Rebecca Rusch lived up to her nickname as the “Queen of Pain” on Saturday to crush the female record on the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail that runs from Moab, Utah, to Fruita, Colorado. Despite crashing, dislocating her finger, and riding without lights for a portion of the night, the Idaho-based Rusch completed the course in 13:32:46, besting the previous female record of 15:03 set by Lynda Wallenfels in 2006.
We caught up with her after the record-breaking romp.
VeloNews: Walk us through that incredible ride.
Rebecca Rusch: I love riding at night and was totally in my groove except for a bad crash at about two and a half hours in. I just hit a rut at high speed and took a nasty, unexpected crash. My first thought was, “Is the bike ok?” Next, I felt my left index finger in the wrong place. Without thinking I put it back in place, flexed it to see if I could still operate the brake, and hopped back on. It hurt but felt fine in the flexed position. It was dislocated and would pop back out if I reached into my jersey pocket or didn’t keep it slightly flexed. It wasn’t until I finished that I realized how bad it was and had split it open from the extreme dislocation. The most frustrating part was missing the Fruita Fat Tire Festival and a proper celebration after the ride!
VN: How bad is the finger?
RR: The finger is screwed up and will need a custom riding brace, but after a hand specialist dug around, there is no nerve or tendon damage. It didn’t slow me during the ride and I never really thought about it, but it is a big factor now. This was my first time on the course, so I had no idea what was around the next corner. I had studied maps, and had a Garmin with me, but had no actual course knowledge. This was challenging because virtually every turn needed to be evaluated, I had to slow and be sure, and many turns weren’t marked or were super confusing. I definitely spent mental energy making sure I was on course. There were at least a few times I blew past turns and luckily caught the mistake quickly.
VN: How were the course conditions and what role did they play in your time?
RR: Course conditions were as perfect as could be. One week ago there was deep mud and clay in the high elevations and it was unrideable. The week of warm weather dried the course to perfect “hero dirt” up high, and there was not too much energy-sapping sand down low. I couldn’t have timed it better — pretty lucky. There was also nearly a full moon that played a huge role in saving my ride because my light malfunctioned at about 4 a.m. and went totally black. I had to ride by moonlight on the most technical section of course for two and a half hours. That cost me lots of time and it was super dangerous, but it would have been impossible to continue without the moon to give me some visibility. Wind can also be an issue on the open desert parts in the second half of the course — and there was a small head wind, but nothing like what often rips through there.
VN: What was the hardest section of trail and why?
RR: Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. because of losing my light. It was super stressful trying to keep moving but not hurt myself. I burned some serious energy just trying to ride and stay upright. I had no choice but to get through and keep moving forward but burned serious emotional and physical energy there. The last 20 miles were also pretty tough because I had gambled a little on water and was out by then. It was a conscious decision, but I was very spent by then and the last 15 miles are really technical and slow. I was running on fumes by then.
VN: Did you have any low points out there?
RR: During the ride, I was pretty motivated the whole time and not really very low, even when my light went out — I was intent on not letting that stop me. By that time I knew I was on a good pace and got really focused on trying to just keep moving until the sun came up, and then trying to make up for lost time when I could see. The trail is so varied and inspiring for most of the way, so that kept me focused and I was really attentive to the turns and trying not to get lost, so having my head in the game really helped. Probably the hardest miles were the last 30 because they just seemed to tick by so slowly. I was smelling the barn, gambling with limited water stops, and running on fumes by that point, but was on a good pace.
VN: How hard was this effort compared to some of the other challenges you’ve undertaken?
RR: Right up there with one of the most challenging yet. I really tried to keep pushing very hard on those last 30 miles because I knew they were really slow, technical, and had hike-a-bike. I wanted a buffer in case of flat tires, more crashes, or cramping. None of those things happened, so I ended up with plenty of time. But like I said before, the record was a target but I still wanted to lay down the fastest time I could. Given the crash, my light going out, and the fact that I was a total rookie on this course, I’m pretty proud of my effort. I know I did my absolute best on the day with those conditions and unexpected elements. So, all in all, I wasn’t super low at any point. I was in the zone and actually really inspired and focused. It was a great adventure and I’m sort of glad it didn’t go smooth as silk because it makes me feel more proud of the achievement
VN: Would you do it again?
RR: I would. It’s an awesome ride with a little bit of everything, going from high alpine in the beautiful La Sal Mountains to really cool desert terrain. Some really technical stuff, some fast open roads. If and when I do it again, I’d do it with friends and just ride for fun. I don’t need to set a record breaking time again for a while, although I know if I went back, I could go faster now that I know the trail and have experience on it.