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Jan 3, 2023

This week we sit down with Michigan based, professional gravel racer, Paige Onweller. Paige, a former runner, had her ups and downs throughout the 2022 season, but ended it with a bang with a victory at Big Sugar Gravel in October. She is looking forward to doubling down on her efforts for the 2023 season.

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist. This week on the broadcast. We welcome page on Weller. Uh, gravel racer from grand rapids, Michigan. Paige participated in the inaugural lifetime grand Prix in 2022. And has been selected for the grand Prix. Again in 2023, she finished the season with a big victory at big sugar gravel in Bentonville, Arkansas this year, and is really excited to be able to dedicate more time to the sport. Pages and other one of those amazing female athletes who discovered the sport after a career, as a runner. Only a few years ago, she was riding a trainer and figuring out how to ride a bike outdoors. Pedro we'll get into how she got into the sport of cycling, what our journey's been over the last couple of years. And what our experience has been joining the lifetime grand Prix and racing throughout the year with all the best female athletes in the gravel cycling world.

With that said let's jump right into my conversation with Paige.

Paige, welcome to the show.

[00:01:26] Paige Onweller: Thanks, Craig. Glad I'm here

[00:01:28] Craig Dalton: Good to see you. Yeah, it sounded like you had a busy day in the er, so I'm pleased you're making time for us this evening,

[00:01:34] Paige Onweller: Yeah. Yeah. I was a little, a little late to this meeting, so thank you for being flexible. The ER is a little busy these days.

[00:01:40] Craig Dalton: Yeah, no, of course. My pleasure. Hey, I always love to start off Paige by getting to know you a little bit about your background, like where did you grow up?

[00:01:48] Paige Onweller: So I grew up in kind of a smaller town called Lapeer. Uh, it's in Michigan, kind of in the thumb area. Uh, maybe like an hour north of Ann Arbor, uh, if people know that as a reference point. Um, yeah. And then I went to undergrad at Fair State University up in Big Rapids, also in Michigan, and then, uh, grad school in Grand Rapids.

And I've been settled in Grand Rapids for the last, about 10.

[00:02:11] Craig Dalton: Got it. And were you a, were you a sporty young lady?

[00:02:14] Paige Onweller: Uh, kind of, my parents kind of made us get into sports. Like I think they wanted to keep us out of trouble and keep us busy. And so, um, yeah, I did like, uh, swimming and diving and softball, volleyball track, cross country. Um, I was a big runner. Uh, I actually got a scholarship to, to run at Ferris and that's, you know, cross country and track.

So I did running. Many years of my life and was a very dedicated runner, even after college on some post collegiate elite teams. Um, that's kind of where most of my athletic background was.

[00:02:46] Craig Dalton: what was that journey like as a, as a runner would, did you sort of materialize in high school that you had a good endurance endurance engine or. Wear of a sprinter at that point.

[00:02:55] Paige Onweller: I was more middle distance. To be honest. I never really, I kind of wasn't all around her. Like I, I definitely wasn't a sprinter, but I kind of excelled at. 400 meters and anything up to two mile, uh, at least in high school. Uh, but more focused on like the mile and 800. And then in college was similar. I was more middle distance, uh, 1500 meter, um, was kind of my specialty in, in track.

And then in cross country it's just a six K for uh, ncaa. Um, so that was kind of my specialty overall. Um, but I got injured a lot and. , I think, you know, I could have done much better, like in the 10 K or 5k, I think would've suited me more. Um, but I think I was just always injured that we kind of kept doing the middle distance, shorter volume, you know, or, or less volume.

Uh, but then after college is kind of when I started to hit my stride a bit in the endurance events, um, like I did at Ultra-Marathon in Grand Canyon. and that was like 55 miles, um, like rim to rim, to rim it's called. Um, and started doing like more half marathons and those longer distance events. And that's when I, like, I was beating all of my college times and just really excelling.

So I think after college, once I was healthy and not getting injured as much, I was able to kind of, you know, consistency really helps with endurance . So if you're not getting injured and you can keep running, then you're gonna do.

[00:04:15] Craig Dalton: That's quite a huge journey from where you started out as a runner to doing ultra-marathons, as you progressively grabbed hold of longer distance events. Was that, did it feel sort of more comfortable and more what you were built for?

[00:04:30] Paige Onweller: I don't know. I, I mean, I was still running similar mileage throughout the week, but a lot of it was like power hiking up hills and like getting used to like the vertical gain because in running, like. Ultra-marathons are very, um, there's a lot more climbing and descending, and you have to get your quads ready for like that descending load, um, and the, the EENT changes that occur.

And so I feel like. It was similar but yet very different. The volume was similar, but the intensity was much lower. Um, and I think that probably helped. Um, but honestly, like I just love being outside and being outdoors and I just like working out . And so, um, yeah, I mean, I think the little longer stuff was.

Was fun to me and obviously more challenging just in a different way though, like, you know, a half marathon and 10 miles, like what I loved. And those are like, you know, hour, hour and 20 minute all out efforts, um, relative to like an endurance ultra marathon, which is like the whole day. So just kind of a different type of pain, I guess, , but I enjoyed the process for both and, and how you train for.

[00:05:38] Craig Dalton: Yeah. They're so distinctly different as running disciplines. I've done a little bit of ultra marathoning myself and I I hear you like it's this descending that really adds up. But for me, the interesting thing was it was a complete mentality shift, right? Because you'll, you're running in the woods, you come up to a big hill and the 10 K in, you wants to run hard over everything.

But every ultra-marathon and coach or colleague or friend is gonna tell. Just shift into another gear and walk up this hill. Yeah, to power hike up the

[00:06:08] Paige Onweller: yeah, no, for sure. And it's, it's funny you say that, like the, the mental change is, you know, more than anything, and I've been a coach for many years and when I was coaching ultra marathoners, like one of the primary focus, you know, in, in the season was focusing and developing why they wanted to do that race.

