Update: On May 21, Catharine Pendrel earned a spot on the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team for Mountain Biking. Keep up with her adventures on NBC and nbcolympics.com this summer!
Introduced to the sport by her brother at the age of 16, Catharine Pendrel and her mountain bike became fast friends. From her first downhill ride in her native New Brunswick to landing a pro contract with LUNA in 2008, Pendrel shows no signs of slowing down — no matter how steep the terrain. And now, with the World title and three World Cup wins last year alone, Pendrel is gearing up for (what else?) the 2012 Olympic Games. Listen in as she hops off the bike and into the hot seat to talk hard work, smart choices, and staying fit on the road.
How did you get into the sport of mountain biking?
I grew up on a horse farm in a really small rural town, so horses were always my thing. But going into Grade 12, I felt ready for something new. Everybody grew up playing basketball and I always sucked at all the school sports. … Mountain biking was something that no one else in town was doing and no other girls were doing — and I think that was really appealing for me. I was ready to set myself apart from the crowd.
What did it feel like, that first ride you went on?
I’ll be honest, the first ride felt really hard. I was like, “Why do people do this? This ground is bumpy!” So yeah, definitely the first time wasn’t an epiphany — it was more about the culture, the fact that there were these people who were spending their weekends camping and being outside and having fun. It was just new and different and exciting. And there were these guys who were OK with having a slower girl come along and were willing to teach me to do something I hadn’t done before. So it was pretty powerful, finding that unexpected learning opportunity to do something really cool.
When did the actual riding part start becoming fun for you?
When I first started I would walk a lot of downhills just because I was really scared. And so it was probably the first time that I rode a really rocky downhill. Totally.
What’s a typical training week like for you now?
A typical week is usually intervals and some strength maintenance on Tuesday and Thursday. And then volume on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. So that’s typically 3–4½ hours [per ride] for a mountain biker because the events aren’t super long, but you do need that endurance so you’re strong in that last half-hour of the race. Monday is always my rest day — mental and physical. And Friday is my active recovery, so some yoga and a little bike ride.
What’s the hardest part of your routine?
I would say doing an intense workout when you’re not getting that positive feedback from your body. Or maybe the weather sucks, or it’s windy. It’s the work part. The riding is fun. But the work element isn’t always fun.
How does strength training factor in?
I do more strength training in the winter. So usually October through February, and then it’s so close to race season. But I came up with a hotel room workout that I can do wherever I go, which includes yoga stretches and bodyweight exercises that I go through head to toe. All it takes is about 20 to 30 minutes. Everyone can find time for 20 to 30 minutes, right?
Right. For those of you who’d like to follow along:
Warm up: Yoga and dynamic movements, including mountain pose, cat-cow, downward dog, spinal rotations, mountain climbers, and side steps with elastic band (or cut bike tube) around the ankles.
Upper body: Push-ups, 2-3 sets of 8-20 reps.
Arms: Dips, lowering yourself using a hotel chair, 2-3 sets of 8-20 reps.
Core (choosethree): 3 x 1:30 sec planks, 3 x 60 sec bicycles, V sits, superman, and leg lifts. Mix it up. Start with whatever challenges you and work up to more!
Legs: Single leg squats (in front of the mirror to make sure the knee is tracking straight), step-ups (hit the hotel staircase!), supine single leg lift to back bridge, calf raises (from the ground or from the edge of a step). Complete 2-3 sets of 8-20 reps for each exercise.
Stretch: Take time to stretch between exercises giving more attention to whatever area gets tight on you. I love child’s pose, warrior poses, and triangle pose to get at my tight cycling muscles.
Sounds like a plan! And what about your diet?
I’ve never dieted. I think a lot of women are surprised to see me eat since I eat pretty normally. Although I do eat a lot more than most people do (probably about 3,000 calories/day) because I burn a lot. But for me, it’s always been “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” I think a lot of people play around with their diet when they don’t have any problems — and they create problems for themselves. Since becoming an athlete, I definitely focus on eating more well-balanced meals. But I make sure it tastes good, looks good, feels good. And I think as long as you’re eating all the good stuff, it’s OK to have snacks and treats and whatever — you just make better choices.
In 2008, what did it feel like finally turning pro?
It felt pretty unbelievable. Even until 2007, I never thought that it was actually going to happen because there are so few people that actually get paid to ride their bike — particularly women. So I was like “Wow, I actually made it. Somebody’s paying me to ride my bike? Really?” Because I’d do it for free — wait, I shouldn’t say that! But to feel like you have the best job in the world, you feel pretty lucky.
What would you say is the best part?
What I’ve gotten to see and do. I get to travel the world with my bicycle. And be surrounded by great people.
Team “Kika” must be proud.
Oh yeah. My parents are almost like embarrassingly proud. They’ve always been the super parents, who’ll drive 14 hours to watch a mountain bike race.
And what about your brother who taught you the ropes?
He’s actually the Canadian National Downhill Coach.
Yup. So he’s very much in the sport and he was there when I won the world championships. He was actually the person who handed me the Canadian flag to carry across the finish line. And my family all has tickets to the Olympics already, so yeah — no pressure!
Full Disclosure: Greatist met Catharine and the rest of the LUNA Pro Team at the 2012 LUNA Chix Summit in Berkeley, CA. Special thanks to LUNA for taking care of all travel, accommodations, and other arrangements. Anything Greatist has published relating to the summit was written solely because we wished to share the information with our readers and not in exchange for inclusion in the events or through any arrangements with LUNA.
Have more questions for Catharine on how she lives like a pro? Ask away in the comments below!
Photos by Rich Adams (top); and Rich Adams and Colin Meagher (bottom)