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Rach McBride blog: Competing in a non-binary category a 'profound experience'

Rach McBride is hitting the dirt in 2022
Rach McBride is hitting the dirt in 2022 (Image credit: Ben Owens Photography)

Rach McBride is a professional triathlete who will turn to the dirt in 2022 to race the Life Time Grand Prix gravel series, which boasts a $250,000, split equally between men and women. McBride is listed in the women's category but identifies as non-binary and will blog about their experience in the series for Cyclingnews.

I've been a full-time professional triathlete for over a decade racing in the female category. Throughout my career as an athlete (and in so many other aspects of life), I have always felt out of place. When the announcers called up all the "ladies" at the start line, or I had to check off that "F" box on registration forms, that just didn't feel like me. Everything clicked into place when I realized I was actually gender non-binary. It made me see the "why" behind the oddness I had felt in sport.

In triathlon, the inclusion of non-binary categories is almost non-existent, and there is definitely not much of an elite field as of yet. I am grateful that many races are stepping up to create a more inclusive space and had been working with some local race organizers to start offering a third category. Life Time Events first came onto my radar when I learned they were creating a non-binary race category in ALL of their events from 2020 onward.

Then on my Instagram feed last year, I saw Abi Robins on the podium with one of the same trophies that the male and female winners got, having won the non-binary Unbound race. Abi was alone on that podium. I decided then I needed to quit deferring my Unbound entry. I wanted to be up there on that podium with Abi and hopefully more non-binary racers who were bound to start showing up (and they are!).

When Life Time approached me about applying for their inaugural Life Time Grand Prix, it had "ADVENTURE!" and opportunity written all over it. I was excited about a game-changing race series in response to the explosion of gravel and the emergence of professional gravel racers. Although the series currently only runs a female and male category, I am grateful to be able to continue to race each individual race as a non-binary athlete, with my results being included in the series female category. I hope that continuing to show up at these races will help encourage other non-binary athletes to come race with me, just like Abi inspired me.

This triathlete is not actually new to gravel though. Although I'm a multisport athlete at heart and have been full-time since 2011, I've actually been riding gravel in the Pacific Northwest for years. I fell in love with non-pavement riding over a decade ago in beautiful Lillooet, BC where my cyclist friends would go train multiple times a year. This was before gravel bikes were a thing. We would toss 28mm tires on our road bikes to handle the remote gravel roads. Eventually, I stopped tormenting my road bike, graduated to a rim-brake CX bike, and then finally a real gravel rig when Diamondback Bikes came out with their first Haanjo series.

Rach McBride

Rach McBride (Image credit: Ben Owens Photography)

Through the years, I've sprinkled in gravel racing where it would fit within my triathlon season. This was challenging because of just how tough and taxing racing gravel often was. But that's also what I absolutely loved about it. The courses were brutal. I remember crossing the finish line with a win at Walla Walla Grit, after over 7 hours of riding hard on technical terrain and bursting into tears. I was just so rocked by how hard it all was. This type of racing was still in its infancy and very grassroots. The post-race free beer and meal was a welcome treat to celebrate every finisher. There may not have been any prize money, but I felt like I left every race enriched by a feeling of community and good vibes.

Last year when my sponsor HED Wheels mentioned they were supporting Life Time Big Sugar Gravel, I jumped at the chance to switch things up a bit. I was at the tail end of a disappointing triathlon season. Something was going mysteriously, horribly wrong with my body when I hit the 6-7 hour mark of these 9+ hour races – extreme fatigue, slurred speech, wobbling all over the marathon run course. I was frustrated with stumbling over the finish line with sub-par results.

Big Sugar was also a tough performance. I lost the front of the race part way when I dropped my chain and then snagged a couple of flats on the notoriously sharp Arkansas rocks. I still landed a non-binary win (redemption!) and got to stand on that podium with Abi. Competing for the first time in a category that fully aligned with my gender identity was quite a profound experience. I felt seen, validated, and celebrated along with every other rider.

Then when I was accepted into the Life Time Grand Prix, it hit me. I had just signed myself up for a season of mostly bike racing, including some rather high-profile mountain bike events that I had never even dreamed of competing in. How many times had I ridden a mountain bike? Well, once…10 years ago. And who was I going to be competing against in this series? Folks who had literally gone to the Olympics in the sport. Was this triathlete in over their head?! Yikes.

When I finally got my Diamondback mountain bikes in my hands, with all the shocks and dropper bits and so many more things to adjust, it admittedly looked like rocket science to me. Don't get me wrong. I thrive on challenge. I love testing my limits to race against the best of the best. I've got the engine; it's the technical skills where I am way behind. The learning curve has been steep. I hit the redonk technical trails of Vancouver's north shore with the help of my jack-of-all-trades training partner and best buddy. It turns out, I'm not too shabby (for a trigeek!) at pointing a bike downhill and going over things I never dreamed I'd be able to.

Unfortunately, on my second ride out, I learned the value of knee pads after I knocked my knee pretty hard on the frame of my Diamondback Release, bruising my patella. The healing process has been tricky, limited in both cycling and running, taking two steps forward, one step back. I have been crossing my fingers and toes until the last minute in hopes that there was even a possibility to hit the start line of the series opener Sea Otter Fuego 80.

My body is finally getting back up and riding, but it's a bummer to say that I will not in fact be able to join the stellar lineup this weekend in Monterey. The Ironman World Championships (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26-mile marathon run) are just around the corner in four weeks. I have had to prioritize keeping my body moving forward in the healing process this early in the season, so I can finally race the world championships I've been waiting for over two years for, not to mention the rest of the incredible Life Time Grand Prix!

You can still catch me in Monterey though. Wouldn't want to miss my first Sea Otter experience even if it means I have to cheer on the action from the sidelines.

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Rach is a professional triathlete turned gravel racer, paving the way for non-binary athletes to experience the joy, adventure and challenge of elite sport. They will be competing in the Life Time Series of gravel races for the first time in 2022 and will be writing out the experience for Cyclingnews.