Doing It All — Pro Triathlete Rach McBride on How to Race and Thrive at Triathlon, Gravel, and Mountain Biking

How do you reach the podium in not one sport, but three—and all in the same season? We chat with McBride and their coach, Mateo Mercur, to find out more.

Photo courtesy PTO

The days when athletes stayed in their lanes seem to be behind us. It’s increasingly common to see Tour riders take on randonneuring and triathletes mix it up in long gravel races. Besides being a top professional who’s won some of the biggest races around, including the recent Ironman 70.3 Boulder, Rach McBride is also helping to lead the charge as an advocate for non-binary sport.

McBride, who uses they/them pronouns, could have made a career as a successful triathlete, but that wasn’t enough. This season, they’re also racing elite level gravel and mountain bike races, including the Life Time Grand Prix Series.

What is extraordinary is that most athletes will tell you that training for Ironman races alone is a daunting task. Mixing in gravel and mountain bike racing seems like a huge stretch—but it’s one that is bringing an extra dimension of fun, adventure, and enjoyment to McBride’s training and racing—and that’s clearly paying dividends. Designing a training program that can deliver an athlete to so many different types of start lines is obviously a big ask, so in this episode we talk not just with McBride, but also their coach, Mateo Mercur, about how he’s getting the maximum bang for McBride’s training buck.   

Mercur explains how he’s given every workout a clear purpose, whether that’s doing interval work on the time trial bike on a trainer to minimizing the risk of injury from running or mountain bike riding. Listen in to find out how Mercur and McBride have excelled at making training as efficient and effective as possible. Their teamwork has allowed McBride to jump from the Leadville Stage Race, to 70.3 Boulder, and back to Leadville for the 100-mile mountain bike race—all in three weeks—and all with brilliant form and results.

So, bust out your running shoes, time trial bike, swim cap, gravel bike, and mountain bike, and if you still have any energy left after that, let’s make you fast!

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:04

Welcome to another episode of Fast Talk. Today, we have someone special joining Trevor and I in the studio, Rach McBride. While it’s common for road and mountain bikers to transition to gravel, Rach is a bit of an outlier because their competing at the highest level in both long course triathlon, as well as off road, gravel and mountain bike events. In fact, we’re talking with rage after their win at the Boulder Ironman 70.3 and a few days before they leave for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. In today’s episode, we’ll be talking with rage and their coach Mateo Mercur about how to prepare for disciplines that are seemingly on different ends of the spectrum and giving practical advice for you to make the leap as well. So put on your TT helmet, air up your knobby tires, and let’s make you fast.

Rob Pickels  00:50

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Rob Pickels  01:22

Rach, welcome to the show.

Rach McBride  01:24

Thanks for having me.

Trevor Connor  01:25

Real pleasure having you on the show.

Rob Pickels  01:27

You know so the big thing today is that we’re talking about how disparate you’re competing, but I think we have to start with this weekend in Boulder outside our studio. Super hot day. You won.

Rach McBride  01:42

I know.

Rob Pickels  01:43

How did that even happen?

Boulder 70.3 Ironman 2023

Rach McBride  01:44

I don’t even know. Yeah, what an incredible experience. You know, I just jumped into Boulder 70.3 as between, ‘oh, I have a free weekend’ and between the Leadville stage race and Leadville 100. So I’m here in Boulder, why not jump in and do it and wow, I’m so glad that I did.

Rob Pickels  02:05

I hope I can get to the level where it’s like, you know, I think I’m just going to do a 70.3 this weekend and and win it, you know.

Trevor Connor  02:12

Not just finish. Yeah, yes, let’s go win it. Got nothing better to do.

Rob Pickels  02:16

And I asked how did that happen, but I think it’s pretty obvious how it happened. You destroyed everybody on the bike.

Rach McBride  02:23

Yeah, that bike was incredible. I mean, to be at this point in my life and my career and to have done the fastest 70.3 bike of my life was an incredible experience. I mean, I just I had a plan for the race and a lot of it was just to go and really nail that bike and you know, my coach, Matteo was on the sidelines giving me splits and letting me know that I was like, gaining on everyone and so that was a really big motivator to just like, keep pushing and as soon as I could see folks, in my radar, so I saw Lauren and then I saw Holly, I just kept moving and got into the lead and just want yeah, kept going for it.

Rob Pickels  03:06

Nice. A lot of people had trouble with the heat. Obviously it was it was really hot as the Boulder race can can often be, did you do anything special? Was the heat affecting you? Did it affect you less? How did how did you kind of survive?

Rach McBride  03:18

I’m really surprised by that. Usually, I am pretty terrible racing in the heat. It’s something that’s really affected me in the past. I though have been in like Utah, Boulder area for quite a few weeks and have had some hot racing experience already this year. Racing in Kansas at Unbound, I guess I am have acclimated a little bit and I was doing really well at keeping myself cool out there to just dousing myself with water keeping ice on me and just felt, I wasn’t really overheating at any point and just like, very focused.

Rob Pickels  03:55

Yeah. Awesome.

Trevor Connor  03:57

So, something that was a little unique for you, as you were coming down from really high altitude to this where I think a lot of the competitors were coming up from sea level. How do you think that factored in?

Rach McBride  04:07

Yeah, I mean, I was just up in Leadville, racing stage race, I think I was up there for four or five days or so and even coming to Boulder, I have felt like the altitude doesn’t really affect me all that much, which has been really surprising and so I think that’s also knowing the confidence that like, I can race it 10 to 12,000 feet and I am totally fine, allowed me in Boulder to not really think about that, to not really think it was going to be a problem. Again, I knew that you know, I’ve heard ‘Oh, even though if you’re acclimated to the elevation, it’s still a it’s still challenging to race at that at that at this altitude’. I think I just didn’t have it in my head. I didn’t really think it was gonna be thing.

Rob Pickels  04:53

Well, Rach, I know that we just met 10 minutes ago, but you’re already kind of my new favorite triathlete. So, my old favorite triathlete was Cameron Die and that’s mostly because Cam was a good person, but he also crushed people on the bike. So now that he’s retired and you’re the new bike Crusher, then you’re my favorite de facto triathlete. You’re also my new favorite triathlete because you’re really pushing boundaries in the sport of triathlon. So first, by kind of this non traditional thing that we’re talking about, you just did Leadville stage race, you did a 70.3 You’re going back to Leadville, it’s a crazy schedule, you’re doing some really fun events that I would love to do, maybe not the triathlon, but we’re gonna get into that stuff later. Something I want to touch on now is that you’re one of the first athletes to compete in a non binary gender division and as the first non binary athlete on our show, I’d love to hear in your words exactly what that means. What’s happening in the sport right now, kind of bringing in more of this inclusivity and allowing opportunity for people to kind of express and be who they are.

Racing in a Non-Binary Gender Division

Rach McBride  05:57

Yeah, so being non binary just means that I identify outside of the binary. So I don’t identify as a man or a woman, but as non binary. We are seeing non binary folks and non binary athletes have always been in the world throughout the history of humankind. It’s just now that in especially in the world of sport, we’re creating a space for folks to compete outside of the binary. Sport has been such a binary avenue that now creating a space for non binary folks and gender diverse folks to compete in a category that aligns with their gender identity is really powerful. What we are seeing now, especially in the world of gravel, is that all of the major gravel races have non binary categories now and we are seeing an explosion of non binary folks finally coming out and having the courage to be able to compete and having a space like they may have been competing in in the binary, but now they have a space to compete in their own category and so for example, at Unbound last year, we saw one non binary competitor finishing the 100 Abi Robins, and this year, we had 17 in the whole race. So it’s like you create the space and non binary folks are going to come out and show up and this year as well, just happening in the same weekend last weekend. USAT national amateur championships had a non binary category for the first time. So it’s really changing in the world of triathlon, as well as a lot more slowly in triathlon, but gravel is really I think, showing the way.

