Fast Mom: Spotlight On Pro Mountain Biker Rachel Beck
By Catherine Lutz
Rachel Beck grew up on a farm Back East and has known her husband since they were kids. Today, she’s a professional mountain biker living in Woody Creek, and at least one of the three kids in this outdoor-loving family seems to be following in her footsteps. It’s an only-in-Aspen family story—here, Rachel tells us how a family that rides together, stays together.
How did you go from farm girl to mountain biker?
We were living in North Carolina, where my husband was doing his residency in anesthesiology. When he was looking for jobs, we knew we wanted to move west. Just randomly a job appeared in Aspen, and we quite literally felt like we’d won the lottery.
Growing up on a farm, we did not do any of the sports that are here. I think I’m a fairly normal athlete, and when I first moved here I was afraid to go riding with people, because you don’t know if you’re riding next to an Olympian. After our third baby, I was just starting to get into mountain biking. Like most women, I was thinking I really needed to get back in shape, and I knew if I didn’t set a goal I wouldn’t get back into shape. Everybody was talking about the Leadville 100 (a 100-mile endurance mountain bike race based out of Leadville, CO) … so, I joined the local cycling club and trained for the Leadville 100. One thing I knew about myself as an athlete is that races that long are like a war of attrition—I knew I could go fast, but I’m incredibly stubborn and won’t give up. And it sort of blossomed from there.
How did you land a pro contract?
For the last two years, I’ve had a coach — Scott Leonard of Basalt Bike and Ski — and I didn’t realize what a dynamic change that could make. I went from being a pretty fast amateur to getting a professional contract over last winter. Scott encouraged me to register for endurance mountain bike races in the pro category. It feels intimidating to list yourself as a pro, but then I started landing on some pro podiums.
The team director for Team TWENTY20, Nicola Cranmer, whom I’d known for a number of years, watched me get stronger and stronger. I came in second in the Aspen FIFTY to one of her pro riders, so Nicola said, ‘You should consider this,’ and over the winter it got more formalized. I think she recognizes that you can race endurance in your early forties and be quite successful and that moms can be quite successful as well.
Your kids are all athletes, too. Were they inspired by you or did they come into mountain sports on their own?
My kids took to living in mountains. Where sports don’t come easy to me, my kids were two and four when we moved here, and growing up on the mountains they just look at the mountain in an entirely different way than I do.
With my older son, George, I always joke that I can’t tell whether he’s like a 40-year-old woman or I’m like a 16-year-old boy — we’re the same person. He has always loved to ride his bike, and where I have to work at the technical aspects of biking, he’s always had that as a strength. I think it’s unusual for kids his age to like to suffer like that.
Eight-year-old Owen is a big biker as well, and he bikes with Roaring Fork Cycling. We also go out on rides as a family all the time. My daughter, Ella, who’s almost 18, has been the last piece of puzzle. She’d always ride with us but not competitively. She’s starting on her first races this fall, racing with CRMS (Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale). Everybody races except my husband.
I think we’re lucky here as parents. In other parts of the country parents worry about too much screen time and what their kids are eating. I can’t keep enough calories in my kids! They’re so busy on the mountains that I’m relieved when they want to go to the Isis Theater and watch a movie.
What does a typical summer day look like in your family?
A typical summer day is getting up pretty early and, just like any mom, planning schedules and activities. But typically all the schedules seem to be around getting rides in and who’s riding with who and where they’re meeting. We also have three dogs, so I take the dogs on a walk on the Rio Grande, which is right by our house. Then I come home and wake up the kids.
George rides with the devo team with Roaring Fork Cycling — for him it’s all about meeting friends and going riding. Ella is doing an outdoor leadership course through CRMS, so she’s been going to lectures on crisis management in the backcountry and wilderness first aid. She’s more of a hiker, and totally into it. Owen is seven years younger, but he always wants to keep up. He likes to trash talk and say, ‘I’m the best mountain biker in the family.’ And he probably is.
So typically, it’s about eating enough food and getting my kids to eat enough food. And do whatever big ride or activity.
This season I had a couple of good early season races, and then I got a back injury, so I had to have back surgery. It’s been really hard to miss it. But to bike at that level as a 40-year-old you have to have everything perfect. And this year my back did not hold up.
How do you do it when you’re not injured? How do you maintain family life while training and traveling as a pro mountain biker?
Honestly, I have a lot of help from my husband, and I’m fortunate my kids support me, too. I don’t think it’d be possible if my husband liked to ride as much as the rest of us, and he usually has to stay close to home for calls anyway. The older kids are at the age that they can help with Owen. It’s a lot of organizing and prioritizing, so I prioritize my family, then I prioritize my cycling, and that’s what works. I’m really lucky to have them to cheer me on, and vice versa.
In terms of biking, it’s not like every ride is hard core. You’d be amazed the conversations you can have on a bike with friends and family. Going on a four-hour ride with George is incredible; he’s hands-down my favorite riding companion.
Training is seven days a week, but there are recovery days built in, to let your muscles adapt to training, and that’s all done through sleep and eating well and recovery days. But that’s what’s been hard for me; as a mom you don’t really put your feet up.