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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inspirational Cyclist - Andrea Cohen

Meet Andrea Cohen, townie commuter extraordinaire and fearless ultra-endurance racer. You can find her out riding in any weather and almost always with a smile on her face. And to boot, she is newer to cycling like me! Andrea proves that it’s never too late try a new sport- which is something I wished more people realized!

Read below to hear about her cycling experience and for some inspiration to tackle something new and challenging! 



Photo By Marco Holgado


How did you get your start in cycling? 

Honestly cycling was always my fall back. After quitting rowing in 2009 I started commuting by bike. I also needed to fill the void left from rowing. I joined the University triathlon team and met Audrey W. and Sandy K. The combination of these two is where I really feel like I was introduced to cycling. Sandy taught the spin classes for the triathlon team and was my gateway into the Iowa City Women's Cycling team and Chamois time races. The Iowa City Women's Cycling team was my first taste of organized rides and racing. It really opened the door to the Iowa City cycling community. Audrey on the other hand being a huge advocate for Iowa City cycling really showed me how to integrate cycling into my life. While these two women were the most influential in the beginning I am entirely grateful for the Iowa City cycling community that will always support each other.



How long have you been riding and/or racing?

I have been commuting out of necessity since 2009 and I did my first endurance race in late 2011.


Looking back at your first endurance race, what made you decide to do it?

I blame Audrey. Also the race was free! After paying for triathlons and Crossfit the lure of “free” was enough for me to just try it. The lack of cost was intriguing, but also the laid back attitude really got me. I had been a part of structured athletics for so long I was really yearning for something I could choose to do because I wanted to! No coaches, no stressful race tactics, the expectation for me was to have fun! The first endurance race I did was the Gritty Brevet here in Iowa City, and I had fun. Some of my favorite memories are from that first ride.

FatBike Enduro - 1st Place Female Solo - Photo by Chelsea Bilskempter


For you, what is the lure of doing endurance races instead of the more traditional (and much shorter) gravel or mountain bike races?

Starting off gravel races were much less intimidating. There are bare bones categories, and you will always fit in somewhere. There are no requirements deliberating what bike to ride or how fast you have to go.

How do you plan for, or train for, one of these ultra-endurance events? How many hours do you spend on average on your bike (in a week?)

This is the hardest part for me. I am terrible at going on training rides and making a plan. Commuting daily has been a great source of mental strength. I always have to get up and ride no matter what the weather is. As far as training rides I really try to make it to group rides, local events, and long days by myself to even out my training. I like have a destination as well, so sometimes I will just ride home to Davenport. I honestly try to incorporate cycling and training into my everyday life, so it is almost scary to try and figure out how many hours I spend on my bike.


During a tough race, what goes through your mind? How do you motivate yourself to keep going and not give up? 

I always joke I am aggressively optimistic. What is the worst that could happen? I have prepared my bike, my body, my race plan, and the rest is out of my hands. I always want to know what is around the next corner, what if it is an awesome barn, or a friend I catch up to! Even if I have to walk I will keep going. Also I talk to myself a lot.

How do you recover after a nine hour race?

I really don’t expect my recovery to be much different from shorter races. I will just want a shower, good meal, and probably a high-five or two!

What kind of gear or equipment do you take with you for a long race? Anything you can’t live without?

I take everything I could possibly need, flat kit, food, water, lights, cue sheets, and extra clothes. The only difference is that I have to plan for probably triple the capacity of stuff for a normal ride. I can usually restock food and water, but everything else has to be what I want when I started! I am still learning and trying out new types of gear. When I started off I was over packing, now I am learning the proper balance between too much and not enough pretty fast. It has also been essential for me to learn how to use what I am carrying, or else what is the point. Also learning how my bike works and how to fix it is vital. So far I can’t live without chap-stick, my iPod, and a watch.

With all the races you have completed, I’m sure there have been many proud moments. Looking back, what has been the highlight of the past year?

My highlight was Heck of the North. I went up with my mom and she volunteered. It was an incredibly hard race for me and I finished! There were tricky snow-mobile trails better suited for a mountain bike, peanut butter-esque gravel, and massive puddles I thought I would get lost in. It was one of my first races where I felt a real bonk, but I figured out how to keep going and learned a lot from that moment. I also love that my mom was there. Now she knows I am not the only person wandering around on gravel roads in the middle of nowhere.

What advice can you give for those who are thinking about giving an endurance event a try for the first time?

Don’t worry! I am always so relieved by the accepting attitude surrounding these events. Just keep pedaling, eventually a friendly face will show up if you are riding alone. I have had some of the best 5+ hour conversations with people who started as complete strangers. 


What do you think is the best way to get more women involved in cycling?

I think the best way to get women involved in cycling is to keep an open, positive attitude. That is the first thing I remember loving about the Iowa City Women’s Cycling team. They took me on their group rides, invited me to their events, and really made me feel like I was a part of the community. Now that I have branched out I am still a part of this family. I still feel like the core group of ladies are there to help me if I need anything. So while teams are important, for me the respect and appreciation of each lady as an individual is so important! 



Do you get inspiration from other endurance racers? Any blogs that you can recommend?

Some ladies I look up to would be Rebecca Rusch, Sonya Looney, and Tracey Petervary. I follow them on facebook and they will post on their respective blogs; http://www.rebeccarusch.com/, http://www.sonyalooney.com/category/blog/, http://trayp.blogspot.com/. I also like to check out Salsa bikes blog and Mountain Bike Radio. 
 (Andrea also has her own blog at: http://andreafromiowa.wordpress.com/)


What are your plans for the upcoming year?

First up is Land Run 100 in Oklahoma, then my third TransIowa attempt, the Royal Almanzo, Dirty Kanza, Gravel Worlds, and Heck of the North are the races that are hopefully set in stone. The rest of the time will be filled with local races!

 Thanks Adrea for all the inspiration you provide! I'm looking forward to seeing you on the bike this spring and hopefully we will be at some of the same races. Maybe I'll even run into you on my way to work now that I get to townie there!!

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