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Posted: January 28, 2005

Multisport: Interview with Melanie McQuaid


Tim Bourquin: “Welcome back to Thanks for joining us today. My name is Tim Bourquin.

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We’re going to be speaking with Melanie McQuaid. She is an Xterra professional athlete and we’re going to be talking to her about her 2004 season and the winter break, and also 2005 and what’s in store for her.

A couple of things; first of the Race of the Day. The Race of the Day today is the Genius Adventures Winter Adventure Race Number Two in Northfield Mountain, Northfield, Massachusetts. It is going to be on March 6th, 2005 and you can find out more about that by clicking on the Race of the Day link right below the link to this audio.

Make sure you sign up for our audio newsletter as well because the newsletter subscribers get interviews that aren’t included on the website on a regular basis, so make sure you get signed for that and its free so no harm there.

So we’ll be right back to speak with Melanie McQuaid in about 30 seconds.

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Tim Bourquin: “Melanie thanks very much for joining us today. I appreciate you taking the time.”

Melanie McQuaid: “It’s great to be here.”

Tim Bourquin: “Well just reading over your post on your website ( that you update quite a bit and talking about how you had a little incident there when you were skiing, I guess, over the winter break. Why don’t you just real briefly about that.”

Melanie McQuaid: My partner Ross and I went back country snow boarding which is my first experience, basically, snowboarding in the wilderness. We went to Baldface Lodge which is in the Selkirk Mountain Range, outside of Nelson. It was fabulous. We were there over Christmas and it really was more like an intimate group, with the family of the owners, Paula and Jeff, and up until Boxing Day it was spectacular, but on Boxing Day my partner Ross crashed into a tree and broke his femur. So that was a fairly emotional and traumatic experience for me and for him as well. We had some first hand experience in wilderness rescue with the guides tobogganing him out and being evacuated in a helicopter, so it was something else.”

Tim Bourquin: “We talked a little bit about this before we started recording in the sense it makes you think. We talk about doing snowshoeing and different things in the off-season to get a little variety, yet theres this chance when you’re doing something like that to get injured. Does it concern you at all in terms of looking forward to the next season?”

Melanie McQuaid: “Oh absolutely because I can be injured perhaps in a contract when its related to training, but when its something like snowboarding that’s my own fault, and I’m putting myself at risk. Usually when I doing things like snowboarding I tend to choose the powdery days where the chance of hurting myself is much less, but you don’t want to put yourself in a little glass house and look outside and watch everyone else have fun, so you kind of want to balance the risk versus the fun factor and having a part of the year where you’re normal, and this was my time to be normal and have fun and do something else. It wasn’t what we expected to have something like that happen. Obviously Ross is pushing himself a little bit harder than I am because he’s a snow sport kind of guy and he just took his eye off the ball for a second so to speak and hit a tree.”

Tim Bourquin: “What kind of things do you do in the off-season? Obviously you do some snowboarding, but any other things to keep your endurance levels up there?”

Melanie McQuaid: “Snowboarding is one of those calculated risks, but I don’t it that often. I like to do a lot of hiking and cross-country skiing. I like to play squash and do some other sports like that just to get some variety in my training. Really I spent a lot more time trying to mountain bike in the off-season and doing stuff that’s fun rather than training, but its all more active, active kind of recovery where I’m always doing something but it’s just not planned the way it is during the season.”

Tim Bourquin: “Now how’s your 2005 season shaping up in terms of how many races and which ones will you be doing?”

Melanie McQuaid: “I really thought I was going to have a smaller season next year because I’m actually going to spend a year focusing more on the Xterra stuff. I spent the last couple of years in trying to make the Olympic team for mountain biking, really dividing my time between mountain bike and Xterra, where I was racing for the Ford Women’s Team, and what I found is that although I had highlights in the seasons, I really wasn’t as good as I could have been in either sport because I was, as my coach put it, riding two horses with one ass. So this year I’m going to put my best foot forward, try and regain the world title in Xterra by really focusing on the triathlon stuff. I’m going to address some of my weaknesses that I couldn’t while I was mountain biking more, but I’m still going to do enough mountain biking that I can be strong in that because I do think that this event is very cycling specific, so without losing some strength on the bike, I want to address some weakness in running and swimming.”

Tim Bourquin: “What draws you to Xterra rather than just a pure mountain biking event?”

