Rebecca Rusch podcast interview

Rebecca Rusch: Finding Comfort In Discomfort

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About this episode:
In this week’s episode, coach Hillary interviews one of the world’s greatest endurance and adventure athletes, Rebecca Rusch. She is a 7x World Champion, best-selling author, Emmy Award winner, activist, and Be Good Foundation founder.

Guest Bio – Rebecca Rusch:
Rebecca Rusch is the “Queen of Pain” with a heart of gold. Whether she is on an epic cycling expedition in a remote part of the world or teaching others at her namesake gravel bike academy in Idaho, she inspires people to be their best with energy, positivity and passion. In partnership with Red Bull Media House in 2017, Rebecca released an Emmy award winning feature film, Blood Road, which followed her personal journey along the 1,200 kilometer Ho Chi Minh Trail – a story that resonates with people from all walks and life and motivates them to do and be good.

As a multi-decade professional athlete and 7x World Champion, Rebecca is always seeking new skills and ways to test her own limits breaking boundaries and records in sports and expeditions. Techniques she shares can be applied to everyday life, whether for personal or professional enrichment. Rebecca is a trailblazer, consistently demonstrating one of her core values: Risk=Reward. Her impact is felt everywhere from a career spanning numerous adventure sports, countless wins and accolades including induction into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

Rebecca is CEO of Rusch Ventures, her company that oversees a network of business assets including Rusch’s signature gravel bike event, Rebecca’s Private Idaho (RPI), Rusch Academy backcountry gravel camps, and her epic travel adventure MTB-LAO. She is also the best selling author of Rusch to Glory, a world renowned motivational speaker, and volunteer firefighter. Rebecca married Greg Martin in 2014 and is the proud dog mom of Gracie and Diesel, who often join her on her adventures.

Activism and making a difference in the world are important to Rebecca. In 2019 she officially launched The Be GoodTM Foundation, a nonprofit organization that enriches communities using the bicycle as a catalyst for healing, empowerment and evolution. To date she has raised over $500,000 for bike-centric charities on a local, national and global level.

Read More About Rebecca Rusch:

https://www.rebeccarusch.com/
https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaRusch/
http://instagram.com/rebeccarusch
https://twitter.com/rebeccarusch
https://www.youtube.com/user/RebeccaRusch

Episode Highlights:

  • Getting comfortable with discomfort
  • Overcoming obstacles and dealing with the unknown
  • Building confidence and trust in yourself as an athlete
  • Developing a personal mission statement

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.


Episode Transcription:

Hillary Allen:

I’m super honored to be speaking with our guest today on The TrainRight Podcast. She’s known by many as The Queen of Pain and for her many accomplishments on and off her mountain bike. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Rusch. Hi, Rebecca. How are you doing today?

Rebecca Rusch:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, I’m so glad to be speaking with you. Tell us really quickly where are you based right now?

Rebecca Rusch:

I’m at home in Ketchum, Idaho and been here for a little while, enjoying… It’s snowing some days, sunny some days. Spring mountain weather. I’m starting to be able to get out on my bike a little bit.

Hillary Allen:

Oh, yeah, that’s awesome. Today, basically, I think all of us… There’s an immense amount that we can learn from you and I think through just endurance sports in general, but I was hoping that the theme for today that we’re going to be talking around is this whole idea of finding comfort in discomfort. I feel like that is something that I have to come to terms with almost every time I go out for a long run or, I’m into gravel bike riding now too, for a long bike ride. But before we get into your many accomplishments and what you’re doing now, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into ultra-endurance cycling?

Rebecca Rusch:

Absolutely. I’m like a cat with nine lives. I’ve done a lot of different sports. But my introduction to sports started in high school with cross country running and I really fell in love with running through the forest and having different courses and being able to be outside. That was really the start of my athletic career.

Rebecca Rusch:

Since then, it’s been an evolution from rock climbing and adventure racing which is multi-sport, endurance events. Let’s see… Paddling and I guess the most recent iteration is mountain biking. Even though I’ve done a lot of different sports, I also cross country ski and back country ski, it may seem like it’s all over the place but the common theme really has been endurance and all of those.

Rebecca Rusch:

I learned pretty early on in high school on the cross country team… You had also run track and I learned pretty early on that the longer the distance was, the better I was at it physically but also the more I enjoyed the sense of exploration. Even though I’ve done a lot of different things, I’ve always had this endurance focus and this sense of wanting to see what’s around the next corner over the next hill.

Hillary Allen:

I love that non-traditional sports backgrounds. It’s how I got into ultra-endurance running. I was a tennis player and then I dabbled in every single sport and then I found out that the longer the matches went, the better I felt. But it’s funny because as a runner turning over into cycling, I found cycling through injury. It was hard for me to make a transition. Was it hard for you who started out as a runner? Was it hard for you to hop on the bike eventually or did that take a while?