Rob Pickels  06:41

Gravel is certainly on the more innovative side of things and I think it attracts a more diverse just type of person where you have a lot of people interacting with gravel in different ways from racing, to partying, to having fun. So there’s that aspect of gravel and it makes sense to me that it’s going to be the discipline that is a bit more open and inclusive of doing things in a different way, but I’m happy that we are seeing this in triathlon, I hope that we continue to see it across other sports and I think any progress is good progress at this point in time. So it’s awesome to say,

Rach McBride  08:13

Yeah, I think with gravel it’s an it’s a newer sport and so it’s really started from a grassroots level and so organizers have been able to, like create their own thing, you know, there hasn’t been this like template of how it’s done and the community just seems to be a very diverse and open and accepting community.

Trevor Connor  08:34

That’s fantastic. Just want to ask you a question about that and how you feel about that having that third division, the non binary division within sports.

Rach McBride  08:43

Yeah, I mean, to be honest, my first race, as in a non binary category was Big Sugar Gravel last year. It was a really profound experience for me to finally, just feel like I had a comfortable place in sport. I describe in my career as a triathlete showing up at start lines and just feeling, before I kind of understood my own identity, feeling out of place and feeling like I didn’t fit in and feeling like the, you know, gender terms weren’t really landing with me and that I was a bit of an imposter and so when I finally understood who I actually am and how I identify and then being able to have that experience to race, in a category that validates and affirms my gender identity, it was really powerful and inspired me now then to continue in racing. I was accepted into the lifetime Grand Prix snd in the all of the lifetime races, I’m able to race in the non binary category and especially Unbound being on that podium with a full podium of fellow non binary athletes. It was really the proudest podium that I have been on in my 11 year career,

Trevor Connor  10:01

That’s great to hear brothers and I asked this as I was reading some position statements by the IOC last night and as you know, part of their charter is to be inclusive of everybody and they have said this is this is a really, it’s a make sure they’re fully inclusive is actually a really big challenge and that seemed to be the direction they were heading in is we need this third division, we need this non binary division.

Rach McBride  10:27

Yeah, It’s neat to see there are a lot of organizations, national and international, who are coming out with different policies and I think that we’re going to see non binary inclusion more happening at the amateur level first, before we see it in a more professional division and I think that’s very reasonable. I think that we need to build up that population of non binary athletes and then figure out how on nonbinary professional category is going to work in different sports.

Rob Pickels  11:00

Yeah, so certainly steps are being taken, but a lot more work to be done.

Rach McBride  11:04


Rob Pickels  11:04

Then there’s some some things to continue to, I don’t want to say solve, but some things to continue to improve as we move forward. Right?

Rach McBride  11:11

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Rach McBride’s Background in Racing

Rob Pickels  11:12

And I hope that work continues, you know, to the listeners out there, I think that this is a really interesting topic and if anybody wants to reach out and continue this particular conversation, then check us out on the forums, or feel free to tweet at me at Robert pickles. We’d love to engage in more of this and maybe make it more of a topic kind of on the fast stock podcast moving forward, but beyond that range, I’d love to kind of get back into the training side of things. What’s your background in racing? Where did this all begin for you and I’d love to talk through that and kind of bring us up to today and your motivation to switch into doing things like lifetime Grand Prix and these off road events because I don’t think that that’s where you started.

Rach McBride  11:54

No, I call myself an adult athlete. So I dabbled in sports when I was a teenager, but quit everything when I was 15 and then decided I wanted to run a marathon when I was 25 and did my first triathlon at 28 and it totally took over my life.

Rob Pickels  12:09

Was it on a dare or a whim or anything like that?

Rach McBride  12:12

No. I mean, when I got into running, it was more I just I felt really unhealthy. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything that was exciting for me and I was living in Ottawa in the Canadian capital and the winters there a terrible, it’s like minus 40 Fahrenheit.

Rob Pickels  12:30

Been there. Yeah

Rach McBride  12:31

Yeah. So I was just feeling really blah and wanted to do something epic and I was like, all my parents ran a marathon in the mid 80s. I’m sure I could do that, too. So yeah, started training and got into the community at running community and then one of my running mentors just said, ‘Rach, I think you could be an elite triathlete.’

Rob Pickels  12:54

Makes you turn your head a little bit ‘like I could what’.

Rach McBride  12:57

I think at the time I had a bit of a swimming background when I was a kid. So I like knew how to swim freestyle. I had been a bike commuter throughout my 20s and obviously, I had gotten into running and had a bit of a talent. My first marathon, I qualified for Boston and then I ran Boston and just was really enjoying that and yeah, I just took that idea and went with it. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be an elite triathlete’ and so I moved out to the West Coast where the temperatures were more temperate and I could ride my bike outside all winter.

Trevor Connor  13:27

Where on the West Coast?

Rach McBride  13:28

Vancouver, BC.

Trevor Connor  13:30


Rob Pickels  13:30

Not what I was thinking. Okay. Southern California is what I was expecting but Vancouver works too.

Trevor Connor  13:39

I lived out in Victoria for five years.

Rach McBride  13:41

Oh, beautiful. Yeah.

Trevor Connor  13:43

So are you from Ottawa?

Rach McBride  13:44

No, no, I grew up in like the US and I finished high school in Germany, but my parents are Canadian. So I came to Canada for University and was in Ontario for about 10 years and then I’ve been in Vancouver for over 15 years now.

Rob Pickels  13:58

So you moved to Vancouver, you kicked off your training.

Rach McBride  14:01

Yeah and first race I did was a little local sprint race and I placed second overall and I just had like a blast at this race and loved it and then just jumped right in. So my first Olympic distance race I was it ended up being national amateur championships, which I won and then the next year, I was amateur World Champion and got into like, more ITU, draft legal racing and I was then like 29,30 and was like, ‘Oh, it would really be really great to go to the Olympics, but like people are, like retiring at this age’. So I raced bikes just for a couple of years because I burnt myself out in triathlon very quickly and then when I got out of grad school, my coach at the time was like, ‘I think you should try this half Iron distance’and did my first race. It was another local race against some local pros won it by 24 minutes. Did a time that would have put me top 10 At the World Champs that year and I was like, I’m 32 I’m not getting any younger, I may as well just jump right in and see what I can do with this and yeah, that was 2011 and I’ve been full time pro ever since.

Rob Pickels  15:18

Wow. That’s pretty incredible. I love hearing sort of the story and the journey and the finding your way to it because you know, that fork in the road could have gone somewhere totally different and we wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to be sitting here talking with this.

Rob Pickels  15:34

Yeah, absolutely and it is the world of sport and what sport has brought to my life is incredible. It has changed my world and it really in one aspect, it’s like, I have found this thing that I am so passionate about that like getting up every day and training in the process. I love every minute of it. I am so passionate about it and I know I’m not going to be able to do this for the rest of my life and so it’s inspired me to not go into another career that I’m just going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m just like waiting for the weekend, hope hope the weekends coming soon’, or whatever to find something that I am so passionate about or take what I have learned from sport and put it into something that is really motivating for me. So it’s inspired me to live life more.

Coaching Rach McBride

Trevor Connor  16:25

Let’s hear from Rach’s coach, Mateo Mercur, about how he feels they’ve been able to maintain Rach’s zest for the sport.

Rob Pickels  16:32

Mateo it feels as though Rach has this real verb, spark excitement, for their training. Is that just who Rach is? Is that a product of training in this diverse manner? Have you seen that with other athletes? How does this wide ranging discipline fit into really the mental and the happiness side of training?

Mateo Mercur  16:53

Yeah a happy athlete is an athlete that’s going to want to get out and train be motivated to train and that’s going to lead to success in racing. A big part of my work with athletes is relational. I want to have a really strong personal relationship with my athletes, so that they feel seen and they feel understood and they feel supported and I think Rachel and I have that. I know that region I have that.

