Just over six months ago, Heather Logie was a runner and an adventure racer. Now she's mixing it up with established pros like fellow Australian Rowena Fry on their national mountain bike circuit. She spoke to Cyclingnews' Sue George about her new sport and her meteoric ascent through the ranks.
After watching the mountain bike World Championships as a curious spectator last September in her hometown of Canberra, the surprise of the Down Under racing season has risen to the top of the domestic cross country racing ranks.
"I always considered riding a secondary sport for adventure racing - something I had to do," said the 31-year-old Logie. Before adventure racing, Logie was a runner.
"Last year, I started doing more riding through the association I had with a local bike shop, having bought a new mountain bike. They encouraged me to get out and get better at riding. I started going on regular rides with them. I discovered that when I was being pushed to enjoy the technical aspect of mountain biking, I loved it."
Then injury intervened, giving Logie a further push in the direction of mountain biking. "Towards the end of the year, I managed to injure my Achilles tendon when cross country skiing, and I had to stop running," said Logie. "I was forced off running for six weeks. As an outlet for my frustration, I started riding every day. Suddenly, I started getting an awful lot faster on the bike."
Fortunately for Logie, those around her encouraged her to try mountain bike racing. "I did well in a few 100km events here in Australia and won two. I like to think that people saw some potential in me and saw that I had the racing determination - a little monster inside me that was determined to do well in anything and could be channeled to mountain biking."
Logie's performance in two marathons set her mountain bike career on the fast track. Racing the Jet Black 101 in New South Wales in August of last year sparked her interest in racing more frequently, but it was the Angry Doctor Enduro in September that convinced Logie of her potential.
"That's the race where afterward, I came back to my local bike shop, Bike Culture, and said 'turn me into a mountain bike racer'. They wrote me a program and said have a go at the national series."
This year Logie finished second at the cross country national series rounds in Glenorchy, Thredbo and Canberra as well as at Australian nationals. She was fourth at the Shepparton national series cross country. In addition, she won the short track at Thredbo and the Wildside MTB stage race in Tasmania.
"I've been doing surprisingly well. I don't think anyone expected me to make that transition so quickly. Originally my goal had been possibly to race the 24-hour solo World Championships.
"I have dramatically revised my goals. I believe I have a window here, an opportunity I hadn't anticipated. I have a few years of being able to go fast. I probably have a few more years of endurance strength. So now is my chance to see how fast I can go. London, on the horizon in two years, seems like significant target that should not be ignored," said Logie referring to the Olympic Games in 2012.
Logie says plans are on hold for a 24-hour solo race. "I know how much it would take out of me. If I did it, I'd want to race it, and it'd probably knock me out for three to six months for race fitness for anything shorter, so when I do one, I'll need to pick the time for it. When will depend what happens over the next 12 months or so."
She is realistic about her chances to make it to the Olympics in England. "There are many steps in between [here and there], but I'd always regret if I didn't give myself a chance to see if I can get there."
One big obstacle will come in the form of the favourite for what is likely to be a single woman's place on the Australian Olympic Mountain bike team: national cross country champion Rowena Fry.
Nonetheless, Fry has been supportive of Logie, the new kid on the block. "Rowena and the other girls have made it much easier for me than it could have been. She has respect for me and it's given me a boost. She thinks I make her work harder," said Logie.
"I learn something new from her every time I race her. She is incredible on a bike. She has a smooth and consistent form of racing. She knows how to manage herself in a race. It's been really flattering the nice things she's said to me and encouraging me and welcoming me into a tight-knit group of female elite racers in Australia.
"It's been a positive experience for me to race her," said Logie. "Our battles are scary and exciting and hard and fun and make you feel alive. I love it."
The way Logie sees it, the ongoing contests between Fry and herself are likely to help whichever of them goes to the Olympics be the strongest possible mountain biker Australia can send.
Well aware of how quickly a new talent can emerge on the scene to shake things up, Logie realizes that neither she nor Fry may be representing Australia at the Olympics. "There may be another bright young thing to trump both of us when we get to that time."
The learning curve
Finding herself battling at the front of mountain bike races has catapulted Logie up the learning curve of a sport that is both physically challenging and technically complicated.
"Everyone knows each other very well. I've felt like an outsider. I don't know the race etiquette and I worry about upsetting people and doing the wrong things when I shouldn't be doing them, like being aggressive.
"The change in my fitness has been easier than I expected. I thought it would be hard to turn from a running body into a riding body. I used to think of myself as a runner on a bike. I thought I would need very different strengths. It's been a good surprise to discover how quickly my body has adapted.
