stories • happenings • adventures

Lizzy Scully
October 23, 2018

“I Don’t See Myself as a Racer” – Q&A with Lael Wilcox

Posted by in Ambassadors BikepackHER

Lael Wilcox Q&A: Ultra-Endurance Athlete & Friend of Revelate Designs

As a way to celebrate our 10-Year Anniversary at Revelate Designs, we will be featuring articles by and about our ambassadors and “Friends of Revelate” over the next few months. Enjoy!

Photos by Rugile Kaladyte.

On June 20, 2018, Lael Wilcox took second place in Switzerland’s Navad 1000 bikepacking race (1010 KM // 627 miles), becoming the second female to ever finish the race and beating the previous overall course record by more than 18 hours. For her first ultra-endurance competition in Europe, she climbed more than 30,410 meters (99,770 feet) over the Swiss Alps and crossed nearly the entire country in under 5 days, sleep deprived and self-supported. And, despite all this, Wilcox doesn’t even consider herself a racer!

“Essentially, I don’t see myself as a racer,” she explains. “I just like spending time moving and being outside. The bicycle is a great vehicle and great way to carry gear. I love that there are so many different styles of riding and ways to approach it. I like spending time riding alone and with others. I feel like it stimulates us all to be thoughtful and become better people–more caring, conscientious, and fun-loving.”

So how does she do it? Check out her film, “I’m Not Stopping,” and continue reading to find out what makes this dynamic athlete and Revelate Designs ambassador tick.

Lael Wilcox on the Navad 1000. Photo by Rugile Kaladyte.Revelate Designs: How did you get into riding bicycles?
LW: I start riding bikes to commute to and from work as a waitress in Tacoma, Washington. My job was four miles away, too long to walk. I’ve never owned a car.

RD: Why ride bicycles?
LW: At this point, riding bikes almost feels like breathing or drinking water. It is such a normal part of my life. I ride to get around, to have fun, to race and travel long distances, as part of my work as a guide, as a leader for Anchorage GRIT. If I’m going to somewhere, I’ll get there on my bike. And sometimes I just set out on my bike because that’s how I want to spend my day.

RD: What inspired you to choose the Navad 1000?
LW: The race organizer, Willi Felix, wrote me an email in January of 2017, inviting me to come to the race. That spring, on separate occasions, both Willi and I crashed on our bikes and broke several ribs. The following spring I was making plans for the summer. I got back in touch with Willi and asked if the invitation still held. I flew to Switzerland at the end of May so that I would have enough time to pre-ride the entire Navad 1000 course before the race. It is fantastic and an incredible physical challenge because there is so much climbing. I’ll be posting this route on I highly recommend touring this route; it’s super scenic. Switzerland was also a great jumping off point to spend the rest of the summer in Europe. Willi invited me to use his place as a home base, and from there I went to France, Germany, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom.

Lael Wilcox on the Navad 1000. (Rugile Kaladyte)

We’ve read that you love climbing and find the flats more difficult. Can you explain?

LW: I love climbing because it gets my heart rate up and makes me feel alive. And I’m good at it. The challenge is obvious and in your face; you have to get up that mountain. Riding flat terrain feels more tedious. You really have to focus on pushing the pedals to maintain a strong pace. I’d rather be going up a mountain. Plus, the views are better and you get to see more. I love long climbs, and I love punchy terrain. I like getting out of the saddle and pushing myself.

RD: What is it about endurance racing that motivates you?
LW: I dream about the distances and the landscapes that I get to cover. Days can feel like weeks. So much is uncertain and unpredictable, and I love that; the weather can change, you can’t know the people or animals that you’ll encounter. Usually, you don’t know where you’ll sleep or how you’ll feel. I love seeing so much every single day–every sunrise and every sunset and everything in between. There are so many quiet moments on the bike and so much time the think and process and dream. I love spending that much time outside awake.

RD: What are you thinking about most of the time while doing these races?
LW: My mind is all over the places, and I love that. I never get bored. I let my mind run wild. I think about the past, the future, what I’m doing and seeing. My physical needs and strategy reign me back in: “Do I need to eat or drink or buy food or sleep?” or “Do I need to change layers or pee or put on sunscreen?” I try to multi-task every time I get off the bike, so I can spend as much time as I can in the saddle. If my needs are basically met, then I just let my mind cruise. I started listening to music on the bike about a year and a half ago. I don’t always listen, but definitely use music as an upper to elevate my mood or get my through a tough stretch. It works. I love it. I mostly listen to pop.

Lael Wilcox. (Rugile Kaladyte)

RD: What do you attribute your ability to just keep going?
LW: There’s definitely a combination of things:

  1. In general, I really like moving and being outside all day. I never get bored and I feel so alive.
  2. I have good recovery day after day. I don’t need much sleep and I genuinely feel pretty good.
  3. I have really high standards for myself and what I think I’m capable of accomplishing. If I were to do any less than my best, I would be very disappointed in myself.
  4. During mentally tough stretches, I tell myself to just get through the hour and that it’ll get better. It always does. And now, I also have the music secret weapon.
  5. I take on big challenges and I’m too stubborn to relent, even if there’s a high level of pain involved. I tell myself, “At one point, I thought this was a good idea, so I better get it done.” I also, think about the alternative: “What am I going to do, just sit on the side of the road?” It’s never really a question, because I know that I’ll keep going.
  6. For the most part, I’m really having fun out there. I like pushing myself, and I like the diversity of the experience.

Lael Wilcox on the Navad 1000. (Rugile Kaladyte)