Melanie McQuaid: “I think that what happened is I just spent a long time doing the mountain bike stuff and because mountain biking has almost like traditional events, the events don’t change that much. I raced the World Cup for the first time in 1998 and that’s a lot of time doing the same kind of event, and I think that having some disappointments in it I needed to take a break from it to come back and have it be fresh and exciting again, and that’s kind of why I started doing Xterra. But what happened was I realized I kind of spent a life time preparing for Xterra. I was a swimmer in high school and I was running in university and then all of a sudden I spent all this time racing as a mountain biker. It was almost like Team Unlimited created an event for Melanie, and so because I have that background and a strength for this specific event, it really helped me to be really good at it, and its really nice to have won a world title, but its also really nice to go to events where you’re the best athlete there and theres the pressures associated with being one of the best athletes in the event.

So it was a different, new, exciting challenge and so as much as I love mountain biking and I think it’s a great sport, it’s not growing in popularity and its not growing in the way that Xterra is and it’s pretty exciting to be riding the wave of such an exciting and growing sport. That’s kind of why, for a couple of years, I’d like to spend some time seeing where this sports going to go and enjoying the people that are in it because it really is just the coolest family I’ve ever been a part of.”

Tim Bourquin: “Well I want to talk to you about how you’re kind of promoting the Xterra just by kind of your involvement in it, but we need to take a quick break. We’re going to be right back to speak with Melanie McQuaid.”

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Tim Bourquin: “Melanie, your involvement in Xterra has kind of brought that to another level in terms of exposure. Do you still see that growing over the years?”

Melanie McQuaid: “I think that what’s happening is people are starting to recognize this event. Ironman is a challenge just to finish the event because it’s so huge an obstacle just to get to the end. With Xterra its an event where the distances, its going to be around four hours for a lot of athletes, but that’s a manageable amount of time, but during that four hours theres a number of obstacles just to finish that aren’t necessarily just endurance; the swim, theres a run in the middle and it’s a mass start event, similar to Ironman. You start with the pros and its everyone is on their own out there, but then you get on the mountain bike, and riding a mountain bike is a challenge in itself. It just offers so many new challenges and its an interesting, scenic, beautiful experience, and I think some people are starting to see how this challenge is not only a challenge just to finish, but its adventure while you’re out there and I think that’s why, although Xterra I think is a little bit far from adventure racing because it’s a short, physical challenge, like Olympic distance triathlon or Ironman, its more that kind of a sport. It also has the obstacle challenge of an adventure race because riding your mountain bike unaided does offer technical challenges in addition to the physical ones. I think it’s a nice marriage of those two types of events that a lot of people are getting turned on by and want to start going to and also have the challenge of following a series for their own age group national championships and their age group world championships.

Theres an infrastructure so that athletes who are also full time professionals in some other kind of job also have this side goal and goal setting infrastructure for them to follow, and so just like Ironman is starting to attract a lot of people, I think Xterra is offering the same kind of goal or carrot at the end of the line to get people involved in and racing part of the time.”

Tim Bourquin: “Do you think that as the sport grows more and more people will be able to do this professionally as a living?”

Melanie McQuaid: “I think just like a lot of Olympic sports, for lack of another description because its not really amateur because all the athletes are professionals, and its not in the Olympics, but its that kind of a pursuit, I think that theres only so much that can go around and so the sport itself is very top heavy in terms of athletes that can really make a living from it, but Xterra has a great prize list. If you’re a good pro you’re going to make some money because Team Unlimited does just a great job in supporting their athletes and helping them to get to these races just by offering a decent prize list if you have a good day.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got some great sponsors like Saucony, Compex, Sundog Eyewear, Powerbar, they take really good care of me and so I personally can make a living in this sport, and I know that some of my closest competitors also are doing that.

Does it go all the way down to 10th place? Probably not, but I think that you’re not going to see that many sports getting this much television exposure and that’s only going to help the athletes in it.”

Tim Bourquin: “Do you think that more and more women will participant in Xterra as well or has that leveled off do you think?”

Melanie McQuaid: “I certainly don’t think it’s leveled off. I think if you look at the world championships this year, it was tighter than its ever been, and I know that in Canada theres girls that did well at worlds that are going to come back and be doing the whole series, and I think that the Europeans really have embraced this sport, and I think theres going to be more and more good Europeans.

I think one of the challenges is women and mountain biking. I think that sometimes it takes longer for women to develop the skills for mountain biking than it does for men. I think women learn at a slower rate than men do and so developing those bike handling skills might take a bit longer for a lot of triathlon women, so we’ll get women from non-drafting triathlon who are just phenomenal cyclists, but you put them off-road and it’s just a different animal entirely. I think boys probably spend more time riding BMX bikes or they might not bike a bit more because they do or whatever. It seems to me that men transferring from road triathlon tend to pick it up faster than the girls do.

I think right now we’re seeing women come from mountain biking and dominating this sport, but it’s really getting to a place where you’re not going to come in with one solid sport and then two pretty weak ones and be able to do well. It really is a balanced portfolio to be winning this event and I just think that people are coming up and with a sport that’s growing in exposure and opportunity, you can’t just sit back and think that nobody is coming out. Looking at the women’s race, for US nationals and for the worlds this year, it was a lot tighter than it’s ever been.”

