Rae Morrison is tough as nails, a fierce competitor, super smart and a really nice person. I was lucky enough to get some time to chat with her when she was in Squamish earlier this summer at Liv's launch event for the Intrigue.
How long have you been following the EWS circuit?Rae Morrison:
This is my ... What is it? It's my fourth year. Yeah. My fourth year. The EWS had been running for a couple years before I joined on the circuit. My first year I raced as a privateer, then I had a year on a French team, and now I've done two years with Liv on the Giant Factory Off-Road Team.
How did you get into riding and racing Enduro?Rae Morrison:
I started riding in my mid-teens. My dad and uncle were into multisport and I liked the sound of it - getting outdoors, and it's an individual sport. I've done a lot of team sports and I didn’t like being confined to a court or a field. My parents ended up buying a family mountain bike, one mountain bike for me and my two brothers to share. Luckily my brothers weren't at all interested, so by default, it became my bike. I did one multisport race and loved the mountain bike leg so much I knew this is my sport, this is me, this is awesome. I joined the local club, and yeah, just went from there.
I ended up doing some cross-country races, just because I didn't have a car and I was quite fit. I did well, loved the descents but never really enjoyed racing uphill. So, as soon as Enduro came along I knew this was the discipline I wanted to race. It's still a huge day on the bike, in the outdoors, it still requires a lot of fitness, but the main thing is the technical ability on the descent. It sounded fun and suited my strengths so I just dropped everything, and I went for it.
So your parents were quite athletic when you were growing up?Rae Morrison:
My dad was. My dad was into the long distance stuff, like multisport, triathlons and adventure racing.
And when you say you never quite made it as a cross-country athlete, how did you do?Rae Morrison:
I was normally top 3 in Under 23 in New Zealand, and then I went to the elites, and I was consistently in the top 5 with a couple of podiums. It was good, but it wasn't amazing.
Did you do any World Cup races?Rae Morrison:
No I didn't. I was a student at the same time, and the girls I was competing against were doing a lot of World Cup races and going overseas, but I was studying to be a physiotherapist. So, I just didn't really have the time to put into training, I put my studies as my first priority.
So you have a degree as a physiotherapist? Could you work as a physiotherapist right now?Rae Morrison:
Yes. I haven't worked in a while. I spent four years training and then worked for two years. Then decided I want to try this mountain bike thing, so I went overseas. I haven't worked as a physio in about four years now. I might be a bit rusty.
Do you plan on going back to physiotherapy when you retire from cycling?Rae Morrison:
I don't know. I've got the degree, I've spent all this money, and all this time getting this degree, and it was an amazing job, but I'm just so passionate about bikes. I'd ideally love to stay in the cycling industry. I’ll make that decision when I get there.
Do you have a physiotherapist that follows the Giant Liv Off-Road team with you?Rae Morrison:
Yes, we do. Pawel, he works between the downhillers and Enduro racers. So we get him for about half of the races. Yeah, that's really handy to have as we are all usually nursing some kind of injury during the year.
You have an injury right now that has you sidelined you from the EWS in Whistler. What happened?Rae Morrison:
I was racing in Italy for the Enduro World Series. I was having a good day, in fifth at the time. Then on Stage 2 I just came around the corner and clipped an inside rock with my little finger, and it snapped it in half. I finished the stage and it didn’t feel right, but I wanted to finish the day in case it was just a dislocation or a minor fracture. I kept my glove on and the mechanic taped my finger up for the final stage thinking I'll assess the damage at the end of the race. I finished the day, returned to the pits and realized I couldn't take off my glove because of the shape of my finger. From there we went to the hospital and discovered the severity of the break that would require surgical repair. I was sidelined from there.
How long do you think you'll be out from that injury?Rae Morrison:
Well, I had surgery within a week to realign the bones with wire. I can't ride until they take the wires out, which is going to be I think another few weeks for me. So I'm waiting to hear back from the specialist. Unfortunately, it meant I was out of Whistler, which I was a bit bummed about.
This isn't your first injury. What has your history with injuries been like?Rae Morrison:
I was hoping we wouldn't get to this question. No, I don't have a good track record with injuries. I've had a few big ones. I've broken my pelvis and my hip, I've broken my wrist, and I've shattered my heel.
So how does it compare - being a privateer your first year on the Enduro World Series to what your set-up is like now?Rae Morrison:
It's incredible. There's no comparison. I had a really hard privateer year, where I committed to a whole season overseas, I moved out of my flat, I sold everything I could, I quit my job, I did a lot of fundraising, and used all my savings. This was my one shot, one chance to see what happens and see if I could go professional. I lived in a van, which was a cheap old worker van with no installation. A bed was quickly hammered in with a 10 Euro mattress, and that was my home for six months traveling around Europe to all the races.