And cuz there was studies and research to show. Having an emotional bond to those longer events gets you through it versus like, you know, an hour and a half. So that's like a whole different way to train and it's like more mental training than the shorter distances. And I always thought that was fun.

And you know, my medical background kind of makes me a little bit more intrigued into that as well.

[00:06:45] Craig Dalton: Yeah, a hundred percent. Like you just have to believe and you have to always put a foot forward. And I think, I'm sure we'll get into this later, just how the, the parallels with gravel racing, particularly the long stuff, you just, you gotta keep going and know that your body's capable of much more than you probably think it is capable of.

[00:07:02] Paige Onweller: Yeah, for sure.

[00:07:03] Craig Dalton: So did you discover cycling at any point in that journey so far?

[00:07:08] Paige Onweller: Um, I mean, you know, I would hop on a spin bike when I was injured, right? But it was always dreadful. I'm like, oh, I'd rather be running and I'm here in spin class. This is lame. Um, but you know, it was like, I didn't know any of the numbers meant, and it was always kind of a punishment for me. So, I had no idea what, you know, it was always like, What I had to do to stay in shape for running.

Every time I was injured, I'd go on the bike. Um, and it was usually a stationary bike or a spin bike, but it wasn't until the pandemic, uh, so about two years ago is when I started biking outside. Um, and that was terrifying, like the clipping in for the first time. And I was like, what am I doing? You know, I'm like, this is horrendous.

I'm gonna a crash. Um, let's see my, see my colleagues at the medical clinic. Um, but yeah, I think. For me, that's kind of when I first started, but it was still because I wanted to get better at running. So what I was doing is I was running like 40 to 50 miles a week, and then I would be trying to hit like, five to six hours on the bike a week as well.

Um, and then I started biking more and realizing like, well, this is actually a lot of fun. And I started, you know, getting Strava kms and I was like, oh, well I'm beating these cyclists like maybe I'm, you know, pretty good at it. And I just think I started to enjoy it. But it wasn't a competitive, um, component for me.

It was like just simply to get in more of. Aerobic training and cardiovascular training did benefit my running. And I did the ultra-marathon that fall. Um, and that was, so that would've been 2020 and did the ultra-marathon. So I kind of stopped biking for a little while to help with the legs. And then that, that winter I was like, okay, I'm gonna get whiffed and I'm gonna have an indoor setup because I liked biking this summer and I can do that throughout the winter.

So I signed up for Zift and then, you know, a couple of local friends were like, you should do this with Community League. And I was like, oh, that sounds fun. do the community races. So I do started doing those first. When I signed up, it was like all out from the gate, um, swift, I think I dropped hard, like finished near the back and I was like, well, this is hard

Um, and I was like, what am I doing? And eventually I just kept showing up and learning, you know, the tactics within thew world and then started winning the community events and that, that's kind of how I got recruited to my first pro team, um, was for eSports on Zift because of you. Essentially my raw power.

Um, yeah. And that's when I first started to realize like, I'm just a competitive person and so you put me in a situation where I have the potential to win. I'm like, oh yeah, I wanna do that again, . So, uh, that's when I was like, oh, maybe I should race bikes, you know, like that, that could be fun. Um, so that's when that transition.

Transition started, um, and I actually did sign up for a triathlon. I did, um, St. George, uh, 70.3 as my first, uh, triathlon. And then that was the last one I ever did, , cuz I realized biking is way better,

[00:10:00] Craig Dalton: I don't wanna glance over something that I think every athlete goes through. You were also building a, another career in the background post-college. So do you wanna talk about what you've been doing professionally that has been effectively financing some of your racing endeavors in the running world, at least to date?

[00:10:17] Paige Onweller: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I end up finding a lot of my cycling stuff too. Um, which, you know, I don't, we, it's a whole nother topic right there, but I don't think people understand that as much, you know, when you race pro, like they assume you have all the support. Uh, but we can get into that later. But yeah, so I work as a physician assistant.

Uh, I've been a PA now eight years, and I've. Worked and practice all in acute care. Uh, so either urgent care or emergency medicine. Um, and I work for an emergency medicine group right now. Um, and I've had various roles, uh, very career driven, you know, I'm just an eager, motivated person, and so I've had.

department lead roles where I'm help managing and more of an administrative role in the department. Um, so yeah, I've been a PA eight years and just a very busy person. Um, and it's, it's a great job, but medicine has changed a lot. If you talk to any medical provider, particularly some, someone that works in the ER or the urgent care, um, they will say medicine has definitely changed over the last few, few years, and part of that is covid, but we live in a very, Demanding world.

And that floats over to medicine as well where patients are, uh, coming in and it's, it's not like they're always asking for medical advice, which is what we're trained to give, um, and use evidence-based medicine. It's more like demands and that can sometimes be a little exhausting. Um, cuz you know, we're there to help people and use science and, um, you know, there's a lot of stuff on the internet that patients come in and.

you know, talk to us about. Um, but it's a, it's a hard job. Uh, it's very rewarding. But, you know, I've had to tell patients they have, you know, a new mask that's likely cancer. Um, you know, just today I had to tell a woman she's mis discouraging and telling her what I saw on her exam and. , you know, just helping patients process and essentially my job is if someone comes in, they have a problem and I'm supposed to fix it and make sure they're not dying.

So, uh, it's rewarding, but it's also very mentally exhausting and it is, it's a hard job.

