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Kelsey Mitchell: Getting on Track

Talk of the T-Town Podcast Show Art

Episode 4

There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing, and so I just constantly remind myself of that if I’m ever feeling a little less motivated one day.

– Kelsey Mitchell

This week on Talk of the T-Town, we sit down with Kelsey Mitchell and discuss transitioning from soccer to cycling, making the Canadian National Team as well as the Canadian Olympic Team, setting the flying 200m TT world record, and training through COVID.

Find Kelsey on Instagram @kelsey.mitchell9


Transcript

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to Talk of the T-Town podcast, where we discuss all things track cycling. Broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. I’m your host and executive director, Joan Hanscom along with my co-host, athletic director, Andy Lakatosh.

Andy Lakatosh:

Welcome to the Talk of the T-Town podcast. Today’s guest is world record holder Kelsey Mitchell of the Canadian National Team. Joining us by phone from Milton Ontario. Joan and I are here in the podcast headquarters in T-town. Kelsey, thank you so much for joining us today. I noticed last week on your Instagram that it was your two-year anniversary of being on the national team. First off, a big congratulations on that. Second, your background was not in track cycling or cycling at all. Can you give us a quick rundown of how you found cycling or really how cycling found you?

Kelsey Mitchell:

Yes, for sure. My two years was last week, time flies that’s for sure. I started track cycling late 2017. Never been to a velodrome, never ridden the track. I had really no knowledge of what track cycling was. I attended a kind of an Olympic combine here in Canada where they test an athlete’s strength, speed and power. And I had a good vertical jump. And so they tested me on a Wattbike and my power numbers were good. And so they got me on the track to see if I could ride a bike and they were happy with that and signed me as a Fast-Tracked Athlete. And I’ve been on the team two years now and attended… T-Town was I guess my first ever racing experience, first ever track cycling environment experience. I guess that was in June, 2018.

Andy Lakatosh:

And at that point were you officially on the national team that first trip or were you on like a Divo type squad or did you just wind up coming on your own?

Kelsey Mitchell:

Oh, I wasn’t on the team at that point. I was invited to come along just to I guess try racing and seeing how I handled it. And so after that, fast forward two months was nationals and then I did the standard that was necessary to get onto the team and then I officially signed the next month.

Andy Lakatosh:

Oh, that’s awesome. So because the biggest gap for everyone is kind of from that ID process to the national team. What kind of things were you provided or instructions were you given to help get you from, “Hey, you might have some potential here,” to how much guidance did Cycling Canada give you in that process?

Kelsey Mitchell:

So I didn’t own a bike, not even a road bike. So it was my club back in Edmonton, Alberta, they got me a track bike. So I was riding the track there which is a concrete track similar shape to T-Town 333 meters a little more bumpy but it was good to train on there. So they got me the track bike. And then secondly, Canada invited me to do a three-week camp in May 2018. So I was training with the national team definitely in over my head. I could barely do the warm up even it was a huge learning curve. Then after that, the following month we came to T-Town and within the concrete truck there and the second in Canada had their mechanics, their whole team, their coaches and everything out there. And so I got the support from them. Then I went home for a month, trained through the summer and then was preparing for nationals. And so once nationals happened and I did do the standard, they brought me onto the team and then they’ve been supporting me ever since.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s awesome. It’s great to have such a black and white target of make this time and you’re in. So it’s cool to hear the differences between different programs and how you get to that next level.

Joan Hanscom:

I mean its super cool that there’s vastly different disciplines too, right? I mean, soccer and track sprinting are not remotely the same skill set. So how did you have to change your mentality to approaching sport and training? What’s the big difference in how you train as an athlete for a sport that’s vastly different?

Kelsey Mitchell:

Yes. I always played dew sports growing up. Played the variety from basketball to volleyball, soccer. So it wasn’t that I loved soccer but I just loved being an athlete. I loved running around, I loved jumping, I loved being with my teammates and just like everything about it. I loved working hard and pushing my body. And so when I went to this Talent ID Camp, I was open to anything. And there weren’t actually a lot of team sports that were looking to pick up an athlete. So I knew that I’d probably be switching to an individual sport which definitely was a struggle at first. You’re training with teammates but you’re competing against them as well. And so it’s the constant love-hate relationship. They do really well you’re happy for them but you need to do well as well as with constantly pushing you which I actually really like.

