An interview with Josh Kelley brought to you by Ben Swanson.
Photographs provided by Christopher San Agustin.
Within Pacific Northwest Cyclocross, one name has climbed to the top: Josh Kelley. In the 2016 season, Josh was the winner of 3 of the major local Cyclocross series with overall victories in the Portland Trophy Cup, Grand Prix Series and the one and only Cross Crusades.
Sure Josh is fast but what intrigued me most was the fact that he is a husband, a father, works full time and races (see wins) at the Elite level of Cyclocross and Short Track Mountain Biking. Josh and I sat down and started to explore what it looks like to balance all these different aspects of his life.
Something that has had a tremendous impact was having their first child a couple of years ago, “it was the hardest thing to do: I’ve gotten it down where I can work full-time, train after work, race and I can be a husband, but then you add the baby in the mix? Oh my God, It was a rough transition. It’s been a struggle to do it all but my wife sees my passion, she sees my success in it and she sees the opposite of when I’m not doing it and how kind of much of an asshole I am and I get in a hole where I’m like uhhh…It’s so addictive, and even chemically, riding that much, you will slip into depression if you stop being that active.”
Riding bikes is a year-round commitment for Josh as he is a daily bike commuter (about 75 miles a week) but for him the year is basically divided into the “off season” and “race season.” Josh is unique in the fact that he has decided to race Short Track MTB and Cyclocross exclusively “I love short track and cross. I’m really good at the shorter stuff so I train for that. I don’t need to go and do six hour rides. I haven’t done ‘base miles’ since 2008. I just ride.” Within these two distinct ‘seasons’, Josh’s life appears very different.
During the Off Season (January –April) is when Josh makes every effort to be especially involved with his family and it’s “just commuting once cross ends. There’s so much of it (racing) and so much pressure through the fall that I just kind of want to not think about it.” He does state that even during the off season there is still a lot of “angst to get out, because its likes practicing your instrument, I need to do it, I know who I’m competing against and I know the training they are putting in. That mental strain is so tough…last year, I did pretty well in cross scene but I know I did not train nearly as hard as a lot of people. That starts to stress you out that you’re not doing enough but I started to think that if you did what you did last year and get smarter about it. Trying to get more organized about it without adding a lot of hours to it. Logging stuff, listening to my body better. I don’t go out with a Garmin anymore, just feel how it is. I go by time, not miles. The struggle is not to make it like I’m trying to avoid my family, because I’m not. I owe it to myself. I’ve been working at this for so many years and it’s kind of clicked on how it all works."
During the race season (June-December) is where Josh begins to train harder and longer, he states that “I go out and hammer my rides a lot. There are days I need to chill but I’m always the guy who doesn’t warm up right, goes out andjust beats his ass into the ground for an hour and a half, two hours and that was my ride. I don’t do long rides because I don’t race road. My races are hour and a half and under.” Finding time to train, can be difficult so he states that about “12-15hrs a week is as much as I can muster. I jump on every chance I get to ride If I have 2hrs this afternoon, it’s not ‘lalala’ for 60 miles, I’m going to go hammer 30 and think about what I’m doing; intervals in my head. Recognize that specialness of the time to do it.”
Fatherhood has also changed Josh’s approach to race day: “I just drive there, show up with an hour to go, do my thing and come home real quick. I don’t like being in the scene, I don’t know why, I just like to race my bike.” Josh even cuts out the traditional pre-ride that many other racers are accustomed to “it’s just adding that whole other element. Especially with nap time and my daughter.” Post-race is also affected by family life because “there’s so much I have to get done, there are 2 bikes and a wheelset that I have to clean up, make sure everything is good and then be at work at 6:00am the next day. Making dinner, putting her (daughter) to bed. It’s pretty non-stop."
Finding the balance within family life, work, racing is admittedly “tough” but Josh states that “there’s gotta be some give and take and my ‘take’ is that during my important part of the year, I go full bore and try to do everything I can.” One way that Josh is trying to work on the ‘give’ part of the balance is by “backpacking as a family.” Finding this optimal harmony will continue to be a challenge as Josh admits “I’m addicted to racing and I don’t know if that will end for a long time.”