Positivity, self-care, and time-management: My interview with Kaysee Armstrong

This week for the Coach’s Corner blog, we’ve got an interview with Knoxville local and trail-shredder Kaysee Armstrong. Kaysee has been crushing the mountain bike race scene for a few years now. She’s got numerous National Championship titles and countless race wins all over the world. She’s extremely positive, incredibly hard working and dedicated to all aspects of her life and she lives right here in Knoxville. Read the interview below to get a glimpse into the daily life of Kaysee Armstrong, see how she handled the off-season, how she handles the mental side of sport (and life) and what she’s got coming up.


Profile

·      Age: 27 year’s old 

·     Location: Knoxville, TN 

·      Day Job: Full-Time Accountant 

·      Discipline: Marathon mountain bike, cross-country and stage racing

·      Sponsors: Liv Cycling, Harper’s Bike Shop, Yee-Haw Brewing, Hyperlocal Knox, Podium Sports Medicine, Nox Composites, Health First Fitness

·      Favorite race: TransAndes 

·      Favorite trail: Squirrel Gap, Pisgah National Forest

·      Favorite Adult Beverage: Yee-Haw Dunkel

·      Favorite Caffeinated Beverage: Espresso! 

·      Favorite Workout: 20 min Low Cadence at Tempo  

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Elliott Baring: Give us the 60 second introduction to Kaysee Armstrong

Kaysee Armstrong: I’m Kaysee Armstrong, 27 years old, with two graduate degrees in Accounting and Healthcare Administration. I race my bike full-time as well as working as a full-time accountant here in Knoxville. I’m a Little Bellas Mentor, a NICA coach, I love my dog Dale and I love being outside.

EB: We're only a month into the New Year, and you've already tallied up one race win with the TransAndes Challenge in Chile. How did that go and how are things looking in the early season?

KA: I signed up for TransAndes months ago, then I broke my hand and I dreaded it. I felt like I wasn’t very motivated to race in January, I felt I could’ve backed off and hit the training harder with a longer off-season. The race did help me stay motivated through the hand break and also helped me avoid a pretty harsh couple of weeks [weather] in the Southeast. I went into the race thinking “I could win this if I work hard and stay focused”. It ended up working out and I got the win, which was a treat and a perfect way to start the season.

EB: You had a slight setback this fall with a broken hand; did you feel like that hindered your progress throughout a crucial build period?

KA: It was great timing actually, in November. Although it was also a few weeks of time where I could’ve been getting base miles in; but because of my cast, I didn’t want to lose too much form so I was doing other things to stay fit like long day-hikes, TurboSpins [local group spin class], Zwift and increasing my weight training. In a way it probably helped me rather than hindered me by forcing some time off the bike and helped bring in a variety of different ways to stay fit.

EB: By taking an untraditional off-season with hiking, TurboSpin, Zwifting and significantly increasing the weight training, do you think that contributed to your overall fitness and helped you avoid burnout?

KA: Now that I’m training seriously and with purpose, so there’s higher stress and pressure. The hiking was an especially great way to get in a big days of exercise and also gave me a break from riding to clear the mind. The low-intensity aerobic qualities combined with the weight-bearing nature of hiking make it such a great activity to do in the off-season. I actually grew to really enjoy long day hikes with friends and my dog, Dale. I do think it helped me avoid the usual burnout though... People often train so hard, and let cycling become such of a task in their daily life that they forget why they do it. Sometimes you've got to take time off the bike to remind yourself why you miss it and why you love what you do. Or just simply go ride your bike for enjoyment before you start training and hitting the base miles. For me cycling isn't a job, if anything it’s an escape from my daily job, so I don't see why I should waste my mental energy getting stressed and worked up about training, cycling should be about fun and stress relief. 

EB: You manage your time incredibly well, what’s it like being a full-time accountant and a full-time athlete? Do you have any specific ways to make that work?

