my goals. I’ve got all this stuff I want to do, but I can’t do it alone. For the 24-hour solo mountain bike race, which I did for years and have a few World Championships in, I’m physically riding my bike in a circle for 24 hours, but there’s a whole team helping me. There’s a mechanic, an aid station person, a crew chief, and my coach. Any Olympian will say they didn’t get there alone. I think it’s the same in our world right now. If we don’t ask for help, we’re not necessarily destined to fail, but nobody is perfect at everything. 

The role of an athlete has changed quite a lot. We are expected not only to win races and be at peak physical performance, but we’re also expected to be videographers, photographers, writers, content creators and mentors. It’s so much more than just going out and riding a bicycle. You definitely have to be an entrepreneur if you want to have a long career. You have to be creative and evolve and morph as the world morphs. When I started as an athlete, there wasn’t even social media. Now everyone has to keep up with all of the ways of communication. It’s become an exciting way of keeping us connected, but it’s also a lot of work and it’s hard to do it well.

There’s definitely a lot of weight on the shoulders of not just the athletes, but the nutritionists, coaches, and experts. There are so many different platforms, and there’s pressure to share every day.

There’s so much information in the world. Something like Prokit that’s curating the information and finding the best of the best is going to save everybody time and energy. We couldn’t possibly consume everything that’s out there right now.

You’ve started Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a Facebook group and a new website. There are very personal, meaningful conversations happening in those places, but that puts pressure on you to always be present. How do you structure your day so that it doesn’t become all-consuming?

Rebecca Rusch leading out the participants at the 2019 Rebecca's Private Idaho
@rebeccarusch and the RPI community in 2019

As the business grows, I get help. Anything I’ve launched has been motivated by me thinking about what I need and what I enjoy. That goes for the past Rebecca’s Private Idaho in-person format, as well as Rebecca’s Private Idaho 2020, which is not an in-person format, but a very intimate and very personal training program to execute a challenge. When I first launched Private Idaho eight years ago, I was beginning to explore my own hometown on my bike. I was getting out on gravel roads and finding areas I’d never been in. I wanted to bring the community together to show them these rad dirt roads around where I live. I wanted to explore and get off the beaten track, but I found that was something that other people wanted, too.

Every offering that I’ve served up came first for me listening to my heart and my soul. I found that lot of other people have that same desire to explore, to connect, to have a training goal, and to have a community to reach out to. I wouldn’t say that all the things I’ve done are selfishly motivated, but they generate from a personal need or a personal desire, and then figuring that if I feel this way, other people must too. I want to create an experience where I can meet that need for myself and for other people at the same time. That’s exactly what Private Idaho is about. That’s exactly how the Gold Rush tour I used to do was launched. I had questions about mountain biking. I needed people to teach me and I needed to teach some people. All the things I’ve done have been fueled by a personal need that becomes a community need, and I try to fulfill that together as a group.

The hard part about being an athlete right now is piecing together information in isolation. There’s so much content out there and so many people. It’s hard to find the community and the content you can trust. It’s really cool to see what you’ve done with your Facebook group. 

As a pro athlete, I have access to all these great people. It’s been so fun to bring a coach, a nutritionist, a mobility expert, a PT, and a brain neurologist to the regular cyclists. I feel really special that I get access to those people and that I can ask all kinds of questions. It’s so awesome to be able to let anyone ask those questions. 

I love when people share their highs and lows with the group. Then I share my highs and lows, and all of a sudden we’re a team. We’re not physically together, and we don’t even really know each other, but you don’t feel so alone. You know someone else is going through this, too.

Adventure racing is about leadership and the team and managing people through their highs and lows. What have you learned about leadership and having empathy for your teammates?

For those who aren’t familiar, adventure racing involves multi-day, multi-sport, 1000-mile expeditions with teams of four. Each team typically has just one female because the teams have to be co-ed. You’re going nonstop with very little sleep for a week to 10 days. There’s swimming, riding horses, you’re on foot, navigating. For me, those 10 years of adventure racing were like my master’s degree in human dynamics and how a team functions. You can imagine when you’re lost, you’re tired, you’re cold, you’re pissed off, you’re hungry, your true self really emerges. You’ve got to stick together as a team, so you’ve got to help each other.