Mateo Mercur  17:20

I spent the summer in 2016 in San Moritz with my coaching mentor, Brett Sutton and he said something then that has stuck with me. So he said, ‘I’ve never seen an athlete burnt out that wasn’t winning’ and when an athlete is doing well, whether they’re winning or just breaking personal records or still progressing and advancing, that tends to lead to them feeling good and happy and motivated and Rachel’s doing that. This weekend at 70.3 Boulder, Rach had the fastest bike of the day, set their highest average speed ever in their racing career for a 70.3 course and that’s at the age of 44 and Rachel may be the oldest athlete to win a 70.3 at this point now. Someone from Triathlete Magazine is looking into that. Rach might have beat Dede Griesbauer out by about 90 days. Preliminary stats.

Rob Pickels  18:21

Yeah, we’ll call it a win.

Mateo Mercur  18:22

For me harnessing an athlete’s motivation, keeping an athlete focused is key. Running these training camps has been huge for Rach, it keeps it has kept Rach really focused and it has allowed us to just enjoy working together and I think that has also been a real contributor to their pleasure and I gotta say this weekend’s 70.3 was something that Rach proposed maybe a week and a half or two weeks before it. We sat down for a coffee and Rach said, ‘Hey, Coach, what do you think about Sunday, Boulder 70.3?’ and I paused for a moment, gave it a moment’s thought and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it’ and I told Rach that their plan would be to race, the swim and the bike with total abandon, to leave nothing really for the run and then to discover that they would be able to run after they exit T two and Rach went up and did that and Rach and I think that is also a part of what keeps an athlete like Rach motivated when I said yes and I said, ‘I want you to go off the chain and go for it’. I think that was really exciting and motivating to Rach.

Dirt Endurance Racing

Rob Pickels  18:31

Is that passion, is that the reason that you jumped off into the dirt side of things? What motivated you to go in that direction?

Rach McBride  19:49

The dirt process was like a was a bit gradual. So I started training with some folks in BC who would go up to this town called Lolawet for training camps and there’s a lot of pavement, but there’s some gravel as well and so we would just like on our road bikes, I was training with a bunch of roadies, would just put like, 28 millimeter good gator skins and just ride the gravel as part of our riding training rides and then all of a sudden in 20, I think 2013, some gravel races started popping up on the radar in the Pacific Northwest and I went down to Oregon and did my first gravel race on a cyclocross bike and I graduated from a road bike to a cyclocross bike.

Rob Pickels  20:37

Marginally bigger.

Rach McBride  20:39

Yeah and just loved it. It was even through the all of the triathlon stuff that I had, I had been doing, it was the hardest thing that I ever done. It was beautiful. You were out in these incredible forest service roads and amazing views, super hard climbs, which were my forte and I just loved it and so I continued to try and dabble in gravel, mostly local races for a number of years and then it wasn’t until yeah, the end of last year where I decided to finally try my hand at some of the majors and it’s been hard to these big gravel races that are coming up, it’s it’s hard to fit those in like, Unbound is a 12 hour race. You can’t just like fit that in between Iron Mans.

Rob Pickels  21:29

So the schedule you’re keeping right now it kind of sounds like you can, but maybe that’s just you and it’s not everyone else in the world.

Trevor Connor  21:39

So that really brings us to something I really want to ask you about because we just recently did this episode with Ben Delaney, where we were talking about the future of virtual racing and what impact that’s gonna have on road racing and I think one of the biggest conclusions we drew out of that episode was that in the past, you really kind of had one discipline. You’re a road cyclists, or you’re a mountain biker, or you’re a triathlete and I think what we’re seeing now is a lot more disciplines out there a lot more variety and probably seeing racers jumping across these disciplines. You’re no longer just a road racer, or just a triathlete and you’re really one of the people who who’s breaking trail on that where you are a triathlete and a gravel racer, which is nobody does that nobody does. So I’m interested in your take on this. Is it just because hey, I enjoy this and its challenging? Or do you feel it makes you a better racer? How do you balance all this?

Rach McBride  22:39

Yeah, I think that a lot of the inspiration comes from, in the past couple of years, have just started doing a lot of my training more on gravel roads and recognizing just how much safer in terms of traffic wise and I think for virtual racing, it’s the same in virtual training, it’s very much the same. The more that you’re out there on the road, you realize like it’s a kind of can be a scary and dangerous place and you get yourself away from cars more and it’s a lot more enjoyable. I mean, in terms of balancing race calendar. This year, I did feel like I had to put triathlon a bit on the backburner, that all of the the Lifetime Grand Prix was really taking over my season a bit and, you know, for better or worse, I’m like, ‘Oh, I really love triathlon, but this gravel racing is really exciting and this is a cool opportunity’. So I’ve just like thrown in these races. I knew I had St. George World Champs to fit in there and that I thought was going to be my only triathlon and so all of these other like the PTO, Canadian Open, and Boulder 70.3 feel like they’ve just sort of been thrown in and my main focus has been in the more off road and cycling portion of things and so I think that just training for long distance cycling, and, you know, riding off road is a lot more challenging on the body than just sitting in a TT position on the pavement and you have to be a lot stronger, especially in mountain biking. There’s a lot more stability and just muscular endurance in more dynamic ways that you have to have and I think that translates pretty well into triathlon, in terms of just maintaining for other sports. My run training has been what feels like next to nothing. It’s been like maintenance minimally and still, I’m able to pull off some pretty solid runs.

Tactics to Train for Dirt and Triathlon Racing

Rob Pickels  24:44

Let’s take this kind of transition as an opportunity to really dig into the training and the racing side of the different disciplines. So one thing that I actually wanted to know was having done both, having experience on both ends of that spectrum. How are these events actually similar to each other? They’re both, you know, 70.3 Ironman and these gravel races are both very long events. Maybe we can sort of start there, but what other similarities are there that kind of help you, as an athlete maybe be successful in both of them?

Rach McBride  25:15

Yeah, I think definitely the duration that you are out there is very similar for each. So it feels like I am just preparing for these multi hour races and it just differs in what kind of sport and what kind of vehicle I am on. I’m on.

Rob Pickels  25:31

Yeah, so given that long duration is common between them, maybe things like fueling strategy might carry over really well, between the two.

Rach McBride  25:39

Yeah, that’s where I feel like I have had a bit of an advantage over my off road competitors. So a lot of these folks are coming from like road racing, or mountain biking, where the races are a little bit shorter and so as an iron distance, triathlete understanding what it takes to race for eight, nine, up to 12 hours. Being aware of fueling and knowing how important that is, is definitely been an advantage. I feel like I’ve had a bit of a one up on my competitors in that sense and as well, also pacing. Understanding how to manage efforts, understanding what the body is capable and what you really need to have into that, eight, nine and over time period of being in a race.

Training for a 70.3 versus an Ironman

Rob Pickels  26:26

Yeah, I’m glad you bring up pacing because that’s something that I wanted to ask about. I think that we all assume, having never done a 70.3 triathlon, that it’s a very steady pacing strategy. You kind of go out and swim your speed, you go out and you bike, your speed and you go out and you run your speed and then you finish as fast as you can. That’s my assumption anyway. I could be totally wrong. First off, is that what it’s like in the 70.3, but then how does that compare to racing on the mountain bike or the gravel where, presumably you’re working easier and harder and it’s a little bit more of a polarized sort of pacing strategy.