[00:12:17] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I wanted to make sure to highlight that. Cause I know like many athletes as you, as you said before, like there's this aura that your name is inve and you must be having a full ride with your sponsors and all you do is train. But I think you'll probably attest that, you know, probably 90% of the pro Peloton has other jobs behind them allowing them to do these things.

[00:12:40] Paige Onweller: Yeah. And you know, it's best. And I also, um, you know, I own a coaching business and I coach, um, and that has allowed me to have work that's more mobile and, you know, a little bit more relaxing work, I should say. Not as mentally demanding or physically demanding too. Cuz right now, like, I don't know if people understand, like this last year, like I still had to work my weekend requirement, which is every other weekend.

or every third weekend depending on which job I was at. And so, you know, basically I would like stack my hours in the ER and urgent care work, crazy amount of hours, like 56, 50, 60 hours, you know, in a week or a little over a week. And then I'd fly to a race, race bikes for a week, come back, work in the er, urgent care.

So it was like this constant yo-yo of two lives. And I knew it wasn't sustainable for too long, but I knew I could do it for one year. Like anything's tolerable. Like if you have an end. Um, and I also knew, like I had so much potential in cycling, I just hadn't had the opportunity to get the support that I needed.

Um, and you have to earn that. Like, there, I never expected to have, you know, to only be able to race bikes. Like I was thinking it'd be a five year process for me to get financial support. Um, but yeah, I mean, it's, it's. very hard. And I do think, you know, for example, social media is a good example. We're posting all the positives and, and that's a good thing.

We want to do that. Um, but at the end of the day, the reality is like, it's not always as glamorous as people may, you know, assume that it is.

[00:14:06] Craig Dalton: Yeah, so you were just touching on your journey. You got identified as, uh, a strong athlete via the zw kind of experience. Fast forward. When did you start racing outside on a bike, you know, kind of formally. And then let's jump into how the heck you got selected for the 2022 Lifetime Grand Prix.

[00:14:30] Paige Onweller: yeah, yeah. So, , I think like, and I'm sorry, I'm gonna mute my, I'm not sure if you're getting notified. Um, I apologize. I just wanna make sure that you're not getting, are you hearing the dinging on your

[00:14:43] Craig Dalton: No, no,

[00:14:44] Paige Onweller: Oh, you are? Okay, cool. Yeah, won't worry about that then. Um, yeah, so I first started racing bikes, um, . So I basically did, started Swift the winter of 2020 to 2021 and then I was racing the premier leg ands with, after doing all the validation testing and making sure that like, you know, I was legit and not weight doping and, and power doping and all that stuff.

Um, and then so my first like main, you know, race was, um, , you know, I did some time trials, so I got an coach coaches' exception to race U s a Pro Road Nationals in 2021. So that was one of my first like main races. I did a local, uh, time trial, Willow tt, uh, before that, but really like that was one of my first outdoor races, which is, Somewhat terrifying to show up at like Pro Road Nationals and like barely riding your bike outside.

Um, I didn't know how to do a U-turn. Like I just really was afraid to ride the disc. Um, had no idea what I was doing to be, to be honest. Um, and it was kind of a disappointing, I think I was 11th there, which honestly is not that bad. Um, my, my power was really good, but again, like I lost so much time in the U-turns and I really wasn't maintaining an arrow position because I think.

Guarded. And you know, if you barely know how to ride a bike and then you put an 80 mill up front, a disc on the back and then tell someone to get a really aggressive TT position, you're probably not gonna hold that . So, um, I kind of, you know, I was a little jaded after that experience because I had a coach at the time that kind of.

Kind of dropped me, uh, I think because I had a disappointing, um, uh, race according to them and the team that I was previously on. And that honestly like little fire under my ass, uh, pardon of my language. Um, and so I was kind of told like, well, you don't need a coach. Like you just need to learn how to ride your bike.

And in my mind I'm like, well, that's why I need a coach. And so I went and hired my own coach, paid my own money. Um, and then I signed up for the biggest mass dark gravel race that I could find. And I said, gravel doesn't have all these rules, like with road. I was working a lot of weekends and I live in the Midwest.

There's not access to road races to do all the category upgrades, and it just didn't make sense for me. And Gravel seemed like a good way to like try to prove myself, um, and have the opportunity to race against the guys and really show like I was strong. So sign Up for Gravel Worlds. That was August of last year.

That was my very. Mass start, bike race. Um, my very first ever bike race was the March bef, uh, so the march that, uh, March in 2021, but they did Covid wave, so I really don't count that as a mass start race. Um, so I would say, yeah, August, 2021 Gravel Worlds was my first mass start race, and I kind of told myself like, okay.

Don't die because I like had barely rid it in a pack before. I didn't know what I was doing. And that race also starts in a dark, so it's like dark. There's like gravel flying everywhere. You're in a pack. I'm like, I'm gonna die. Like what am I doing? Um, But I didn't die. Uh, I definitely did. Okay. I was fifth.

Um, but I remember thinking like, a, I had fun. B I did decently well relative to like, my experience. And I was like dangling off the Peloton, right? Like I wasn't in the middle. I didn't know how to draft. And so there's just all these things where I was like, okay, I think there's something here. Um, and again, more importantly, like I had fun.

The community was great. That event is very inclusive, and so it was just a really good. First experience. Um, and so then I signed up and I did Barry Rebe that fall, and I ended up getting second there. Um, and yeah, I kind of thought to myself, you know, maybe I have a, have a future in this. I did iceman, you know, I barely rid a mountain bike.

Borrowed a mountain bike from a local guy. His name's Peter. He had messaged me. He is like, you should do this. And I'm like, what? Single track? No way. Um, so yeah, last year was kind of like my first experience without all that. And then when I heard about the lifetime Grand pr. I kind, I applied thinking like, there's no way I'll get in, but

[00:18:31] Craig Dalton: And was your, was your application sort. , Hey, I was this, this runner. I had this career in running and I've transitioned. I've shown these sort of glimmers of potential already kind of thing.

