Anne Galyean Interview: Finding Balance
by Brian Maslach
For those of you who don't follow the mountain bike racing scene closely, Anne is one of the top North American enduro riders. She's also a scientist with a PhD in studying nanoparticles in the environment who currently works at an environmental toxicology consulting firm. Quite the combination.
There's far more to her than just being a super-smart mountain biker, however. Anne likes to commit 100% to whatever she does -- no holding back. If she can challenge preconceived notions in the process, it's even better.
I've recently gotten to know Anne and decided an interview was in order to give everyone a better picture of what makes this unique individual tick.
Hello, Anne! Thank's for talking the time to chat. After discussing so many topics during our last conversation, I struggled put together questions since we discussed such a wide range of topics.
First off, the basics. How did you get into mountain biking?
That’s long story. It was 2008 and my junior year of college. I spent a semester studying abroad in New Zealand. I wasn’t planning on renting or buying a car, so I took an old Specialized Epic for transportation to get to classes. I had done some casual trail riding by that time. At the University of Otago in Dunedin, NZ, students are encouraged to join clubs and societies. The hiking club had obvious appeal since you got to tour around the country and go on cool hikes. BUT, all the other exchange students signed up for the hiking club (read: all the Americans). I knew I hadn’t gone all the way to NZ to hang out with other Americans. So, on a whim, I joined the MTB club because, heck, I had a mountain bike. Over the course of the semester I rode all over NZ, met some downhillers, rode trails way too hard for me, and finally, took a women’s skills clinic hosted by the NZ downhill national champ. Only one other woman showed up and we were at vastly different skill levels, so I ended up with a one-on-one lesson. I returned to the US knowing that I wanted to race DH. So, I did.
I bought a $1,500, ill-fitting, freeride monster of a bike off Craigslist, asked for a full-face helmet for my birthday, body armor for Christmas, and a season pass to Snowshoe Mountain Bike Park for graduation. During that time, I hucked myself off every set of stairs I could find. I, of course, didn’t actually know anyone who rode downhill at the time, so I started going to Snowshoe totally solo, sleeping in my car, and just taught myself to ride DH. I haven’t looked back since.
It's cool that you got hooked by the technical challenges of mountain biking and improving your skills without any coaxing or significant support. It's obvious that you're extremely independent.
When did you begin mountain bike racing?
By the end of my first summer riding (2009), I had done all 3 local Snowshoe races and won one each in beginner, intermediate, and pro. I raced DH for the next 5'ish years. I spent most of 2012 off the bike with a thumb injury. I also took 2014 off to finish my PhD thesis – which didn’t even end up finished that year… doh! I switched to enduro racing in 2015 and completed my last full season of racing in 2017, winning the Big Mountain Enduro series and Scott Enduro Cup series overalls for Pro Women. Now I’m just washed up and just race for fun!
Which results are you most proud of and why?
I think my 4th place senior women at the 2015 Megavalanche is my top choice. I was scared out of my mind, crashed all over the glacier, got passed by tons of people, had little-to-no endurance fitness at that point in my racing career, but damn it – I finished that race in (just barely) less than 1 hour in one piece and I have never been so stoked. The event took place 1 week before my PhD dissertation was due, so I spent most of my downtime in between practice runs and racing to work. A close second choice is the 2017 Enduro World Series event at Aspen Snowmass. It was the only EWS event in the US and I ended up the fastest American Pro woman.
Those are impressive results. I recall seeing your name on the Aspen EWS results at the time and wondering who you were. Now I know!
What advice can you give to those interested in getting into enduro racing?
Best piece of advice for people on the fence about racing: NOBODY CARES HOW FAST YOU ARE. I still have to remind myself of this regularly, but I wish I learned this long ago. It would have saved me lots of anxiety about “holding people up” or “being in the way”. Honestly, nobody cares. Everyone is just out having fun and stoked on bikes. Enduro is great because it’s just a fun social ride. Transitions are untimed so everyone just chills out, chats, and enjoys the scenery. You also get multiple timed downhill stages, so there is less pressure to be perfect and more emphasis on being consistent. You can get the thrill of racing while having plenty of time to make-up for mistakes and improve throughout the event. You always feel like you’ve become a better rider after race weekends because you’ve ridden a new obstacle or pushed yourself a little harder than before. Racing bikes is just really fun!