Rach McBride  26:58

Yeah, in the bike racing, it is still really dynamic. You are still racing in packs, they’re a strategy. It’s important to try and stay with groups and so the effort is, can be a lot of that over under that you see more and the road race racing side of things or mountain bike racing, shorter mountain bike racing side of things and that is something that going into, I hadn’t experienced, for example, a crusher, which was a race in Utah, I did right before the PTO Canadian Open and going into that race, I knew I just needed to like it was basically two major climbs with a big descent in the middle and I was like, I just I know, I need to just like go out and see how long I can stay with the front pack and then maybe I’ll blow up in the end, maybe not, but let’s just go and experiment and see and that was a huge the ability that I had to, like push really hard at the start and then still maintain that into like, the fourth and fifth hours gave me a lot of confidence going into these next races of like, to me 70.3 Racing is not it’s I’m coming from the Ironman distance, for the past five years, I have gotten into this mindset of, ‘it is all about pacing, you got to like maintain things, you can’t overdo it at the beginning, because you’re going to regret it at the end, but 70.3 racing, I am just remembering now from my earlier in my career, that it’s not actually like that. It is more about, you really have to go for it, it’s pushing harder than you really think that you can and then just like seeing how the cards lay and seeing how how long you can maintain it, it’s a really a much more challenging effort than iron distance racing and a lot more dynamic and sometimes, yeah, you need to go and burn some matches at different points in the race and that’s a lot less of a risk, I think in those shorter distance races and so I took that experience from Crusher, knowing that I had just this really great experience of being able in these later hours to continue pushing into my triathlon racing and recognizing that like, this is kind of the dynamic that you have to have going into these gravel and mountain bike races as well is that it is about managing your effort, but at the same time, you need to know where it’s okay to burn the matches and how much you’ve got left in the tank. I think I really surprised myself in some of these efforts in the past couple of races, just like re tapping into just how much I know I can push myself in those later hours and so it’s given me a lot of confidence and it means that I’m having fun with it. You know, I’m going in and I am just like seeing how hard I can push and it’s like, if I have these expectations of like, you know what, if I blow up at the end of the race, I blow up and now I’ve learned to limit.

Rob Pickels  29:59

Atleast I tried.

Rach McBride  30:00

Yeah, that’s what I’m in sport for is to learn where my boundaries are. Learn where my like physical and mental limits are and if I can just keep pushing that and having fun with it, like, that’s what was for me at Boulder 70.3, I was having a blast, I saw some of my competitors and they did a look like they were not having a good time at all, but I was like, just so happy out there, even though I was pushing it and suffering. I was smiling. I was cheering on my competitors and just having a really good time out there and I think it makes such a huge difference.

Trevor Connor  30:33

Mateo has enjoyed the challenge of balancing triatholon and gravel, let’s hear his thoughts and how the disciplines fit together.

Gravel and Mountain Biking in Preparation for Long Course Triathlon Racing

Rob Pickels  30:41

Mateo, Rach is competing across, really, I don’t want to say crazy, but a very wide range of events. How does the specific needs of 70.3, of gravel, of mountain bike work into their training program and are you considering specific events in this, such as the course for Crusher when they went and did that and then also the course for Leadville? Or is it more of a general training for mountain bike, training for triathlon, training for gravel?

Mateo Mercur  31:16

Yeah, so when Rach approached me about doing the Lifetime series for gravel and mountain bike, I’m not sure if Rach thought I would be on board. Rach indicated to me that they felt that Lifetime was doing a commendable job of advocating for, for non binary athletes and the category and Rach really wanted to be a part of that, inside of a sport where that representation was at the front and I wanted to support rage in that and I know that Rach really enjoys gravel riding in particular and mountain biking as well and I wanted to be able to make that happen for Rach, if possible. I had my concerns. There are two types of riders, those who have crashed and those who haven’t crashed

Rob Pickels  32:06

Those who will.

Mateo Mercur  32:07

Yeah, haven’t crashed yet. So that is a huge consideration and factor, whether you’re on the road or off, but it’s something that I really wanted to be careful about and Rachel and I had had discussions about how best to approach these gravel mountain bike races in order to emerge from them as unscathed as possible and that was my biggest concern going into them. For me, my intention was to use Rachel’s engine for gravel and mountain and not worry so much about becoming the best technical writer out there and Rachel already is a very accomplished technical rider and so I didn’t have any gross concerns about it and I thought, ‘yeah, this is a good way to mix it up’. If Rach already enjoys writing their gravel bike and riding their mountain bike, why not create a structure where this athlete can really get the most out of their season. I saw mountain biking and gravel biking as a great supplement to the work they were doing for 70.3 and full distance racing and that these long distance races like Crusher would be a fine addition to Rachel’s preparation for long course triathlon racing.

Rob Pickels  33:25

Is there anything in particular about these events that have benefits to the triathlon racing, such that, like to take Crusher, for example, is there something about how the effort plays out that is just great training for triathlon? Or it’s just otherwise a great event to do, but maybe a different event could have stood in just as well?

Mateo Mercur  33:50

Yeah, Crusheris a great event and there are a lot of things that that apply well enough to racing, 70.3 and long course triathlon. So much of crusher is written on your own and therefore it is a sustained time, trial type effort and a modulated effort. So much of it is out in the sun and so you have to manage keeping your body cool, and your hydration and your nutrition over time. The duration of the event is great preparation for a long Ironman event and so all these things I thought, fit well and would work into a plan that was still focused on Rach racing their best in the events that they’ve been racing as a professional athlete for so long, which are triathlon, long course triathlons.

Happiness Improving Performance

Rob Pickels  34:44

It’s interesting. We recently did a potluck episode with our special guest co-host Grant Holicky and he asked about the mental states that we like to compete in and he was very clear and very adamant that happiness is the biggest thing for him and I can see a lot of you two together in that. That it almost doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you’re happy and having fun, your performance is just going to be so much better than if you’re suffering or slogging or angry or any of these other emotional states.

Rach McBride  35:14

Yeah, absolutely. I think that being positive is so powerful in that your suffering is going to feel less because we’re all suffering out there. It’s all painful, like that’s one of my mantras is maintain the pain. I know, if I’m not hurting out there that I’m not going hard enough and if I am going to be in there and be like, ‘Oh, this sucks, and it’s so painful’ and I’m  having a terrible time. ‘I don’t like being in this’, then I’m not going to perform as well as if I’m out there and enjoying myself. It helps us handle the stress and the pain that we are putting ourselves through.

How Rach McBride Trains for a Triathlon

Trevor Connor  35:55

So I really want to dive into the training here. Because you talk to any triathlon coach, they’ll tell you that training for triathlon alone is tough. You have to balance swimming, running, cycling, means you’re often training multiple times a day, you have to figure out recovery. It’s tough, particularly if you’re training for Ironman. So you’ve thrown another element of gravel racing in there, I have to believe that at some point, something has to give. So how do you balance all that? Or I guess the interesting question here is how would you feel your training is different from somebody who just transferred triathlon.

Rach McBride  36:34

It has been a very interesting experience training. I feel like I am training for five different sports because I’ve got swim, TT bike, run, but then I’ve got gravel bike and mountain bike because even like gravel and mountain are very different and I’ve been joking that I just feel half trained and everything. I feel like I’m dabbling in everything because I don’t have such a strong focus that I’m used to in the world of triathlon and I will admit, I do a lot of training on the TT bike on the trainer. So just like focused efforts and I think that that really gives me that just the base and being able to do the intensity without having to worry about traffic and terrain and all of that jazz. It really feels like I can just sit and focus on the efforts, maintaining certain heart rates, just really going at it, no matter if I’m in the TT position, but I think it’s easy to translate into other bike positions as well. Where it’s challenging is leading up to, for example, Unbound, where I needed to spend 12 hours on my gravel bike, I had the Ironman World Champs two weeks before that or three weeks, I think before that and so the majority of my training was on the TT bike because that was the focus and then all of a sudden, you’ve got a switch and it’s like a little bit of recovery and then do a couple of big rides on the gravel bike and just hope that it’s going to translate the same thing with mountain biking. I have never spent longer than three hours on a mountain bike and next weekend, I need to race eight or nine hours on it, hopefully.

