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Local Olympian increases momentum at World Cup stages

We reached Olympic bronze medalist and former cross-country World Champion Catharine Pendrel postpartum, pre-Olympics and in between races in Europe
 | June 22, 2021

SPIN caught up with the Kamloops-based Olympian over email to discuss her recent World Cup races in Europe, what it’s like to be a new mother while training at a high intensity, goals for the Olympics and what’s next for the former World Cup Champion.

Pendrel charges ahead on her rockgarden line. Photo by Michael Cerveny, Clif Pro Team.

SUN PEAKS INDEPENDENT NEWS: How does it feel to be back racing? Can you give us a brief breakdown of what went down in your recent races?

Catharine Pendrel: Great! Every race start I have to remind myself I actually like racing, but once I settle into the rhythm it’s good. I’ve been able to enjoy forward momentum in my races. My first race weekend was a bit rough, jumping into a World Cup after 20 months away and only a couple days after travelling over to Europe —I travelled late so I could get vaccinated and just wasn’t recovered enough to race well. I started strong but faded badly in the second half. The next weekend however, with more time [in] the time zone, and a race in my legs, I had a strong ride for 23rd.

SPIN: What does the victory in the Villa Di Casies race mean to you and what gave you the edge?

CP: I felt really great in the race physically and technically. Each week and race is a step in my return to full speed and I’m happy with my progress. It will be great to get back into World Cup racing and see if that work can translate to a top 20 ride.

SPIN: How do you feel about the upcoming Olympics? How will you be preparing and what are your goals?

CP: I’m excited! I think the course is really challenging and will showcase the sport well. I feel fit but have a lot of fine tuning to do yet which I am targeting in training and also by getting in some more races. Heat preparation will also be key for Tokyo. My goal will be to have the best performance I can have! I think I can put out a strong race there.

Catharine Pendrel, Clif Pro Team athlete, poses post race; mud and all. Photo by Michael Cerveny, Clif Pro Team

SPIN: What have your best moments and biggest challenges been since being back in racing?

CP: Best moments have been seeing friends, pre-riding together and getting so much support whether my result was 52nd or top 25. 

Most challenging has been finding the time to mentally prepare for my race, consoling an upset baby at 1:30 a.m. and making sure I don’t put too much load on my husband so this stays fun and manageable and he gets out for rides too.

SPIN: How has it been returning to the mental intensity that is required for training for a World Cup race? What’s made things easier for you to do so?

CP: It’s been pretty good because it has been progressive with my training. You can’t just jump back into high intensity training after a baby, you have to build up to it. Being excited about the progress I was making helped a lot.

SPIN: What role has the recent pregnancy and new baby played in that process? What’s it like racing while navigating motherhood?

CP: I was getting pretty burnt out on high performance in 2019 and was really stressed about the final Olympic qualifiers in 2020. Now, I am more relaxed about everything. It’s almost like starting my career again where I’m just excited to see how fast I can get and where that can take me, it’s refreshing.  For sure some parts are harder, but I also get to have my family with me which is really special.

SPIN: Any advice for other new mothers trying to get back into sport/activity?

CP: Be patient with yourself. You’ve been through a lot but fitness will come back!  Also, don’t be afraid to ask for support so you can have some exercise time every day. Being able to take this time out I think helps us have more energy for our little ones when we get home.

Catharine Pendrel and daughter Dara en route to European cross-country World Cup races. Photo submitted by Catharine Pendrel.

SPIN: Do you feel there could be better types of support for new mothers, not just high-end athletes?

CP: For sure! So much room to grow here. I think being able to stay active can do so much for mom’s mental health, but staying active is tough if your energy is already [tapped] out from work or child care. Any support to give primary care givers the support to get out as well as more [information] on how to be active during and after pregnancy is so valuable.

SPIN: How do you feel about the media and industry focusing on you being postpartum?

CP: I think it’s great. I want women to know it doesn’t have to be [either] sport or family. It takes a lot of support and not everybody will bounce back as quickly so timelines will vary, but you can be a high level athlete after childbirth if this is your desire. When you are pregnant and ambitious about what you want to do in sport afterwards you can get a lot of “oh we’ll see” dismal comments. I’d like that narrative to change. If I am at the Olympics this summer I know I won’t be the only woman there who had a baby in January. Aliphine Tuliamuk will also be competing in the Marathon [event].

SPIN: Will this be your last year of racing? If so, where do you plan to spend your time within the mountain biking community?

CP: At the World Cup level yes. Mountain biking seems to be the only sport where we retire just to do other races though lol. It will be nice to have more weekends in [B.C.] for riding…just need to find babysitters now so Keith and I can actually go together!

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