“I just love the feeling of adrenaline,” gushes Carolyn Defoore. “That 30 seconds to one minute before the race starts when the officials are going over last minute instructions and you’re standing toe-to-toe with some of the most fierce and phenomenal women you could ever meet.”
That’s the feeling that made Defoore fall in love with racing bikes so many years ago. And, that adrenaline served her well in June as she took the gold medal in a sprint finish of the Road Race at this year’s USA Cycling Road Masters National Championships!
Right behind her for the silver? Austin’s own, Christie Tracy, who also captured her gold just one day prior in the Time Trial race, an event she loves so much. The adrenaline rush is there, too, but Tracy relishes the suffering of a longer distance effort. “I’m able to find a good rhythm, settle in, get comfortable with the pain during a time trial and just motor through.” She motored through the hurt locker, indeed, winning gold by only a few precious seconds.
These are the mindsets of USA Cycling Masters National Champions and these two Austin women represented in a big way. They may ride for different teams and compete against each other locally, but make no mistake, these self-proclaimed “frenemies” supported each other like sisters on the National stage.
Journey to the Bike
Defoore was practically raised on the bike, thanks to her father’s influence. He was a road and track racer and, by age 14, Defoore was also doing group rides and track racing on a regular basis. She was born for this sport, it seems, and although she took an 18-year hiatus from racing, she was never off the bike for long. Cycling, group rides, and the community have always been there, especially when she took it up a notch a few years ago and joined Team Athlete Architecture.
Tracy’s journey to cycling, on the other hand, is about as serendipitous as it can get. Living in Corpus Christi at the time, she was really into weightlifting and figure competitions in college. That transitioned to CrossFit and, and about five years ago, on a birthday dare, she and a friend decided to do a small sprint triathlon, “Essentially to show those crazy endurance triathletes that a couple of CrossFitters could kick their butt,” she laughs. Tracy showed up at the race on a friend’s straight bar road bike with flat pedals and New Balance running shoes. She also showed up with no real clue how to race. Fortunately, the swim was cancelled and it turned into a bike/run-only event. When she hopped on the bike, though, she instantly felt an overwhelming sensation of flying and the freedom of the wind blowing her hair in her helmet, especially on descents. It was magic.
Surprisingly, she did really well and, within a week, she had purchased her first road bike and hired a coach. She was off to the races—almost! “I had a lot to learn,” she readily admits, “but it was really encouraging when people would tell me that I was really good for having just started.”
Defoore, on the other hand, because she had raced and learned the technical skills as a young teen, was always confident on the bike, but discovered she may have a real knack for racing as an adult when she came back to the bike and found that she could hang with the faster riders. “It fed my competitive desire to race again,” she recalls.
Their Training Strategies
How do they do it?
Defoore works with Coach Stephan Rothe and they don’t just develop her training schedule, but really a life schedule schedule to incorporate her frequent work trips, obligations, illnesses, etc. She makes the most of the eight to ten hours a week she does have to train. Because she’s more of a sprinter, a lot of her sessions are done at or near her threshold level. What you can’t do with hours of time in the saddle, you make up for with high quality sessions.
Christie works with long-time coach, Matt Seagrave, and the two of them have developed a very open and trusting line of communication. “When you're first starting out, you'll get a lot of conflicting advice,” she says. “If you listen to everybody and try 15 million different things, you're never going to progress. He’s the one single voice that I trust and it has helped me progress more quickly.”
Her typical training weeks look vastly different than Defoore’s since Tracy is also training up for multi-century ultra endurance races. Tuesdays through Fridays involve about two to three hours of training (after her full-time day job as an accountant), with varying intensities and purposes. Saturday and Sunday rides are six to eight hours long and incorporate some group riding mixed with solo hill work.
Obviously, both of these athletes take the sport seriously, but also realize the gifts they’ve received from the sport go way beyond just getting fast and proficient. Friendships, community, health, and courage are gems that mean most to them. They also work everyday to improve their own mental game. Defoore focuses a lot on achieving small, processed oriented goals and Tracy uses mantras and positive self-talk to get her through the tough patches. One of her favorite mantras when she first moved to Austin and confronted hills was, “I love the hills—they make me strong.” She’d say it with every pedal stroke. It seems so simple, right? Focus on what you want, say it a whole lot, and it will happen. Well, positive self-talk only works when you do the work associated with the desired outcome and neither of these girls has neglected the work it takes to get them to the top. They both pursue this passion with the vigor of a professional.
They may not be pros, but they are champions and mentors to many women who are entering the sport. “I love seeing the women’s peloton grow every year,” says Defoore. “As ambassadors, one thing we can do is help them manage expectations and make them feel comfortable. I encourage new people to participate in as much as they can and just go out and be proud of finishing.” Tracy couldn’t agree more. “I volunteer at the Driveway [Series] and I’m always talking to new girls about expectations. Enjoy the small victories, even if it’s just finishing your first race. They need to know that I was them when I first started.”
It’s hard to imagine that these women who are winning golds at Nationals started as newbies and would harbor any fears or insecurities. But guess what? They do. Very real ones, in fact. Tracy gets emotional when she talks about her fear of getting her handlebars caught in that swarm of riders that happens just before a sprint takes place. It’s a real fear because it’s happened before and she spent a week in the hospital with a collapsed lung and broken ribs because of it.
Defoore fears crashes, too, but she also worries about making mistakes or using bad judgement in a situation. “You’re not just putting trust in yourself and in your bike equipment. You’re putting trust in everyone else and the way they handle their bikes and their space.”
Both have suffered devastating crashes (Defoore crashed just six weeks before Nationals), which is why these fears are never far from their mind. The only solution? Keep practicing your skills, maintain positive self talk and put yourself right back in those harrowing situations. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to manage the anxiety. The only alternative is to quit and leave the sport. Neither of them are going to do that because of what cycling means to them.
“It’s my identity,” says Defoore. “I don’t know where I’d be without my bike. Even when I’m not riding, I’m still very much a part of the community.”
Tracy agrees, but goes even further. “It’s an addiction. It brings me so much joy, freedom, and me-time. When I clip in those pedals, I hear white noise and everything else goes away.”
Clearly, when they both clip-in, the competition goes away and they rise to the top of the podium.
Christie and Carolyn—congratulations to both of you and thank you for representing Austin cycling in such a beautiful, positive, and powerful way. We’ll see you at the races!
To learn more, visit The Driveway or visit a local bike shop to inquire about group rides of all levels. Most shops do have multiple group rides for people of all levels.
Gold Medal – Masters National Time Trial
Silver Medal – Masters National Road Race
Gold Medal – Masters National Road Race
Silver Medal – Masters National Crit Race
For information: USA Cycling Masters National Championships