Rebecca Rusch:

It took a while. I didn’t really start focusing on mountain biking exclusively until aged 38. I was quite a late bloomer in that. I had years of living out of a truck, being a dirtbag climber, traveling around and doing these adventure races which were Eco-Challenge. I had a pretty diverse background before I got into mountain biking and really my worst sport was mountain biking. I was terrible at it.

Rebecca Rusch:

It is interesting. People who knew me before mountain biking, they can’t believe that I actually became a cyclist because I really was so bad. Not very good at it. But it served a purpose of, like I said, wanting to explore and the bike is such a great vehicle for being able to see more. I still love running. I still run, I paddle. But really being on wheels just opened up this whole backyard where I live and the rest of the world and places that I could go see and cover more distance.

Hillary Allen:

I can definitely relate to that. When I first started gravel bike riding, it was like, “Oh my gosh.” Any rock… I did not think that I’d be able to do a race, like Dirty Kanza or something like this. I’d love that. Before you got into just ultra-endurance cycling, I love this idea of the multi-sport… I follow a couple of friends of mine who do adventure racing and I think that that’s such a good way to explore.

Hillary Allen:

You did rock climbing before that. Can you tell me how you decided to pursue this? Basically, this is your first step into becoming a professional athlete. You started with… You’re traveling with the team, you’re racing with the team. Can you tell me about that? Were there any obstacles along the way with choosing to prioritize a life of sport versus a traditional lifestyle?

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I never set out to say, “I’m going to become a professional athlete,” or “I’m going to try to go to the Olympics,” or any of this stuff. I really, one, didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself as an athlete and didn’t think I was anything special. At the time that I got involved with adventure racing, I was managing and part owner of some rock climbing gyms in California. For me, that was a dream job of being a climber and also having a business marketing degree and really, I thought, “I’m set. This is it.”

Rebecca Rusch:

I started getting some weird invitations just when adventure racing was coming in the forefront. This was in the ’90s. I started getting invited to… I got invited to do this race that I didn’t know what it was about. It was a 24-hour adventure race and I didn’t know what it was. These people explained it to me. I’m like, “That sounds terrible doing that for 24 hours.” But I got talked into it mostly because I was female and I was a climber and paddler and runner and I checked three of the six boxes of the sports that you needed to do.

Rebecca Rusch:

The teams were made up, three men, one woman. A lot of teams at that time… There weren’t a lot of women doing outdoor sports. Definitely not as many as now. I was a commodity of like, “Okay, let’s grab this strong female and throw her into the team and see what happens.” That was my introduction to adventure racing and our team of ragtag people ended up winning the first race that we ever did. It was a qualifier for Eco-Challenge in Australia.

Rebecca Rusch:

Honestly, how I got involved was saying yes to an opportunity and a challenge and even when we won that trip to Australia to do the full Eco-Challenge, I thought, “Okay, this is a cool, free trip to Australia and then I’ll be done with it.” I really did think that that was going to be a one-off and I’d go back to climbing and my job at the climbing gym. But that really did start to snowball and really, like I said, I wasn’t planning on becoming a professional athlete or doing that but I just kept saying yes to these opportunities because I love to travel and explore and they kept popping up.

Rebecca Rusch:

So one race led to another, led to another, and soon enough I was the team captain. I was managing the team, managing sponsorship. That’s when I decided, “If I wanted to take advantage of these travel opportunities and these sports opportunities, I need to quit my job and live out of my car because I can’t afford to pay rent and I can’t take that much time off work.”

Rebecca Rusch:

I really did take a sabbatical and I packed my Bronco. I left L.A. and a really amazing job and went and lived out of my car for a number of years and scraped through, working part time jobs and going on these big adventures and going rock climbing.

Rebecca Rusch:

There was a ton of risk in turning away a great job and stability and a paycheck to go adventuring. For me, I really did think it would be a short term thing, but here many decades later that really was the start of me being able to be a professional athlete and really hustle and make a business out of going exploring and adventuring and doing things in the outdoors.

Hillary Allen:

I love that. I think a lot of really… The start is… I love that theme of just saying yes. Saying yes to opportunities. As an athlete, obviously, you have to think about things. You have to plan, you have to prepare for these races and train but there is this jumping into the unknown, right?

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah. I will say that I think a lot of us, and women especially, we want to wait until we’re the most prepared. We’re totally planned. We’re totally ready to either do a race or do an event or go on a trip. Honestly, we’re never ready. You’re never a hundred percent ready and training and focus and preparation obviously has to happen. But if you’re like me, I never feel like I’ve done everything I could. I’ve never entered a race or an event where I’m like, “I’m a hundred percent ready. I’ve done everything I could.” It’s like good enough is good enough and you do your best.

Hillary Allen:

I love that because that’s always how I feel too. I’m like, “I have to prepare, I have to plan for this.” But obviously in life you can’t even predict tomorrow, so it’s accepting this discomfort but in it you also find comfort, at least, I feel like I do. Was that your experience in these races? Also, living out of your car… [inaudible 00:10:51]. I mean it is. I’ve done that before too. I literally couldn’t afford to pay rent so I packed up all my stuff, put it in storage, and then I tried to live off of basically these races where pay for my accommodation for three days and try to figure it out. But that’s not always comfortable. How did you deal with that?

