Rae Morrison is firmly planted in the space of fully backed pro riders dominating the lead echelons of enduro racing. It can be hard for any rider to participate with a competitive edge without this sort of backing, but how does one achieve that without making a name for yourself first? Well, that is pretty much exactly what you have to do. It is rare that a rider will get taken seriously until they have proven themselves on their own first. I have followed Rae only from "that moment" when she seemed to be established and undeniable. But I was curious, what came first? What is the back story behind someone who appears to have it all sorted, with just their bike and the track ahead of them to worry about? So, obviously, I asked.
The answer, it is no surprise, was "lot´s of hard work" which is predominantely the story behind every success in the world. Ever. Nice to know that enduro bucked no trends there. Come on then, Rae, tell us what is involved in all that "hard work."
Rae Morrisson (RM) "I ended up doing a privateer year. So, when I was home in New Zealand I did a lot of fund raising, raffles, skills courses and I had raised quite a bit of money from working. So I basically took a year off, bought a van in the UK and then just travelled in that for 5 months. I tried to commit to a whole season and went to all the races barring one and finally, by the end of the season I got two 5th places, which was pretty good really, against some fast, fast riders. It was enough to get me noticed, get my foot in the door and the next year I was riding for Lappierre the French team."
As a child, Rae grew up bouncing between different sports, from adventure racing with her dad (where she loved the mountain biking part) to team sports, and always competing...but never really felt as though she found the one sport for her. The was something about the adrenaline and outdoors aspect of MTB, though, that she was drawn to. Eventually, aged 15 she joined a local club and it went from "love to more love" getting a sense of satisfaction (or addiction) from achieving something new every ride. At that time, the only options were cross-country or downhill, and although she tended to gain places on the descents at XC races, as there were no uplifts, shuttles or long descents around, cross-country won out. However, then enduro came along she "changed immediately. There was no umming and ahhing. It was perfect for me."
The point where it all became very real was when Rae was 25, she had been working in a steady job for two-years after finishing uni, was looking at buying a house and life was bascially going in that direction. But some of the other local girls were going off doing these big Enduro World Series races and getting top tens and when they came home, Rae was either beating or staying with them. She thought "there´s something here, I didn´t want that regret of not trying" so she decided to give herself one year. One year to see if something happened. If it did, then great. If it didn´t, at least she had tried. One year, that´s all.
Well, we know how that year ended and Rae found herself based in France, left out of the language but included in a warm, supportive and stylish team. She was introduced to the French style of riding, smooth, light and a great progression to her skills.
Anna Glowinski (AG): So do you think that worldwide you can identify different, national styles of riding?
RM: "Absolutely! I think that the mains ones are like French, North America and the UK. Like they all have their different strengths and you know the kind of tracks that are going to suit the kind of riders."
That year, Rae was having a pretty good year, consistently between 6-8 place but then, in Whistler, she shattered her heel on last stage of the day doing a jump with a harsh landing, the pedal cracked and her heel drove into some rocks smashing into 6 pieces "it was awful."
But pain aside, that team had already told her they weren´t carrying on the next year, so she knew early on and had Liv-Giant lined up. This is not always the case for riders, with teams folding and changing all the time, it can be an uncertain world and led to a conversation about predictability, reliablity and loyalty, all of which Rae has been lucky enough to benefit from.
RM "Despite the crash, Liv-Giant supported me all through the rehab and all through the next year when I wasn´t getting that great results.
"You hear stories, the bike industry can be pretty cut-throat. If you´re injured or off for some reason, you´re not selling bikes and riders get cut or stop getting paid...Rider loyalty, too, is under-rated, you see lot´s of riders chopping and changing teams. But with Liv I love the company, love the people and it´s pretty cool to have that loyalty."
Rae spent 2-years with Liv-Giant pro team but this year Liv racing formed their own thing as an umbrella to support racers across different disciplines gloablly. It gave Rae the freedom to do what she wanted in terms of booking her own flights, travelling with her husband and bringing on brands that she had previously worked with and missed when she had to give them up on the pro team, like Hope. "This year has been amazing, it felt more like a holiday than a job."
So with a slightly different set-up but still within the fold of a familiar team, what were her goals going into 2019?
RM "I wanted to improve my results, but the women´s field is growing so rapidly it´s impossible to say...When I first started it´d be like I want a top-3, and it would be kinda easy to get inside the top ten, but every year it´s harder then to get inside, like, the top 15, and then now to get in the top 20. The are just more fast and competitive women coming...which is absolutely awesome for the sport and amazing to see it grow with such momentum. But then, every year you kind of like have these placing goals, but you have to adjust them and be like ok this year there are 3 more girls inside the top ten who are at the same level as me.
