Arizona trail race with Kurt Refsnider

Kurt and his pivot bike.
Kurt with the Arizona trail sign.

1. What was your inspiration to start riding bikes?

I started riding bikes with huge enthusiasm when I was a kid - it was a way to explore my neighborhood and beyond. There was a nice network of bike paths and singletrack within a few miles of my parents' house in the Minneapolis suburbs. I got my first mountain bike when I was in 4th or 5th grade, and I absolutely fell in love with riding on dirt. I started racing mountain bikes a couple years later, dabbled in the road scene, and spent winters racing on Nordic skis. But I always looked forward to dry trails in the Spring so I could go find new places to ride that I hadn't seen before. And that sense of exploration continues to be one of my biggest inspirations for big rides to this day, some 25 years later!


2. Why do you race ultras?

I spent years and years racing on the road, dabbled in the national cyclocross circuit, and in shorter mountain bike races. Ten years ago, I was becoming uninspired by all the stereotypical racing I was doing, and a couple of the early bikepacking ultras captured my fascination. Before long, I was doing a couple a year and absolutely loving the huge challenge that combines the physical, the mental, and logistical planning. And the fact that I could race across gorgeous landscapes for days on end was just icing on the cake. 

 


3. We saw that you just set the record for the Arizona trail, what was the hardest part?

For most of the ride, I was feeling strong and was really enjoying the riding (and all the hike-a-bike). But by the time I reached Grand Canyon, the sleep deprivation of the first 5 days was starting to catch up with me. I had been sleeping ~2.5 hours per night up to that point. The Grand Canyon crossing requires disassembling your bike and strapping it to a backpack (per National Park Service rules). I started the 23-mile hike at 3:30 pm, and it took 14 hours of continuous moving to get to the North Rim. But in that time, my brain started to get creative with the world around me and hallucinating all sorts of wild things - river otters swimming in the trail, mountain lions watching me from all along the trail, and trees snapping off and falling on me. It was crazy. I frightened myself a bit with all that, and my legs were exhausted. But I was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, muttering to myself, "Just keep moving, you're still racing" over and over again. 

 


4. How did you train for the Arizona trail race?

My training started back in November and combined a mix of long rides (5-10 hours) and a lot of interval workouts. I included a couple fast-paced bikepacking trips to help my legs get more used to the added ~15-20 pounds of a bike loaded with gear, food, and water. And in the last month of training, I did a couple blocks with repeated ~5-hour rides with hard interval sessions in the last hour of each ride. I also did quite a bit of racing, everything from short cross-country to 50-mile events, and that was a fun way to add some demanding speedwork to my training. 

 


5. What did you pack for the race?

I carried the bare minimum - a small bike repair kit (with lots of items for fixing any manner of tire problems), a small first-aid kit, clothing to keep me warm down to around freezing, a light-weight sleeping bag, a very small foam pad to sleep on, an emergency bivy, and a variety of items to keep the important parts of my body clean and working smoothly. I had water capacity for up to 5L at a time, and I carried as much as 9,000 calories of food for the longest stretches between re-supplies. 

 

 

6. What is your most loved piece of gear?

I think my favorite item this time around was a rad EVOC fanny pack. I usually wear a backpack for these events, but I was curious to try something different, and having just a small fanny pack kept my back free to breath and move around however it liked. It felt fantastic. 

 

 

7. What bike setup do you usually use for endurance mountain biking?

This year I'm racing on a Pivot Mach 4 Carbon - 130mm of travel up front, 115mm in the rear, and 27.5" wheels. It's perfect for rough, rocky trails - it smooths things out to reduce fatigue on my body, and it gives me so much control to ride technical trail quickly. I had raced on 29ers for almost a decade, and I couldn't be more excited to be on slightly smaller wheels this year.

 

 

8. Do you have any other big races planned for this year?

At this point, I don't! The physical and mental demands of ultras and balancing the training and racing with the rest of life means that doing more than a couple per year gets quite taxing. And I wanted to focus squarely on the Arizona Trail this Spring, so I honestly haven't really given much thought to the rest of the year, yet. I'm excited to do some longer bike packing adventures for fun, and then odds are I'll race Trans North Georgia in August and perhaps the Kokopelli Trail in September. But I'm not 100% committed to either of those, yet. 

 


9. You’re the founder of ultra mountain bike consulting, how many riders a year do you help?

I regularly coach 10-12 athletes regularly and work on a more limited level with quite a few more riders per year. It's been quite enjoyable to share my experience with others and help them get ready for adventures on the bike, whether those are short cross-country races or multi-day ultras. 

 


10. What does adventure mean to you?

For me, adventure just needs to include some level of uncertainty and approaching the limits of my comfort zone. Adventure can be found anywhere and any time, whether its close to home or elsewhere on the globe, a quick one-day excursion or a month-long expedition. I think that's one of the other attractive elements of racing ultras - there's a huge element of adventure, far more than other styles of bike racing include, and that's what keeps me motivated and inspired.