Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were face to face with a mountain lion in the middle of the night during an ultra-endurance bike race where you were poised to beat the entire field (including the men)? In this interview, professional ultra-endurance cyclist Lael Wilcox discusses this and sooo much more.
Lael might be the toughest woman I’ve interviewed yet — and that’s saying a lot. The Alaska (and Tucson) based athlete’s many accolades include setting a women’s record in the 2015 Tour Divide, setting the fastest women’s time on the Baja Divide route in 2015, breaking the men’s record on that same course in 2017, winning the 4400 mile TransAm bike race, which has you cycling across the United States, beating everyone including the men, and becoming the 2nd woman to every complete Switzerland’s Navad 1000 bikepacking race- where she took second place.
Lael doesn’t just compete in bikepacking events – she also helps other people enjoy them. In addition to organizing women’s bikepacking challenges, she is the founder of Anchorage GRIT, a middle school bicycle mentorship program for 7th grade girls in Anchorage, AK, and she also founded Lael Rides Alaska Scholarship.
Plus, she’s a total ray of sunshine. If you need a dose of optimism you are going to find it in this interview.
Connect with Lael
In this episode, we talk about…
- How Lael finds the motivation for things she doesn’t necessarily enjoy (ie public speaking, mapping routes and social media)
- Why Lael has never had VO2 max testing, lactate threshold testing, or trained under the guidance of a coach
- How she won the TransAm bikepacking race in 2017
- Strategies for eating and sleeping during an ultraendurance race
- What beginners need to know about bikepacking
- How she handled a chance encounter with a mountain lion during a race
- The joy she takes in riding her bike and experiencing nature
I’m just so grateful for all I get to do. And then, you know, I think of these dreams and then try to make ’em reality and get help along the way from friends and sponsors. I feel like I get to see the positive side of life, you know, it’s like, I, I want these things to happen. And then people are like, let me help you.
What if I had done it when I was 12, what if I had gone bike camping or, you know, realized that this was something I could actually do my life would’ve been so different and I don’t regret any of it, but I’m just like, that’d be so, so cool.
Yeah, it gives you a lot of motivation because you see the positivity that can come and then you’re like, it’s not all about me. It’s like this 12 year old just rode 60 miles. And the first day she couldn’t ride too. She was like crying and taking her inhaler and then she did it and then she comes back from the adventure and her and her mom are both crying with joy. You’re like, oh my God, like she’s 12. Imagine if she hadn’t done that, she would’ve always thought she couldn’t, you know? That’s cool. That like gives me such a boost that I’m like, it’s worth it.
There was like a certain point, I think, you know, you’re like 11, 12 years old when you learn that you’re never gonna be as fast as the boys and that you have to be on a different team and that you’re not gonna compete in. That was so crushing….I keep running, I start cycling to get to work and then to travel the world and then end up entering races. And then I’m winning these races, beating the men. And I was just so full of joy because I was like, it’s not true. Women can win.
I was like, I’m gonna go do this race. I’m gonna win the whole race. I’m gonna break the record. But you know, I can’t believe I had this level of confidence because I had basically never ridden a road bike.
I was like, what is this? I took a bite and I was like, whoa, that’s crazy. And then I ate the whole thing.
You can’t win this stuff by accident.I mean, you can’t win anything by accident, but something that takes, it took me 18 days. And like every single minute of the day, you’re like trying to do your best for that long. And then to actually win it…I was just so happy.
I love like racing head on. It’s so exciting. Cause you don’t know what’s gonna happen, you know? And then it’s like, you give it your all. And, and then even if I don’t win, that’s fine. I tried my hardest and I’d much rather race a strong competitor than just win by hours.
You can be so strong with others, you know, working together, but it’s also racing should be a place where you can just be an individual,
You can have these dreams and go after them. And you shouldn’t feel bad about that. But people have told me I’m arrogant or something; I’m arrogant for just racing. You’d never tell a dude he was arrogant for racing. I’m not saying I’m the best. I’m saying I’m gonna try my hardest.
AI wanna actually go for it. And then if I don’t win, I fail. That’s fine. That’s part of it. And I’m willing to own that too. You know, I’m not gonna be happy with it, but it’s fine.
Quitting is the thing I hate the most.
With this style of racing, it’s all about creativity or dealing with what comes up, finding solutions.
The essence of bike packing is that you just carry what you need, eat, sleep outside, figure it out along the way.
I definitely go by kind my gut feelings. If I feel something weird, then I won’t stay there.
I was like, oh, there’s an animal there. And I was like, oh shit, it’s a mountain lion.
Food should be a joyful part of life. A good thing, delicious and healthy and something you share with others.
- Anchorage Grit (Lael’s non-profit)
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
- Torino-Nice Women’s Bike Rally
- Rue, Lael’s wife
- My interview with the ladies of the Omnia Fit podcast “An Ironman’s Journey Toward Food Freedom”
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If you want evidence-based insights on all things women’s health and fitness, check out my friends at the Omnia Fit podcast
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