Rebecca Rusch:

It’s not comfortable. There was and there still is a lot of sacrifice in my chosen career, in my chosen adventures. When I first was leaving California and taking the risk of going and living in my car, my motivation was that, “If I don’t do this, will I look back and regret it later and I have this opportunity right now in this moment, should I do it?” I didn’t have the responsibility of children or debt or anything like that. I did have the freedom to say yes.

Rebecca Rusch:

When I’m talking to people about taking risks or doing something, I had a backup plan. Didn’t seem that risky to me because like I said I didn’t owe money and I always felt like I could always go back and get another job and had a safety net. I think it’s important when you’re considering those things that are going to be uncomfortable. I’m not going to lie. It was really nerve wracking to not be able to afford health insurance or not know where the next paycheck was going to come from. But absolutely the rewards that have come from making that sacrifice have been pretty amazing.

Rebecca Rusch:

People ask me all the time like, “Why do you torture yourself? Why do you do these long events? Why have you chosen basically the most difficult road that you could have chosen?” Honestly, it’s because I really feel like the trail and these adventures are my teacher and I learn about myself and I learn about the world and what I’m capable of when I’m in the middle of these really hard, uncomfortable things. It’s really who comes out the other side that is the addiction for me and the evolution of who I am on these trails. I don’t love pain or I don’t want to be uncomfortable but I really do love how I grow from those experiences.

Hillary Allen:

I love how you put that. It’s putting me in the position of why I love to race and why I love to train and put myself inevitably in these uncomfortable positions. It’s end result where you learn the most. Following up on those initial choices to pursue a career in basically the unknown of hopping from paycheck to paycheck or not knowing when, “Can I pay for food this month? Or pay for rent?” Did you get any criticism from your family or friends? And then I guess the followup to that would be… But in that, were you able to find trust in yourself?

Rebecca Rusch:

I didn’t get criticism from my family which was pretty amazing. My mom has always been really supportive and she’s like, “You know what? You weren’t asking for money. You weren’t on drugs. You weren’t doing anything bad. You were just taking a walk about and going and doing something that you loved.” She’s always been supportive and same with my sister. I didn’t have that pressure of like, “What are you doing with your life?”

Rebecca Rusch:

I think they knew I was enough of a free spirit that I had to go do this. The alternative of me sitting in an office or nine to five job, I think they knew me well enough to know that that wouldn’t have been suitable for me, that I had to choose a little bit of a different path. So they were supportive while I tried to figure it out and find my way. I did really find a tribe of people that were adventurers, explorers, people that had the same feeling that you and I do like, “Let’s go there. Let’s try that.”

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, exactly. These big adventures too I think it’s like you can almost… Maybe some things on pen and paper are uncertain. You maybe can’t trust in the black and white outcome of a race. But still I feel like in pursuing these hard events and these especially ultra-endurance or something that really brings the best out of you, you learn to trust yourself, you learn to know that when you have to dig deep that you can rely on yourself in these really tough situations.

Hillary Allen:

I immediately think to… I have been following you for a while but this race that you did in Alaska, the Iditarod. I first learned about this race literally when I was a little kid while watching Balto. I was just like, “Wait. What? People can do this on a bike? Not with dogs? Not a dog sled race?” Basically self-propelled. I was thinking of this and I’m just like, “Oh my gosh. How in the world…” Just to be able to not only push yourself through and… How long is the trail?

Rebecca Rusch:

There’s two… The full trail is a thousand miles and I’ve done for the last two years a 350-mile version, so the short version. But the full trail’s a thousand miles.

Hillary Allen:

I’m going to let you obviously take it away so you can explain what this was. Even just thinking about someone else doing it, the amount of fear that would go through my mind to put yourself basically… You have to get yourself out of these tough situations. There’s no one else that can do it for you. You’re out there in the elements. That takes a huge level of trust in yourself to actually just get on the start line to one of these events. I know this is like… Further on, you’ve done an incredible amount of races up until this point. It’s still the same. I feel like how… What motivated you to do a race like this and can you describe what that was like?

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah, Iditarod Trail Invitational, the human powered version of the Iditarod Trail, it’s actually something I said I would never do because I’m not good in cold. I don’t really enjoy cold. I was really scared by that environment. I didn’t think my body is suited for it but my mind also wasn’t suited for it or excited about it. For years, I know friends who’ve done it but it was so far off my radar and to say, “No way, no way, I don’t want to go do it.” I went last year for the first time really at the prompting of my friend, Jay Petervary, who’s done it 13 times and won it multiple times.

Rebecca Rusch:

Once I started thinking about it, like you said, I started getting really nervous. My hands start sweating. I started researching cold weather equipment online and talking to mountaineering friends of mine and to Jay about survival in those temperatures.