Rob Pickels  38:19

I was gonna say ‘maybe seven for you based on the rate you’re going now’.

Incorporating Run Training with Bike Training

Trevor Connor  38:24

It sounds like based on what you just said, and you talked earlier about the Boulder 70.3 that you hadn’t done a ton of run training and you just had to kind of hope that the running fitness was there. It sounds like that’s part of the approach that you have to take. You’re jumping between the sports, that you just have to hope you’ve got a general base of fitness and it’s just going to carry over and when you get on that gravel bike or on that mountain bike and have to do eight, nine hours that you can handle that bike even though you’ve just done a ton of training on the TT or that fitness is going to carry over to running if you haven’t had a lot of time to do run training. Is that the case?

Rach McBride  39:02

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I still maintain a pretty strong swim program. So I’ve got that as an aerobic base as well and the running, a lot of my runs are like off the bike and so it just kind of extends that endurance training into longer workouts and so I do feel I have in a way, been racing into shape with bike racing, as opposed to triathlon, long distance triathlon, you can race a lot more. You see so many gravel and road and mountain bike cyclists their racing every weekend. I mean, that’s what I feel like I’m doing now, but I do I feel I’m racing into shape and a lot of ways and so it’s less of the pounding on your body and so you can just do a little bit more those race experiences. Obviously you’re building fitness and experience and so it feels like I’ve just kind of had to crawl Is my fingers and hope that everything’s translating and surprise myself. The run that I had at the PTO Canadian Open blew my mind. I had no idea that I would be able to maintain that pace for 18k with such little run training that I have and so it has to be like everything else has to be translating.

Rob Pickels  40:20

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Trevor Connor  40:55

Part of Rach’s success has been a result of their trust in their coach. Let’s hear Mateo’s description of how they’ve trained Rach so successfully.

Rob Pickels  41:03

Let’s dive into that program a little bit more because Rach mentioned that in ‘Mateo’ s program, every workout has a plan’ and given the diversity of their competitions, there’s got to be some pretty intelligent training design going on here. So can you tell us how you’re using each discipline from swim, bike, run, strength, mountain bike, gravel to train effectively and also efficiently? Overall how are you building their aerobic base? How are you figuring in high intensity with all of these different variables?

Mateo Mercur  41:37

Yeah, that’s also a really good question. There is a lot going on, but the truth is, it’s not rocket science. The body responds to certain training stimuli period. You need aerobic conditioning. You need high intensity bouts. You need sustained muscular endurance and when it comes to certain disciplines like swim or gravel or mountain, in particular, skills and technique really come in. So, for me, going back to something I mentioned earlier, for Rach, it’s all about consistency, number one and focus and deliberate planning and when I’m drawing, when I’m building a plan for Rach, looking to race gravel, mountain, long distance or middle distance triathlon, it has to be focused and deliberate and it really has to be consistent and I’d be happy to talk about how I’m building the swim the bike and the run, to enable Rach to perform at a high level across these different disciplines.

Aerobic Training for Long Distance Bike

Rob Pickels  42:47

Yeah, I’m interested in is the long aerobic stuff only coming on the bike? Or are you doing that only on the run? Do you have this sort of standard structure that you’re following or is it kind of just like normal training and it happens to be on a gravel bike one day and a tri bike the other day?

Mateo Mercur  43:05

Yeah, it looks a lot like that. I’ll start with swim. Actually, on the swim, Rach gets a lot of their intensity, strength and volume. We get to doa pretty high load overall in the water because it doesn’t bang an athlete up, like running, for example. So we spend a lot of time in the water. The better an athlete is in the water, the better they’ll be set up to ride hard and fast, which will then set them up to run well. So, in the water Rach and I have worked on technique. I remember the first time I was on deck with Rach. When we got started together, we were at Ironman Chattanooga and I was just there with Rach kind of seeing how we might work together as coach and athlete. It was unofficial at that point and I gave Rach some direction with their kick in the swim and it made an immediate change and then, we’ve been working on other technical elements like their finish or the recovery and even their cadence on the swim and these have all made a difference in the swim, but on the bike, as you’ve seen, Rach is doing a whole range of different types of disciplines in their racing this summer. So I’m using the time trial bike for a lot of strength and intensity and we’re doing a lot of that work on the trainer. So we really focus hard workouts on the trainer. I call them high intensity intervals where we’ll do bouts that look like VO2 max kind of bounced, ‘best repeatable effort’ is what I say I prescribe workouts on perceived level of exertion for the most part and cadence and then off the back of those sessions, we’re doing some sustained muscular endurance work and then we’ll do rounds of back inside of a very hard bike session on the trainer and that’s on the TT bike and then I’ll do volume and recovery on the gravel bike and some strength work on the on the gravel bike also. So just go on ride and they can get volume that way and sometimes I’m actually mixing it up, I might have them do a very high intensity trainer session on the TT bike in the morning and then moderate to long ride on the gravel bike in the afternoon and likewise, the mountain bike, we can do volume on the mountain bike, depending on if we’re getting ready for Leadville, it’s been more volume on the mountain bike, but we’re also really focusing on skills on the mountain bike and I’m always having Rach ride below their skill level on the mountain bike because right now, the most important thing is for Rach to get off of each session, unscathed to stay on the bike for this training session and to stay on the bike for the racing session. The worst thing that we could do right now is get injured on the mountain or the gravel or the road bike for that matter. Which is why I really am a huge fan of smashing on the trainer. It’s safe, it’s focused and it’s very high quality.

Rob Pickels  46:06

That makes sense. I think it’s really insightful that you’re using, the TT bike is ultimately getting the lowest amount of volume, but what it sounds like maybe the highest intensity and I think that that might be really good to maintain the fitness and the adaptations that the body makes to that position, right because it’s a very different position compared to the gravel of the road bike and we can kind of get into the weeds on the length tension relationship of muscles, but the high level is ultimately that I think it’s smart that you’re doing that low volume, high intensity stuff on the TT bike and I bet you that that really preserves some of the specific attributes that rage needs to be successful on it.

Mateo Mercur  46:48

Yeah, that’s really astute. Rob. That’s exactly right. I’m really intentional about using the different bikes to train Rach in those different body positions. I want Rach to have exposure to each different setup, geometry and body position. Under load. We may talk about this later, but the different races have different demands and I want to be very race specific when we’re on different bike setups, but yes, being in the TT position is key and critical and being upgraded and even more upright on the gravel and then the mountain bikes are also really important.

Trevor Connor  47:34

So that was really what I wanted to get at and ask your opinion on this because you’ve created your own experiment, one experiment here, but there’s that whole question of cross over. How specific do you need to be, if you don’t do a ton of run training, does your running suffer? Or is it a case that if you just build that general aerobic fitness, it’s going to translate into your swimming, it’s going to translate into your running, it’s going to translate into your cycling? What have you found because obviously, you can’t train all five of these? Do you just find you have a good aerobic base and hey, even if you can’t run for a bit, you’re you’re gonna run well, when it comes to that race.

Rach McBride  48:13

Yeah, that’s what it kind of seems like is happening, I put a lot of trust into my coach Mateo to really balanced things and it does feel like even if I am training for triathlon or mountain bike, I’ll have like one ride on the gravel bike or, even if I have a certain focus, I’ll still have like one or two rides a week on a different bike just to keep my mind and body in that position and riding those kinds of bikes and just, switching it up a bit. Like you say it is an experiment. It’s totally an experiment and it seems to be working really well for me.

Rob Pickels  48:51

Rach something that you had mentioned before was that the pounding on your body is less and so you’re able to I think you said ‘do a little bit more’. Have you noticed any and maybe this is a question for Mateo, we can ask him too, has there been a change in the overall training volume in your training intensity? I know there’s big differences in the maybe the bike, the modality that you’re choosing, but are you doing more hours now than you’ve ever done including the bike?