Totally on your own?Rae Morrison:
I had a partner for half of it then solo for the rest. It was really hard being on a super tight budget, the living conditions aren’t ideal and you're living off oats, canned food, and two-minute noodles, Not the most nutritious food for an athlete. I remember, in the beginning being super excited and ready to be ‘living the dream’ in Europe. I start in the UK and it rained for six weeks solid. Every single day. Living in a van when it is raining, there are only so many clothes which cannot dry because its wet everywhere so all the muddy and dirty clothes just accumulate in the van, and yeah..it was pretty tough for those first couple months.
So from there you were signed to the French team?Rae Morrison:
Yeah, so from there I managed to achieve two really good results back to back right at the end of the season. I got a couple offers from teams and joined on to Team Lapierre, a French team. The following year I lived in France and that was my first awakening into Pro life. It was amazing. It was really, really cool. Then the following year I joined Liv and the Giant Factory Off-Road time and haven't looked back since. It's been incredible, especially to be a part of such a brand that's so prominent in developing women's cycling and encouraging more women on the bike. I'm proud to be an athlete and represent a brand that is doing so much good. And the bike's are obviously pretty darn awesome.
So what's it like being the only woman on a team of mostly guys?Rae Morrison:
It's pretty good. I grew up with two brothers, and then I was the only female to mountain bike in my town. Although, it does make me super appreciate female company when it happens. At these Liv events, or riding with the other EWS girls, I really enjoy it.
How do you learn a track before an EWS?Rae Morrison:
It depends on the event and how I'm feeling. If I'm feeling good and I get to the event quite early, I'll try and walk as many tracks as I can. Usually, there is only one practice run on each track before we race, so by walking I get to know the track better, sort my lines out beforehand so when it comes to the practice it can be nice and smooth, aiming for a full run to get more of a feel for the track.
Do you pre-ride on your own, or with the other women that you compete against, or with your male teammates?Rae Morrison:
Not usually, all the women are on different teams and different practice schedules. There have been a few races where I have, but normally I stick with my team, Josh, and McKay. We will shuttle and liason together but when it comes to practicing the track we ride by ourselves. Chasing someone down the hill is fun, but when you follow someone you don't actually see the track, you're just seeing what they're doing. So when it comes to racing it, you might practice really well but have a bad race because you don't remember anything. So, I normally practice by myself.
What's your routine the night before the race? Rae Morrison:
There isn’t really much time the night before the race. Usually, we finish practice quite late, go shower while the mechanics look over our bikes, then we will go to the race briefing. By that time it's already eight o'clock and time for dinner, a quick look at GoPro footage, organize for the race day, then sleep. So, there's no lazing around and no downtime during that week.
What do you carry around with you for a day of Enduro racing?Rae Morrison:
I carry quite a lot. I carry more food than I think I need and normally just one water bottle because there are lots of drink stations along the way. I also carry a tube, plug kit, tire levers, a pump or canister. I carry a chain breaker, a multi-tool, a quick link, a spare hanger, I sometimes carry gear cables, and the electrical tape and zip ties are amazing for trailside repairs.
How important do you think it is to be a good mechanic to be good in the Enduro World Series and being able to work on your own bike?Rae Morrison:
I think it's hugely important. You don't need to be, but it definitely helps when stuff does go wrong. For a lot of enduros we don't get any mechanical support during the race and we're out there for eight hours, we're going down downhill trails and really, really pushing, while being super tired and making mistakes. So mechanicals are very common. If you're prepared, it just means that you're not out of the game, and you can still race, and you can still get a good result. So yeah, I highly recommend touching up on skills, and things like that for anyone out there.
How did you become a proficient mechanic?Rae Morrison:
I learned through experience. I worked in a bike shop straight out of high school part-time. That helped me a lot just to become more familiar with the bike. But it wasn’t until I started racing and I started breaking things that I went out of my way to learn. There was an attitude that women didn’t need to know how to fix their bikes, growing up. I was told “guys will fix it for you. You don't need to know this." So I knew very little until I was put on the spot riding by myself where I broke my chain, ripped a tire, bent a hanger, broke a spoke etc. I didn’t know what to do. So after each occasion, I would ask friends, look online and tried to fix things myself to learn so when it happened again I could fix it.
