by David Kirkpatrick, Features Editor
Chris Eatough is a multiple-time World and National 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race Champion, and the subject of the Gripped Films feature "24 Solo." Now retired from professional racing, he lives in Ellicott City, is the Program Manager of BikeArlington, coaches racers, and does product development for Trek.
(GamJams) 1. You've won a dozen or so World and National 24 Hour Solo mountain bike championships, and a slew of other endurance events. Are these victories of pacing, fitness, an extreme imbalance toward Type 1 muscle fibers? What makes you so much better when the going keeps going?
(Chris Eatough) I think it's because the long races are about more than just short term physical output. Detailed preparation pays off. Decision making is critical. Proper nutrition is needed. All the little things that add up. I prepare well and am able to keep a steady head even under pressure. The physical aspect is still necessary, but the preparation, decision making, and mental toughness is what really makes the difference in long mtb races.
(GJ) 2. After earning a Master's in Transportation Engineering at UVA, you chose an interesting niche of that field in which to earn your living. How exactly does one go from Master's candidate to pro mountain biker?
(CE) I didn't really decide it. I just fell in love with riding and racing. I was picking up some sponsorship while at UVA, and I figured if I was ever going to be a professional athlete, this was my chance.
(GJ) 3. In your new role as Director of BikeArlington, your mission is to make Arlington a friendlier place for cyclists and bike commuters. What are your first targets in accomplishing that?
(CE) It's tough to point out just one, since there are so many important aspects. It can be summed up by saying we are trying to build "Bike Culture". If more people ride bikes, then the general acceptance and respect for cyclists in the community improves. Then there is the snowball effect of more people wanting to bike because the acceptance is there. It's important to show that cycling is easy and does not have to be intimidating or complicated. The special gear is not needed. All that is really needed is a bike and a helmet. Some of the specific BikeArlington programs to create bike culture are fun bike events to get more people involved, outreach to businesses to help them be bike friendly for their employees, and incorporating bike education into elementary school curriculum.
(GJ) 4. You bike commute to work over a pretty fair distance every day, but then again you're an endurance World Champion. What sort of distances do you think it's feasible for people to cover as bike commuters, and what options do people with longer trips have?
(CE) I would consider up to 3 miles to be a short bike trip. People make lots of trips of this distance, especially in urban areas like DC and Arlington. 3 to 7 miles I would consider medium distance. 7 miles or more I consider to be a fairly long trip by bike, but still manageable for almost anyone with a little practice and planning. There is always the option of combining the bike trip with another mode for longer rides. Bike to bus or metro works great. Most metro stations have good bike parking, and most buses have a bike rack on the front to take the bike along. Driving a portion, then riding a portion also works well. This method allows the commuter to be more selective on where they start their ride, and therefore pick out a preferred route. Another option is an electric assist bike. They are easy to ride, and provide a gentle boost, which increases the distance most people can ride, make riding uphill quite easy, and can provide a "sweat free" ride into work.
(GJ) 5. In addition to your gig at BikeArlington, you've started a coaching business. What role can commuting play in a competitive cyclist's training, and what are the traps to be mindful of?
(CE) My coaching is a way to pass on my experience and knowledge to athletes that are competing in similar events that I have been doing for years. I help them with training, nutrition, mental toughness, bike preparation, bike handling, dealing with setbacks, and much more. Commuting by bike can be a very efficient use of a person's time. For a busy person with a demanding job, bike commuting might be the only option for getting riding in on some days. The trap is if the rider gets stuck in a rut. Always doing the same ride at the same pace leads to fitness plateaus. Varying the pace or route is a good idea for the regular bike commuter that wants to get fitter. Riding easy on the morning ride and hard on the afternoon ride is a simple way to do this.
(GJ) 6. Is your focus as a coach on mountain biking, or cyclists in general? What are the big differences between training for mountain biking and racing on the road?
(CE) Mountain biking is where most of my expertise is, and that is what I focus my coaching on. Mountain biking requires much more bike handling and technique than road racing, so that is included in the coaching. Road racing requires endurance, but tactics and a fast sprint are also very important. Mountain bikers don't need to sprint much, so the training is more focussed on high end aerobic endurance.
(GJ) 7. How much time does a successful mountain bike racer spend working on technical riding skills versus training his/her fitness?
(CE) I recommend at least 50% of a mountain bikers riding to be on trail, some of which is done at high speed (but always in control). Whenever you are riding trails in a focussed manner, you are improving your skills. The great thing about riding mountain bike trails is that you are improving your fitness AND bike handling skills at the same time.
(GJ) 8. The other other hat that you wear is in product development for Trek, your long time sponsor. What are the big developments coming along, and is the 26" hard tail dead?
(CE) I have hardly ridden a hardtail at all for the last 9 years. The Trek Top Fuel full suspension bike I ride is so light and efficient, and there are so many benefits to the suspension, such as more comfort, more stability, and better traction. The suspension keeps being refined every year, and this is where most of the technology is going these days.
(GJ) 9. Now that you're a local guy with a couple of jobs and a family, are we going to see you out at any of the local races?
(CE) I've always enjoyed the local races, and I will continue to do some. I have no idea how fast I will be, but I will be out there hammering and having fun.
(GJ) 10. What are your favorite places to mountain bike around here?
(CE) Patapsco State Park, Frederick Watershed, Michaux National Forrest.
(GJ) 11. (Bouns Question) Complete the following statement: "In 12 months I'd like to..."
(CE) see Arlington become known as the most bike friendly community east of the Rockies, and take a real family vacation.