Rebecca Rusch adventure racing in white water

Most of us are pretty good at giving help and lending a hand if somebody’s struggling. Many of us are not good about asking for help. On these teams, I was the only woman. The big, strapping 200-pound guy who’s tired on day seven would have a very hard time with me saying, “I’m feeling good. Can I take your pack for a while?” That’s a hard position to be in when you’re supposed to be the strong one. I learned a lot about what motivates people when they’re down. Some people are motivated by tough love. Some people are motivated by a hug. Some people want to be left alone. Some people want a diversion, jokes, stories or talking. I learned a lot about myself and what motivates me, but also about what motivates other people and how different we are. Some of my male teammates thought that yelling would motivate me, and I’m absolutely not that kind of person. That wasn’t working for me.

I had one really powerful experience during a race we did in Tibet. We were up around 18,000 feet, and I was struggling with pulmonary edema. I was basically on hands and knees, trying to crawl down to get some air into my lungs. Three out of my four teammates were way ahead saying, “You can do it. Come on, suck it up.” One of my teammates, Patrick, we’re still friends for life. He came back, and all he said to me was, “If you need to stop, I’ll stop with you.” That was all I needed, for somebody to say it’s okay to quit. I didn’t quit, and that actually got me up off my knees and pushed me forward. He let me know he was with me, no matter what I decided to do. That was such a powerful experience. I’ll never forget it. 

I have had such great lessons in teamwork. People will ask all the time, “Why do you keep doing these super long things?” Honestly, it’s because the trail is my teacher. I learn and evolve on these really long expeditions where I’m physically depleted. I find that that’s where my heart and soul comes to the surface. I learn who I am, and I’m continually learning. So when people ask when I’ll stop doing all this stuff, the answer is never. Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I’m still learning about myself on the trail. 

A Personal Mission Statement

I think a lot of people right now could benefit from going through a listening exercise or a journaling exercise to find their “why.” Maybe it’s changed with the world changing around us, but what are some things you’ve learned about how to find your why?

It does change. That’s the first thing I say to people. I’m a good example of having motivation and how it changes. It’s important to sit, reflect, and go through a process. The first time I really did that was after riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail. That was the biggest expedition of my life to find the place where my father died during the Vietnam War. I came home and wondered, “What now? What does this all mean? Is my competitive spirit gone?” I spent a couple years really processing what that ride was all about because it was quite heavy. I came home finding out a bunch of things, but also feeling a little bit lost because for years, I was a racer. It was the first time in my life that I explored my why. 

Rebecca Rusch in Vietnam filming Blood Road

As for the process, I thought about all of the pivotal moments in my life, good and bad. I wrote them down and thought about the similarities and patterns between each of them. This was a two year process, but I was able to piece together and articulate rules that I live by and create a mission statement. That has become my guiding principle and my why. Any business you work for will have a mission statement, what they stand for, but very few people have that for themselves. That was the exercise I did for myself. My business is tied to who I am, so it has helped serve me in my work as well. But personally, I can just go back to my mission statement and ask, “Why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard?” It’s helpful on days that are really challenging.

I would encourage people to go through the practice and build their own personal mission statement. History is our greatest teacher, so look back and find the things you’ve done that have been awesome. What were the patterns? Or look at the things that you’ve done that weren’t so awesome, and find those patterns. Then build a mission statement and your why.

I talked to a friend of mine, after I did an interview with @katecourtney and Amber Neben on defining your why. My friend didn’t think her why for riding was a good one. I asked her what it was, and she said, “I just feel better as a person when I ride. I feel like I’m a better mom, and I’m better at my job.” That’s the best why ever. It’s plenty big enough. She was focusing on all the things she wasn’t doing, but being a good person, feeling good and being a good mom is a really important why. 

Your why doesn’t have to be some global, “save the world” statement. If each individual person was the best version of themselves, then we wouldn’t need to save the world. We’d be doing it ourselves, one by one. That is a big part of why I work as hard as I do with my business and with RPI challenge. I believe when people take control of their physical and emotional health, they are the best version of themselves, and that has a snowball effect on all the people around them.

Tell us more about your mission statement.

It’s laid out in a series of equations and then the mission statement. My rules of engagement, of sorts, are: risk equals reward; passion equals payoff; give equals get; less equals more. My actual mission statement is: To continually inspire and challenge myself and others to be good. “Be good” are the words that my dad wrote in all of his letters home from the Vietnam War. Those two simple words have become the name of my foundation and the short version of my mission statement: be good.

