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If there’s one person we know who is truly goal oriented, who will make a plan, work towards it and achieve it, it’s Clair Sick. Even when we would run into her in the middle of what looked to be a brutal intervals training session on a scorching summer day, she’d still have a smile on her face and just be stoked to be out on her bike. When training or something challenging was on the agenda, Clair would stick with it even if it was the last thing she wanted to do, a trait we certainly admire. We recently caught up with Clair in between biking, work, and everything else, to see how she prepared for the most difficult race of her career.
Where are you originally from and where are you currently residing?
I grew up in Rochester, NY and currently am lucky enough to live in beautiful Burlington, VT. In between those two places I spent a number of years being a bit nomadic throughout Colorado and Washington, creating experiences that laid the groundwork for who I am today.
When did you start biking and how did you get into the sport?
I wish it was a deep, passionate story about my turn to biking, but in reality, it was a blown ACL and torn meniscus. Snowboarding caused the injury, but biking was the rehab. Then, the rest is history. I had purchased a $500 XC bike off Craigslist and found some beginner riders to hit the trails with. The obsession of bigger and faster continued and still does every day I get on my bike.
How did you get into racing?
I blame Clarissa Finks for getting me into enduro racing. Clarissa and I worked together and suggested that I try this enduro race in Burke, VT. I had no idea what I was getting into and had never raced a bike before…nor knew what an enduro race was. I signed up anyways, not realizing that I was signing up for the event that would change my lifestyle and push me to limits and accomplishments which at that point could not even be imagined.
You recently traveled to Europe to compete in the Enduro World Series, what was that experience like?
One word… Unforgettable. The locations of the races (Ainsa, Spain and Finale, Italy), the people I traveled with, the terrain and the level of competition combined made the experience so memorable. I didn’t have my best races and I left time on the track but that’s what makes you go back wanting more next time.
How did you prepare, physically and mentally, for such an intense race?
Shortly after the news of getting into the race, the training began. This gave me about 9 months of preparation beforehand. The physical training was the easy part. This is what I knew was ahead. Each race would have two practice days and two race days with upwards of 8+ hours on the bike, miles of traversing and challenging descents. I built a gym program based on balance, strength, and power. I always struggle with my arms fatiguing in longer stages, so I made a commitment to push ups; I started with 5, then 10, and eventually did 30-40 every morning and night. It takes no time at all so there’s really no excuses. Same with stretching; everyone could stretch a little more!
The mental prep was a bit harder. A challenging part of this type of race is only being able to practice each stage once. Practice it, review it, and create mental imagery before the race run. No matter what, there are always parts that you forget, and oh sh*t moments. In addition to a summer packed with enduro races, one way I practiced the mental side of it was to do a handful of downhill races on my trail bike. While sometimes uncomfortable, this got me more accustomed and confident with steep, technical terrain at a high speed. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I almost panicked and bailed on the races. I was scared and nervous of not knowing exactly what was coming down the pipeline.
Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently to prepare or during the event?
The terrain in Europe is so different than what I am used to riding on the East Coast. And you don’t really realized it ‘til you’re in it. It’s a mix of tight corners, jagged rocks, and awkward maneuvers all while trying to maintain speed. Some corners are so tight that I was laughing out loud trying to get through them. All the preparation that I did was important and could be increased even more so if this opportunity arises again. It’s the backyard skills and learning to move a bike even better that could be improved on. That’s what I need more of, just learning to play on my bike. It sounds so simple.
How do you balance your biking, training, work, and everything else?
I think there’s a lot of people who regularly try to balance their passions with career needs and progression. It’s not easy and the idea of a nap sounds really good sometimes. It sounds cliché but keeping it fun is the first priority. I’ve lost track of this in the past. Finding that work, life balance is a must. I am lucky to work in a place that supports my outside goals. I get into the office early so I can dip out for a ride or race when I need to. Second step is determination and grit. The go-go-go can be exhausting. The gym doesn’t sound appealing and intervals and hill repeats never feel good (until you’re done!). Remembering the ‘why’ is what keeps me going. Bikes are fun and they continue to open doors to people, places, adventures and experiences. The hard work does pay off.
What advice would you have for a female rider who is new to cycling or wants to take her riding to the next level?
Get out there and try it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The bike community is filled with amazing people who are so supportive. From a round of high fives, a tow into a jump, a good luck note, or loaning a spare fork when you find out you have to rebuild your bike the night before leaving ;). I wouldn’t be where I am without the community of people.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Santoro (@andrewsantoro_) and Clair Sick (@somethingsickk).