For someone who only took up cycling seriously in their late-20s, it’s been a rapid ascent for Ruth Corset: she was Australian Woman Cyclist of the Year in 2009, just three years after beginning training! And this just a few years after giving birth to her two daughters. Since then she has represented Australia all over the world, raced professionally in Europe, been twice winner of the National Road Series (2012 and 2014), and earned a reputation as a committed team rider, tenacious climber and fierce competitor. Her days riding overseas are over – being snubbed for the team for the London Olympics had something to do with that. But this month she starts over and takes aim again at another National Road Series title at the King Valley Tour in Victoria. All while juggling a home massage business and very full family life (it helps that husband Jason doubles as her coach). She told Inside Sport editor Graem Sims how she does it.
“I was born in Papua New Guinea and spent my first ten years in East Sepik province – my parents were missionaries. We didn’t have TV or anything to occupy us – and there wasn’t much cycling over there! We didn’t even have sport as a subject at school – we just made our own fun in the bush. We’d always be outside running around and swimming in the river. But then we moved to Townsville when I was ten and I found out I could run during high school – I really enjoyed cross country. After finishing school I got interested in triathlons and that’s when I met Jason, my husband. He was a cyclist but his dad was a triathlete – I actually met Jason through his father.
“I was just competing for fun – I didn’t know what hard training was. I really wish I knew back then what I know now! I didn’t have a coach and was just doing local races. Then I got married and had my first girl when I was 24 and my second two years later. When the children were a few years old I wanted to get back into triathlons but I decided to just stick with the one discipline, cycling, because it was too hard to train for all three.
“It wasn’t until I was 29, after I had the girls, that I decided to get a bit serious and compete in the Australian Country Club Championships. So Jason helped me train for that – he’d been a cyclist since he was ten, so he started coaching me. So I won that and that encouraged me to train for other races. Within two years I was racing for Australia over in Europe. I also raced for two different pro teams: Jazz Apple was my first team, New Zealand-based, and then I raced for Tibco, an American-based team. I came fourth in my first World Cup, in Montreal in Canada.”
“I think Jason knew straight away that I was very good on the hills – he could see that. But I wish I’d started when I was younger. I raced the World Championships that year as well in Switzerland , and I came 12th in that, and then I won the Nationals road race the year after in 2010. Also in 2009 I won Australian Cyclist of the Year, the same year as Cadel Evans, who’d won the World Championships that year in Switzerland.
“It all happened so quickly. The more I got into it the more I improved – but I didn’t really realise how high I was getting. I’m a very competitive person, so when I started getting results I just wanted to get more and more – I knew I could do better. And I was getting those results oversees, and I knew I could do better if I had a bit more experience. But it was very hard being away from the girls – I would have to be away for six to eight weeks at a time. The AIS was very good in that they let me go over for small trips, but it was really hard. The girls handled it really well, though, and I had a lot of family support – Jason’s mum helped a lot and my sister and my parents would come up from Brisbane while I was away. My husband is a school teacher so he was also able to fit everything around that. He was pretty tired from being so busy, but he was always so positive and supportive. As my coach he knows how hard I train and how much I put in, so he has been my number-one support.”
“My weekdays are pretty busy, because I train every day, early in the mornings. The alarm goes off at about 4am and I’m on the bike for between two and three hours, a bit longer on the weekends. Jason kicks me out of bed when I sleep through my alarm. I’m mainly out riding by myself, but I try and get some other guys to come with me to help push me if I can. I do a lot of hill work and time trial efforts.
“I’m back by 7.30 to get the girls to school, then I’ve got my own massage business at home so I work the school hours, 8.30 to 2.30, though Mondays I work until 8.30 to 9 at night – that’s my long day, which leaves me pretty exhausted.
“I do core work for about 15 minutes a day, just before I pick the girls up. I use a Swiss ball, planking mainly, lots of different Pilates-type exercises – I find that helps a lot with cycling.
“After I pick the girls up from school I’m taking them to all their different sports – Jason rides in the afternoons. I don’t have time to do gym sessions. I will drop the girls at their gymnastics in the afternoon, then quickly duck home and do a short wind trainer session for an hour. It’s very intense.