I couldn't agree more about nobody caring how fast most of us are, regardless of what type of racing we do. The vast majority of us are, or at least should be, competing for fun. Unless one is getting a paycheck that covers their bills, our placing are relatively meaningless to everyone else, so we might as well let go of the ego and find enjoyment in it.
Now for the small stuff. How did you end up studying nanoparticles? (haha)
When I went to grad school, I wanted to use silver nanoparticles to clean drinking water. What came next was a series of massive disappointments as I discovered that no one knew the environmental fate of the anthropogenic nanoparticles that leech out accidentally from our consumer products so the likelihood that anyone would let me intentionally put metal nanoparticles into the environment was pretty slim. Thus, I took a step back and spent the next 6 years researching ways to detect and quantify silver nanoparticles in natural waters.
After that, I switched gears for my postdoc and joined a chemical engineering lab where I spent a couple years designing nanobiosensors to monitor oxygen gradients in bacterial biofilms. That was super cool. One practical example of that work would be evaluating the efficacy of therapeutic agents at treating Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis.
Ultimately, however, I decided that laboratory research and academia just weren’t for me. I’m now a staff scientist at an environmental toxicology consulting firm. I love being in the business world and doing client-based, real-world problem solving.
Wow, you are a nerd! I mean that in the best way. Nerds make the world go around.
I've seen a lot of professional athletes struggle with transitioning from being a full-time competitors to focusing on their non-sporting careers. How did you make the transition? What adjustments did you need to make in order for that transition to happen mentally and physically?
Honestly - it was easy. For me, academics and science have always come first. I love MTB, I love riding my bike, and I love being outside. However, I know that my purpose is to use science to help make the world better. When I hung up my racing titles and opted for a literal desk job in a scientific discipline I knew very little about, I knew it was the right decision for me.
Regardless, I have plenty of nagging negative thoughts about my decision - mostly the "what ifs". What if I went 110% into racing, how far could I have gone? What if I just racked up the debt to travel and ride my bike instead? I still have these thoughts, despite my certainty that I made the right call. They probably won't ever go away, but I'm finding ways to be more involved in the MTB community beyond racing that is certainly allowing me to have plenty of fun.
The biggest thing I struggle with is training workload. I’m on my bike 2h a day commuting and spend 1h a day in the gym. That’s relatively minor for someone racing full time. For me, this combined with standing at a desk all day using my brain at full tilt means I burn out a lot and have to rest. I’m still trying to find the sweet spot.
That's still an impressive training load for someone focussed on a non-athletic career. I'd love to have someone shadow you to capture it on video for the rest of us to watch.
Being well rounded and having balance seem to be important to you. How do you find balance between your science career and training, commuting, and other projects?
While I want to do everything, I realize that's not sustainable. One thing that I feel really strongly about is that true balance isn’t real. Thinking of work-life balance like a scale implies that both sides are (and should be) equal. However, that’s usually not the case. Sometimes, one thing pulls harder and the others have to give a little. This is all OK. Assuming the two are dramatically opposed just guarantees that one will always lose. I just try to focus my energy on what’s most important at any given time. The best way I’ve learned to do this is to prioritize. Every day I prioritize my to-do list. Some old things end up farther down to make room for more urgent, new things. Sometimes things lower on the list just don’t ever get done, and that’s OK. You can’t do it all. I just try to tackle the most important stuff on a day to day basis and try to forgive myself for what goes on the backburner.
That's great perspective that I need to keep in mind more often. It's easy to get caught up on one thing and freak out because other areas seem to be getting neglected. At least that's the case for me.
What does a typical day and week look like for you?
Tuesday-Friday, my typical workday starts with a 5am alarm and a few min of catching up on current events. If I’m posting on social media, I try and get that done during this time of day as well. I disable social media on my phone during the workday to minimize distractions. By 5:45am I’m on my commuter bike, rain or shine (since I live in Seattle, it’s usually rain!), and headed to the gym which is about a 50 min ride away. My workouts last about an hour, either strength training or bouldering, then I hop back on my bike for a 20 min uphill ride to work. Luckily, I LOVE lifting weights, so it’s honestly never a challenge for me to go to the gym. Mondays are hard rest days. I take the bus to and from work – which basically feels like torture and isn’t much faster than my bike commute, ha!
