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There’s nothing that’ll stop Denise Mueller-Korenek from beating the motor-paced speed world record. “Pretty much the two main things are finding that vehicle and hoping the weather cooperates. If those two things happen, I know I'll be ready,” she says lighthearted over the phone.
Denise Mueller is the only women’s record holder of the “Fastest Woman Cyclist on the Planet,” setting the women’s record at 147.7mph on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats September 12, 2016. And in 2018, she’s attempting to (she will) beat not just her own record, but Fred Rompelberg’s 166.9 mph record set back in 1995.
Primal invented a one-piece cycling suit to protect Denise in case she tumbled or slid along the salt flats. Luckily, she didn’t need it her first attempt. She won’t need it this time either.
Give it a listen:
I just read that it's going to be tougher to beat the record because you only have four miles and you need six. Do you have a plan to get six this year or how are you going to make it work this time?
Well, the thing is, Jon Howard, Fred Rompelburg, and Dr. Allen Abbott all had five miles and it was the average of their last mile, as my understanding of what they had.
When we were first going for 2017 as the date, we talked to the race organizers and asked if they would allow us to go on the long course. The long course is usually 5 miles with a 2-3 mile "slow down." They do that because there's these 300 or 400 mph cars that need the 2-3 miles to slow down. Since we're going less than 200 mph, we don't need as much "slow down." We talked to them and said, "Hey is there any way we can get the six miles – five for record and one for slow down. We're going half the speed of the cars on the course.”
They said, "I doubt we're going to ever just have a four-mile course, probably will be a five-mile course. As long as the salt conditions are good, we'll give you 5 of the 6, with one of them being a cool down. We'll give you one extra mile of timing, but we won't do it during the event. We'll either do it the day before or the day after so that way none of the cars are out there going, ‘Why are they getting special treatment’ and then try to use the extra mile.”
We've devised a way to be able to truly get 5 miles short of there not being an event at all, then we're all sort of screwed. We do have a backup plan for that where we're looking at going out to Nevada. They have a long stretch of highway - not ideal because it's asphalt conditions - but there is a backup plan should we face issues with the salt flats; having water on the salt flats or they're not holding the event because of something beyond our control. We will have a backup on asphalt.
But I don't want to do the asphalt necessarily. It's only a two-lane road, not 80-foot wide swats with all the open salts around you.
Let's hope the salt fields are good. Are you going to have Shea Holbrook drive again?
That's the plan. She will be the driver with Coach John Howard. So, we still have the trifecta of the people working with us. But one challenge is we don't have the Range Rover. We're basically back to square one without the most expensive pieces of equipment to make this happen: the vehicle.
We're trying to locate a sponsor that's willing to provide a vehicle - one that's able to go at least 170 mph, if not more, because we need a little extra wiggle room there. We need someone who's willing to put that vehicle through the paces on the salt which is not going to be very friendly to the vehicle.
If we don't get that, we do have the possibility – but it now takes about $30,000+ – to use Fred Rompelber’s vehicle which is parked in Lindon, Utah, but we'd have to completely redo everything on the vehicle and that's a real dragster. Yeah.
It's challenge after challenge.
I know. Well, it's going to prove how much you want this.
Yep and that the tenacity will have to pay off on this one.
Where did you get the Range Rover from the last time?
The Range Rover was coordinated through a local dealer here in Carlsbad called Hoehn Adventures. They do off-road rallies and things of that nature that sponsored that. They arranged for everything to happen.
Boy, was that an awesome Range Rover. I just want to have the Range Rover back, but unfortunately, a two-year gap between the event made it really difficult to just have the vehicle sit there and wait for us. It needed to be used for something else.
That sucks. I'll keep my ears open.
Yes! That is definitely the one big thing. If anybody has connections to whether it be Jeep, Tesla, or something higher up - something cyclist related.