Kelsey Mitchell:

I’ve definitely learned to love individual sports. And when you’re out on the track, you don’t have a whole team supporting you or if you mess up it’s on you. So just learning how to handle that kind of pressure, I guess, on race day, knowing that if I have a great race, it’s on me. If I have a bad race, it’s on me. So training wise, I came from a running sport. I only never really rode a bike because I was injured had rolled an ankle or something. So I was stuck on a stationary bike. So I didn’t have the best relationship with biking when I first started but now obviously I love it. And we’re in the gym three times a week which I never really lifted when I played soccer. We’re on the track a lot. We’re doing two-hour rides on the road.

Kelsey Mitchell:

Nice and easy working in zone one or we’re on the track at a hundred percent working zone six or seven. I’ve learned a lot definitely over the past couple of years like how important nutrition is, how important sleeping is, how important all the little things are and how much they add up to you being successful. Playing soccer university, we’d played two games on the weekend and then we’d go out for a couple of drinks on Sunday fun day and you’d do it all over again. And it’s just not the healthiest environment, that’s for sure because you’re pushing your body physically and then mentally the school and then you’re not getting the right nutrition arrests. So even that was a huge learning curve coming in to the national team and learning how important those little things are.

Joan Hanscom:

Sleep and recovery are our hot topics in the cycling world. These days everybody’s got a Whoop or an Oura Ring. And it seems there’s a big focus on tracking your recovery and tracking what influences recovery and tracking your sleep. Is there a metric you guys are using?

Kelsey Mitchell:

They monitor our heart rate just when we’re sleeping sometimes or first thing in the morning. Just to see if our resting heart rate is as low as it is normally in case we’re getting overtrained. But other than that, we’re not doing anything too crazy. I’ve definitely heard about some of the science new technology people are using to figure out they’re recovering properly. But right now it’s just based on feeling and heart rate.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, I’ll tell you I had a glass of wine last night with dinner and my Whoop today told me that I should not have done that. So my recovery score was not good.

Kelsey Mitchell:

All right you don’t need that kind of negativity.

Joan Hanscom:

My recovery score was not a happy thing today but enough about me.

Andy Lakatosh:

One question I had around your soccer background is do you ever wind up missing it now? Do you ever still play at all? I mean, I’m assuming that running sports and things are probably outlawed from the team to prevent injury.

Kelsey Mitchell:

Yes. Running was kind of frowned upon… Once I joined cycling, they’re like, “You need to learn how to pedal properly. You’ve ran your whole life. Now we need to switch it over.” So I’m not playing any soccer at all. Injury, obviously you want to avoid that? I miss the team for sure. I miss the people. I loved the atmosphere of team sports and everyone working together towards winning or a common goal. I’m still in my group chat from my old soccer team back in Edmonton. So I’m still up to date on everything but not playing anything.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s great. So it’s a pretty crazy thing. When you think that you were playing soccer in 2017 and then two years later, you’re setting the world record in the flying 200 which was also just about a year ago or so which is a huge feet. And I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about that trip, that ride, setting that record and it’s not very often we get to talk to world record holders. So it’s kind of cool to know what that experience was like.

Kelsey Mitchell:

So we went down to Cochabamba Bolivia, which is at an altitude of I think 2,600 meters. I’m not sure what that is in feet but pretty high up in the sky. So air density is quite low there, meaning that we can get up to speed and hold that speed a little bit easier than we can at sea level. So we had a good feeling that the record was going to be broken. It was held for I think four or five years, pretty long time by Kristina Vogel, a German rider. So just went there, in training, we were doing some times that were close to it. So we had no idea what was going to happen. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to break or not, but on race day tossed on a big gear and the wind up felt super easy save so much energy. If you’re ever to watch the video of the world record that I said my line was absolutely terrible.

Kelsey Mitchell:

I think I came above the red a few times. So it doesn’t look pretty but it was definitely fast. And just looking up and seeing new world record, I was super excited and my teammate was there cheering and I wasn’t the last one to go though. So I knew there was a chance that someone else after me could beat it. So hold onto that moment for couple of minutes until the next rider wins and they didn’t break it. And then it was just kind of wait to see if the next one would and it didn’t get broken.

