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Day in the life: Rebecca Rusch

Nine questions with the adventure cycling icon about how she's living in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought professional cycling to a halt. In the coming weeks we will be reaching out to pro riders and other personalities from the sport to understand how their lives are continuing amidst the shutdown.

Rebecca Rusch was way out in Alaska, competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, when the coronavirus pandemic stopped American life in a matter of days. “I came out from the wilderness and was like, wow, what is going on?” Rusch said recently from her home in Idaho.

Now, the Emmy Award winner for Blood Road and the promoter of Rebecca’s Private Idaho is reconfiguring her personal life and her business life from home in Idaho.

Location: Ketchum, Idaho

What are the current regulations for where you live about going outside?
Our mayor declared a state of emergency. The ski resort is closed. We are recreation-tourism economy. Everyone here is going to get hit hard. The nice thing is that we live in a place where you can be outside alone. I am lucky in that aspect.

My husband is a firefighter, and I am volunteer firefighter. They put a bunch of protocol in place with protective gear and a decontamination center at the fire house.

I am walking my dogs a lot. They are okay with this stay-at-home business.

What races were you planning to do that have been canceled or postponed?
The Dirty Kanza XL was the next one on my calendar.

What are you doing today?
I was on Zwift at lunchtime.

From Alaska to the trainer. Rusch is a recent convert to Zwift, using a Tacx Neo 2T smart trainer.

Are you doing workouts? If so, what specifically?
I did some intervals. Tim Cusick, the TrainingPeaks WKO product leader, is coaching me. I started with him in November to get ready for Alaska. Having a daily schedule from Tim is really nice, just to have that structure. I missed it. He gives me options. Like ‘do workout A if you can. If you don’t have time, do workout B.’ That has been super important to have guidance and accountability.

Iditarod Trail last year to this year was night and day. Last year was my first time doing that level winter expedition, and I wasn’t really in shape, and had no knowledge of the trail. I won it last year, air quotes, for the women in four days. This year was twice as long because of the conditions; the temperature got down to -40 degrees, but physically I fared much better.

Rusch complete the Iditarod this year in seven days and seven hours.

What indoor gear are you using?
I have a Tacx and Zwift. They have made a really big difference. After Blood Road happened and the film tour, the last four years or so I fell off the training wagon because I was so busy. It’s been great to have structure again.

What is your motivation to train now?
I am still training with my coach as if the next race on my calendar is Dirty Kanza because I don’t know what else to do, and it’s good for me. If they pull the plug on it, then I am putting together bike packing solo rides of my own. In the vein of the Alaska trip, but here in Idaho.

The bike has to be a main part of my life because it’s important to me.

How are you communicating with friends and family?
I am making a lot more phone calls, and a lot fewer texts. This week I have been having collaborative phone calls with a whole bunch of businesswomen, mentors, and friends. As remote as we are, I feel like I am getting more connected with people I haven’t talked to in a while. My little office is closed but we are doing our remote meetings in video so we can see each other’s faces. My coach is a bit of a therapist. And I have been talking to my sister more, talking to my mom.

Have you received any helpful advice?
You know, initially I didn’t know if I should share my Alaska race stories. Should I talk about this stuff? Is that selfish? I have been getting encouragement from my friends, who said, no, you should share that stuff. Hearing about learning on the trail from getting lost in a snowstorm, that is helpful. It might offer people some advice on how to forge ahead into a giant storm. That has been nice to hear that people still want to hear stories, and want to dream of going on a bike adventure, and that we shouldn’t stop talking about things.

The Iditarod Trail 350 ran 350 miles northwest from Anchorage to McGrath. Photo: Rebecca Rusch

Then the nitty gritty is learning how to use digital platforms like Instagram live. Or make an audio book I have been wanting to do for year. I am just trying to learn and grow like everyone else. My motivation and path for myself and my business is still the same, the delivery system is just going to look different.

As for my event [Rebecca’s Private Idaho], we are bracing for impact. Even if we are able to hold it, there is going to be effects from so many other events being rescheduled on top of it, or people not being able to travel because of funds. I am talking to other promoters, sharing ideas, because none of us have navigated this before.

When do you think you’ll race again?
Dirty Kanza is the next thing on the horizon. I signed up for [the 350-mile] DKXL, and I am really excited because I am fitter. I am hopeful. If that doesn’t happen, I am going to put together some of my own bike adventures.