I couldn't understand how you can get a bike to go as fast as you did or to get it up to 167 mph. It looks so weird. They had to do all this sort of different gearing and manipulation. You had to be towed up to 90-100 mph just because the gearing was so different that you couldn't even pedal until you got that fast. Is that right?
Yep. And it's only one gear, so it's just like a velodrome bike or fixie or whatever you want to call it. I liken it to having a car and literally the only gear that works is Overdrive. You're not pulling out of a shop into their parking lot in Overdrive. It ain't gonna move because the engine can't turn overdrive over until you get to a speed where it all of a sudden can turn the gears and the engine.
It’s the same thing with my legs. I can't turn that gear to 400 & 85 inch gear, so each revelation of the pedals goes 125 feet. There's no way I'm going to turn that with one pedal crank at 125 feet. So, I have to get pulled up to a minimum of 90 mph and that's where my RPMs is about 67. And that's just being able to barely push that. Then I'm able to ride that all that way on up to 150 mph where my RPMs are 107.
That's a big swap to only have one gear between 90 to 150 mph but that's how it has to work. And in fact, to go faster - which is the plan - we're probably going to have to have the release speed a little bit higher, unless we develop some sort of multi-gear system, which is sort of worrisome to introduce because no matter what we do it will be experimental and at that speed, you don't want to.
That's why you do a single gear. It's the simplest. It's a direct drive. There's less things that can go wrong.
It's just so unbelievable to me. I was watching the camera within the Range Rover thinking, “I hope she doesn't go out of that bubble.” I know you call it "surging" and the whole time I was hoping you wouldn't get caught in the wind.
There is that bubble of air – I guess you'd say, or the vortex, that I'm in. The faster I go, the more intense the push is. I had one instant where I wasn't in sync with Shea. There's this oscillation where I have to float back and push forward and I was in the midst of the float back and Shea was in the midst of pushing the accelerator a little faster and I got shot out the back end of the vortex.
Well, at 110 mph it’s normal because that's how we sort of do our breaking, but at 130 mph I didn't know what to expect. It was a little more of an uh, intense experience. It was just like, a lot of wind. It didn't throw me off the bike, ‘cause the bike and myself were all getting the wind at the same time. However, you wouldn't want to go much faster out the back of the vortex.
Shea and I had to finally communicate because when we did our first practices it was only 5 days before the event. We went out on the salts before the event was actually happening because where else would we get four or five miles to do our practicing? There was just no logical place because the vehicle is not rated for the road and there was no straight place with no other vehicles.
So, we had to go out on the salt five days ahead of time and the practices we did were all under 120 miles per hour, it was like 100. For us, we didn't realize the faster you go, the more unique that pocket of air changes. We were pushing the 130-140 mph and all of a sudden, Shea and I were getting out of sync with each other. She didn't realize she had to feather that accelerator in order to not have me thrown out the back of that vortex.
A lot of people ask me, "Were you scared?" and I'm like, "There wasn't time to be scared.” It was like being in the middle of an adrenaline rush.
The only other time that I experienced something that could have been potentially an issue was on the very last run, when I got the record of 147.7 mph. It was the last run on the third day of the event. We didn't know the next day they would get rained out and that it would be over.
So, we went out thinking, "We'll just have an okay run. We'll just get another good, solid one in our heads, everything will be fine." It was a little windy, with a 10 mph wind, with a few little gusts up in there.
You know, you got a good, solid vehicle.
Well, when you're going around 150 mph on salt flats, the vehicle starts sorta drifting left and right because the wind's coming from the side. I didn't realize that all of a sudden I’m back there and I’m going, "I'm having to track mid-line which is really unusual.” Normally, I was like right on mid-line, never oscillating back and forth.
Well, I got to experience the side wall of wind. I just barely touched it. Enough to respect it and know that if I popped out to the left, which is where I felt it, it would not be a pretty sting. Because what it would do is that it'd yank the left side of my bike. It'd be like sticking your hand out the window of your car at 150 mph. You know what's going to happen: it's going to yank your hand, but the rest of your body isn't going to get yanked because it was protected. I likened it to going up an escalator. You know how the wall of the escalator is moving, however, what you’re standing on doesn't? And if you rub your leg against it, it's like "ooh!" sort of like a little burn?