Rebecca Rusch:

What I realized in my excitement of… Fear and excitement are very close in emotions. I started to realize that I hadn’t done a really big expedition like that where I really was intimidated. I hadn’t done that in quite a while. Because like you said, I’ve done a lot of expeditions. I’m confident in my abilities to navigate and complete long distance things but I hadn’t really scared myself and gotten outside my comfort zone for a number of years and I realized I missed that and I needed it.

Rebecca Rusch:

So I went to Iditarod last year and I finished. My only goal was to finish with all my fingers and toes and complete the course. I did that. I was the first female to finish, only 20 people finished, and this was even the short course. But I was a mess. I only completed it because of my grit and determination and endurance experience. But I didn’t eat well. I didn’t train properly for it and literally I was a crying, sobbing mess on the finish line. Physically and emotionally battered. I put myself at risk because you’re right, those elements are life or death and you make a mistake out on Iditarod Trail and it might be days before somebody can get there to help you.

Rebecca Rusch:

You really are your own safety net and your own first responder and you do have to self support and take care of yourself. I vowed after last year that I knew I wanted to come back. I fell in love with that adventure on that trail and the history and the dogs and how hard it is to race out there and to survive out there. I really became addicted to that and fell in love with it.

Rebecca Rusch:

I vowed to go back this year more prepared and that’s where I got really serious with my coach and set up a training program, did a lot of actually upper body strength and weights. I did a bunch of research on nutrition to make sure that I could eat and drink better. I made a bunch of my own food and dialed in my equipment and practiced sleeping out overnight in the snow in Idaho.

Rebecca Rusch:

I did the preparation and the result, it was pretty awesome because this year’s, I will tell you… Last year took me three and a half days to do 350 miles. You do the math. It’s not very fast. This year it took seven days to go the same distance and the reason was Mother Nature really unleashed on the Iditarod Trail this year and the conditions were horrendous with snow almost every day, the trail was blown in or gone, 50 mile an hour winds, minus 40-degree temperatures.

Rebecca Rusch:

It was insane and intense. If those conditions had been there last year, I wouldn’t have completed it. But because I’d done the preparation this year, I crossed the finish line this year not a complete crying, blubbering mess and feeling really proud of myself. Even though people were like, “It took you twice as long and you didn’t win.” It’s like I’m so proud of my achievement this year versus last year because I did it well and I did it in style and I did it safely. I was able to really survive in those elements and sleep out at night and melt snow to make water and ran out of food a bunch because it was longer than expected.

Rebecca Rusch:

But I do trust myself now in that kind of environment and that feeling of strength and power and knowing if I prepare, I can do anything and I haven’t… I’m 51 and so to experience the hardest expedition I’ve ever done in my life and feel really good about it at my age is super exciting for me because it just means there’s more adventures to be had.

Hillary Allen:

Oh my gosh. I love that. That stuff is what I live for. There’s something… Even though you’re a veteran, like you have so much experience in these long endurance races, it’s like every single thing that you do even if it’s the same exact course, but a year later it can be completely different. I feel even all of those… Just going back to talking about your background, how you got into ultra-endurance cycling, all of the little pieces along the road, I feel like they lined up and they’ve taught you something and that is what we discussed before, trusting in yourself, knowing that you can problem solve and get through a tough situation obviously through preparation, but then also just in the moment.

Hillary Allen:

I don’t know. I just think that that’s really powerful. Obviously, a race like the Iditarod Race has definitely taught you that. But I feel like just in general races and even training rides can teach you the same.

Rebecca Rusch:

We are all a work in progress and we’re all evolving and who we are today is this lovely mix of every experience we’ve had in our life. People ask, “Why did you change sports so many times? Or even within cycling, why did you change from 24-hour racing to stage races to now ultra-endurance self-support bike packing?” I think it’s important for everybody to think about your evolution and what excites you in the moment and that you are a work in progress and you’re building.

Rebecca Rusch:

You’re continually building on your experience base for the next thing. I’m asked all the time, “When will you retire? When will you stop?” Never. Because like I said, we’re evolving and learning and hopefully until the day that we die, we’re continuing to open our eyes to something new. I think there’s a lot of power in trying a new sport or trying a new event and being a beginner again no matter what age you are. It makes who you are as a person just that much more complete.

Rebecca Rusch:

I love that so many CTS athletes… It’s the whole spectrum from pros to beginners and all ages because everybody is working on themselves as a little work in progress.

Hillary Allen:

Oh, man, I love that so much because I feel like every single… I coach athletes too and they’re from all ranges of abilities. But again, it’s like that one thing that you can… Throughout your whole life, the one relationship, the relationship with yourself that you’re constantly learning about and through every situation learn something more, and I think that that’s really powerful.

Hillary Allen:

We’ve talked a little bit about how you’ve redefined yourself through sport and I guess it’s just how you decided to change paths, like you said, going from short bike racing to stage races to bike packing adventures. How would you say that it’s important to redefine yourself as an athlete? For you, it doesn’t seem like it goes basically through winning a race although you’ve done that at every stage, but still is it more about just pursuing what interests you? What makes you passionate?