Rach McBride  49:17

No, I don’t think that my volume has increased very much. I mean, Mateo and I started working together in I think September, October last year and the training that I am doing with him does feel like every workout has a plan. There is less sort of just general recovery stuff and more intensity and back to back days, especially on the bike and I feel that has been really key in getting my bike back up to where it is right now and I do believe that, I spend quite a few days in the pool. I’m swimming probably at least four or five days a week. Often six days a week and I feel like swimming really, as my former swim coach Jerry Rodriguez likes to say, ‘running loves swimming’. So swimming actually can be really beneficial to run training, even if you’re not doing a lot of run training, swimming can be a big boost to that

Trevor Connor  50:22

That’s interesting. I haven’t heard that. So why did why did they say that?

Rach McBride  50:25

You’ll have to ask Jerry for the details on that. It seems to translate really well, I think because it keeps the body loose, you’re still working on that aerobic capacity. Swimming is more of a full body workout, you’re working on tightness in the body so there’s a lot of core strength that you need, that I think helps with maintaining that in the run sense as well.

Trevor Connor  50:45

So where do you feel you’re doing most of your aerobic work? Is it really split between swimming, running and cycling or do you find that there’s one that you’re particularly focusing on to build that big aerobic engine?

Rach McBride  50:58

It is definitely mostly on the bike, I would say that the majority of my training is focusing on the bike, but it’s also not like I am doing any massively long rides. I think that my big ride days are my race days. So leading up to Unbound I had a one six hour ride and one five hour ride in the couple of weeks leading up to it. So it’s not like I’m doing big epic days. It feels like, as I said, my right, I think my racing is the long ride days and then otherwise, it’s very focused interval work.

Trevor Connor  51:36

So that I find very interesting, how many interval sessions do you think you’re doing in a week between all the different disciplines?

Rach McBride  51:44

Well, let’s see, I would say I have maybe three interval sessions on the bike and then my swim workouts seem to be all hard.

Trevor Connor  51:55

That’s really interesting because at least the way I was taught to train triathlon was a little bit different, which is, yes, most of the aerobic works done on the bike because bike is so less damaging on your body. So if you’re gonna do long endurance type work you get on the bike and just do that. You might do some interval work on the bike, running the I was always taught you do interval work running because you need to build that efficiency, you need to build that ability to go at speed and then if there’s anywhere that you’re gonna go easy, it’s in the pool because that aerobic training you do and running and cycling is going to translate to swimming and really, what you need to do most in the pool is work on the the neuromuscular side, the form your strokes, you’re doing something very different from that.

Trevor Connor  51:55


Rach McBride  51:55

There’s never an easy day. Never an easy swim day and then my running is, you know, I feel like it’s just been not recovery runs, but just like steady runs with some pickups or I think I maybe recall, three or four runs in the past couple of months that have actually had intervals in them. So that feels like it is bare minimum.

Rob Pickels  53:11

Maybe we don’t want to put this episode out because we’re exposing Mateo secret to the world right now.

Trevor Connor  53:19

Doing that, gonna have a bunch of people killing you go, ‘Thanks. Thanks for doing that episode’. Is that just your coaches style or does that have to do with the the mix of the disciplines?

Rach McBride  53:30

Well, I think there’s a bit of a mix there. So I feel I respond quite well to a high swim volume. I learned that I when I started with Tower 26, several years ago and Jerry’s program and Mateo is also a very swim heavy coach, I would say in terms of, especially in terms of frequency and for me, I have been injured running so much in my career, that I have had to maintain a low volume. I have had to learn how to run a fast marathon on a 90 minute long run and so that is just like for me how my body responds the best or how what I’m able to do. I am not able to do a lot of intensity or volume running because I’m so susceptible to injury.

Trevor Connor  54:20

No, that’s fair and I’ll actually say we had Melanie McQuaid on the show and she said something similar and said a lot of triathletes underestimate the swim and definitely see what you’re talking about, which is, the issue with running is it’s so damaging on your joints.

Rach McBride  54:35

So damaging, So damaging.

Trevor Connor  54:37

I see a lot of triathletes, especially when they’re getting into it, will try to balance cycling and running and end up injuring themselves too much.

Rach McBride  54:46

Yeah, absolutely and I mean, this is what I’ve learned over my now 11, 12 year career is that I in order to run fast off the bike, I don’t necessarily need to have all of that intensity and volume. I think that especially because I have been a full time athlete for so long, I have already a lot of underlying fitness from that decade of training full time and I see inspiration and other athletes. You look at like Jesse Thomas, for example, was an incredible runner and yes, have had a history of, you know, being a collegiate runner, but his run volume during his triathlon career was quite minimal as well and he still had some incredible runs.

Incorporating Running into Triathlon Training while Running has been Damaging

Trevor Connor  55:31

Running because of how damaging it can be has been a challenge for Rach, let’s hear how Matteo is fit running into the training routine.

Mateo Mercur  55:38

At different times, different athletes will require different training structures and Rach has been dealing with some injuries for the past, since the winter, Rach came off the mountain bike and bruised a bone in their knee and that required a lot of downtime actually and what I’ve done is used the bike to build fitness for the run. So we’re getting aerobic fitness, we’re getting muscular fitness, we’re just not getting sport specific run fitness, but the stronger you can be on the bike, the less it will break you down and the more you’ll have in the tank still when you get off to run and so what I’ve been doing with the run is doing a lot of run off the bike work so that it is sports specific and that it kind of tricks the body into feeling like it’s a higher load. If you do an hour run off of a two or three hour bike, that increases the impact of the quality of that run, in terms of volume and fatigue, pre fatigue before going into the run and race specificity and so we’ll do an hour, 75 minutes, 90 minutes off the bike regularly and we’ll also do those at race intensities. So Rach will do lower intensity runs for recovery, or endurance, which are endurance runs and are not that long, we’ll do a little bit of economy work with some short pickups on shorter run days and we’ll do a lot of what I call ‘muscular endurance and race specific intensity’ work off the bike and that limits the amount of pounding and damage on the body and maximizes the training effect of the running that we are doing.

Rob Pickels  57:31

It’s almost as if you’re applying the same principles with using the TT bike for high intensity on the trainer to the run situation. What exactly does this buy us? How do we maximize the contribution that the run can make and it sounds like in your program, tying that to coming off the bike is how you get that efficiency to training as opposed to doing it as a totally separate session where you’re missing the adaptation or the stress on the body that Rach needs to face in their race. It really emphasizes again, the efficiency I think you have built into your program.

Trevor Connor  58:11

Really sounds like you’re saying it’s not so much that there’s a secret sauce magic formula for training it’s there’s a secret sauce a magic formula for you.

Rach McBride  58:20


Trevor Connor  58:20

That’s very individual for you.

Rach McBride  58:22

Absolutely, absolutely. I don’t know if this would work for any other person, but this is just I am hoping I am becoming a smarter athlete as I get through my career. Sometimes I don’t do very smart things when I have done some very stupid things this year already to hurt myself, but yeah, I hope that, I learned from my experience and I think it really has taken me this long to sort of figure things out and the fact that I have been for so long now there’s several years that I haven’t had a running injury due to too much running I haven’t had any broken bones in my feet anymore. My feet used to be my nemesis and now I’m really through all of the work that I’ve been doing. I have also in the past several years been working with a specific strength and mobility coach and a natural movement coach that I think has been a huge game changer specifically for my running just in terms of understanding like what happens to my body under fatigue and how just proper neuromuscular firing has really been huge for injury prevention for me.

