It seems like so many of the fastest women’s cyclocrossers are named Katie these days (Antonneau, Compton), and this one is no exception. J.D. Kimple introduces us to Ohio’s answer to cyclocross “Katies,” Katie Arnold.
by J.D. Kimple
If you have been to a cyclocross race in Ohio the past couple of years, chances are you’ve seen a rocket ship in the women’s races that goes by the name of Katie Arnold. This rocket landed a few years ago and has taken right off with an Ohio State Championship (Women’s Elite) in addition to placing in the teens in Cincy3 and a seventh at North Carolina Grand Prix Day 2. Like many of us, the path that led her to cyclocross is a bit winding. Katie took some time out of her day to fill us in on who this diminutive blur is.
Cyclocross Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Katie Arnold: I am born and raised right here in good old C-bus (Columbus, Ohio). I loved playing sports growing up and was extremely competitive in everything I did. Some things don’t change: I’m still just as competitive! I went to Columbus College of Art and Design where I got my degree in Interior Design. I’m super easy-going, and love a good time. I’m always looking for a new adventure, or a new challenge. If you can make me laugh, you will be my best friend. I love laughing, like the kind where you pee yer pants!
CXM: How did you get interested in cycling?
KA: After losing my father to a heart attack in 2007, it had been months since I had run, worked out, anything! My uncle is an avid cyclist and has been for a long time. He invited me to join one of his rides with him and his buddies. I reluctantly took him up on his offer. I will never forget riding up a hill that was probably no more than a 9% grade that was maybe 300 yards long, and I almost threw up on myself. It was a disaster, but something about it kept me coming back for more. I started riding with him and his group three or four times a week. Within just a couple of months I was taking pulls and hanging with the boys like it was noth’n! It became my therapy, my “happy place.” I loved being surrounded with good people, having great conversation, and at the same time getting the workout of a lifetime!
CXM: How did you get interested in cyclocross?
KA: After a couple of back-to-back seasons doing triathlons, my boyfriend told me about this whole “cyclocross” thing. I was immediately intrigued. It sounded like the perfect sport for people with short attention spans like me. A week after competing in the ITU National Championship triathlon, I showed up to the last day of the Cincy3. I competed in the 2/3 race and got my ass handed to me. It was the most intense, most crazy, most awesome race. I was hooked, but not immediately. I think the first words out of my mouth after the race were, “fu#* that!”
CXM: If you had such an adverse reaction to your first cyclocross race, what drew you back in?
KA: All I could think about after that race was what I could’ve done better, where I could have made up time. But most of all, I just hated getting my butt kicked that badly. I needed redemption!
CXM: This is only your second year in ’cross? You are kicking ass!
KA: This is indeed my second year, and thank you!
CXM: Is it safe to say you were active in sports in high school?
KA: My freshman and sophomore years I played varsity soccer. I also played on a select soccer team in the off season. In the off season of my sophomore year I was trying out for a new team. We were scrimmaging and I was on a breakaway so it was just me against the keeper. She pulled a football style tackle on me and destroyed my left knee. I tore everything there is to tear in a knee. Ouch! A couple of surgeryies later I was still unable to make a full recovery, and that was the end of my soccer career. My junior and senior year I was pretty stagnant. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started running and taking care of myself. After running in a half marathon, I continued to look for bigger challenges and started setting goals for myself.
CXM: Do you race road or mountain bikes as well?
KA: I started doing triathlons at the end of 2008 and had some early success with it. I was able to qualify for the World Championships after competing in my first half Ironman. In 2009 I think I ended up doing six half Ironmans in one season … I don’t recommend it. In 2010, I had another successful tri season, taking seventh in my age group at the Long Course World Championships in Germany and fourth in my age group at the National Championships. I also earned the title of “All American 2010.” After taking up cyclocross at the end on my 2010 season, I realized I really liked being “off-road,” so I took up mountain biking. In April 2011, I competed in the Cohutta 100 MTB race, and then did the Leadville 100 in August.
CXM: After such an intense tri schedule and then Cohutta and Leadville, is it easy for you to adjust to the cyclocross schedule or do you need to significantly re-tool your training and thinking?
KA: I have definitely had to re-tool my training. Training for Cohutta and Leadville required a lot of longer endurance-pace rides with some speed work incorporated into them. Unfortunately up until now, I haven’t had a Powertap to train with. In fact I didn’t even have a speedometer! Now that I have the power meter I can measure my efforts and see my progression. My workouts for ’cross, even though shorter, require much harder efforts than the training that I was doing for Cohutta and Leadville. I have seen a huge improvement to my anaerobic fitness this season.
CXM: Do you plan to continue with the triathlons in the spring and summer?
KA: I’m not planning to race any tris in the spring or summer.
CXM: Is cyclocross becoming more of a primary focus for you, or do you see splitting your time with MTB and triathlons?
KA: ’Cross has definitely become a primary focus for me. Again, I’m still fairly new to all aspects of the sport, so I’m still trying to find my niche outside of ’cross. Last season I discovered ultra-endurance mountain bike racing, and this season I would like to focus on shorter ’cross country mountain bike racing and see how I do. Ultimately the goal is to come in to ’cross season with the most high end fitness possible.