It took years of really thinking about it, writing it down, and distilling it. A big concept is hard to put down in five words. It’s a process. Now I can go back to it, and when I’m lost, because we’re always lost, that is basically my trail map.

Talk about “less is more” and what that means to you.

That was the fourth rule I added in after the Blood Road film tour. I was touring around, sharing a super powerful film, and total strangers in tears were coming up to hug me. Families were healing from seeing the film, but I was sacrificing my own personal health and wellness by giving so much to everybody. You see it a lot in nonprofit executive directors. There’s burnout if you give too much of yourself. I came up with “less is more” because I want to do all these great things. I have all these ideas that I want to share with everybody, but not at the expense of my own personal health and wellbeing, or at the expense of my family and time with my husband and my dogs. 

I had a realization after the film tour that I was giving too much away and that I had to spend some time rejuvenating and rebuilding myself, so that I could give back. It’s just like a training program where you take rest days. If you work hard every day, you burn out. So “less is more” is really about the rest and rejuvenation that I need personally. I can’t do it all, and I have to choose the things I’m going to do. I have to say no to some things. Saying no is really hard for me, but I found I was eroding other parts of my world that I know my dad wouldn’t have wanted me to do. I didn’t want to sacrifice myself to give back to other people. I had to find a different kind of balance there.

Looking to the Future

When you apply your mission to your personal goals across sport and the community that you’re building, what’s on the horizon?

I know that what’s on the horizon is being active, being outdoors, sharing what I know with other people and continuing to build the foundation. Ultimately, that’s my mission statement, to continually challenge and inspire myself and other people to be good. There has to be those two parts of the equation, me and other people. If it’s just me, and I’m doing all this cool stuff, it’s just not that great. We all know it’s a lot more fun to share something with other people and to celebrate something with other people. On the flip side, if I’m only giving to other people and not feeding myself, the equation doesn’t work either. 

I’m really excited about the prospect of this new format for RPI. It’s an online community where people can come together and build a ride wherever they are that mimics Private Idaho. I’m excited about what’s happening and how it’s bringing people together. When we can finally get back together for large group events, I’m really excited at the prospect of RPI being an in-person event and a global event. We can have this online program running at the same time and reach even more people and have an even bigger community. I was pushed during COVID to design this new way of having an event, but I feel like it will mesh really nicely with in-person events when we can have those in the future. 

There’s probably another book in my head. I need to read my first book and get it on audio version. I also have some fun bikepacking goals, and I have signed back up for the Iditarod thousand mile. I’ve only done the 350 mile in Alaska. So if that can happen in 2021, I will attempt to complete that. I have some big expedition goals.

You’ve talked about how you’re not a big fan of the cold. Signing up for 1000 miles in -20 degrees is bold. 

It is bold. For me, being in a cold environment really scares me. I realized I hadn’t been committed and scared in a number of years, and I needed to do that “risk equals reward.” I hadn’t done anything since Blood Road that felt risky and committing. Like I said, with adventure racing, when you’re committed to something, you rise to the occasion. That’s where we are with COVID, as well. People are rising to the occasion and redesigning their businesses to find a way to make it work. 

When is Rebecca’s Private Idaho challenge?

Depending on what ride distance you do, the global ride challenges will be on September 4, 5 and 6. Registration is open, and we have about a month left of training and preparing. You can sign up at Rebeccas Private Idaho. There are tools on there to design your route, and you can connect to the community. RPI has always been a fundraiser through the Be Good Foundation, but the super exciting thing this year is that all of the RPI fundraising efforts will go  towards programs that are increasing diversity, inclusion and equity in the cycling industry. We partnered with some really cool organizations that are getting more people on bikes who didn’t have access to them before. 

Thoughts on a Changing Sport

Many outdoor events and adventures become popular and evolve, but people try to hold on to what they were in the beginning. What are the common threads of these new kinds of outdoor adventures? Are you more on the side of holding on to what keeps them pure or letting them evolve?

Gravel, in particular, started as more exploring, getting off the beaten path, and a little less structured than typical road racing. Most of the events still feed that exploratory feeling, but there’s an explosion where thousands of people are coming to gravel races. Pro roadies are coming over, and now UCI is sniffing around. People wonder what’s going to happen to gravel. 