Trevor Connor  59:32

Alright, so I promised him I’m done with drilling you with questions, I just want to impress on everybody. Ironman, triathlon is such a hard sport to do as I’m talking as a coach right now. To balance the disciplines that you’re balancing to be as successful as you’ve been and for as many years as you have. I just really want to impress on everybody how difficult that is to do how difficult all that is the balance. We said you kind of have your secret sauce, it’s has to be a pretty magical secret sauce to have been able to pull off what you’ve pulled off.

Rach McBride  1:00:09

Yeah, I feel like I just I love saying yes to new adventure and I think that for me, like I said, I just have this attitude of going out there and giving it my all and seeing how I can challenge myself and I put a lot of trust into my coaches. I’m pretty terrible at taking care of myself in a lot of ways and and paying attention to what I need to be doing. I put a lot of faith into the folks around me and my team around me to take care of me and to give me the training that is going to work the best for me.

How Skills and Equipment help Transition an Onroad Racer to Mountain and Gravel Racing

Rob Pickels  1:00:47

Rach a little a little while ago, you mentioned your knees and then you’ve been crashing your mountain bike. Which I think begs the question because this is potentially a hurdle for a lot of people looking to make the transition? How do skills? How does equipment? How does that play into the transition from going from a onroad 70.3 focus into the gravel in the mountain bike world?

Rach McBride  1:01:15

Yeah, well especially for mountain biking, it’s huge. Being able to understand your equipment and your setup can be night and day. Getting into gravel, I think is a little bit easier and it is a very welcoming community, but in mountain biking, I just got my bikes at the beginning of the year and I’m still a little bit lost as to how they work and unfortunately, I am the type of rider who takes risks, and loves to go fast and may not see hairpins or obstacles in the way. I ride in on the north shore in Vancouver at some of the best and hardest.

Rob Pickels  1:02:01

It’s no joke.

Rach McBride  1:02:02

Technical mountain biking and so that was my intro to trail riding and I think I learned very quickly that I’m pretty good at just holding on and going down things and surviving. Going up and over things is where I tend to have the most difficulty and even on the first day of the stage race last weekend, my bike was completely set up improperly, I had my tires, way over inflated, I accidentally locked out my front fork and on the first somewhat technical descent, went down and crashed and I had just healed myself from a crash on a descent from Crusher, I had road rash on my elbow and my knee on one side and then at the stage race, I crashed on the other side.

Rob Pickels  1:02:52

Your balance perfect, it’s actually a feature.

Rach McBride  1:02:57

I did something to my knee that was very painful running in the week leading up to Boulder 70.3, I would start out at about a seven out of 10 pain level when I would run and so it was a big question mark as to I had to get an x ray to make sure it was not broken and I wasn’t running on broken bones because I seem to also be really good at doing that and I don’t want to continue doing that and so knowing that the pain I was experiencing I was like, ‘okay, I can just run through this and I’m not going to be injuring myself any further’. Thankfully, in the race I it was no problem, but that first day of that stage race was a huge eye opener of, if I had just had my tire pressure right and had to understand or been paying more attention to my suspension on the mountain bike, it would have been night and day and under and then going into the second and third days with the correct setup and having like way different experience and it being way safer and having much more traction. That has been a huge learning curve for me and it honestly has been quite overwhelming to figure out the mountain bike side of things because it is such a different sport, the technical side of things and just understanding how all of these things on the bike work.

Rob Pickels  1:04:17

There’s a lot of nobs right?

Rach McBride  1:04:19

Yeah, there’s a lot of things to pump up and and so I learned the hard way that asking for help is really important and I have also taken some skills courses so I have had the opportunity to go and hang out in Moab for a couple of days and took a lesson there and so understanding more the like technique of particularly mountain biking has been incredibly helpful. With the gravel riding I felt like to me it just because it’s a lower technical style of riding, it’s a lot easier to get into. It’s really really just about getting a good bike setup and getting tires that are appropriate for the terrain that you’re riding and just going out and getting used to riding on terrain that is not as stable as pavement, I think it’s more just about the feel because a lot of the gravel riding that folks are doing are just on pretty well maintained gravel roads and so that’s a good place to start and then you can graduate into more technical things, bigger rocks, single track, that kind of thing.

Rob Pickels  1:05:35

Yeah, I almost kind of liken it to the swim side of the triathlon, where technique is so important and you can go into the swim. So I’m saying this because I think the triathletes will understand the comparison. You can go into that swim and just work so incredibly hard, but if your technique is off,

Rach McBride  1:05:52


Rob Pickels  1:05:52

You don’t go anywhere.

Rach McBride  1:05:54


Rob Pickels  1:05:54


Rach McBride  1:05:54


Rob Pickels  1:05:55

Mountain biking and to some extent, gravel can be like that as well. If you don’t have the mountain bike technique, then you’re slowing down too much for corners, which means you’re sprinting to get back up to speed, you’re burning that energy and burning those matches, but I’m really happy and excited to hear that you have taken lessons and I think that that is a big takeaway for people. There are so many mountain bike skills coaches and they’re not all focused on downhill and huge jumps and everything that’s exciting that you think they’re focused on. There’s a lot of coaches that are really specialized in taking people like yourself, who are looking to make the change into mountain biking and teaching proper technique that increases safety and increases speed and frankly, going fast is a heck of a lot more fun than going slow so.

Rach McBride  1:06:45

Well and it increases enjoyment as well. If you’re out there on the trails and you’re just scared of, just scared.

Rob Pickels  1:06:51

Nobody wants that.

Rach McBride  1:06:52

It’s not fun. It’s really not fun.

Why Gravel is a Good First Step to Making the Transition from Onroad to Mountain Biking

Rob Pickels  1:06:54

Rach, as I think you pointed out the transition from triathlon into gravel is maybe the easy first half step to make because of the similarities that are there and for anyone who are looking to expand their racing disciplines, maybe the fold jump to mountain biking is a step, a leap and a jump. Do you see kind of gravel being the good first move?

Rach McBride  1:07:15

Absolutely, absolutely. I think because the bike position is very similar, the technicality of it is a lot lower, the equipment that you’re on is so much similar, that it’s very easy. I mean, I started on a road bike, I started riding gravel on a road bike and now I go back to those gravel roads and I’m like, what was I thinking like, that must have been so terrible and uncomfortable. This is a way better on a gravel bike, but that’s what I tell a lot of folks who are interested in gravel is, just put some bigger tires on your road bike and go and try it out, go on a trail and you don’t need to necessarily like go all in on 1000s of dollars on a new bike, when you can just experiment a little bit and see if you like it, see if it’s something that’s interesting and yeah, there is I think such a welcoming community. The racing is just so inclusive and a really cool environment. There’s often a free meal and a free beer at the end, which I always love. That’s definitely been a perk of gravel racing and yeah, I think jumping into mountain biking, even to me as an experienced gravel racer, jumping into mountain biking this year, I felt I was way in over my head and it was just, trying to figure out how to ride these trails and crashing all the time and hurting myself and although I love it, it’s something that I really think about in terms of my long term health. You hear these horror stories of peoplehaving really bad crashes on mountain bikes an I think is food for thought in terms of getting into off road racing and off road riding and being that first comfortable in more varied and loose terrain, before getting into mountain biking can be really beneficial.

How to Increase Comfortability on Gravel

Rob Pickels  1:09:09

Transitioning from triathlon into gravel, is there one particular technique that you’ve used or skill that you’ve practiced that has really increased your comfort and your fun on the gravel bike? Has there been something that you’ve done that’s maybe unlocked sort of the secret on gravel for you?

Rach McBride  1:09:27

That’s a good question.

Rob Pickels  1:09:29

That’s a good question means I have no answer because it was a terrible question is really what that’s a good question means.