Kelsey Mitchell:

So then I was the proud owner of a new world record and it was a pretty cool moment and it was actually more exciting when I came back and I had some interviews and stuff and people were asking about the world record but in that moment, I mean, you don’t get a gold medal for doing the fastest 200 meters. You have to go through a bunch of match sprint rounds to get on the podium. And so that was kind of my focus in the moment but coming home and talking to everyone and they were pretty pumped about the world record. And so it was cool.

Andy Lakatosh:

I really like one thing in particular that you said there and that’s that you don’t get the gold medal for riding the fastest 200 time. There’s definitely a handful of people, mostly Americans, who believe that the fastest 200 time is all you need to do. So I really appreciate that you said that out loud but also it was funny when you described just kind of going around the track faster than you ever have.

Andy Lakatosh:

I remember, I think Nicholas Paul’s ride, he was a little bit above the red line at some spots too. And you could even see in the Kieran’s and stuff. Not everyone was used to going that fast which of course we can behind the motor but racing that fast and having to pass people that fast, it’s definitely a new type of sensation that we don’t really get to experience unless we are at those tracks or if you want to have motorcycles race each other which I would not suggest doing on the track but that’s really exciting. And it’s great that you’re world record holder but I mean, I know internally, you’re far more proud of your T-Town flying lap record, correct?

Joan Hanscom:

Everybody.

Kelsey Mitchell:

For sure. That was the biggest moment ever.

Andy Lakatosh:

Talking about T-Town and being here, you’ve only had two trips down. Tell the listeners what are some of your favorite memories or favorite things about visiting down here? Obviously we didn’t get to have a season this year so it’s nice to reminisce and think about 2021 coming up and what it’ll be like.

Joan Hanscom:

And why other people should come here too.

Kelsey Mitchell:

100% everyone should go to T-Town. T-Town was my first experience for everything, pretty much. It was a fun, cool environment, tons of riders. I still remember my first year and my coach wanted me to get more experience on the track in just riding around other people. And I would do with some of the bunch races, just the fun ones. And I was a hazard out there. I had no idea what I was doing. And I remember the elimination races where you don’t want to be the last one to cross the line and you excel at the line just to beat that person. But then you’re riding full speed into a bunch of people who have maintained their speed. And you’re trying to backpedal because obviously you don’t have brakes. And it was just a very stressful race for sure but learnt a lot while there.

Kelsey Mitchell:

And I guess I kind of fell in love with the sport when I was there. I was still quite new. I loved the training and I loved pushing myself. I don’t know if I loved riding my bike and just going there and the environment and the crowd just… I’ve had more people there watching me race there than I ever had at any of my soccer games. So it was just something cool. This sport is cool, and T-Town makes it fun, and just the environment in general is just definitely missed a lot this year.

Andy Lakatosh:

Well, we definitely missed it too. We were able to do some racing here and we had training and stuff which felt normal. And we’re one of the few tracks here in the US that was able to do anything. So we feel very privileged about that but we’re certainly looking forward to 2021 and hopefully a year that it looks a lot more norma.l but speaking of fun trips and that you guys didn’t get to come down here this summer, obviously, we saw on social media the entire sprint team went back to your home track for a training camp. I’m assuming that was probably in place of traveling anywhere else because you can’t really leave your own country now. But what was it like getting back to that track and where you started from and coming back as the same person but a different rider?

Kelsey Mitchell:

So not being able to go to T-Town, we wanted to do some concrete track training. And so there was talk of going to Alberta because there was one in Calgary and one in Edmonton and obviously, I pushed quite hard to go to Edmonton, my home. So it was cool having the sprinters there. We did arrive in the mountains and all the athletes had never even seen a mountain. So it was really cool for them to see it. And then riding the track, I remember because I started in late fall here. And so I remember riding it for my first time ever and just bundled up so many layers and it was so bumpy and I was cold and I was like, “I don’t know if this is for me.” And obviously, this is a huge 180 and now being on the track is just one of the best feelings in the world and being back at home.