[00:18:43] Paige Onweller: Yeah, and I, I had just highlighted and said like, I need more opportunity to show how strong I am and I need help with that. Like, I didn't even know about race centuries. You have to register and get into the lotteries. Like, before I even knew, I didn't even know what S B T was like, I was that new.

People don't understand, like I have no idea even what these races are like. And so I didn't know there was a lottery. I had never even heard of the race before now. And so yeah, I kind of entered and my application was mostly. Hey, like, I think I'm strong, but I haven't had the opportunity. I've had bad experiences.

Um, I've been put down and I'm a female and, and I feel like I have an opportunity to prove myself. So I kind of, I think I framed it in that way. Um, honestly, it was like a year ago. I'm not exactly sure what I put, um, but I do remember saying like, I'm not an influencer. I barely, I think I had like, I don't know, 800, you know, Instagram followers.

So I told them. I'm not here to influence. Um, I don't know if social media's important to you, but I think I'm strong. And if you look at my story, I was fifth at gravel worlds against all these people. And uh, I was second at Barry Rebe and I was top 10 at Iceman. I think there's something there, like, please give me a chance.

Um, and I didn't have any expectations. Of course you want to get in, but I was out on a training ride with a friend. I remember checking my email and I, I remember getting in and being like, oh no, I gotta buy a mountain bike. No. Like I was, you know, what did I get myself into? Um, so that was like very, very scary, if I'm being honest.

Uh, and I was also working, um, and so I was worried about fitting everything in. Um, I was on a gravel. for this last year. So I did not have any mountain bike support. I had to source my own bike, pay for my own bike, uh, you know, all of that stuff. So yeah, I was like very excited I got in, but I was also scared and recognizing like I had to fund the mountain bike portion of my season.

Um, but I also knew like worst case scenario, I would just really get experience in learning and I just am so new that I needed that experience. So of course I was gonna give it a whirl,

[00:20:47] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Amazing. And obviously the Lifetime Grand Prix is a variety of different races, as you noted, both mountain bike and gravel cycling. How did you feel sort of at Sea Otter kicking off the year? There's a bunch of single track there. You have to get pretty aggressive to sort of do well in a race like that to get out and get, get out in front and be able to stay out in front

[00:21:09] Paige Onweller: Yeah. And Sea Otter was horrible if I'm being totally transparent. Uh, so to put things into perspective, uh, my very first time riding a mountain bike was that fall, like that October, 2021. And then I live in Michigan, so I have no mountains here to train. We have the winters and so sea otter's in April and our trails like, really aren't that rideable.

Um, and so I went to see ot. with like very minimal experience. Um, and I remember going there on a pre ride, um, and I literally crashed, I think it was like four, three or four times on the one pre ride and I broke my fork. Um, thankfully the guys at Fox replaced it for me. It was incredible. Um, but the reality is like, I remember crying on the sideline of the trail thinking.

what am I doing? Like, I, I can't do this. Like, I can't even pre ride and stay upright. There's no way I can race in, in this course. immediately, I had to change perspective and say like, I can't view this as a race. I'm a very competitive person. If I view this as a race, like I will be competitive. So in my mind, I said, Seattle's gonna be my wash race.

I'm just gonna do this as a skills day. Like literally view it as a skills day. Stay upright. Don't ruin your whole season. And then drop the race and you'll be fine. And so, um, yeah, I'm not gonna lie, I hated it. It was not a fun race for me because like, I just, you know, the descending, like the climbs, gimme a climb any, any day I will climb my heart out.

I love climbing. My power to weight ratio is great. So climbs I excel at. But the reality is like you climb, you pass a bunch of people and those same people are passing you, not pedaling, doesn't make you feel the greatest. And

[00:22:47] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I feel like many people who are listening may not be mountain bikers or have mountain bike racing experience, and it is definitely different being out there on the single track. And it's amazing, you know, if you're just not comfortable with the single, with the flow of the single track, or going fast through single track on the descents, make you nervous.

[00:23:06] Paige Onweller: Right,

[00:23:06] Craig Dalton: is like, you know, minutes and tens of minutes of time that can be lost versus someone who's just has the experience to be comfortable and, and let the bike flow.

[00:23:15] Paige Onweller: For sure, for sure. And I don't think people realize like the type of mountain biking definitely changes. Like I was used to like tacky dirt in the Midwest, um, on our trails in the woods in sc Otter, it's like rock with like kitty litter and like you can't corner the same way you would in the Midwest.

And so. , I think like pros that have been writing many years and have all these experiences across different terrains, like really have that knowledge. Um, and for me, like that was the first time I'm like, why am I going down? Like I know I'm cornering the right body position. Like I studied this. Um, and then I'm just like, oh, well it's totally different terrain.

It's, you know, then someone said, oh, you're writing on kitty litter. I'd never heard that term before. Um, and I was like, yeah, that, that makes a lot of sense.

[00:23:56] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I always, I thought that was interesting when the Lifetime Grand Prix came up and, and I understood the type of racing they were gonna have the athletes do, because it really does require that you've got a full bag of tricks. So it's interesting, you know, and I, I'm interested as we fast forward through this conversation at the end of 22, like, you know, how your skillsets have evolved and your comfort level, and as we go into 23, what that means for.

Potential in these races. But so you start off at Sea Otter, have some ups and downs there, and then I forget what's next in the calendar. But why don't you quickly walk us through some of the other racing through the

[00:24:31] Paige Onweller: Yeah. Yeah. So Seattle Oter. Um, and then unfortunately after Seattle Oter, uh, I was really gunning for Unbound. Unbound suits me very well, that course profile and like my power strengths and how I ride. Um, so Unbound was like the big priority of the race. Um, and I had like set a goal to podium at Unbound, um, top three.

