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Interview With Subaru-Trek Rider Heather Irmiger

Posted by: Matt Williams |July 16, 2012 11:53 PM
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Subaru-Trek rider Heather Irmiger has been a dominant force in American mountain bike racing for years, winning several national titles and posting notable international results. This season Irmiger set her sights on the Olympic Games in London—and while she didn’t earn an automatic selection, her consistent riding this spring means she shouldn’t be counted out yet.

The US Olympic team roster won’t be announced until the end of the week, but Irmiger was kind enough to check in with MTBRacenews.com recently to talk about her spring Olympic campaign, the challenges of being a professional racer, and what’s next for her this season.


MTBRacenews.com: What were you up to this off-season? To what extent did the Olympic chase shape what you did over the winter and spring?

Heather Irmiger: This past off-season was one of the shortest of my career!  It lasted only 2 weeks because I actually ended up racing pretty late and started training for 2012 earlier - in the name of training for the Olympic chase.  After representing Team USA at the Pan American Games (a Pan American version of the Olympics involving multiple sports and athletes) in October I continued to train through the first week of November for the Iceman Cometh in Northern Michigan.  The break after this race was fairly short since the Olympic selection races for London began in mid-March.  I spent much of the winter and spring doing local cyclo-cross races and backcountry skiing when the weather was bad.  I spent 3 weeks of February in Maui training hard before flying straight to our first ProXCT in Texas.  All of this riding was mixed in with my hot yoga practice and MetabolicEffect resistance training program.

MTBRacenews.com: The Olympic chase is over now, but the team won’t be announced until June. Do you think you have a shot at making the team?

Heather Irmiger: One of the two spots awarded to the women was certainly earned by Georgia Gould after podium-level performance this last Europe trip, leaving one spot that will be filled by someone chosen by a selection committee.  While my spring World Cup campaign did not go as planned, since the committee will base their decision on a combination of other factors, I'm keeping the foot to the pedal and not placing any bets before June 15th! 

MTBRacenews.com: How do you arrange your training during the limbo period between now and when the Olympic team is announced? Is it still based around London or are you beginning to focus on other goals?

Heather Irmiger: Fortunately, the way the race schedule came together this season, my training during this limbo period is the same regardless of the Olympic outcome.  Planning a first peak for the Spring World Cups, followed by a short period of down time (right now), with a second ramp up in training for a second peak has fit in well.  Since the Olympic Games is only one race of many more left this season my primary goal is just to have the best races in July and August.  The current 2-3 week period of being home, riding with friends and keeping sharp with great local events has always been a key component to my 2012 approach.

MTBRacenews.com: Other than the Olympics, which race would you most like to win this year and why?

Heather Irmiger: A win at the National Championships is high up there. I love the patriotism that a National Title brings - it's something everyone can relate to. 

MTBRacenews.com: What’s it like to have a husband who is a fellow pro mountain biker and teammate? Do you train together? Does it make things easier? Harder?

Heather Irmiger: Working side by side with your spouse comes with some challenges - particularly when we're both cranky from a heavy training load or long travel day!  But, for me, having Jeremy as a teammate and business partner mostly makes things easier.  Being a professional athlete comes with many behind-the-scenes hardships that can be difficult to explain to other people.  Having a spouse that fully understands what you're going through and who supports you is so important to maintaining success and bouncing back from the difficult moments.  Of course, their enthusiasm during the best moments really adds to the energy as well!  As for training - we do often ride together, but usually for only parts of the ride.  Often times, Jeremy and I will start together with an the unspoken understanding that when I can no longer keep up, we'll just see each other at home.  The only times we ride together for the whole ride are on "just for fun" training days or when we're riding in a foreign place...I have ZERO sense of direction and get turned around far too easily.

MTBRacenews.com: You, and Jeremy for that matter, have been on Subaru-Trek (formerly Subaru-Gary Fisher) for quite a few years now. Has that stability in terms of sponsorship helped your racing? How So?