"The hard things are learning to trust myself on the bike and learning to trust the connection I have to the bike. As someone who's mostly done sports where it was just biomechanically your own territory - running on a road or in the bush - to learn this part that is so much about your ability to use a machine and position it and balance it and leverage it and use your body weight and momentum in very different ways.
"I'm learning to go up and down things that look daunting and terrifying. Part of it is faith in the machine and your ability to handle it. That has been a mental challenge. I learn with each success that something I thought was impossible is possible. That continues to be my biggest area of work and where I pour a lot of my mental and physical time."
Logie seems to do well at both cross country racing and stage racing. At the Wildside mountain bike stage race in Tasmania, Logie won. "I was pleased with my race. I was consistent. I worked hard each day to put myself in the right mental state to accept the challenges that each day would bring.
"I think a stage race like that involves a lot more mental strategy and tactics and fortitude than a cross country race. It's like seven little races, each stage will play to the strengths of either Rowena or me. I had to be willing to lose time to her on some stages when she would be stronger and I had to prepare myself to work harder and push myself beyond comfortable levels in other stages when I had the opportunity to make ground on her. It was a race where I had to have my head engaged - it was a mental game."
The Wildside experience let Logie apply something she'd learned from her adventure racing background. "I've always been good at making decisions and keeping going when I'm tired and sleep deprived. I can keep myself moving and strong and mentally on top of what I'm doing."
Logie says she has no preference yet for which discipline of endurance mountain bike is her favorite; she enjoys cross country racing, marathons and stage races. "I don't think I've done enough of each to answer that question yet. I feel more apprehensive and nervous about the cross country racing because the margin for error is so much tighter. I find the feeling of being on the start line of cross country race different. It's you against the elements, the track and the girls. I'm trying to decide if I like it or not.
"Stage racing is more like adventure racing. You have more room for error. Everyone is trying to minimize mistakes and move consistently. There is more of a sense of camaraderie."
A history of sport
"I've been very sporty my whole life. I've done a lot of sports and anything I've decided to do, I've been competitive," said Logie, obviously a natural athlete.
"I've done a lot of adventure racing over the last four years. As part of adventure racing, I got into riding my mountain bike more. Before that I was a road runner, running half marathons and road races.
"I was also in a sport of rogaining - long distance cross country running with navigation. It's a bit like orienteering through the bush. It's over 24 hours and you'd cover up to 100km during a typical race. I competed in the world champs in that in 2006 when it was in Australia, you do it as a team. I did that with my racing partner at the time and we won the world champs." She also won bronze at the 2008 rogaining world championships.
One of the people Logie admires is former adventure racer turned mountain biker Rebecca Rusch. The two haven't met, at least not yet. "I have done a lot of the same races. I know she came over and raced with some friends of mine a few years ago. But I think I've done the races in different years.
"Rebecca was the target for when I was going to race the 24 hour world solo champs and I hope she's still racing when I get there because I'd love to race against her. She's always been someone I've looked up to. Reading her story is what made me decide I should do the world solo champs."
Adventure racing is on hold for Logie while she pursues her mountain bike goals. "Adventure racing takes a lot out of you. Many races go for 48 hours and they knock you out for awhile. I haven't run since September. I would struggle I think to keep up.
"I'd like to start doing some running again and there's no reason I can't again. My Achilles is healed, and some cross training would be useful."
Logie hopes she can go back to adventure racing in the future should she decide to.
Goals for 2010 and beyond
"I'm going through a dramatic shift in identity at the moment," said Logie. "I have a full time job with the Australian government working in the Department of Environment.
"I am mentally still an amateur who fits her riding in at 6 p.m. at night or 6 a.m. in the morning. I'm having to ask myself right now about this shift to someone who really wants to be a mountain biker. I'll have to make some decision on what I will do in the next six months."
In the meantime, she will race the Oceania Championships in New Zealand this weekend and hopes to potentially qualify for the World Championships in September. "If I do qualify, I will feel that I should go do a World Cup race - at least one - before I put myself on start line for the World Championships.
"This year will be a year of learning as much as I can and building my skill base. I'm planning to stay here in Australia and not go do the World Cup circuit, but I'd like to in 2011, with the aim being to get the kind of race experience I'll need to race competitively in World Championships rather than race as newbie trying to learn the ropes.
"This year will be the year of solidifying my base and turning myself into a mountain biker."
Logie will try some road racing in the coming months in Tasmania and Canberra to build her strength. It'll also be a chance for her to learn tactics, something she thinks will benefit her mountain biking.