And so I was like, okay, like this is gonna be a good year, unbounds of my race. This is right up my skillset. And I was out on a training ride back in April and ended up crashing. Um, a cross wind kind of took me out in a really loose section. It was not ideal. Ended up having to have, uh, surgery to remove, uh, like a surgical debridement of my left knee cuz of all the gravel debris.

Um, and that really set me back. I had like a month of like minimal to no riding and that my leg was immobilized and non-weightbearing. And so, Yeah, going into Unbound, I had been off the bike for like, literally a whole month and I started riding like, uh, three weeks, three or four weeks before Unbound.

And so I was really trying to say like, I just need to not do Unbound. Um, but I also knew, like I have very little experience with Mass Start races and I know Unbound is very chaotic in the beginning, and so I kind of told myself, do the. Go all out, like you would act like you're in shape, behave like you're in shape, race, like you're in shape, knowing that I probably will blow up and that's fine, but I, I wanted that experience and then I would just, you know, maybe a miracle would happen and I'd pull it together.

But, um, I mostly did it because I knew I needed the experience with a ma start. So, uh, showed up with very, very, very little fitness. Um, and then also a little bit like scared because after you have a crash with a surgery like. You know, you're very, you're a little bit more timid and I'm already timid at that point,

So that was a challenge in itself just to show up and race. So, ended up getting through and I, I did fairly well. I started off a little bit more conservatively, then I started checking it off people, but then I totally bonked. Um, and it was like so painful, a painful death. And then I ended up crashing, like.

at mile one 30 and hurt the knee. That, and so anyways, I, I ended up DN Fing at Unbound and I had never DN FD a race before. Um, so that was Unbound and then, then I was like, okay, crusher's next and starting to get fitness back. Um, then I got covid like two weeks before, um, crusher and I have asthma. I did not do well with Covid.

I got very sick. that derailed, trailing or training yet again. So I showed up to Crusher, was like, do I do this? Do I not do this? You know, I was like, do it for the experience. Uh, ended up, you know, not doing very well there. I think I was like 15 through 18th or something like that. And so at that point my season just was not going very well and I was racing pretty poorly.

I was like, do I even finish out the Grand Prix series? Like. , this is costing money for me. Like a time, like I'm taking all this time off of work to go to these events and travel. Um, and I was just struggling mentally, like just really wasn't happy with where I was at. Um, and so I actually kind of did something different and I went and did a ran nearing event and ran nearing is basically, um, , I don't know if you're familiar with it or not, but it's not a race.

It's like ultra endurance cycling where you show up and the camaraderie is the main goal of the event, not competition. And a close friend of mine in training partner was doing a 750 miler. So basically we you ride from New York up to Montreal, then back to New York again. And so. . I was like, this seems kind of wild, but I just needed something different to remove, like the disappointment of having a poor season.

And so I ended up doing that for him, just thinking it'd be a good mental reset, get me in shape, you know, for the rest of the year. But it was like 10 days before Leadville. So uh, I had like a 33 hour week, uh, leading into to Leadville. Not an ideal taper. Uh, you know, I joke and I call that the anti taper.

Um, but it really was the mental reset that I needed. And I think too many times people set a calendar at the beginning of the year, especially pro riders because there's a lot on the line for us. The sponsors need to know, you know, there's, we plan our whole year around this and I think there needs to be some flexibility because you don't know what's gonna happen in eight months, six months, or whatever case may be.

And for me, I knew my mental, where I was at mentally. Is going to impact where I finished in a race more than what people I think recognize. And so for me that mental reset at that event was really, really important. I showed up to Leadville with the anti taper as I talk about, and ended up doing really well.

I was seventh there. And then, um, s B T was a bit of a struggle, I think just because of all the subsequent fatigue, uh, in the earlier weeks, and then ended up getting fourth, that lead boat. Um, and that's when I started to feel like my normal self again. I said, okay. Performance is getting back to where I think it should be.

And, uh, I was starting to feel like I was racing again. Leadville was hard just because of the descending, and I'm not used to that. Um, and I've never raced a altitude either, so that was like a whole nother animal in itself. Um, yeah, so that was kind of through the summer and then, Schwa again, was after that, and Schwa again was a Med Fest.

I've barely, I've barely ridden in any mud. You know, I've, there's a lot of racing, uh, that I haven't done, um, in a variety of conditions, but I felt like I always joke and say, schwa again was my very first CY Lacrosse race. And that's what it felt like to me. I was like, if I were to ever do cycl cost, this is what I would imagine it'd be like, except on skinnier tires.

Um, ended up crashing at Schwam again, no surprise there because it was so muddy and I don't have that experience. Um, but I, I fought my way back, you know, fell off the group and then time trialed my way back and motor mooted through, you know, the chorus as much as I can and got seventh there. Um, so still a respectable finish

[00:30:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah, very much so. Even on the ones that you said were, you know, like, oh, I, you know, didn't do that well or went in with a light mentality like you were consistently performing, you know, you weren't maybe knocking on the door of the podium on any of these yet.

[00:30:28] Paige Onweller: Right.

[00:30:29] Craig Dalton: but you, you were up there.

[00:30:30] Paige Onweller: Yeah. Yeah. And I was kind of like, that's why I always joke, you know, before big sugar, you know, I did that, uh, news article with Vela News that I was kind of the dark horse because I was kind of like there under the radar. And you know, the unfortunate part with this sport and with any support is that like you really don't get the attention unless you're winning.