Rebecca Rusch on her gravel bike in Idaho
Rebecca Rusch riding her hometown Idaho gravel

I have a couple thoughts on this. When new people get involved, it’s up to those of us who are here to educate them. There’s a ton of new trail users, new cyclists, and hikers, and a lot of people don’t really know the etiquette or what they’re doing. I came across somebody the other day and had a trail altercation. I got yelled at and told that hikers have the right-of-way. We stood there, six feet apart, and had a conversation. I educated this person on typical trail etiquette, that if somebody’s riding uphill, they have the right-of-way. I could have just ridden by and gotten all pissed at that person, but I think we do have a responsibility as new users arrive. They have a responsibility to learn the party that they’re coming into, to join a local trail organization, or the local IMBA group. There are going to be more people out camping and doing everything, so we might as well give them the tools to do it properly. 

Gravel is the same way. When Ted King started coming into gravel, he called me up, and we had conversations about how it should work. Should he wear a hydration pack? What is the scene? I really appreciated that he asked, instead of just coming into the party as a roadie, and assuming it was going to be roadracing. He asked questions. He’s an example of somebody who has come into a new genre of cycling that he was excited about, and he didn’t try to change it. He now has his own event and he’s designed what he calls “mullet protocol” which is amazing. You can race it in the front, and there’s a party in the back. As long as people know that’s what they’re coming into, then there’s no confusion. 

I’m excited about the growth of cycling. I’m also excited that, with gravel, I have the right, the authority, and the power to make my event however I want my event to be. There’s a different landscape at each race. Each one has a different personality. If somebody wants a more racy aspect of a race, they can go to one that suits those needs. If somebody wants a little more exploration, maybe a little bit rougher trail or some mountain bike signal track, you can come to Private Idaho. People can choose. It’s just like choosing what restaurant you want to go to. It’s all food and you’re all eating it, but it’s a very different experience if you go to McDonald’s versus going to eat at a French bistro. That’s the best way that I can describe it. Each event has a personality, and I think that’s great. As long as the rules of engagement are clearly defined, and as long as the people coming in adhere to the rules.

Bikepacking is the same way. There’s a lot of people exploring on their bikes and adventuring. They’re asking questions, and there’s some great resources like bikepacking routes and other things. The common theme with all these types of cycling is that people want to go exploring and they want to get off the beaten path. I think that that’s amazing. If they need a little education on what to carry, how to use a Garmin, or how to navigate, I’m happy to help share what I know to get people out there. That’s part of what RPI is about. It’s part of what Rusch Academy is about. Give people the tools to go out and safely and happily have their own adventures.

Rebecca’s Kit to Be Good

Let’s talk about the things in your mental, emotional, and physical kit that keep you striving to reach your potential. Specifically with training, if people are trying to go up a level or get into a new sport, what are some of the things that are foundational to you?

On the training side, it’s consistency, one hundred percent. If you get your butt out the door five days a week, and just be consistent, that’s going to go a long way. It’s better than cramming it all in on the weekend, or having one huge 10-hour ride and then not doing anything for the rest of the week. Even if you go 45 minutes a day, or a half-hour a day, be consistent and do something. That’s going to go a long way towards not only increasing fitness, but also lifelong health, wellness and longevity.  

The second thing I’d say is important is forgiveness. If you miss a day, it’s all right. Even as a pro athlete with a coach and a training schedule, I probably hit about 80% of what my coach asks me to do, sometimes less. I rarely hit 100%. We’re just not perfect. People are not perfect. Forgive yourself if you missed a day. Tomorrow’s a new day, and you can start fresh every day.

On the longevity side, are there things you’ve learned or incorporated that have allowed you to keep going?

People underestimate rest and sleep. That’s your magic pill – sleeping better. That might mean getting an eye mask, a great mattress, or turning off screens after dinner. People are always looking for what supplements they can take that will make them faster or help them feel better. Sleep is that supplement you can add to your life. It really is the magic pill. I’m 51, and I just had a PR Trail Creek hill climb and bested my time from 2013. I’m living proof that you should rest better, be consistent, and not let stretching and mobility slide.

Do you incorporate strength training throughout the year?

My strength training regime is moving things that need to be moved. Instead of moving a lot of weights around the gym, I’m at the fire department, I chop wood, and I garden a bunch. I have some equipment at home, but I believe in pull-ups and push-ups, chopping some wood every once in a while, and moving some furniture. Those things go a long way. It’s functional mobility and strength. Instead of doing 100 bicep curls, could you pull somebody out of a burning building, or could you do something that needed doing? That’s kind of the best way I can explain it. Get some logs, get an axe, and get a fire pit. Chopping wood is actually really good exercise. I also do a lot of different sports. I cross country ski in the winter, so I’m getting a lot of upper body strength from polling.

