At 22 years old, Kate Courtney is on the fast — and dusty — track to mountain biking success; she recently won this year’s UCI Elite Mountain Bike World Championships in Switzerland, the first such win for an American since 2001. Hailing from the birthplace of mountain biking, Kate grew up riding Mount Tam’s Railroad Grade with her dad. Now a Stanford graduate, she trains and races full-time; we caught up with her recently before she hit the trails.
Describe your earliest bike experience.
I learned to ride at a very young age but never viewed it from a competitive lens. Riding my bike around the neighborhood or to get to school was just a fun part of my childhood. Later, I was exposed to cycling more seriously when mountain biking with my dad, although then those rides were just a fun way to spend a Sunday with him and a vehicle for post-ride blueberry pancakes.
When did you realize this was a sport you wanted to pursue?
I was a cross-country runner in high school and decided to try mountain biking my freshman year for cross-training. Immediately, I fell in love with the sport and shifted my attention away from running and joined the Branson High School mountain biking team. The moment I began committing myself fully to the sport came my high school junior year when I competed in my first junior [UCI Mountain Bike] World Cup in the Czech Republic. It was a harrowing experience with many crashes and a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the skill and aggression of European-style racing. I finished 10th in that first race and was hooked. The experience gave me so many things to work on and I had done well enough that I had a glimmer of hope for improvement and success.
What challenges you about mountain biking?
I have always been drawn to individual endurance sports but there is something very special about mountain biking. A mountain bike race requires endurance, technical skill and tactics and has a large mental component, making it extremely engaging.
What mindset or mental strength is needed to excel at your sport?
In a bike race, anything can happen — which you can see as a huge opportunity or an anxiety-provoking risk. I try to focus on my own personal performance and the things that I can control. This mentality helps me look at races with optimism and excitement, thinking about how far I might be able to push myself and what I might be able to accomplish. I also spend a lot of time working with a sports psychologist to define goals and outline processes that help me arrive at the start line in the right mindset to perform.
Explain the analytical side of cycling.
I am a big data nerd. I love using a power meter and working with my coach and broader support team to analyze what I can improve on in terms of fitness. For me, the numbers tell a story of progress and keep me motivated to improve each time I head out for a hard training ride.
Favorite Marin biking trails?
Yoga, Pilates or CrossFit?
Yoga. I go to Marin Power Yoga in San Anselmo. Yoga is a great way to counteract my position on the bike, maintain flexibility and help with injury prevention. For me, yoga also serves a huge mental purpose and helps me find time to unplug, reset and do something different during busy weeks of training.
Go-to Marin hangouts when off your wheels?
Advice to girls wanting to follow in your biking shoes?
Just do it. Let your love for the sport and desire to succeed outshine any fear of failure. Focus on the process, work hard and just enjoy riding your bike — that way you’ll enjoy the journey no matter where you end up
his article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Mountain Biker Kate Courtney“.