Rach McBride  1:09:37

I think it’s more so translating mountain bike skills so understanding more about, my best friend Jill calls it, ‘being big on the bike’. So, your elbows out and your knees out and just having a bigger presence on the bike and more to absorb the shock. I think that It feels like a more stable position on the bike. It’s very counterintuitive to what triathletes are used to, we’re used to being just small, very small and confined and so it’s a different way of being on a bike is being big. I think the other thing too, for gravel is some of the details. Your tire choice, your tire size, your tire pressure can make night and day in terms of how comfortable you are on the bike and how stable it feels.

Rob Pickels  1:10:31

That’s definitely an area that people can experiment with.

Rach McBride  1:10:34


Rob Pickels  1:10:34

Go out and ride the same gravel road at 20 psi, 30 Psi, 40 psi, see how it feels differently for each?

Rob Pickels  1:10:41

Go around some corners, feel how stable it feels. That’s something that you can do in your own neighborhood. Yeah.

Rach McBride  1:10:41


Rach McBride  1:10:46

Yeah, yeah, absolutely and riding with others who are maybe more experienced following them on the trails, having someone to emulate, I think can be really powerful as well.

Rob Pickels  1:10:58


Race Recon

Trevor Connor  1:10:59

Before we close out the episode, let’s hear Mateo talk about one last important piece of Rach’s training. Race recon.

Mateo Mercur  1:11:07

So of course, recon is a huge part of our success. So I had a training camp leading into the Ironman World Championships in St. George in May, I was in St. George for five or six weeks before the race with a small squad of athletes and Rach was a part of that and we reconned that course, every inch of that course. We swam in the reservoir when it was still freezing and got very clear as to what that water temperature would be like and the impact that it would have and I toughened those athletes to it. We stayed in even when it was cold, they stayed and I was on deck with my binoculars around the shore with my binoculars and actually a walkie talkie. I had two ways walkie talkies in my athletes, little float torpedoes and I could communicate to them while they were swimming and we immediately became clear that we were going to need to use neoprene beanies to maintain body temperature in those conditions. Thankfully, in the days before the race, the water temperature went up a bit, but my athletes were really toughened to some very cold water. We rode every inch of the bike course, we got a very clear sense of the course profile in the early part of the race, the mid part of the race, the latter part of the race. I exposed the athletes to the heat and the wind and the UV exposure. So we got really clear about what the right gearing choices would be. I had athletes switch their rear cassettes for this race. I had athletes switch their front wheel choices to a slightly shallower front wheel. Rach went with a deeper set, but some of my age group athletes, went with slightly shallower wheels in the front to better handle on the crosswind and be able to stay down, put power down and ride confidently and we saw where we could make gains on this course. One of my age group athletes had just one of the fastest sections on the long descent in that because of the big gearing that we were using on that course and then likewise on the run, we ran that run course at speed, we ran that run course for just endurance runs and really got it dialed as to how to best sustain high performance racing effort on the day when we knew it was going to be hot and suddenly exposed and just unforgiving.


Rob Pickels  1:13:45

So I think that we’re getting toward the end of the episode here and as always, we like to make sure that things are actionable for people and so we oftentimes like to end with with the take home, which is sort of a one minute if you want to share the high level summary The take home information pieces throughout the episode that you think are the most important things for listeners to hear.

Trevor Connor  1:14:09

You know what I just noticed?

Rob Pickels  1:14:10


Trevor Connor  1:14:10

We’ve lost our five minute timer. We finished with one minute take homes.

Trevor Connor  1:14:15

So of course, we bought a five minute timer. Which serves is no good whatsoever, but I still like to flip it every once in a while.

Rach McBride  1:14:15


Rob Pickels  1:14:24

Yeah, fair enough.

Trevor Connor  1:14:25

So would you like to go first? You have one minute to kind of give us what do you feel is the most salient point from the episode or what do you hope the listeners really take from this?

Rach McBride  1:14:36

Well, to me, I think that how I have been so successful in this is that I just say yes to a lot of things and experiment and go out and have fun and follow what feels good and fun for me. I think that understanding that if you are you used to riding a TT bike for hours at a time, you can hop on a gravel bike and go ride for hours too. It’s going to be the same type of fitness, it translates into that and it’s a great way to kind of switch things up as well, if someone is maybe a bit bored of being on the TT bike and just wants to experience something different. I think riding gravel is a way that might be inspiring for a lot of people to continue in sport to try something new and that really your triathlon training is going to translate into that endurance training for gravel. Again, mountain biking, getting some skills training can be huge. Understanding that it can be scary and daunting for the off road racing and riding more riding just because that surface is unstable and so just going into it, knowing that. Understanding that you’re going to have some feelings around it and that might be scary to start off with.

Rob Pickels  1:16:06

Yeah. Rach, I think I’m really similar to you and my take home and that is, if you want to do something, you can do it. There’s nothing that says you have to engage with sport or gender in in a preconceived traditional notion and that everybody has any opportunity that they want to pursue and so if you want to change from being an on road racer to an off road racer, then great, go for it.

Rach McBride  1:16:32


Rob Pickels  1:16:33

We talked about how difficult that is, but in some regard, that’s because we talked about doing it at the highest level and that isn’t everybody listening to the show. So you don’t have to be afraid, but you might need to get some help and a coach is helpful, a skills coach is helpful. Maybe somebody who knows about equipment that you don’t know about is very helpful. So it’s great to talk with people. But more than anything, the best is to just go after whatever your heart desires, right and take those steps forward.

Rach McBride  1:17:04

Yeah, absolutely.

Trevor Connor  1:17:06

Trevor. So I guess it’s probably pretty obvious where I’m gonna go with my take home. Based on my questioning, I’m just fascinated by the balance you’ve had, because if an athlete came to me and said, I want to do Ironman and I want to do gravel racing and I want to do mountain biking, probably my response would be I think we need to do an intervention here, but you’ve managed to do it and you’ve managed to do it very successfully and what I heard from you is two things that I think have allowed you to be successful. One is really learning what works for you and it sounds like you and your coach have done a really good job over the years of just figuring out, here’s what you shouldn’t be doing, here’s what you should be doing and that’s how you can balance everything. The other thing that I heard that I kind of liked hearing because it’s a little different from what’s popular right now ecause right now, everything’s specificity, specificity, specificity, but you can’t train all five disciplines to the level that you want and it sounds like you’ve really done a good job of building a general engine and then trusting that it’s going to translate when you get to the particular event and so far, it sounds like that’s really worked for you.

Rach McBride  1:18:17

Yeah, sure.

Rob Pickels  1:18:17

You say intervention, I say celebration.

Rach McBride  1:18:21


Trevor Connor  1:18:22

I agree. That’s kind of my point is if somebody had come to me and said, Let’s do this,

Rob Pickels  1:18:28

Let’s do this!

Trevor Connor  1:18:29

I admit, I kind of would have said, I’m not sure that’s possible, but you’ve shown it is possible and that’s why I’ve been so fascinated by this. I mean, that’s something that should be celebrated.

Rach McBride  1:18:39

Yeah, yeah and you know what I really credit Mateo for saying yes to a lot of this stuff. He’s like, okay, we’re doing Lifetime Grand Prix. We’re doing Ironman World Championships and we’re, I guess we’re throwing in some triathlon in there and I just even the fact of being like, ‘Oh, hey, I’ve got a free weekend, can I jump into Boulder 70.3, what do you think about that?’ and he’d be like, ‘Yeah it’s in your backyard. You may as well jump in. Go for it’.

Rob Pickels  1:19:07

The burning question that remains, do you have TT bars on your gravel bike? This is going to split our audience. Do you have TG bars on you’re gravel bike?

Rach McBride  1:19:23

Such a controversial topic. I do not and at Unbound I really wished I did.

Rob Pickels  1:19:32

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to fast talk. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at or tweet me at at @RobertPickels. You can also head to to get access to our endurance sports knowledge base, coach continuing education as well as our inperson and remote athlete services. For Rach McBride, Mateo Mercur and Trevor Connor, I’m Rob Pickels. Thanks for listening!



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