I am greatly honored to have had the opportunity to ask Ellen Noble some questions regarding her training and day-to-day life. Her tenacity is incredibly inspiring and I thought it would be a phenomenal opportunity to have her provide some insight for us!
It’s actually a funny story how I came up with this idea. Both Ellen and Jeremy (Powers) were hosting a special program at the Rapha Cycle Club in SoHo last month (which I signed up for). However, due to a complete oversight on my end, I ended up going to the club the day after the event. I walked in, looked around, and asked the guy behind the counter when the event with Ellen and Jeremy was going to begin. He replied, “That was last night.” Ultimately, I walked around the store a bit and then headed back to the apartment feeling like a total novice, haha.
Ellen seriously went above and beyond with her responses. So, without further adieu, here’s the formatted Q&A!
1) As someone who is very much interested in nutrition, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your pre-ride meals: what are your go-to foods to sustain you for those long days?
“I put quite a bit of thought into my nutrition. Specifically, I ask what can I do to make this meal good to eat, and good for me? We all know the good foods and the bad — what to eat and not to eat. But I’ve greatly enjoyed the challenge of making healthy meals that are super tasty. It’s pretty easy to make a salad and grilled chicken every night. But ever since I started living on my own, I’ve found ways to make really fun dishes!
One of my personal favorites is buffalo chicken spaghetti squash bowl. Another that I love is a sweet potato burrito with Franks Red Hot. Finally, my week-night go to is definitely curry with pineapple and a ton of vegetables, like kale and peppers.
As for pre-ride meals specifically, I like to keep it light. While spicy doesn’t bother me for dinner, eating a lot of spice right before a ride (especially if it’s hot!) can be a little painful. Since I ride in the morning, my pre-ride meal is usually breakfast. I love over-night oats, with yogurt and berries. Always paired with egg for protein. And, as I mentioned, another favorite is sweet potato, onion, pepper, kale and ground turkey in a shell with Franks. So good, lots of flavor and easy on the tummy.
Finally, on the bike — my go-to is always clifbar stuff. They’re such a great company with soooo many options, even if one thing doesn’t work for you I can almost guarantee you’ll find something you love. For a long time, since my on-bike digestion is not great, it was sort of a tastes good, easy on the guts, good for sustaining you: choose 2 scenario. But now, I am covering all the basics. My current favorite is the mango banana with coconut food pouch. So tasty!”
2) Do you have any pre-race rituals that you follow and how did the ritual(s) get started?
“That’s a great question. One of my most notable rituals is kissing my locket good luck. My grandmother gave me this locket shortly after my dad passed away in 2012, and it has 2 photos of him and the inscription always on the back. I sort of use that moment to focus on the task at hand, and find my inner calm. I’ve had a couple of close calls in races before, and it comforts me to imagine that my dads watching over me and keeping me safe — my Guardian Angel in a sense.
On a lighter note, I always change after my warm-up before the start. I like to change out of my sweaty clothes and put on a fresh kit before the race. This also makes me leave a little more time between warm-up and race, which helps me calm down a little. I also always squeeze my tires to check pressure, and double, triple-check my gearing for the start.”
3) Where has been your absolute favorite place to ride (anywhere in the world) and why?
“Another great question! It’s so hard to choose, so I’m going to choose 3 for different reasons…
I’m currently in Sittard, NED. It’s been a blast riding here, because it’s so under-rated! It’s just a random town in the Netherlands, but the bike paths are endless. And it’s nothing like what we see back in the States. A bike path here can mean basically anything from a super-highway to a 1 ft wide dirt path through the trees between barbed wire. It’s amazing, the adventure never stops. You never have to ride the same road twice, and bikes get so much respect.
Aside from road/cross riding though, I actually have to say one of my favorite days on a bike – ever – was this past summer at Millstone in VT. It was sort of a last minute decision to go there and ride with a ton of friends, and I can’t even explain how fun it was. We weren’t worried about training, or deadlines or anything. Just enjoying the ride. I think I loved it there so much because of how it suits my riding style. I love extremely technical, rocky trails that still have some flow. I know it seems nearly impossible, but I’m telling you — this place is a unicorn! There are a ton of man-made rock features, that are super tough, a little slow, pick-your-way-over-them type, but it’s really just a big playground. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since that day. I can’t wait to go back.
Finally, my 3rd pick is actually pretty close to my house. The Berkshire East ski mountain just opened a bike park – called thunder mountain – and it’s super fun. I’ve been there many times, but one day specifically I decided to #TreatMySelf and rent a trail bike. Well, around the same time, the skies opened up and it started pouring! The place was pretty empty, and once it started raining we had the place to ourselves. We spent the better part of the day ripping black diamond trails, feeling invincible on trail bikes, and sliding all over rocks and roots. I love riding in the mud, because it’s so much more stimulating and wild than dry conditions. Being at this place in these conditions opened my eyes to how fun it can be to just let loose every now and then. Thunder Mountain really changed the way I looked at riding trails and pushing limits. As a pro it’s easy to only focus on the serious stuff. I still smile thinking about that day.”