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah. I think that is super important. Even as a little kid in Chicago suburbs, I had this curiosity to see what was on the next block or I wanted to camp out in the backyard. That really has guided me when I’m like, “Oh, I wonder what it would be like to do a 24-hour mountain bike race.” Or, “I wonder what it would be like to do this.” Listening to that little voice that’s like, “Hmm, I wonder…” is I think really important and people have said to me, “Oh, how did you know when to pivot your career and stop doing Leadville and doing this other stuff?” I listen to myself but it’s also other people around me.

Rebecca Rusch:

When I was doing Leadville full on, Dean Gorlich was my coach and he was really great about even my weekly workouts. We had these free days where I could go back country skiing or hiking in the woods because I think he knew that there was this little part of me that had to go exploring. That allowed me the freedom instead of saying, “Oh, I have to do intervals every day,” or “I have to do this.” There was a little bit of time in there for me to be that little kid who wanted to camp out in the backyard and play.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think when people are pivoting whether it’s in their career or in a sport or moving somewhere else, it’s important to listen to that little voice inside your head. If you can’t always hear that little voice, then perhaps your coach or a friend or other people who invite you to do things like me getting invited to Eco-Challenge and somebody who’s like, “Hey, do you want to go try this?” Or Alaska and my initial thought is, “Hell, no.”

Rebecca Rusch:

But then I thought about it a little and then it kept popping back into my head and Alaska kept popping back into my head and like I said, I started looking up movies like Balto and getting intrigued. That was a message to myself that it’s like, “Hmm, there’s something to this. Maybe I should explore a little deeper and do a little more research.” Ultimately, that led to me going to the Iditarod Trail. It’s important to listen to that little, tiny curiosity voice.

Hillary Allen:

I always have that but sometimes it takes a little bit of an extra step because again you’re never going to… At least I never will feel like I’m totally prepared and just saying yes and then having people around you to figure out things to support you and help you get there.

Hillary Allen:

Another thing I wanted to circle back to, we touched on it a little bit, I was curious to ask you this question in particular, just about women in sport in general. You definitely got into ultra-endurance cycling and just sports in general where women were the minority definitely in adventure racing. Still, the construct of a team in an adventure race is you have one to a four-person teamer, at least one woman present. But getting into the sport, did you have other women role models? Or was it even a factor in you getting into sport?

Rebecca Rusch:

I was super lucky in some ways in that I grew up in a female only household. My dad was shot down in the Vietnam War when I was really young and so I grew up with a single working mom, older sister, and it was really the three of us.

Rebecca Rusch:

My mom became this high powered computer executive. My sister is a general in the air force now. Our household growing up there was never like, “Oh, girls don’t do that.” If something needed fixing, we got it done. I mowed the lawn as a kid. There were not these separation of traditional male-female roles in our household which was great because I grew up thinking, “Anyone can do anything.” I’ve never thought of myself as a female in sport or a female firefighter or a female business owner. I’m just all of those things without the gender.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think a lot of that came from my upbringing and my first running experience, my first sports experience was on the cross country team which was the girls cross country team. Immediately, I was thrown into a peer group of female athletes and we had a male coach and a female coach. I was lucky at a very young age that I saw strong women in my life and that’s what I have emulated.

Rebecca Rusch:

Fast forward to rock climbing and paddling and all those things and adventure racing, I definitely was the minority female but I had this confidence just from being a kid growing up and having to fend for myself. My sister and I have to fend for ourselves a bunch that we grew up pretty independent and pretty strong minded.

Rebecca Rusch:

Absolutely, I feel like it’s so powerful to have female role models and we need them and it’s part of why I do podcasts like this or teach women’s mountain bike groups because it was really important for me to see somebody else who’d come before me. Lynn Hill was a really big climbing role model for me when I got involved in mountain biking. You remember I sucked really bad at mountain biking. Marla Streb was a really big role model for me.

Rebecca Rusch:

All along the way, starting with my mom and my sister, but I do think it’s important that we share our experiences. What’s really cool for me what I love is when dads will come and say, “Yeah, I told my daughter about you.” Or, “I told my wife about you.” I think that that’s great. I’m hopefully not just a role model for women but also for anyone who’s wanting to work hard.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think when we really will have arrived somewhere is, like I said, when you no longer consider somebody, “Oh, she’s one of the best female athletes in the world,” or “She’s one of the best…” whatever, you’ll take out the gender qualification and just say, “She’s one of the best.” Or “He’s one of the best,” or whatever. Then we’re judged on our ability and what we can do instead of our genetic makeup or our gender.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think one thing that’s been really cool about me doing ultra-endurance sports, especially cycling, is that everybody’s on the same playing field. You don’t have separate… You might be scored separately in a race like Leadville but you’re all riding together and that has been a really great showcase for me to finish top 20 at Leadville one of the years or to beat a whole bunch of guys and then people are like, “Oh.” It’s this instant respect when you can put everybody on the same playing field then you do really see, especially in endurance sports, how the difference between men and women’s performance. The longer it gets, the smaller that difference is.