Right. Um, and you know, there's some exceptions to that and there's, there's nothing wrong with that. Um, but I do think there's a lot of really strong athletes that are like consistent. , you know, performing quite well. Um, but they might not get the spotlight as as much. Um, and so for me, like, you know, I was.

Okay. You know, I just, you know, this is something I'm always struggling with too, is just to be happy with what you have that day. Um, because I'm always, I'm always wanting more. Right. Um, and some of that is knowing what I'm capable of. And part of that is like wanting to prove, like, Who I am and what I, what my worth is in this sport.

Mostly because I had, I had some rejection last year. My very first, you know, year in the sport, I was rejected by, you know, someone that I respected and I looked up to, and that was my coach. And then, you know, so I think like that kind of always had stayed with me a bit. Um, you know, and I admit that, you know, And I don't know if I should admit that, but I think there is some truth to that.

And, and as an athlete, you need to assess like where the drive is coming from and you need to make sure it's from a healthy place. Um, so I did a lot of that this year in making sure that like, I wanna win because it's for me. Um, and not having anything to prove either. And I say that like I had had to prove myself, had to prove myself.

I think I'm at a place now. I know what I'm capable of and other people know that too. Um, but in gravel it's such an unpredictable sport that you can be there, you can have the legs for the, for the win, but it doesn't mean that you're going to win. Um,

[00:32:22] Craig Dalton: I think, yeah, I think as you go back to races every year the weather conditions can change. You can have a mechanical, you can have nutritional issues. There's so many things that can go wrong in these long events that it's, it's really, it's hard to keep going and cuz you always know, it's like something went wrong.

I'm sure even in like a great day, winning big sugar, something still went long wrong along the way that you had to cure and keep.

[00:32:46] Paige Onweller: for sure. Yeah. I think the biggest thing is, uh, you just have to be really good at losing . And, uh, I always, you know, in setting goals, I kind of tell myself I wanna be in the position to podium or the position to win. Knowing like if I tell myself, well, I wanna win, most people aren't gonna win. And even the best athletes, like, you're, you're not gonna win.

Um, but if you set the goal that you wanna be in a position to win, then it's a little bit different because, . Yeah. Like I said, you have to be good at losing, and if you're not, , you're not gonna be sustainable in the sport long term. Like, I'm not here to race for one or two more years, like I'm here to race for another 10 years.

And so you need to have the right mindset and be okay with those losses and, uh, be happy with what you brought to the table on those days. And, and that's not easy for someone that's competitive and. At my level, like I'm not a magical, you know, unicorn. Like we're all this way, we're all competitive, we all wanna win.

And so I think the athletes that maybe have a more sustainable future in the sport, um, have a little bit better mindset or healthier mindset with, with or losing.

[00:33:50] Craig Dalton: When you looked at that big sugar course in Bentonville, Arkansas, was that something you were naturally drawn to, that it was a course you could do well at?

[00:33:59] Paige Onweller: Yeah, I mean, I think the rolling hills are good. Um, I had heard that course was a little scary with the off-camera descending. Um, and I actually re-wrote all of the course, uh, on the days leading up to it. Um, and I remember. You know, as I'm going through the course, um, thinking the course actually wasn't suited for me, uh, because of the descending.

Uh, so looking at it on paper, I liked the climbs. I thought, you know, the course could do well with my strengths. Um, but then when I was out there pre-writing and I pre-rolled with like my, uh, friend John, and he just like bombs down, you know, the, the descents. And I'm like trailing a minute back and I'm like, oh my goodness.

Like if this is how it is in a race, like there's no way I'm gonna win. So I remember kind of having some moments of panic during the pre ride. Um, so my goal and mindset completely changed in how I approached the race. Um, so I was like, well, if I know my descending is the weakness, then I wanna be at the front of all the descending so I can pick my line and people can go around me.

Um, cuz it's easy to be a timid to sender and say, well, I don't wanna block anyone. I'll just, you know, enter from the back. So I don't get in any way anyone's way. But for me, I said no, like, I'm gonna push the uphills and then that way I would mitigate any losses, uh, on the time, on the descending. Um, but what I'm learning, and, and I don't know if this is relatable to other athletes, is for whatever reason, I'm a very different writer on race day and I do things on race day that I could never replicate in training.

Um, or I haven't figured out how to replicate in training. And I think that's because I'm just very competitive and I do take more risk. and then you just kind of let the bike do its thing and you trust the process. And so on race day, like I really wasn't, I was descending quite well, much better than what I did on the pre rides.

Um, but there's also a lot , you know, on a line too, so,

[00:35:54] Craig Dalton: yeah, yeah. So, so, you know, one of the big things that weekend was that there was a forecast for heavy winds that did materialize. Did that go through your mind at any point, and did you make a calculation that that was a particularly good thing or bad thing for you?

[00:36:11] Paige Onweller: Yeah, so whenever the race gets harder for a longer period of time, that will almost always benefit me, um, because I, the harder the day, the longer the day, the better. . And so, uh, when I saw the forecast and saw the wind, um, I, I liked that. I was like, yes, bring it on. Especially the headwind for the last 40 miles.

I was like, uh, bring it on. Like, make it heavier winds. That's great. Um, so I, I liked that and I, I think that's important to. Have that mindset because how you think about things in a race or leading into a race will impact how you approach it. And so people that dread headwind or complain about it or maybe have a more negative mindset, um, maybe they don't do as well.

I don't know. That's just my theory. Um, so I ended up making a move pretty early and it was risky, like without a doubt because I was with a pretty solid group of most of like the lead. and then I left that group to ride with one other person, one other person, one other guy came with me. And what ended up working in my favor is that we were both very strong and motivated to like keep going.