Heather Irmiger: Absolutely!  The relationship between athlete and sponsor goes far beyond having your expenses covered and getting free stuff.  The Subaru/Trek team is my second family and a huge support system - not just financially but emotionally.  This sport has so many highs and lows, you just won't succeed without consistent and reliable support from your friends and family - there has to be a shared goal of success.  Having a team that understands that you're not a machine, but a human being with exceptional talents, is a necessity - knowing they will stand by you and see your value at all times is huge.  There is no way I would be where I am today or would have achieved what I have achieved without this stable relationship...which should really be called my love and support system. 

MTBRacenews.com: Stage racing seems to be getting bigger and bigger in the US. Do you have any desire to do a stage race or another long distance event after this season?

Heather Irmiger: After winning two Marathon National Titles, I have found myself racing in more 50 mile events these past few seasons and it's a distance I actually do enjoy.  I must admit, though, that being on my bike much longer than 4 hours a day makes me super cranky, and I don't like being cranky!  It's not necessarily a desire of mine to get beyond that 50-mile or 100km race distance.  If it were the right combination of stage distances and days raced I would certainly be interested in stage racing.  I think a race like the Breck Epic, in Colorado, would be a cool one to try.  In general, my goal EVERY season is to race QUALITY events regardless of their genre.  The mountain bike race community is so incredible, so I'd like to keep my cross-country racing skill-set flexible so I don't miss out on any opportunities to meet great people and race sweet trails.

MTBRacenews.com: Do you do most of your training on the mountain bike, or do you work in a lot of road riding as well?

Heather Irmiger: This answer depends on the time of year...in the early, pre-season months I usually spend most of my time on the road bike because the trails in Boulder are generally too snowed in.  If it's been a mild, dry winter, I'll get out on my mountain bike as often as possible.  A lot of the training around Boulder is a combination of roads and trails so, when snow isn't a factor, I spend almost 100% of my time on my mountain bike but not necessarily all of it on trail. 

MTBRacenews.com: What do you see as the biggest differences between men’s and women’s racing at the professional level? Or are the differences minor?

Heather Irmiger: Men and women race on the exact same course which is a characteristic unique to mountain biking (compared to road cycling).  I think the fact that the women are tackling the same features as the men legitimizes our racing in the eyes of our fans and supporters.  Other than some difference in how men and women tackle a certain obstacle, I think the only major difference between men's and women's racing is field size.  The top racers in both fields are talented, fast, and the racing is ultra-competitive.  After this top-level there is a huge spectrum of talent in the up-and-coming pros who will some day be kicking our butts!  For some reason, there seem to be far more men entering the races at that level than there are women.  

MTBRacenews.com: What is the most challenging part of being a professional athlete for you?

Heather Irmiger: The most challenging part of being a professional athlete remains figuring out the perfect training plan - especially as it relates to the International travel schedule.  Many people think that once you've figured out how to race at a certain level, you can just do mostly the same thing with your training plan and get similar results.  I've been racing for 12 seasons and EVERY single season is different and, often times, you just cannot explain why you're not feeling the way you "planned."  Specifically, I've found the last 6 years - the years I've been racing the World Cups - to be the most challenging.  Racing a full domestic schedule along with the full World Cup schedule means flying across time zones every weekend and still asking the most from your body at the races.  I've struggled with fatigue issues, sleep problems, illness, allergies and injury.  What works one season doesn't always work the next season - keeping your body in one piece while hopping all over the globe is a huge challenge.

MTBRacenews.com: You get a chance to ride all over the world. If you could pick one place to go and ride for a week, where would it be and why?

Heather Irmiger: I would say hands down, New Zealand.  I've traveled there twice now, once for the UCI World Championships and a second time for the Single Speed World Championships and I just can't get enough of the culture, the people and the incredible trails.  I know I've barely scratched the surface of riding there and will definitely go back again.  A close second is Northern Italy - I love the mountainous regions there.  A week of singletrack, cured meat and wine?  Yes, please. 

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