Hillary Allen:

Oh, man. That’s something I love too. I was raised very, very similarly with my parents saying that it doesn’t really matter about gender. You like these things, you can do it. I have an older sister and I basically took my first steps camping and I was out playing in the dirt and it was really no issue about the gender. But I think now being in the opposite role of then assuming this position of motivating and being an example for other people, I do think it’s an important place to be to show that like, “Yes, I am an athlete. I’m an endurance athlete just like my peers, men or women.”

Hillary Allen:

I guess you have a bunch of things going on and I wanted to ask you about your foundation at the end of this episode, but I wanted to ask you about your race that you have in your hometown and how you view that as something giving back. I think it’s interesting to be able to be an athlete but then also host an event and bring other people to compete and explore in an area that you call home.

Rebecca Rusch:

Rebecca’s Private Idaho is my gravel event that I do and we’re going into year number eight now which is exciting but I launched it for a few reasons. I launched it one, to support my local community and bring people here, provide jobs here. Everywhere I travel around the world, people would ask like, “Idaho? Like Iowa. What is that like?” I’m like, “It’s the most beautiful place in the world.”

Rebecca Rusch:

I wanted to share my backyard with people, but I want to support my community and bike charities that I care about and yeah, absolutely give back. I felt like that was a platform that made a lot of sense for me and it checked a lot of boxes for me to be able to be a host and throw a big amazing bike party in my hometown and also encourage other people to get off the beaten path a little bit and go exploring.

Rebecca Rusch:

It’s called Rebecca’s Private Idaho because it goes into very remote terrain, no cell phone coverage, no homes, and really just goes out into the hills. I feel like people need more of that in our world right now. A little bit of exploration and you’re seeing how people are moving to wanting to do a little more exploring on their bike. I think it’s part of the growth of gravel right now is people want to get off the pavement for safety, but also I think emotionally people want to explore and want to have a little bit of quiet time away from the screens and the digital.

Rebecca Rusch:

I launched the event. It’s been wildly successful. We were on the front end of this whole gravel wave which I didn’t really know was coming. But it’s been great and it’s the number one fundraiser I do each year for my Be Good Foundation. It helps support other nonprofits like PeopleForBikes and World Bicycle Relief with the goal really of using… My foundation is about using the bike as a vehicle for healing and evolution and empowerment. I’m almost as proud of seeing somebody else cross the finish line with a huge smile on their face and they’ve ridden a hundred miles that is just as satisfying for me as me winning Leadville or winning another big race. It really does feel like this collective win.

Hillary Allen:

I love that too because just in an endurance race, you’re alone. You’re the one that has to get yourself to the finish line. But in that exploration of solidarity and loneliness, there’s this community aspect that you can create as well. Some of my best friends have been… My best friends, they’ve been made on the trails. You can share a few miles or a rough patch of a race with someone and then you feel like you’re bound together forever. Even creating a race, it’s almost cultivating connection in a way.

Rebecca Rusch:

You’re absolutely right on that. Yeah, you might be riding alone but when you finish, there’s this big group of people who all went through the same experience as you did and they all were like, “Oh, yeah, that hill or that headwind,” or “That was super hard.” “And did you see that?” It’s this beautiful marrying of isolation and solitude and moving meditation, being by yourself, but then you’re also connected to this community via the trail.

Rebecca Rusch:

It’s exactly how I feel about the Iditarod Trail. Very few people do it or finish but we are all a hundred percent bonded by the experience and even if I don’t know the people who were before or after me, I could meet them and we’re instantly bonded by the fiber of this trail and the shared experience.

Rebecca Rusch:

That’s what I think is so cool about rides or races or events where people do come together. Even if you do it separately or on another day, everybody starts from a level of like, “Yeah, I know what that trail is like. I know what it’s about.”

Rebecca Rusch:

We need community. We all need that kind of a tribe and finding it in sport is really amazing because you’re growing yourself. Like I said, the trail is a teacher for you to evolve personally but then you’re also making that important human connection with other people who get where you’re coming from.

Hillary Allen:

They don’t classify your version of fun as crazy. They also think it’s fun.

Rebecca Rusch:

Exactly.

Hillary Allen:

[inaudible 00:40:44]. But was it important to you to create this event, like Rebecca’s Private Idaho? I love Idaho and your event is something I really want to prioritize and come out to but was it important for you to create this event close to your home?

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah, I wanted to have it at home one, because I travel a lot and selfishly I’m like, “I should do an event here instead of going and traveling to all these other places.” But I live in Idaho because I’m in love with it. It’s beautiful. It has a ton of public land. I wanted to bring people here to celebrate public land, doing good. People, place, and purpose really are the reasons behind Private Idaho and wanting to bring people here and showcase here.