Rebecca Rusch chopping wood in Idaho
@rebeccarusch getting strong with her axe

On the mind side, are there things you do as part of a daily practice?

I’m a big fan of Headspace. I discovered it after Blood Road. I’d never really tried meditation. I basically would just fall asleep. What I really like about the Headspace app is that it makes it really easy. I can select five minutes a day and just spend time sitting. It’s guided, and it does calm my mind. What I find now is that I can access the breathing or techniques if I’m stressed in the line at the grocery store, or when I’m out on a bike ride. It’s not just those 10 minutes of sitting still and being quiet, it actually does carry over into my everyday life. I feel like there’s been a real calming effect for me with getting to know my body through meditation. Again, I’m not perfect, I don’t do it every day, but it has been a really cool tool that I enjoy.

Have your views changed on nutrition over the years?

Nutrition has morphed. When I was adventure racing, I used to believe that I could eat whatever I wanted because I was doing so many miles a day. I was a big fan of Cheetos and Swedish Fish. I’ve definitely evolved my nutrition program. I believe if you put garbage in, you’re going to get garbage energy out. We eat a lot less processed food or packaged food. My husband is a hunter, so all of our meat is organic. I’m growing a garden, and I make bread. A lot of people are getting into that stuff. It’s so easy to make good choices even if you don’t have your own garden. I make a lot more smoothies for breakfast. That’s an easy way to mix in greens, beets, and all those kinds of foods. I try to drink more water. I’m not very good at drinking enough water. That would probably be the second magic pill after sleep that I would recommend. It’s your filtration system and does a lot of good things.

For gear, what’s the thing that you would focus on when it comes to the bike?

A lot of times new athletes don’t think they deserve a really nice carbon bike, for example, or high-end drivetrain. I would recommend purchasing the best equipment you can afford because the equipment really does make a difference. I’d love to say it’s not all about the machine, but you’re going to have a much better experience if you’re on a well-built, lighter bicycle that fits you. Fit is super important. I made this mistake early on, and bought a bike from somebody that seemed like a good bike, but it didn’t fit me. I didn’t have a good experience learning to mountain bike. When I got on a bike that fit me, it was a lot easier. I would encourage people to invest in the best equipment possible. 

If you’re going out adventuring, think about getting a Garmin, a navigational device, and learning how to use it. It’s such a powerful tool to know where you’re going. Imagine if you’re riding in a car with somebody, and you’re the passenger. You’re just looking out the window, and that’s fine. But if you’re in the driver’s seat, you can say, “I’m going to show you where we’re going.” That knowledge is so much power. I would encourage people to educate themselves about their bikes, about where they’re going, and about trail maintenance. There’s so much power in knowing how your equipment works and feeling like you’ve got a handle on it.

Rebecca Rusch at the Iditarod in 2019
@rebeccarusch putting her gear to the limits at the Iditarod in 2019

Tire pressure: Have you found the secret?

Tire pressure is probably the number one thing that can affect ride quality, And it’s probably the biggest thing that people make a mistake on. Most people run too high of a tire pressure and it makes for a really rough ride. ENVE composites has a great graph of tire pressure. It takes into account the width of the rim, the width of the tire and the body weight of the rider. You can just go through that graph and start with the pressure it suggests. If you’re not checking your tire pressure, or if you couldn’t say what your psi is, that would be the first place to start with whatever equipment you have. You don’t have to have ENVE wheels to use their chart. 

Enve tire pressure chart
Enve gravel tire pressure chart

What are you reading, watching, listening to?

I’ve been watching Queer Eye lately. It makes me laugh and cry. It’s actually an interesting social experiment, so that’s been fun to watch. I’ve been listening to a lot of Tool. There’s a really good song, “Invincible,” on their Fear Inoculum album. If any athlete out there hasn’t heard that song, it’s worth a listen. As for reading, I don’t have a book on my bed stand right now, but I need one. I made a commitment to stop looking at screens after dinner to help with my sleep. 

Where can people find you? 

At my website, my social handles @ rebeccarusch, and I’m on Prokit @rebeccarusch

📸 courtesy of Rebecca Rusch

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