You've done quite a bit of suspension testing and bike testing both with DVO and Liv. What is that relationship like, and how did you learn to test suspension and bikes?Rae Morrison:
The more you ride the more you realize how important suspension is, it has the biggest effect on grip and handling when set up correctly. I learned just by practicing and changing things until I found the settings that felt great. Still today, I'm always changing my suspension with the tracks, as my riding is evolving and as I ride more aggressively. It has been amazing working with DVO I've never worked with a company so closely before. The team had the opportunity to do testing with DVO in Sedona last year. To have the head of DVO and the engineers come to us, teach us and help us with the testing and bike set up was super valuable and a great experience.
At races do you have somebody from DVO with you?Rae Morrison:
The downhill guys normally have one of the engineers or mechanics from DVO. For Enduro we don't, but our mechanics are trained, and then we know the basics as well.
So do you change your suspension settings for different races?Rae Morrison:
Yes. I found out my baseline which is quite soft and fast and if all else fails I always go back to that. But for every race, or depending on how I feel, or even the temperature and altitude changes, I will move it slightly. By slightly I mean I don't change it any more than a few psi, one or two clicks of rebound, or a click of compression. It's only very subtle things, but when you're out there for a whole day, and you're racing for seconds, those little changes do make a huge difference.
So it sounds like in your free time you're still focused on being an athlete, the bike, and researching. What does your downtime look like?Rae Morrison:
Yeah. Pretty much that. I'm a bit of geek, and I do like to know things. I do a lot of reading on various things that will help me down the line, like nutrition, training, bike stuff. This year I have also started in a gym at Tasman Performance in Nelson. Its been fun having a new challenge and it has become a hobby outside of riding. So my downtime is reading. gyming, eating and Netflix.
Yeah. So what are the most important things that you've learned from being a competitive cyclist?Rae Morrison:
The biggest thing for me was learning how to rest. When you're this involved in a sport, and this passionate about it, it's so easy, especially when you're injured, to get in that destructive cycle, to be like, "I need to train. I need to do as much as I can”. It is so easy to burn out, especially for Enduro, it is a long season usually March to October and it’s already difficult to make it through a whole season without injuries or sickness. It took me a few years to learn, but it's all about resting as well as you train. Little things like eating well, getting enough sleep and taking the time away from the bike to chill out does wonders for mental and physical wellbeing.
So what's been the most frustrating injury that you've had so far?Rae Morrison:
I'm finding my little finger really frustrating because I feel great, and it's just a tiny little finger. But I can still walk, I can still hike, I can still ride a stationary bike and go to the gym, and do stuff. So, it's not actually that bad. I think my most frustrating one was probably when I broke my pelvis. I was so dependent on people just to help me out day to day. I couldn’t shower by myself, I couldn’t walk, I was in a wheelchair and just couldn't look after myself. That was really hard to give up my independence.
With your physio background, do you try to self-diagnose?Rae Morrison:
Yeah. Always. It is good having that knowledge because I quickly know what pain is good, what pain is bad, what the pain means. Is it a nerve? Is it going to be a bone? Is it going to be a muscle? So I can pretty much tell the seriousness of the injury very, very soon. To know, okay I can push, or I can't push and shouldn’t move. I am a lot more careful and calculated with injuries as well as I have seen and heard many horror stories of injuries not healing, or rebreaking because the patient went back to early. When I broke my heel and pelvis I was off the bike up to 6 months because I knew how important it was to heal and rehab correctly. You don't want to rush that and end up with major complications down the road.
And what about with your teammates? Do they ask you to help diagnose them? If they have an injury or pain, do you they come to you?Rae Morrison:
Not so much. Josh broke his finger at the start of the year he and he came to me and asked, "Do you think it's broken?" I said, "No." without assessing it properly because we are always in a rush, and of course, it turns out broken. As health professionals we are not meant to treat or family or friends for exactly this reason, judgment is off and your more likely to think ‘toughen up your fine. So, yeah. I don't think they'll come to me anymore!
How does social media impact you as an athlete?Rae Morrison:
It's definitely important but something I don’t like to pay too much attention to. It is a great snapshot into your life and to be inspired by amazing imagery and videos. But it is very superficial and will only show the good times and flattering angles. For example, I look through my page and I'm like, "Oh my God. My life looks so amazing from this angle." But it doesn’t show any of the ugly times, when I’m severely jetlagged from traveling three different time zones in a week, when I’m sick, injured, having a bad day, after 50 hours of airports and flights, when I’m lost and hungry and no one speaks English etc. It's one of those things that is amazing at expressing creatively and your uniqueness, it’s great for promoting your lifestyle and I really like seeing where my friends are and what they are up to, but I do believe its important to know that it is just a brief and select glance into someone's world.