Rebecca Rusch:

Also, it’s a super small town and I want to keep living here. So if I can help support the restaurants and the community and provide jobs for people, that’s really important to me too. And then I can continue to live in this beautiful place. It’s partially selfish, but also about my community and the cycling community and also, people who’ve never been to Idaho showing them a little slice of this paradise.

Hillary Allen:

I know whenever I go home to Colorado, there’s still places there that even in my hometown of Fort Collins or where I live in Boulder, I feel like I can still do a ton of exploration there. It’s really cool to share that with other people and then help motivate yourself to be like, “Okay, I’m going to explore my home in a more intimate way.” But this is all… I watched your TED Talk for the Navigating Home.

Hillary Allen:

It’s something that I just… Man, just rediscovering what it means to call a place home. I think it’s a really complex subject but you can go into more detail about this, but it’s something that I really wanted to talk to you a little while because Navigating Home, I feel like as athletes, especially you mentioned, you travel a lot. You almost have to go places to define what home is, to figure out what home is to you, and then, yeah… Can you describe what that was about?

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah, you’re definitely right in that traveling and going somewhere is expansive for us personally. We get to see another culture, another place. We get to explore and adventure but most of us the last place I called home before Idaho was the suburbs of Chicago that we talked about as a kid. Since then, I hadn’t found a place that felt right, that felt like a fit.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think it was a combination of me physically not finding the right place But I also think it was a factor was me emotionally not being ready to accept a place or knowing myself. And really it was my ride down the Ho Chi Minh trail which was five years ago was a big expedition. I did a 1200 mile ride with really the goal of doing that ride but finding the place where my dad’s plane was shot down in the Vietnam War.

Rebecca Rusch:

Doing that adventure really was a pivotal moment in my entire life because when I connected with my dad and got to know him through stories and through being in Vietnam and Laos. But I also really got to know myself and understand what was important to me.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think a lot of these races and the traveling I’ve been doing, it was always onto the next thing, onto the next thing, and chasing all these goals without really understanding why or understanding my motivation and that ride on the Ho Chi Minh trail and the subsequent years that followed, required me to do a lot of soul searching and think about what am I doing all this for? It really answers some super hard personal questions that I had never taken the time to explore.

Rebecca Rusch:

I’ll be honest with you, the two years after coming home from doing that ride were a pretty dark time for me because I wondered, have I lost my competitive edge? How do you follow up on the most important ride you’ve done in your life and what does all that mean? I spent a lot of time soul searching and journaling and writing things down and talking to friends.

Rebecca Rusch:

That ride really did help me discover my purpose and launched the foundation and really motivated me for the rides I’ve been doing now that are more expedition based, that are more exploratory where I can challenge myself and learn myself, but also share that with other people and have a giving back aspect in a be good aspect to everything I’m doing.

Rebecca Rusch:

That ride really is I felt like I found my home in my heart and my soul, but I also found my purpose and the physical place I wanted to be which was Idaho and bonded more with my husband. It really was a sense of home is. Yes, it’s physical but it’s also emotional inside you. For anybody who hasn’t sat down and written down their own personal mission statement or their own core values that they live by, I would encourage you to do so because what that’s done for me, that introspection is it’s giving me guidelines of how I want to live the rest of my life. Just like in business, every business has a mission statement and core values but very few people actually do that for themselves.

Rebecca Rusch:

That is how I’ve found my sense of home is really by going inside and answering some tough questions.

Hillary Allen:

Oh, man. I was just so touched when I watched that, when I watched your TED Talk, and then subsequently I encourage everyone to go out and watch Blood Road. This was basically the documentary of you going and finding where your father’s plane was shot down on the Ho Chi Minh trail. It’s just that sense of finding home but then at the end of the day it’s really looking inward and I feel like maybe you have to go, you did go, to a really extreme place to do that. But I think it’s something that, and correct me if I’m wrong, do you get to re-experience that every time you have a tough endurance race or an adventure that you have planned?

Rebecca Rusch:

That was a really the opening of a door for me and that experience was really powerful learning experience for me. But you’re exactly right. It’s why I’m moving to these longer expedition rides because I absolutely feel like the trail is my teacher. I go out on these long things in these journeys to learn and the lesson is different every time. This is where I evolve and learn and meditate is out on these really, really long rides. Something like the Iditarod Trail is essential for me to continue to grow and learn and find out more about myself.

Rebecca Rusch:

But absolutely after a cold race like that, I want to come home and have a nice warm shower. It really is a balance between comfort and discomfort. There’s this quote that I really love by Viktor Frankl that says what is to give light must endure burning. It points out that you need to do hard, painful suffering things to really see your light or shine your light. Sports are a small example of that in a way that we can actually learn about ourselves in a palatable, easier way than having to go through a war or do something unchosen.

Rebecca Rusch:

Sports are such a great way to work really hard and to put ourselves through an uncomfortable situation so that you finished that long ride or that long run and you’re a little bit of a different person than when you set out.