Tim Bourquin: “On your website you give more insight to some of the fans than other athletes might do because you post almost like a web log up there, and you talked about that in one of your most recent posts about after this incident when you were snowboarding about evaluating where you wanted to be in two, three, five years.

You’re been an Xterra world champion. Where do you see yourself going from here? What are your goals long and short term?”

Melanie McQuaid: “I was really unhappy with how I performed at the worlds this year. I don’t take anything away from Jamie for beating me. I watched some of the highlights from the race and she just gave it everything and she just had a phenomenal performance and I was so proud of her for putting all that out on the line.

For me I felt like I was kind of not having the best day and I walked away from the race feeling like I didn’t leave everything out. So coming back to the world championships next year I’d like to have a phenomenal race for me.

In the short term I’m looking to worlds again this year, to perform much better then I did.

I joke that as a Canadian it would mean a lot to me to win a hat trick of world championships, so I’ve got at least two years of Xterra ahead of me and I’d really like to win the worlds again at least once, if not twice.”

Tim Bourquin: “What do you think you need to do differently to make that happen next year?”

Melanie McQuaid: “It was a different experience coming in as a world champion because theres pressure on you as a world champion, but it wasn’t the pressure that got to me, it was more like shaking off the pressure. Because I had shaken off the pressure so much I think I didn’t attack the race with the kind of intensity I needed to.

I think a lot of the issue with me was mental, but its not the kind of mental that you think, it was more like I could feel places in the race; in any mountain bike race, including an Xterra mountain bike race, theres places where you just have to hang it out and take the risk, and I think that I came in at the end of a long season and probably, like a lot of people, I was sort of getting sick and I was at 85% going into the race. I wasn’t just ripping everyone’s’ legs off going up hill and so because of that I really couldn’t afford to be cautious on the downhill. I think I thought so much about Conrad having flats in the past and thinking about, ‘Okay, its not worth it to crash,’ and whatever, and by the time I got to the bottom of the decent, which is quite long on the Hawaii course, I knew I was slow, I’d been passed by people. Us girls, we kind of hang it out and we’re going pretty fast, so when I’m getting passed continuously by a lot of people; I got to the bottom and I realized, ‘Holy crap, was I ever slow,’ and in the end that is what happened.

My bike split was terrible. Even at 85% my split was awful and I was slow.

I went into the run and I was given the wrong kind of split and I just basically melted down and so that was the end of the race. You’re not attacking the bike course; you’re not attacking the run course. You’re running in defensive mode.

I think coming into this year, the importance of the race means that you have to be extra excited and I think learning from this experience and being excited about every race. I think that what’s happened over this Christmas, like having these experiences with Ross and also thinking about the tsunami and how all those people just had no idea; they’re on vacation, they’re having the time of their lives and all of a sudden a tsunami hits. It’s almost a horrible joke that that would happen to people because that’s not anything that they would ever expect.

I just look at this season and I look at every race that I have the opportunity to be at and I’m just that much more excited to be standing in this position to be able to win these races and do this stuff, and having done so theres a lot of women that have come up to me and said they’ve started racing, sports have changed their lives, they’re so much healthier, happier, confident, all the things that go along with being in sport. Every time I step on the line it’s an opportunity for me to do something for myself. It’s an opportunity for me to maybe help someone do something for themselves and also it’s a learning experience in just pushing yourself, driving yourself, disciplining yourself.

I look at it like, ‘This is just setting me up for how I want to spend the rest of my life,’ and I just like to live it each day the best that I can and not have to walk away from races going, ‘Okay, that wasn’t the best day that I could have had.’

Its really philosophical but I think that after a long time in the sport you have to address why you do it and it’s not because of money and it’s not because of traveling or whatever, it’s got to be some other reason.”

Tim Bourquin: “Well Melanie we’re about out of time, but of course listeners can go to Melanie McQuaid’s website by clicking on the link right below the link to this audio. We’ll be linking to that Melanie.

Well we wish you good luck in the up coming season in 2005 and hopefully we can catch up with you sometime during the season to find out how everything’s going.”

Melanie McQuaid: “Absolutely. Thank you.”

Links: Race of the Day: Tubbs Snowshoes Winter Series offers online radio programs and interviews with endurance athletes and coaches at all levels. Visit their site today and listen to everyday athletes just like you and also professional endurance athletes talk about how they train, eat and race. Weekend warriors and serious competitors alike will find something they can implement into their own training and technique immediately from each day's program. A new interview is posted each weekday.

Contents © 2004 Endurance Radio, a production of TNC New Media, Inc.

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