Learning from the best: Denise Mueller-Korenek

Denise KDenise Mueller-Korenek is a 45 year old American cyclist who in 2018 set the world record for paced bicycle land speed going 183.9 miles per hour. 16 miles per hour faster than any male or female has ever gone before. She also exudes enthusiasm and ‘an do’ attitude and after only a 30 minute chat I was off scribbling a new bucket list a page long! I asked her about her six year journey from getting inspired through to hitting that 183.9 mph record.

I am keen to learn from amazing female cyclists, highlighting the lessons they have learnt and showing how the rest of us can learn from them.

I love the view of the equalisation. In so many ways. It has come up a few times. People have asked me if I really think there should be a men’s and women’s type of record. What is funny is I was on the other side of this a few years ago when we petitioned to be the first female and we petitioned them to create a women’s category and interestingly enough I now regret that! Just because it really isn’t a men’s and women’s.

My coach jokes… because I broke a long standing male record that had been held for 23 years and this other female athlete that he is coaching got second place overall at the Silverstate 508 – an ultra endurance cycling event so the tagline he is joking about having is: I teach women how to break men’s records.! She got the course record and was only one off overall and it was just really interesting to see. I do think as women age, especially in the endurance side, I’ve seen that in marathon, as women age they endure a lot more whereas men’s bodies tend to break down a little bit more. Women have the ability to endure a little bit more in endurance events as women’s age.

I did a radio interview yesterday for Dubai and they asked me about men’s verses women’s and I said it is interesting I fought on one side of it to get it separated and I should have never ever done that because in true reality this isn’t a men’s and women’s record it is a singular overall record and obviously I have now proven that. There is no way to unmerge the record unfortunately.

Going through the process of setting the record is there one lesson you learnt along the way?

I think my biggest reflection is about inspiration. What I plan to do after to inspire people. Because I did this – I got inspired by three ladies from the gym who decided to run a marathon. And literally I can connect the dots to this and I look and see that is the biggest takeaway I have. To let yourself be inspired by somebody and just follow the path that leads to. It leads you to who knows what and it could lead you to something great. And I think that is my biggest lesson, from my 30,000 foot viewpoint. I got inspired by going to the gym every day and doing my little workout and got back into the game of life.

 

What specifically inspired you about these women inspired you?

For me I got to watch them decide on the goal. I got to watch their struggles and their training even some of their running on the treadmill and I remember a group of four other guys in the gym and we said let’s go down and cheer them on. I said that would be so cool as we’d watched all their training and rather than waiting for them to come back to the gym the next week saying ‘we did it’ we went down there and watching them do the goal we’d watched them struggle and work for was so exciting and all these people were there. I’m a people person and I’m inspired by all these people, I love those type of events and I like individual events where you are racing against yourself. I’ve not done a whole lot of soccer and teams in sport but just my experience and I’m sitting there watching and that is when I went ‘I’m going to do this next year.’ So that is how that came about. Everybody is going to be a little different on what inspired them but for me that excitement of watching a goal come to fruition, I mean we were there for those three ladies but when you watch the rest of the crowd, every single person there had a story. Some were running for charity but everybody had a story and you become part of everybody’s journey in a way. And that is what is so cool.

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How did Land speed record come about?

Like I said it was a connection of the dots so I decided to do that marathon the next year. At the same time my middle son was just entering high school and he was having issues. He wasn’t fitting in very well and he was having issues so I said ‘I just created a bucket list item so lets come up with something for you. Something where we are spending time together’ because I had something with my youngest and my oldest but I didn’t have something to connect with my middle son so I said ‘for example I’m doing the marathon’ and he said ‘ok I’ll do that’. I said ‘you can’t just shut me up by saying I’ll do that’ but he said ‘no I’ll do it’. So he ended up doing that first marathon almost a year later with me. We did all the training together and got that connection I was looking for. It took a while to get the approval to do it as he was too young. The day before, when we went in to get our packets; when you train for a marathon, a half marathon feels like nothing as it is half of the distance; and he had done my bucket list item with me so the day before the marathon he said I want to do all the half marathons they have next year. At the time there were only 14 but still, 14 in 12 months is a lot, and I looked at his dad and said well these are in Virginia Beach, they are all over the United States, for this particular series, but I said how cool is this you are going to keep running and on top of that he jumped from my goal to one of his own. He ended up doing 19 half marathons in one year at the age of 16. We are over-achievers in our family right!

And with that I had trained my son for doing one marathon right from a programme off the internet and I was feeling the pressure of being a parent that other people would be saying  was training her son to do all these half-marathons, even though he wasn’t competing in them he was completing them, and so I said I’m going to reach out to my coach, John Howard that I had when I was a junior. Granted I had been off the bike and doing the mom and career thing for 20 years, over 20 years, so I reached out to John Howard who lives only half a mile from my office and I said ‘John how cool would it be for you to coach my son at 16 when you were one of my coaches when I was 16’ and he said sure, and started creating a programme. And because we are communicating such a lot my coach said ‘hey do you still ride your bike’ and I said ‘no – it is hung up in the garage for forever’ and so here is the next dot in the connection he said why don’t you get it down then as there is a great charity ride coming up why don’t you get it down and do that with us. So, he got me back on the bicycle.