And so we started picking up all these men that were falling off the league group. Um, and good strong guys like. You know, famous pro gravel guys. Um, and I just remember like the group kind of swelling and, um, that really benefited me into the, into the headwind section. So oftentimes, like if you're with a group and you leave them into a headwind, like it's a risk because you're with a smaller group, but then all the people that you just passed now catch back up to you.

That's a possibility. Um, but I also knew at that point, like I was feeling pretty good. So if I had to like buckle down and just, you know, solo TT. Maybe I could have pulled that off. But the reality is like it worked out well and we started catching other men off the leads group and you know that that seemed to work well.

And in gravel, like I'm sure you've maybe experienced this, like your group is really dependent on how you do and so, , sometimes you're with a group and we're all working well together and especially in wind sections, you know, having that even rotation, someone peeling off and not having this yo-yo of pace.

Um, and the group I was with was doing, doing well with that and that helped.

[00:38:28] Craig Dalton: yeah, yeah. Absolutely. That was huge for me that weekend as well. I just got, I happened to make a selection early on through one of the pinch points in the early port of the. And then I just happened to be with congenial, well-working simpatico people, and I was burying myself to stay with them because I knew, to your point, like if I was off by myself, it was gonna be a dramatically different day.

And sort of as it turned out, I, like, I finished way ahead of where I ever would've predicted. I would've finished simply because of a, a coup couple good decisions, a decent amount of effort, but also a lot of just good luck of riding with people.

[00:39:05] Paige Onweller: yeah, yeah. And like you said, like sometimes you do bury yourself and. That last hour of that race was really challenging for me, um, cuz I was at my limit. And um, I just remember thinking like, if you fall off, it's gonna suck a lot more than what it's doing. What, what is sucking right now? ? So I just remember thinking like, hang on, hang on just a little longer.

Um, yeah. And I remember like Ted King kind of like made an attack, like, I don't know how many miles we were from the finish and I was just like, yep, see you later, . I was like, there's no way I'm going with any, anyone that makes any move right now. . But it's also hard cuz I didn't have any time gaps. Like I had no idea.

And I remember thinking like going into the finish and I hadn't really seen a lot of media cars in the last half too. And so, . I remember thinking, I was like, is there something else in front of me? Like, do I put my hands up across the line? Like, did I really, am I really winning? Like I, I knew in my mind I was, but yeah, it's sometimes really hard cuz you're like, not thinking straight.

You're working so hard. No one's told you you're in first, like, you know, an actual official or something like that. And yeah, like the lack of media and, and time gaps like sometimes. You don't really know, um, because we're not like the men where there's no other rider in front of us. There's all these men.

And so it can get really confusing for the females. Um, and, and I get bummed about that sometimes. I think there's some opportunity for races to improve what that looks like. You know, a, a lead moto car for the women, right? Perfect example. Um, you know, that sort of stuff. I think there's some room for improvement there.

[00:40:33] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Interesting. So when, when you crossed the finish line and someone confirms that you are indeed the first place women athlete, uh, how did you feel? I mean, you had a whole season where things weren't coming together necessarily. What was that like?

[00:40:48] Paige Onweller: Yeah, I mean it felt so good. Like I, you know, I kind of like, I think I remember joking with a friend, I was like, you know, if, if I win I'll thank you for picking up my groceries or something. And you know, I think they probably chuckled like, yeah, you're not gonna win. And I just remember like, just being, I felt validating like these are things I knew I was capable of having a big win this year.

Um, and you know, some of those beliefs are, things that I've learned and observed in racing, like knowing that I'm, that I'm strong and, and seeing and feeling that, but for me, like it just felt so validating to get that whim. But I also, like no one else really knew the struggles that I had during the year.

I mean, some people that follow my process, but when you look at race results, you don't know, like she just had surgery a month ago, or she had covid 10 days ago. You just think they have a bad race and. , what I've learned this year is that race results do not tell the whole story. And so for me, like the wind was great and I'm sure a lot of people would be like, yeah, big breakthrough race, you know, she got lucky or good for her.

But the reality is like it's so much deeper than that. And like those. , you know, feelings like are so personal and really the only people that know that are like, the people are closest to you and your family. And so I just remember being overwhelmed and like immediately wanting to call my family and talk to my sisters and my mom and dad and, and just, yeah, just felt so good.

Um, and I was excited. Like I knew, like I had raced a little differently. I raced more aggressively and I came up with a plan and I stuck to it. And I wasn't afraid to like make the moves. And I think before like I was maybe more timid and more reactive to how I raced and you know, that was like eye-opening for me.

So I remember thinking as I finished. I think I learned how to ride my bike today, . So, um, and what I mean by that is like just being more ballsy and when you make a move, you stick to it. Um, . So it made me really excited. Like I immediately wanted to be like, is it 2023 yet? Can I race more? You know, everyone's like tired and they want the season to be over and I'm just like getting started, you know?

Um, so I remember just being, you know, validated, excited. Um, yeah, I just, I just felt really good. Um, but of course, like, you know, you get pulled away to get a drug test. I didn't have my phone, like I didn't eat after for a while and anyways. , it was a, a blur after that. Um, yeah. And then for me, it's like you win a big bike race and it's like this huge career defining moment for me to win big sugar.

And then it's like immediately fly back and then go to work in the er. And you know, it's like people in the er, like they don't, they don't know what big sugar is. They don't even know that I was gone racing bikes. And so I just go back to work, see patients and blah, da da da, da, and then try to deal with all these sponsor, you know, decisions for next year.

So it was like two worlds and um, yeah. , definitely an adjustment coming back home.

[00:43:37] Craig Dalton: That's crazy and exciting and I'm glad I was able to witness it and I'm glad I was able to revisit it with you. Now, so you talked about your eagerness for 2023. I'm not sure exactly when this will post, but probably in January of 2023, I just saw the announcement that you've signed on board for another year of the Grand Prix.