4) Apart from your primary race bikes, is there any particular build that you would love to have in your “N+1” stable?
“I am so lucky to ride some of the best bikes in the world, so I can’t say theres much I need. I am spoiled to have such amazing race bikes for every discipline. But, without a doubt theres one I can’t help but yearn for … and that’s a trail bike. I love my XC race bike so much, but I’ve bottomed out the suspension enough times to know it’s limits and not want to push them much more. Having a trail bike that I could rip and goof around on would be a dream come true! That may seem like a silly answer of a pro CX and Road racer but it’s really about work hard, play hard, right!?
So if thats a little to practical. My other dream is for a super sick tandem, or two. What’s the point of having a ton of amazing cycling friends and bf if you can’t crush souls together and possibly seriously injure yourself!? That’s about it. Otherwise, there isn’t much I long for — thank you Focus Bikes!!!“
5) To any aspiring racers out there, do you have any words of wisdom that you wish you had been given when you first started racing?
“The best thing I can tell anyone – and I do tell the kids I work with this all the time – is that you need.to.have.fun! It’s so easy for everyone to take it too seriously, and burn themselves out immediately. At the end of the day, the successes you get from working hard don’t mean nearly as much if you don’t enjoy the journey, and the process of growth. I can say that from personal experience. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself too focused on improving more to enjoy the fact that I had already improved immensely over the past few years. So taking the time to smile, breathe and do something fun is the most important advice I can give any aspiring racer. Because after all- isn’t that why we started racing? Because we love the ride?
For me, having fun can be a lot of things… Sometimes, thats going out on a fun ride with my boyfriend, to ride trails or just session little things we see on the roads. We’ll stop to get a Wrapple (it’s basically a wrapped up apple pie … a Western Mass staple!) and go swimming if it’s warm enough. Whatever it is, the focus is on enjoying the ride that day much more than focusing on training. Or, sometimes, my fun isn’t anything bike related. It’s sitting down to answer a bunch of emails I’ve been putting off for weeks 😉 or getting dressed up and going out to dinner! It’s really whatever you want it to be. Just make sure you are making time to have a little fun and on and off the bike. It’s going to make the hard work so much more enjoyable!
My final piece of advice for any cyclist – new or old – is to not be afraid to fall. If you look at my legs, you’ll see I’ve fallen a lot. Most, I’d say the vast majority of those scars and bruises were nothing more than an “ouch!” and I was up and moving again. But crashing, falling, messing up so much taught me how to do it right and how to push my limits without worrying about failing catastrophically. If you’re getting better, you’re messing up along the way. Because if you’re not going past your limits, then you’re never going to find your limits.”
6) Adjusting to college life and balancing a rigorous training schedule must have been a challenge. I rowed back in college and definitely felt the time constraints. What are some of your time management pro-tips that you would give to fellow student athletes?
“It most certainly was a challenge. My first semester was definitely a little crazy, and I managed to figure out racing well, but training wasn’t my best and some of my classes struggled. But, it mattered to me a lot, so I just kept my head down and focused on making the most of it. Now, looking back, it’s funny to imagine myself struggling so much because the pressure and time constraints of school were really what allowed me to reach my deadlines. If I have an open ended, do-this-when-you-have-a-minute project, I could take forever on it. Procrastinating a little, over-thinking it, and trying to perfect it. But when I have a deadline to meet, especially when it gets close, I really do great work. I wish I did better in low pressure situations, but I don’t. I need that stress to thrive.
So. When I got to school, I struggled, as I said. But, eventually, with the help of a lot of great friends who had done it before me, and some new tricks and tips that I picked up on my own, I set a couple of rules. The single most important thing I did my sophomore year of college was set a study bed-time. I’m sure most college students know how easy it is to study into the late hours of the night, talking to a few friends who walk by, or getting a late night snack. Well, I finally had to set more than a bed time, but also a time to stop studying so I could get into bed on time as well. So, I made a rule that all studying and assignments must be done by 9 pm. That gave me enough time to “just finish this chapter” or do “one final proofread” and still get in bed for 10. This gave me pressure to complete assignments, and also allowed me to feel fresh the next morning when I got up to train.
I guess, another thing I should mention is you have to have priorities. And these can be ever-changing. Sometimes, I put training first. Because staying up late and ruining an important training day would be far worse than an extra point on an assignment. But sometimes, you have to put school first, like “Oh, if I don’t study for this exam, I’ll fail!” So, sometimes it can be both. Sometimes it’s one or the other. But that’s for me, as a full-time student and professional cyclist. If you’re just racing for the love of it, and studying to become a pediatric oncologist, then I don’t think anyones expecting you to ever put cycling first!
School aside, just from a life perspective, don’t read e-mails until you’re ready to reply to them. For me, with so many in my inbox, once an e-mail is opened, it’s dead to me. I also try not to start my day with e-mails, as it sometimes can set a negative tone for the morning, and you can also get stuck e-mailing back and forth all day long. If anyone reading is extremely interested in maximizing productivity, or just living a kick ass life, I would HIGHLY suggest listening to Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) podcast’s because they’re amazing. The Prodigy Returns is my personal fave.”