Kelsey Mitchell:

It’s still bumpy but it was tons of fun. We weirdly had great weather, didn’t get any rain, and so it was really cool. And I knew my time that I had done before. And so I was beaten all my previous records which was always a good feeling and set a fine 200 meter on that track. So, that was kind of cool to do that in my hometown.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s super cool. And I think you’ll probably continue breaking records that most tracks that you go to. So you’ll have to come back here next year and go for all of our sprint records again.

Kelsey Mitchell:

Definitely we’ll be coming back.

Andy Lakatosh:

Oh, we can’t wait. But one of the things you said about big highlight and fun part of the year, brings me to something else I want to talk to you about. Congratulations on officially making the Olympic team for Canada, even though it is to a delayed games, way off in an optimistic future somewhere. But Canada committed pretty early to naming their full team. And I was wondering what they said internally because we see some other countries people that are retiring or stopping. Do they have any contingency plan if anything like that happens with you guys in the squad or I was just wondering what being named to the Olympic team felt like. And then kind of some of the behind the scene stuff.

Kelsey Mitchell:

Yes. So we had a pretty good idea of what the team would look like in April but there was no official announcement till the end of July. And I think there’s pros and cons to announce the team early. Track cycling is lucky enough that we have the spot qualified. We were able to finish our world back in March and we knew which countries had how many spots, where I know a lot of other sports are still competing which is a whole other level of stress knowing that you still don’t have a spot at the Olympics. So super lucky to have the spots locked in. And to be honest, personally I’m very happy that Canada decided to announce who they’ve selected. I think it’s just something to work towards, your going, the timeline. Hopefully everything goes through and it’s safe to host the Olympics.

Kelsey Mitchell:

So for me, it was great to be announced to have the announcement and know that I had something to train for within the near future, then 2024. I think it could affect some people differently. There are some athletes that I think were planning to retire in August 2020. So knowing that it’s postponed and they have a whole another year and they’d been named the team and they have some external pressure from their teammates to still train and act as if it’s happening. So there’s pros and cons to having it be announced early. And we do have alternate announced if something were to happen but we definitely don’t think that way.

Joan Hanscom:

I mean, I think we’ve heard from some other US-based athletes where they say the goal hasn’t changed, right? Just the date. And a lot of them have been trying to turn it into opportunity where they say, “Okay, this just as extra time to work on skills that I might be lacking. Or this is extra time to strengthen a weakness.” Do you sort of view it the same way as this is just opportunity, or does it feel like a weird delay?

Kelsey Mitchell:

Oh, 100%. It’s a blessing for me. Since I joined the sport, I’ve always kind of been playing catch-up, learning how to ride the bike, learning how to ride a track, the tactics, the right thing to eat, how to prepare for race day, everything. It’s just such a steep learning curve. And 2019 was such a crazy year for racing that I was blessed with another year to train and just focus on all the things that I kind of missed just because it would go, go, go, as soon as I entered the sport. So I get to an extra year to get stronger in the gym, get stronger on the bike. Perfect…

Joan Hanscom:

That’s good [inaudible 00:20:57].

Kelsey Mitchell:

… my race tactics.

Joan Hanscom:

That should be scary for your competitors. Definitely a scary thing to contemplate.

Kelsey Mitchell:

But for me, I think it totally is a blessing in disguise.

Andy Lakatosh:

So speaking of making improvements and moving forward and making gains. At least from social media, it appears as though the entire Canadian form is on some pretty great form right now, or at least you’re all looking despicably fit. So that alone has got to be making everybody…

Kelsey Mitchell:

Thank you.

Andy Lakatosh:

… nervous. But with a open kind of 12 months of… Well, right now we don’t still don’t have any official racing on the schedule. What is your training been the past seven months since worlds? Did you guys make any substantial changes from what you would have been doing for training in a normal summer without any racing?

Kelsey Mitchell:

Yes. So back in March when everything kind of happened and then April everything was announced with the postponement of the Olympics, some people took breaks then went home, and took some time just to mentally recover from it and take that time which I guess they haven’t really had in their whole athletic career to breath and just live life not as a full-time athlete. For me, and a couple of my other teammates that I’m sure you saw on Instagram, we are here and we are training. We didn’t stop. We took this extra year as an opportunity to just get stronger and get better. And we love training. This is why we do this sport and we didn’t want to stop. And definitely, we’re all getting stronger, we’re all looking fitter which is just a bonus.