CXM: Are you an equipment geek or do you just want something decent to go out and ride fast on?
KA: I wouldn’t say I’m quite an equipment geek (I don’t have enough money to be that picky!), but I like to have decent stuff that won’t fall apart, that I can ride fast on.
CXM: Do you follow any specific diet or regiment?
KA: Not particularly. I have always been a bit of a “health nut,” so I eat well. Usually oatmeal for breakfast with some yogurt or a protein drink. For lunch I usually eat soup, salad or an Amy’s frozen burrito. I have been on a huge slow cooker kick for dinner lately featuring delicious dishes such as chili, tortilla soup and lemon chicken. I love coming home to a house filled with glorious smells and ready to eat food. In between my bigger meals I eat a lot of Greek yogurt, probably too much.
CXM: What’s a typical training week like for you?
KA: This year I have had awesome help from my coach, Kirk Albers. When I spoke with him at the beginning of the season, my original goal was just to do one Elite UCI race and not get lapped. After competing in a couple of the OVCX races, I realized that I was much stronger than I was last year, so I decided to set the bar a little bit higher for myself with the goal of competing in the Elite women’s field at Nationals. In order to meet that goal Kirk sent me a structured plan every week. The workouts vary, but I usually don’t put in more than 12 hours per week unless I’m not racing. Then longer endurance rides are worked in to the schedule. Mondays are usually a recovery spin, Tuesday through Thursdays are either, speed, threshold or VO2 workouts. Friday is recovery and then race Saturday and Sunday.
CXM: How does it feel being a woman in the sport? Especially at the highest levels, do you feel like it’s different than being a male Elite racer?
KA: I’m so fresh to the sport that I’m just happy to be a part of it at all. I don’t think I have been in it long enough to have developed an opinion on whether it’s better/easier etc. for a male or female in the sport. All I know is that whether Elite, age group, male or female, we are all out there suffering together.
CXM: When you first started racing, how did it feel being a woman entering a male-dominated sport?
KA: If you think about it, almost every sport is “male dominated.” So it’s not new to me. Coming in to anything male dominated can be intimidating, but it’s also great. I think it makes the women more competitive and even stronger.
CXM: Do you think there are more women in cyclocross now than a few years ago?
KA: Last season was my first so I only have that to compare to. It does seem as though more and more women are showing up for races on more of a casual level. As far as on the pro level, there are definitely more “heavy hitters” from the road and mountain scene showing up to the races.
CXM: Did you feel like it was harder to develop yourself as an Elite/aspiring pro cyclist because you were female?
KA: I’m not sure that it is any more difficult for a woman vs. a male actually. Right now it is difficult for me to gain sponsorship because I don’t have an extensive background in the sport. I’m working on getting experience under my belt as well as getting the results I need to appeal to sponsors. Ideally I would like to get picked up by a team.
CXM: Any racing or training tips for new women?
KA: As I mentioned earlier in the interview, this sport can definitely be a bit intimidating to get in to, but all it takes is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, getting one race under your belt, and then all the fear and anxiety goes away. And you will have a freak’n blast! As far as training goes, it’s always important to set goals and then create a plan that will assist you in reaching those goals. Do it!
CXM: What message would you pass on to young girls who are interested in the sport?
KA: Absolutely do it! The sooner you get started the better. It takes years to develop as a cyclist. If you start young enough, chances are you will be hitting your peak while your body is still young and strong. Young and strong body, combined with extreme cardiovascular fitness that you have developed over time = stud cyclist.
CXM: What does “cyclocross” mean to you?
KA: This is what comes to mind; ’cross is the culmination of road, mountain, steeple chase, plus so much more which makes it the best sport ever for those with short attentions spans. It’s not for the meek or weary. It’s a balls-to-the-wall, full-throttle, maybe throw up in your mouth a couple of times, effort that ensues a level of pain that makes me want to cry to my mommy sometimes. And then there’s the heckling. No ’cross race would be complete without a random spectator shouting that “you suck” or “I think you’re in last, good job!” There’s the occasional beer hand-up, in case you need a mid-race pick me up. The word shit-show comes to mind, while racing in snow, mud and rain. Hanging with friends before and after the race is a highlight for me. There is never a dull moment in ’cross racing. It’s so unpredictable: I think that’s why so many people love it!
CXM: What would you like people to remember about you?
KA: Wow! This is a deep question that requires a deep answer. Here goes … I hope people will remember my positive attitude as much as I am remembered by my athletic achievements. As many others have, I too have been through a lot in life which has really helped shape my perspective on things. I don’t get all out of sorts about things that are out of my control. It’s how you handle the “out of control” situations that ultimately determine whether we are complacent in life. At the end of the day, I just want to be remembered for having a good spirit, a big heart and for having a hell of a good time!
CXM: Anything else that you would like to add?
KA: I would just like to add that I have had a freakin’ blast with the entire Columbus, Ohio ’cross crew this year! Those guys and gals make this sport so fun. I’m really looking forward to many ’cross seasons to come.