That charity ride got my coach seeing something in me that I could not even see. And this is the power of having a coach – an outside view of where you are at. Someone who believes in you. He said I know you are an adrenaline junkie. At this point I had been racing cars and been jumping out of planes and he was sparking in interest in what was already there. So he was leading me with all this talk of cars and speed and I was like ‘where are you going with this?’ He said ‘you realise no woman has ever done the land-speed record or even attempted to do it’. And I thought oh my gosh – I mean how many records are out there where no woman has even attempted it? The men had attempted in in 1989. So I was instantly ’you got it’ and the dots started connecting; so I did a marathon, my son started to do a bunch of half marathons, I reconnected with my coach, he got me back on my bike and he introduced the land-speed record so that is the short connection of this.

We went out there in 2016 and we actually did this record. There is a lot in between here and there but these are the main dots. In 2016 we went out there and I wanted to go 125-140. That was my goal and we ended up doing 147. And the way in which the team came together was amazing but we also had to figure out a dynamic which was between the car driver and myself. The car driver was Shea Holbrook. It was the last day of a four day event and we knew we had a lot more miles within us to get a higher record and it rained – it was so frustrating so we said we are coming back next year and we are going to take the overall record, without thinking. We put that goal out there and then we had to step back and go what did we just do? So, we didn’t come back in 2017 cause the salt conditions were horrible that year and it would have been very dangerous if we went. And we didn’t have a car. We were finding it very difficult as we didn’t have a car. We had previously had a sponsor give us a car to use which was a Range Rover in 2016 and they weren’t willing to give that to us again two years later. So we petitioned Fred Rompelberg who is the 1995 record holder at 166.9 cause he’d been keeping the car he used in storage in Utah so we said ‘can we use your car and yes we are going after your record’. We were very clear we were going after the overall record. And so we got the use of his car, came back this year, got beautiful salt conditions and completely nailed it.

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Do you think it helped having the same team?

Absolutely I think, especially for the driver. The driver, Shea Holbrook and myself got what she is doing in the cockpit of that car. It directly influences what I need to be doing in the back – if she doesn’t push herself I’ll never be able to do it. And we had a bunch of issues with the car preparing it – so I never got a test run. Back in 2016, granted I’d never done it before, I got 10 test runs and in the event we had seven runs. So we have 17 experiences behind us coming into 2018. If I had a new pace car driver we would have to start over. I only did three runs and that third run was the record so if we hadn’t had that experience together I do not believe we would have done the record as quickly or as easily as we got that record because we wouldn’t have had that experience.

When was the marathon that inspired you?

The original marathon was the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in 2009. My son and I did in 2010.

It was a long journey then…

Oh yes. In fact when John Howard bought up the land-speed record it was 2012 and we were supposed to do it in 2015 but we didn’t have everything together, again we didn’t have a car sponsor then. That was a huge part of it but we got pushed from 2015, but that was lucky as in 2015, cause we do this in conjunction with another event which is going on so we don’t have to pay all the event fees, it got rained out so it became a four year journey. And by opening our mouths what started as a three year journey became a six year journey. It was never meant to be a six year goal. It was meant to be a three year, ‘one and we are done’ goal. But it ended up being six.

How did you celebrate?

Well, we were in the middle of nowhere in Utah so not a lot of places to celebrate but we did take the team out to a local casino and had a couple of margaritas. That was how we celebrated. Literally the next day everyone dispersed off in their own directions. We had Matt Stone who came all the way over from the UK to be our photographer. He  found me on Linkedin. He said I love cars, I love cycling, I would love to be involved. We have a tonne of photographers out here, much closer but we talked to him via Skype and he had such a passion for this we said ok. Shey Holbrook our driver came from Florida, we had people from Washington, the mechanics, we had people coming from all over to be part of this team. We accomplished it on the Sunday. The event actually went one more day but everyone dispersed on Monday and so we had celebrations on the Sunday night and by the Monday night me and my husband and the dragster were in Reno, Nevada which was 400 miles away for a bicycle show and it was a once a year show. We had two solid days at the show and then I just wanted to be home.

What bike?

Our sponsors sent always been KHS and they sponsored the build of the bicycle in 2016. It was the same bicycle I used in 2018. I did not change the bicycle. It is a custom, one off. The fabricator is a custom carbon fibre builder that we know in San Diego locally and he built the frame and it is elongated which allows more stability, sort of like a track verses a little sprint car. There is a lot more stability for the longer wheel base and then the wheels are 17 inches verses the 27 inch wheel that you would find on a regular bicycle and with that it provides for a lower centre of gravity which again creates stability. Then there is a double reduction chain ring. The guy that did our double reduction gearing said if we were not using two chain rings and two different cogs in unison with each other, then it would be like how pulleys would work, if you had a huge bucket of concrete if you put enough pulleys together you could lift that. That is why you need to have a double reduction to get the size of gear necessary. I have a release mechanism that is executed by the left break lever – it is not for brakes. It is what executes the release and if you watch the YouTube video carefully you can watch my left hand you will see when I do the release and my cable pulls back.

Have you heard from anyone else who has been inspired by what you have done?

I have had people say that they have been inspired and people who have done some events and set some goals over the course of time. This has always been my passion because even before we did 2016 I always knew I wanted to do sport because it is one thing to sit there and go ‘look what I did’ ‘look what I did’ but that is my own personal journey and that is my own personal accomplishment and I don’t need to be sitting out there saying to everybody ‘hey look at me’ that is just not my style it never has been. I knew from the very beginning, when we set out to do this for 2016, that my thoughts would be how can I use this to help inspire other people to the level I was inspired. So, with that I’ve done some speeches and things of that nature since 2016. The point of what I am doing is to inspire people and I can’t tell you how awesome it is when someone comes up and goes that is so cool and I did this and they have now started their journey and that is exactly what the intention is here as one person at a time is going out there and making their life a bit better.

 

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