What about from the other side? For sponsorship, and for athlete obligations, how has that changed just in the five years, or in the four years that you've been racing Enduro World Series? Is there more pressure on athletes now?Rae Morrison:
Hugely. Sponsors like the whole package, a successful racer that can also play the social media game. Race results give the brand credibility and social media is a great and free way of advertising. The more people that go through your page, they see what your wearing, what your riding and where your riding which is an easy and effective way of promoting brands and places. Each year since I started there is an increasing emphasis on social media. So much so that the ‘lifestyle athlete’ has become a normal profession, these are the athletes that don’t race and are focusing 100% on social media. I am a contracted racer which means race results is the priority over social media at the moment, but I still try to put an effort in and portray my riding career and myself as genuine and authentic as I can.
How do you separate your private life and your public being an athlete in this day and age? Do you see people on the street who know you and say hi and you have no idea who they are?Rae Morrison:
Its not entirely black and white with my private life and public life. My pages are professional in the sense that it is my job, I am promoting myself and my lifestyle as an athlete. So it is mostly themed around my bike and the day to day of being an athlete. But this does include the majority of my private life as well, like my fiancee often makes an appearance, especially on the Instagram stories. We often ride together and he is a huge help in fixing and maintaining my bike between the races. So I do think most of my private life is my public life.
I have been stopped quite a few times, especially at the races or during Crankworx for a chat or photo. I really like it, I like hearing peoples stories and it is really heartwarming to personally hear how you have inspired someone. The first few times it did catch me off guard to realize how much a stranger knows about you, and where you are been. But I think it's encouraging to know people are interested and following your adventures and are a part of your success.
What are your goals as a cyclist in this year and the next coming years?Rae Morrison:
Well, honestly just to be the best that I can, and keep on improving. I got into mountain biking because of the thrill, and how rewarding it was for me. When you start it was just trying to get down this one track, or to go faster, or beat this one person, or do this jump. I was always being rewarded, I always felt like I was achieving something, and I still feel like that. There is still a trail that I want to ride faster, or still improve my jumping. I am always working on things and forever improving. So I definitely just want to keep that going, keep enjoying it, and to achieve some podiums along the way.
What race or type of course is usually your favorite?Rae Morrison:
I do really enjoy Whistler, but I think any race in Europe. I do like the more technical, just really awkward technical trails. The real steep stuff. That's what I like.
What is your support team throughout the year look like? Do you work with a coach?Rae Morrison:
Yeah, so I've got my own coach for my fitness based training, and I've got a strength and conditioning coach that's in Nelson with me. Then I've got my fiancee who does all the background support and makes sure I eat. All those things that partners do really, really well. Then I've got my mechanic at the races, and my team manager that organized all the sponsors and logistics. There is a huge team behind the scenes to organize an individual race and help to optimal performance.
Throughout the year do you train mostly on your own, or do you train with friends? Are you back home in New Zealand for the winter?Rae Morrison:
I do a lot of rides with people and a lot of rides on my own. When I'm back home in New Zealand I have a good network of friends and we often ride together. When I'm overseas racing I ride quite a lot on my own but I do try to meet some locals to get shown around or ask their trail recommendations.
When you were in Colombia earlier this year you had an asthma attack, what happened with that?Rae Morrison:
Well, I've had asthma since I was a kid, but was only diagnosed when I was 14 after an attack playing field hockey. Since then it's always been really well controlled, I'm on a preventative asthma inhaler that brings me up to normal. So it was a huge shock when I couldn’t breathe during the Colombian EWS, I had to stop and needed medical assistance to control the attack. It did seem out of the blue and it really unsettled me. Straight after the race returned to America to do some more filming, but I still wasn’t feeling good. I felt really fatigued, achy and I started coughing up blood. I went to the doctor and found out I had pneumonia. Not a great diagnosis but I was happy that at least I had a reason for the asthma attack. The month leading into the race had been extremely hectic with photoshoots, insufficient sleep, jet lag from being in four different countries and racing with no rest, it wasn’t surprising I got sick. It just really confirmed how important it is to rest.
In your experience, is the life of a professional athlete glamorous?Rae Morrison:
It is, it's amazing. I’m riding my bike for a living, getting paid to do this. I travel the World, see all these amazing places, meet amazing and inspiring people and race my bike. The not so glamorous bits are always there, where I don't go home for six months of a year, the travel can be hard always lacking sleep and constantly jetlagged from country hopping, the injuries and bad results are disappointing and frustrating. It can get quite hectic, but the majority of the time it's wonderful and I wouldn’t change it for anything
Will we see you at the last two EWS races in Spain and Italy, right?Rae Morrison:
I've got an appointment tomorrow to see how well the bone has healed up and to hopefully have my wires removed. I've been off my Hail for four weeks now so if I get the all clear I’ll be a bit rusty but I will be there giving it my best.
Thank you @rae_morrison