It´s okay to accept that I´m not gonna get an absolutely stellar result every race. Cos every stage you´re just seconds apart and you could be on either 5th place on the good side of that second, or like 12th place."
So what do you do when your pond is staying the same size, but more fish are being introduced? Just keep swimming, as Dory would say?
RM "It took me a few rounds to get that mentality and not focus solely on the result, because you could, like, have a good race but be kinda on that wrong side of the second, but that doesn´t mean that I raced poorly. This year I just wanted to have a complete seaon and also, the last few years I got quite stressed at the races and, like, put a lot of pressure on myself. This year I kinda wanted to relax a lot and see the fun side of the racing instead of worrying that I won´t get a contract next year if I don´t get a result. Just, like, enjoy the moment and hit all the A-lines, the big jumps.
So every race I´d have, like, little personal goals that I wanted to achieve, that didn´t matter how well other people´s days were going. But if I did these little goals and had a good run but yet got 12th on a stage, it was still a good stage, I couldn´t control how good the other girls were riding as well."
This mentality reminded me of something Downhiller Danny Hart talks about, saying that if you trust the process and do every little thing to the best of your abilities, you can go to bed after getting a not-great result without beating yourself up. No regrets if you know inside yourself that you did everything you could possibly do. Rae agreed.
RM: "It´s so true. And that´s the thing with enduro, you´re out there for so long, on almost blind tracks, you´re never gonna have a perfect run and everyone has a little crash here and there, so it´s just the best you can do...and if you do everything you can that´s within your control and power then you´ve had a good day."
AG: "And so what´s the vibe like at the races, amongst all these competitive women?"
RM: "Ach, I might be a little bit biased, but reckon it´s one of the most fun and supportive disciplines ever. I dunno, I think because we have these long trainings together and long liasons between stages that we really get to know each other, we have a lot of fun and you just go to that next level getting to know a person. There´s no other women that I know of that doesn´t like each other. So if someone gets a puncture, everyone stops to see if they can help. If someone runs out of food, there are heaps of people happy to share their food with their competitors....they´re your friends and if they have a good day then awesome! It´s not like going head to head in a mass start race and being like, ahh they cut me off or whatever, it´s like you´re racing against time. It´s only you and time, if you get a good result it´s because of you, if you get a bad result it´s because of you, they don´t really have much influence over that...It´s just super fun, you´re racing with your friends, I just can´t beleive it´s a World Series."
AG: "It´s pretty special. But then, results ARE important and you´ve done pretty well this year. How are you feeling?"
RM: "I´m really stoked with how I ended, I think I took a while to kinda warm-up. I started off super fit, super strong but as the season goes on and you´re travelling so much and away, your fitness still increases a little bit but your strength reduces and at the end I wasn´t feeling as strong. But I think just time on a bike and I knoda got those goals a little bit more sorted and got to enjoy the races a lot more because at the start I was a little bit stressed, so as soon as I was able to enjoy it, the results started coming."
It´s starting to become a pattern hearing that from all the top riders. Enjoy it and the results will follow. And with having set the bar so high this year, how is Rae going to keep that up going into 2020?
RM: "I feel like it´s taken me what? 4 years of racing and I´ve finally started to take it away from results and numbers and put it towards stuff I can take control over. Little tricks like that take the pressue off myself and gives me something to focus on. for me that has been a game changer, so i do enjoy it now the races and seeing how fast i can ride, so I think I just gotta keep that rolling and keep doing what I´m doing. Hahaha...Hopefully I´ll be back to training soon. I´ve changed my coach, that´s quite exciting just to try something a little bit different. I´ve just started a women´s ride that I will host every Wednesday local to me and do some NewZealand races just for a bit of fun and training. But I will be changing things up a little bit."
Sounds like watch this space if you ask me. But before I let her go, there was just one more question I was burning to ask...
AG: "You just ooze style and you have loads of steezy stuff on your instagram, is that important to you? Do you actually like, go out and practice to look good on a bike to get a photo where you look stylish?"
RM: "Um, no! Hahaha. Like on jumps I´ll try and do a little something, I can´throw a massive whip but I can do something to make it look a little more steezy. But honestly, I think it´s that time in France. If you look at french riders they´re just like effortlessly smooth and fast riders and always look good. Just picking up and following them is what did it guess."