At work, I have a standing desk and I work around 9h, mostly meetings and computer work (and eating, lots of eating). If I have a phone call or meeting with someone in the MTB industry, I usually do that at lunch. I also try to get a bit of foam rolling and stretching in at some point during my work day. I have my own office and do plenty of mobility tools. The ride home has a lot more uphill so it’s closer to 1h15min. If my husband is home (he is a MTB photographer who is often traveling), he’s usually being awesome and has dinner waiting. I spend the evenings working on MTB projects like proposals, media write-ups, sponsorship communications, etc. Or, if I’m totally wiped out, sometimes I just read and rest.
Weekends are for DIRT! I try to get out on my MTB every weekend, weather permitting. Luckily, trails here in the PNW just get better when wet, so we can typically ride year-round (if you can handle freezing rain and super dark woods). I also try to catch up on work or MTB projects. If the hubby is home, and we aren’t riding, we may spend a few hours getting computer work done in a local coffee shop or bouldering at the gym together. Somedays, however, we’re both in a hole so we binge watch sci-fi shows on a laptop in our PJs. We don’t own a TV (haven’t had one for 14 years), so there isn’t a huge incentive to be a couch potato.
I'm tired just hearing about your routine. I don't think you need to worry about becoming a couch potato -- it's not in your DNA.
Did someone mention dark, damp trails?
I know you got your coaching license recently. How do you plan to put it to use?
Yes! I got my PMBIA Level 1 (my goal is Level 2 this year) in 2018 and I’m stoked. I’ve been assistant coaching on and off over the years, but now that I’m retired, I have more time to dedicate to being a better coach. I’m also joining up with a couple fellow lady shredders to help coach at their events.
Any other passion projects?
I’m working with a local bike shop, Compass Outdoor Adventures, to host a series of intermediate skills clinics for folks who have a handle on basic skills and just want to get faster and more confident on the trails.
I would love to help break down more barriers keeping people away from racing. Whether it’s the intimidation factor, feeling not “insert ability here”-enough, cost, fear, lack of gear, etc. We need to find ways to bump racing numbers. I’m not sure what that looks like yet – maybe working with race directors or designing race-specific skills clinics. However this unfolds, I want to do more to share what I’ve learned about racing and why I think it’s so fun.
During our last talk you mentioned racing Trans BC Enduro this summer. Are you as excited as I am after watching the videos on the race's website (https://www.transbcenduro.com/)?
HECK YES! I’m super nervous, but very excited. Multi-day adventure-style blind racing is completely new to me. Looking forward to trying something outside of my comfort zone!
What will you be doing to train for this?
My current commute and strength training are already in preparation for that race. I’m working closely with my coach, Jen Kates of Meru Wellness, to be sure I’m ready!
Jen is awesome. I've been twisting her arm for her to share her ideas on nutrition with our followers.
I know you've been a fan of Enduro Bites since well before we spoke. What attracted you to our products? How do you incorporate Enduro Bites and Beta Red?
I like real food. I have never really had a sensitive stomach, but I am keenly aware of my energy levels in relation to my nutrition. Gummies and gels tend to give me energy spikes (hello, sugar and caffeine!) followed by mega crashes. Enduro Bites are tasty, made with whole-food simple ingredients, easy to digest, and give me sustained energy.
I’ve never been a coffee drinker or caffeine addict – blasphemy, I know – so the non-stimulant Beta Red approach has been great for me. Beets are a natural source of natural nitrates, which are precursors to nitric oxide! It’s like powdered muscle energy. I feel like I warmup faster and don’t get that lead leg feeling as often. The beta alanine and citrulline malate really work wonders to buffer acidity and increase circulation, respectively. Plus, the powder mixes easily and well, even trailside! I’ve been using Beta Red for years.
I’d love to see Enduro Bites making an electrolyte product! Maybe incorporated into a version of Beta Red? Or even a stand alone?
Ha! This is something I've been playing with since the company was founded. I've developed electrolyte formulas (for other companies), but the truth is the vast majority are essentially the same. One may have a little more sodium, or more potassium, or a slightly different carb content, but despite all the scientific sounding stuff they work pretty much the same. I have something in mind I want to create for our athletes, like yourself, but it may not be commercially viable due to what we'd need to sell it for to even break even. We'll see. There are a few other product projects further down the pipeline.
Thank you for spending the time to let everyone know more about you. I'm excited that we'll be working together this season!