[00:43:57] Paige Onweller: Yeah. Yeah. So put my name in the hat. Uh, year two of the Lifetime Grand Prix. Um, so yeah, got accepted into that. So they upped the ante a bit with 35 athletes for the women and 35 for the men. Um, they seem to have a good lineup. And yeah, I mean that series really gave me a good opportunity and I really feel like Lifetime is trying to.

make some good changes, some positive changes. Uh, it's the most competitive female, uh, pro Peloton. You know, you go to other races and you don't see the depth of women that the lifetime events are bringing. So that to me is like, if I'm racing, I wanna race against the best. Um, and I love that. So that's been awesome.

They're also trying to make sure that this is a, a. Sport by doing drug testing and they're gonna be increasing that. And I very much support that. I think that's awesome. Um, and so, yeah, I just think there's so many positives that, uh, lifetime Grand Prix series is bringing in and, you know, it's not perfect.

Nothing is, uh, but they're willing to listen to the athletes and get input and, you know, hopefully I can be a part of the change that's happening in American.

[00:45:05] Craig Dalton: You must be happy that you did gut it out and attend all the events, so now you have at least a bit of knowledge of what those courses look like, et cetera.

[00:45:14] Paige Onweller: yeah, for sure. For sure.

[00:45:16] Craig Dalton: And then they have added a seventh event that they haven't announced. That's gonna be a wild card. And the fact that you can drop two events, does that meaningfully change the way you approach the season, those variables, or do you think it more is just an accommodation?

That stuff happens to athletes along the way, and it's just giving a little bit more of a breathing room for, you know, getting covid, having a crash, et

[00:45:39] Paige Onweller: right. Yeah. I think if you would've asked me that question last year, you know, I very much had the mindset of this is the race dropping and these are the ones I'm doing well at. But I think at this level of racing, like you better bring your A game to all seven and then like you're probably not, you're gonna get a flat or mechanical or an illness.

So my mindset is to race hard, there will be races that will be more important to me personally, that I'll target. Uh, but for the most part, you know, I'll definitely, um, you know, target all of them and then, you know, just stuff just happens. Um, but you know, for example, sea Otter, like that's not gonna be an a race for me.

Like, you know, I'll probably do the road event the day before. Um, that's, you know, it's just not going to be something that I'm gonna aim to win because of my lack of skillset. Now, will I do better than last, last year? Heck yeah. And I'm gonna have a skills coach that I'm working with this winter, and I'll be out in California and I pre-read the course a lot more.

And there's all these things that I will prepare myself to be better than I was last year. But knowing like, you know, I only can go so far in one year, so,

[00:46:43] Craig Dalton: Yeah, you talked about the rush of kind of, uh, talking to sponsors and media attention that happened after Big Sugar. I know you're not able to kind of reveal your sponsor program for 2023, but is it safe to say that it's expanded? You're gonna have more opportunities, a little bit more time and energy to focus and less stress on, uh, the rest of your life, so to speak.

[00:47:07] Paige Onweller: Yeah, for sure. Like, as we talked about earlier, like I've been juggling a lot this year and it's been very difficult. Um, even though I act like I'm handling myself well, like it's been a struggle a lot of the time. So I am excited that in 2023, um, I will no longer be working as a pa. I will be racing bikes full-time and I'm extremely grateful to the, all the sponsors that I'll be bringing on board.

That see my potential and wanna invest in, in what I'm potentially capable of doing. Um, cuz I am a new writer and um, you know, I think, you know, there's other people in this sport that may have the level of support that I'm going to be having, that have been doing this a very long time. And so I don't take for granted that these are sponsors that.

See potential in me. Um, you can't just win one bike race and expect that, you know, you're gonna be able to race full-time and, and have that support. Um, so yeah, I'm very excited about that. Um, my last day in the ER is January 3rd, and then, yeah, I'll drive directly to California after that to escape the winter snow here in Michigan.

Um, and get some big training blocking and yeah, start, uh, start learning more in 2020.

[00:48:13] Craig Dalton: That's so amazing and congratulations for that all coming together. It's just gotta mean so much to just have the opportunity to kind of go after it in 23 and really see what your potential is.

[00:48:25] Paige Onweller: Yeah, no, I am excited and, and I'll be doing a private tier program and I think what I love about it is that the, you get to work directly with the sponsors and, um, , you have input into products and equipment and um, you know, you feel like you have a voice and you work with people that you respect and value, and it just feels like a family.

Um, it already has felt that way with me, uh, for the sponsors that I'll be working with and. I'm just excited. And the other part of that is that when you are privateering, like you have a platform for advocating for what you believe in. And, you know, I wanna race well, but I also have some goals off the bike too.

And, um, I think those are important for me to start building towards in the cycling world. Um, so it's just fun to have that freedom and opportunity to, to work with brands that believe in that too.

[00:49:15] Craig Dalton: Yeah. That's awesome. Well, I'll certainly be following along with you in 2023, and I think you've got a lot of new fans that wanna see. How you're gonna do out there. So best of luck. The conversation was a lot of fun. And again, I wish you all the best.

[00:49:30] Paige Onweller: Thank you. Thank you.

[00:49:32] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big, thanks to Paige for joining us. We wish her all the best in the 2023 season as usual.

The women's lifetime grand Prix is setting up to be one of the more exciting series to watch and follow throughout the year. If you're interested in connecting with me, I encourage you to join the ridership. That's That's a free global cycling community to connect with other gravel cyclists around the world.

If you're able to support the podcast. Please visit, buy me a gravel ride. Or ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated and a great way for other gravel cyclists to discover the podcast. Until next time. Here's to finding some dirt onto your wheels