“I do my motor-paced sessions on the weekends. Jason is out there with me on Saturday mornings with the girls in the car. When they were young we’d have to drag them out of bed early – they’d be in the back seat half asleep while Jason is driving, and there’s Mum in the rear-vision mirror … I’d be there gritting my teeth and trying to hang on.”
“We’ve had a three-month break from the National Road Series [NRS] through winter, so I mix it up and do a bit of running and mountain biking as well – I’ve done a few mountain bike races
up here just for fun. I like to maintain a certain amount of fitness in the off season, but I enjoy doing whatever I feel like on the day instead of having a structured program. But now that I’m full-on training for NRS, I have put the mountain bike away.
“I’ve been doing a solid training block for my next NRS race at the end of August, the King Valley Tour in Victoria. A month out Jason writes me a structured program. About a week before the race I will begin my taper and back right off – I cut back my mileage completely. I still do a few efforts so that the legs are still firing, ready to go hard when I race, but I back it off completely; I make sure I’m completely rested coming into a tour. When I arrive for a race I like to feel like I’m jumping out of my skin.”
“I went to the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in Delhi, and thought I’d finish up my career after London. But there was just a lot of politics and I didn’t get selected, even though I was the best-performed road cyclist at the time. Did it hurt? Yeah, it did. I was aiming for the Olympics … I think it was to do with my age and they wanted to support younger girls. They didn’t want to put money into me unless they knew I could get a medal. So I made a very sudden decision and said that’s it – I didn’t want to be away from my family any longer. And yes, I actually retired before I wanted to. It was very hard – when I came back home I didn’t want to touch my bike at all. That was in 2011.
“But I knew I had to do something, like enter a race, to force myself to get out of bed and do some sort of exercise, so I entered the Cairns half ironman and decided to train for that – I knew once I entered I’d have to train for it. But then I got a phone call asking if I wanted to join the Pensar-SPM team. I thought I might as well do one race – it was before Cairns and I thought I’ll be fit. And so I did and won it, and then I thought maybe I’ll do another one – and that’s how I got back into cycling.
“I can’t see myself stopping. Sometimes I feel like I’m over it and I don’t want to race any more, but I think that’s just my body telling me I need a bit of a break. Once I’ve had the break, I’m really keen to get back and go again.”
“My diet has always been very good. I eat a lot of fruit and veges, and I eat fish probably three times a week. But I think athletes need more than a normal diet. I’m lucky to be sponsored by Usana. They do a range of supplements – they have a health pack, which is a range of different vitamins. It gives me so much more energy during the day. I also have the Usana Coenzyme Q10, which is very good for the heart. And I’m also sponsored by Endura; I have one of their protein/carbohydrate shakes after every session, because I find that helps so much with my recovery for the next day.
“My husband has always been amazed by how much I eat. For breakfast I’ll have porridge with two different fruits and mixed nuts and yoghurt on top, then a poached egg on toast with a coffee. I try not to have too much bread – I eat a lot of brown rice, so for lunch I have brown rice next to salad and tuna. I don’t like too much processed food, so for snacks I’d just have plain yoghurt with nuts and honey if I feel like something sweet.
“Just before a race I always have a coffee and an Endura protein bar. I don’t like to chew while I’m racing, but I’ll have an Endura gel every 20 minutes during a race to get me through.”
“I do massage for a living, mainly deep-tissue sports massage. It helps to have a good friend who lives close by who is also a masseur, because we can do swaps. So I make sure I get weekly massage – it’s very important. I find it helps so much with my recovery. If I miss it for some reason I find my legs feel heavy and I just can’t back up each day.”
“When things get tough during a race, I just say to myself, ‘If I’m hurting, then they’re hurting just as much if not more than me.’ It’s the person who can get through that … so I keep saying to myself the more I push the more they’re going to reach their limit in a minute and drop off. I guess it’s a mind game – especially racing over in Europe. So many are at the same level of fitness and strength that it definitely becomes a mind game.”
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