Kelsey Mitchell:

But we had a huge roadblock so got some miles in and just, well, I guess the velodrome was closed for two months. So we were just at home on stationary bikes just training away, had some gym equipment in the garage, we’d set up on the sidewalk and we’d lift weights out there. And when we got back on the track, we were so grateful to be back and just reminded us, don’t take it for granted enjoy every day that you’re able to train. And some athletes weren’t able to train because the schools were closed or they weren’t able to be with their teammates and stuff.

Kelsey Mitchell:

And so a cyclist definitely had an upper hand there being able to still train whether it was virtually on Swift or finding gym equipment and able to lift still. So that’s kind of been our training and now we’re back full time at the velodrome. We’re back in the weight room, the team is together but kind of a part the athletes there’s three girls, three guys sprinters. And so we kind of stay within our cluster during training but it’s nice to be back into to see everyone even if you can’t see their mouth because of the mask but it’s just nice to be around people for sure.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s great that you guys are able to return. I know when we opened the track here and we were able to get back to some kind of training even with modifications. It just helped things to feel so much more normal. Just having that routine that was going to the track at X time, doing your efforts and going home even if masks were involved in some social distancing. But speaking of these groups of three riders, Women’s Team Sprint was announced as officially going to three riders. So any racing we do from now on would be a three-woman team sprint with the exception of the games, of course, because that’s all bedspace restricted in the village but for you guys, you definitely look like you’re going to have a rock solid squad for the first go at it. But was the announcement more of one of excitement or was it a little more kind of fearful for you guys and what position have you been theoretically assigned in the lineup that you’re going to have to ride?

Kelsey Mitchell:

I personally was excited. The guys raced with three and so I thought it would be great if the girls to race at three as well. I’m just waiting for that 500 meter to become a kilo. I think that’s the next change that’s going to be made but…

Andy Lakatosh:

I think that’s in the near future as well, too.

Kelsey Mitchell:

And so I have a longer sprint in me, in general, so I’d probably be trained at a P2, P3. I think our squad could have a pretty good run with the three team sprint. So we’re excited for it.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s awesome. I mean, it’s going to be a really exciting year it’s definitely going to encourage depth. I’m a huge fan of parody across the board. That’s why we write the racing schedule is the same here now, same prize money payout. So it’s great to finally see that happening. Jumping back a little bit to the COVID training or just training in general really. We all have those days where you just don’t want to look at a bike let alone get out there and work out. And a topic that comes up regularly is as a coach and as an athlete how do you get through those things? And assuming that you’ve encountered those days too, what do you do to get yourself through those days? Or what do you tell yourself to make it happen? Or is there ever a tipping point where you just say, “Hey, I just need the extra day off today.”

Kelsey Mitchell:

For me, I think it was a blessing that I joined the sport a little bit later. I was 24 when I decided to commit fully to track cycling. And I rode the track for the first time at 23. So I was a little bit older than most. And it was a blessing because I’d played sports my whole life, played post-secondary soccer. And once that was over, I had the little midlife crisis where I was like, “I’ve always been an athlete. I don’t know what to do with my life.” And the summer before I tried out at this ID camp, I was driving a truck eight hours a day. I’m just sitting there thinking I had a lot of time to think essentially. And now when I get up and maybe I’m not as motivated to go ride my bike, I think back to when I was driving that truck and it’s just like, “This is my dream.”

Kelsey Mitchell:

This is what I wanted. I wanted to be a full-time athlete and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. And so I just constantly remind myself of that if I’m ever feeling a little less motivated one day. And as individual as the sport is, you still have a team around you, and I definitely feed off the energy of my teammates. One day you’re not feeling it but they’re feeling it.,You feed off that energy and vice versa. There’s definitely those days but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Joan Hanscom:

This has been the Talk of the T-Town podcast with host Joan Hanscom and Andy Lakatosh. Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode brought to you by the Braun Medical Inc. Head on over to our website, thevelodrome.com where you can check out the show notes and subscribe, so you’ll never miss an episode.