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Interview with Endurance Specialist Rebecca Rusch

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |March 1, 2012 1:54 PM
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Written by: Heidi Volpe

Before Specialized and Red Bull athlete Rebecca Rusch won her third Leadville 100 mountain bike race this summer, the 42 year old made a name for herself as an adventure racer, most notably taking first at the Raid Gauloises Adventure Racing World Championships in 2003.

Adventure racing sponsorship was dwindling so Rebecca searched for other events that would take advantage of her ultra endurance abilities.  24 hour mountain bike races were booming, so she set her targets there and despite the fact that mountain biking was her worst event, Rebecca won her first 24 hour solo event in 2007 beating both the women's and men's fields.  This launched her new cycling career.

Soon she was a three-time 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike World Champion and racking up titles at Leadville’s annual 100-mile race. To dominate in her 40s, Rusch has continued to change who she is as an athlete. While a master professional athlete, she is racing as strong as the young guns and she is faster and better than ever taking a smarter and more high tech approach to her training regime.

I caught up with her after her recent trip to L.A. to find out more about her Red Bull high-tech brain training and collected some tips on training in your 40s


Learn to rest and monitor your recovery effectively

We all know how to work hard, but smart recovery is essential if you want to get 100% of the benefit out of your training efforts.  This applies to all athletes, but becomes even more important as we age and the bounce back recovery process takes a little longer.

I use a simple system called Restwise to measure sleep, hydration, training efforts, resting heart rate, and subjective measures, such as mood, to get a complete picture of how my body is responding to training stress and life stress. My coach and I can tweak my training accordingly, even before classic signs of overtraining show up.  It's very common for all of us to want to push harder and think that more work equals more training benefit.  With Reswise I can have scientific feedback that tells me it's time to take a rest day.  The beauty of this program is it can alert you to life stress, lack of sleep, poor hydration or impending illness so you can make the changes before these stresses hit you too hard.

Make sure you are getting the proper nutrients

I thought I was eating pretty well until I got a full blood test that revealed giant holes in my nutritional profile.  It was great feedback that allowed me to tackle these deficiencies head on.  Despite a healthy diet, I was significantly lacking in amino acids and some key minerals because I was not absorbing my food.  I addressed the issues by supplementing with probiotics, vitamins and minerals.  I also made a conscious effort to eliminate many packaged foods, which are often nutrient dead foods. I also eliminated most gluten from my diet and choose organic meats.   As an athlete, I expect performance out of my body.  To feel and perform my best, I need a combination of supplements and healthy food to keep up with demands.  Get a blood test to see where your deficiencies are and then be sure to fuel the machine with the best fuel possible.

Train Your Brain

Visualization techniques are scientifically proven to work.  "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right."  I spend time rehearsing finish lines in my head with arms raised and no one in sight.  This sort of practice is important for confidence boosting.  Also,  just like our legs, the brain is a muscle that can be trained to perform better.  With age, the brain also gets lazy if it's not used.  Cognitive areas such as memory, reaction time, coordination, can all be trained.  I have just started doing some really fascinating "performance brain training" with the Red Bull Performance Division in partnership with Neurotopia.  This is cutting edge work that Red Bull has been using on race car drivers, skiers, cyclists and other athletes.  The training starts with a baseline test to check your level in 9 areas such as focus endurance, stress recovery, and reaction speed.  From this baseline test, they design an interactive video game for you to play.  You are not touching any controls, so the interactive part is in your head.  As you attempt to fly a spaceship through a course, the ship will move faster or slowing depending on how your brain is firing.  The goal is to find that sweet spot where you are focused, but relaxed.  The practice sessions will train me to more easily access that state of relaxed control when I'm out in the middle of an intense race situation.  For athletes who do not have access to this type of brain training, you can still achieve results with visualization techniques, meditation and coordination challenges in your sport.  For visualization, try imagining that a competitor is near you while you are training to feel and practice that heightened sense of awareness that comes with racing.  Instead of tuning out to music, tune IN by focusing on respiratory rate, cadence, and body sensations.  Learn to relax, but pay attention.  For "active" meditation, practice staying calm during technically challenging rides or workouts.  Experiment with trying better instead of trying harder.  Sometimes a slightly slower pace or state of mind will be faster than thrashing about.  For coordination, set up tricky drills for yourself with cones, balancing on obstacles, jumping over and around things. take up some sort of new sport to challenge your body and brain.   This sort of mental trickery will get new nerves firing instead of doing the same old workout that your brain is used to.

Cross Train for Overall Health, Injury Prevention and Fun

It's pretty easy to fall into a fitness rut and just grab the running shoes and go through the motions day after day.  While it's great to keep active, doing the same thing all the time isn't doing you any favors.  Your body gets used to the stress and you end up overworking specific areas.  This can lead to weakness in other areas and injury.  I'm a cyclist now, but I attribute my longevity in professional sports to the fact that I am a "jill of all trades."  I ski, run, climb, swim, practice yoga, etc.  All of these things keep my body balanced, so that come cycling season, I am ready to hit the bike again.  Not only is cross training fun because you are learning something new and moving in a different way, it also keeps you strong, fit and will address body weaknesses or imbalances you might have.   Sign up for a martial arts class, learn to surf, ride a bike.  It will feel like play and your body and mind will thank you for it.

Enlist the Help of Professionals

There are experts in this world for a reason.  Just as you go to a physician for medical help or a mechanic to tune up your car, you should enlist the help of a coach to help you with your training.  Coaches are not just for pro athletes.  Coaches are for intelligent athletes at any level who want to train efficiently and effectively to be their best.  I have been a professional athlete for over 15 years.  I floundered along on my own for 10 years.  In the past five years of working with a coach, I have seen huge gains in my performance, power and abilities.  I am faster and better as an over 40 athlete than I have ever been.  I attribute this continued improvement to training smarter with a coach.  At this point, I could not live without the personal guidance, honest feedback, motivation and roadmap that a coach provides.  There is nothing better than a well thought out plan to achieve your goals.  Carmichael Training Systems has a whole menu of options to work with a coach at any level.

Train Smarter Not Harder

Experience is a huge benefit.  Age and experience are often more powerful tools than a young set of legs and lungs.  Use experience to your advantage over the young pups and be confident in your abilities.   Focused training, good preparation, rest, strategy, patience and the ability to shrug off challenges are all positive traits I have noticed in more experienced athletes.


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