Hillary Allen:

Even though, it seems like sports can… They are a solitary experience even though you can experience them with other people. I think it’s so great just that you’ve… Even last year, you officially started your foundation, the Be Good Foundation as a way to give back and to create. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Rebecca Rusch:

The Be Good Foundation and the idea from it came from my ride down the Ho Chi Minh trail and Be Good are the words my dad signed his letters home from the Vietnam War. That’s how he signed off and it’s become a bit of my mission statement and I definitely feel like he asked… He brought me there to show me what I could do with my bike and really the impetus for the foundation came from seeing all the unexploded ordnance that still exists along the Ho Chi Minh trail and a war that ended 50 years ago is still killing people because the bombs are still there and they haven’t exploded.

Rebecca Rusch:

The impetus for the foundation was to use my bike to help clean up the bombs along the Ho Chi Minh trail in my dad’s name. The foundation’s mission has grown to… The mission statement is using the bike as a vehicle or catalyst for healing, empowerment, and evolution. Some of my projects like MTB-LAO where I take a group back to the Ho Chin Minh trail specifically goes towards clearing bombs along the trail.

Rebecca Rusch:

Private Idaho for example is all about getting bikes in the people’s hands who need them like World Bicycle Relief that provides bikes for healthcare workers and students in Africa or PeopleForBikes that work on bike infrastructure or our local Idaho Cycling League.

Rebecca Rusch:

The foundation, thanks to my dad, really has given me purpose to my riding and it’s been such a cool evolution of my career because suddenly now all these trophies and these things I have which are great sitting on my shelf in my house and they’re nice to look at and they’re great memories and I’m really proud of them, but they’re actually this launching pad that is allowing me to maybe inspire the next world champion or somebody in Africa who wants to get to school and study to be a doctor. Suddenly, my individual trophies have taken on a much bigger meaning through the foundation. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty exciting.

Hillary Allen:

I love that because races and trophies, yeah, they are great memories but as soon as they’re done, they’re over. There’s nothing to really hold on to. I love the foundation of basically bringing something that’s tangible and doing that through endurance sports and cycling I think is just incredible.

Rebecca Rusch:

I think when people get a master’s degree or they become a doctor or they get an education, then they go on to use it for something else. That’s how I look at my sport and my trophies and those things is they’re meant to be used for giving something else to somebody. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not done racing or chasing trophies, but my mission statement includes challenging myself but also challenging others to be good.

Hillary Allen:

I love that. Oh, man, thank you so much, Rebecca. I wanted… We’ve talked about so many things but I just wanted to end with just one question just to ask you. What gets you up each morning excited to train and keep dreaming and pushing yourself? All of your changes in careers and you’re not stopping anytime soon, but what is it that keeps you motivated every day to keep exploring?

Rebecca Rusch:

I will say I’m not motivated every day so we can break the myth that professional athletes are continually motivated. It is hard and we do need to rely on help and coaches and other people. Honestly, when you asked that question what really gets me up every single day is my dogs, coming to the edge of the bed, wagging their tails, being so excited that it’s a new day. I really do try to take motivation and lessons for my dogs. They wake up happy, they want to run outside, they take lots of naps.

Rebecca Rusch:

Whenever I’m in doubt, it’s what would Diesel do? What would my dog do? And really having an appreciation that we’re alive and we get to do this and how lucky we are to be able to run in the mountains or play outside or take a nap. What would Diesel do is always when I’m lacking motivation.

Hillary Allen:

I love that honesty because I definitely don’t feel motivated every day either because it’s like the bigger, grander scheme of things. I need to get a dog because you’re right there. They’re always so excited to go outside and I’m like, “What is going on?”

Rebecca Rusch:

Totally. Diesel has never, and Gracie, they’ve never caught a squirrel but yet every time they see one, they chase it with this abandon and this motivation of… They don’t think, “Oh, I suck. I’m never going to get a squirrel.” They just go after it. So I try to be that way when I’m going after stuff.

Hillary Allen:

Oh my gosh, that’s so amazing. This is so amazing because my parents have a German Shorthaired Pointer and he’s the same way but actually this dog has actually caught a squirrel. He’s uber motivated to catch another one.

Rebecca Rusch:

Yeah. That’s awesome. We can all learn from that motivation.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, we can. I love that. What would Diesel do? I’ll think of your dogs with that but I digress. Thank you so much for everything, for talking with us today. I feel like we can learn an immense amount from just this conversation, but then also just from the self exploration and not being afraid to go to those deep dark places and learning to trust yourself to find a way through.

Rebecca Rusch:

When you have your mission statement, your personal mission statement, feel free to share it with me. That’s my challenge to you.

Hillary Allen:

Oh, okay. I love that. I definitely would. But thanks so much for talking with us today, Rebecca.

Rebecca Rusch:

Thank you. That was really fun. Be good.

 


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Comments 1

  1. A very inspirational interview. Like Rebecca, it is my dogs that get me out of bed in the mornings. And though my dogs are getting old (13 and 10) they, like Rebecca’s dogs, though they have never caught a squirrel, they always give it their best shot.

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