KA: I pick battles and prioritize. I ask “what am I going to focus on today?”, and I plan accordingly to break the day up and get all of my tasks done. I plan big training days to match with slower days at work, and vice versa. I feel like cyclists are very self-determined to do all the training before they get to the start line, and for me part of that is getting my work done [accounting] accordingly.

EB: How do you spend your down time to relax? I don’t think I ever see you sit down for a minute and take a breather.

KA: I love my downtime! People may think this is crazy, but I walk with my dog. I discovered about a year ago, that those walks are so relaxing because I don’t have to worry about what the next task is (like work) or what my power and heart rate are (like training). It can be an hour or it can be 20 minutes, I can call my mom or I can self-meditate; anything helps me unwind during those walks. I really think it's important to find a self-care act that works for you; whether that be unwinding with a bath, reading a book or watching Netflix. For me I take walks with my super cool dog Dale and enjoy his company.

EB: What are your goals and major focuses for this season?

KA: Cape Epic in March is the next big focus! It’ll be a new race for me, a new country (South Africa) and a new format of racing by doing the Duo format with my new teammate Serena Gordon. I’ll be doing a lot of the US Cup races and racing some more cross-country this year. I’ll be racing all of the EpicRides events and racing Dirty Kanza with some local lady friends from Knoxville. Those are all definitely on the schedule and I will probably find my way to the start line of another stage race or two.

EB: With my biased opinion, I would say you are the most dominant/successful female US stage racer. How do stay so consistent in multi-day races? Do you have any tips, tricks or morning rituals?

KA: Well I first started working on what I was not good at; climbing. I love shredding the trail but I was struggling on climbs my first year of stage racing. I got a new coach (Drew Edsall) and we started working on that. While I’m in the races I specifically focus on staying calm; my coach uses the saying “control what you can control” and I only use my energy to focus on those things. I do a lot of deep breathing and I try to go to the start line with no pressure. I try to keep the pressure off by focusing on one little thing at a time instead of the big picture. Focus on the process instead of the outcome. I also don’t think about the race when I’m not racing. I focus on food, relaxation and enjoying my time! I think about stage racing as a vacation and like to enjoy the new experiences that new races and locations bring. I often use it as a self-care retreat. So my recommendation would probably be to take a step back, enjoy the moment and don't get so wrapped up in the race. You'll probably have a better race if you're more relaxed and not stressing about things outside of your control!

EB: You spend a lot of time working with the Little Bellas and with NICA. How is it working with the future generation?

KA: It all began when I used to do competitive cheer and then I also coached it. I love working with kids; they’re a good reminder of what life is like without obligations [a job, bills, etc]. They simply do things for enjoyment and because it’s fun. They don’t worry about how far they’re going to ride, or how fast, they just have fun. It’s honestly another self-care act for me, it’s a retreat from daily life because I don’t focus on training or my daily job, I just focus on these kids and they remind me why I love to ride my bike. It’s also a good reminder that winning isn’t everything. The kid that did his best and got 15th is just as stoked as the kid that got 3rd. I think it's helped me realize I should put the pressure on doing the best I can, instead of simply winning. The first season I worked with NICA I came off a rough race season, and working with those kids helped me remember why I love to ride and helped me enjoy the ride itself instead of getting so wrapped up in the numbers and the results. It really helped me turn my mentality around and focus on the right things.

EB: Last question is the most serious, what’s your favorite breakfast food?

KA: Greek yogurt, it’s perfect and I love it! Anything that involves greek yogurt is great but I do often put that on some Kodiak Cake protein pancakes.

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HUGE thank you to Kaysee for this interview. Kaysee is such a positive and uplifting person that I think a lot of people could benefit from taking a tip or two from her. 

You can find Kaysee on Facebook and Instagram (@kaysodip) or you might run into her at a local coffee shop, Harper’s Bike Shop, or on the trails!

Keep tuning in for weekly blogs and hopefully some more occasional interviews from interesting individuals I've met in the realm of endurance sports, health and fitness! Thanks for reading.

-Elliott, Baring Performance Management