Well, try that with the wall of the escalator going 150 and I just drifted over there. I didn't penetrate it, but I was like, "oh boy." It was the only time I have had any experience of, you know, "That's not good." I respected it, but I didn't want to ever experience that again.
What it taught us is any type of side wind, we shouldn't be out there. We think we're solid, until we're going at that speed and the car just gets really light and starts moving around.
Yeah. That is the most common word that people use is "crazy."
I think it's amazing you did this. It takes a lot of courage and guts. It takes a lot of things. What kind of bike-handling skills do you need to have to not “eat it” or get sucked out?
Well, a couple of things. Crit skills are a little different than just riding all by yourself. There's a certain element of being in the pack, reacting, and you just, you hone that sense of what you need to do. I did criteriums from 2014 to 2016 and honed that skill. I was a downhill mountain bike racer when I was a junior.
The other thing is when you get into that vortex – and I know it's a horrible example, but when people describe being in an auto-accident and they say, "Everything just slowed down.” It was like in slow motion.
It's because your senses are so heightened. You're so utterly focused in that moment, nothing else is in your mind - it does slow down. I've always said, it's almost like the faster I went behind the Range Rover, the slower everything happened. It seemed like it was almost like a time warp.
For me, the faster I went, the easier it was because I was so absolutely in that moment.
So, the bike-handling skills are utterly important. I think that's an inherent thing that somebody has through experience and knowledge of being on the bike. I mean, you wouldn't want to take someone who has no bicycling experience and put them back there because they'll be fumbling with the basic things.
You train all the basic functions to where they're not even thought about, so that way, if anything comes up that you have to think about, it's second-nature, if possible. But absolutely, the handling skills are important and also to be able to remain calm in the midst of so much happening so quickly.
Yeah, oh my gosh. You said there was a lot of mental training that has to go into this. There's a big mental component because you had said that anyone who's racing and who has the physical ability can attempt the record, but it's the mental aspect that comes into play too that some people may neglect. What did you need to do to get ready mentally for this?
Oh, oh. Definitely quite a bit because yes, that's something that a lot of people don't think about. I am a big believer in the "law of attraction" – what you think about you bring about. It's very easy too 'cause I would get asked questions of "What happens if you crash?" I mean, people are going to be curious and as much as I didn't want to talk about it, I did need to answer that question 'cause otherwise it'd sit there and loom in the back of my head.
I would answer with, “Well, you need to slide instead of tumble,” so I had already a built-in answer because the reality is, you can survive a slide. I was wearing the proper equipment to be able to survive a slide. I'm not going to run into phone poles; cars are going to be gone. I'm not really going to hit anything in the big, wide open salt flats, you know? So, in my mind it's like, "I'm not worried if anything happens."
A lot of it is how you program your brain.
At the very beginning of my racing in 2014, I did do hypnotherapy. And that was really just getting back into racing and also a bit of preparation for the land speed record because that's the reason I got back into racing – to do the land speed record.
I also did neurofeedback, which is more or less of a focus and calming of the brain. And I did that with our sponsors called Interoptimal. I was going 3 days a week right up to the event to be able to just calm the mind.
Because, the other thing is, you get too nervous, getting too quick into something, well, guess what? The nerves will implant the bad thoughts and the bad thoughts is what ends up happening and so, I dealt with that.
Another thing, I have a friend of mine, in my Soroptimist Club and she does these, almost like, subliminal messages on cd, and she custom-makes them based on, you know, an interview back and forth with myself: what are the things I'm looking to accomplish. I see all the words she's going to be using in it and it's something that right before I go to sleep, I put earphones in my ear, press the play button, and go through this hour - hour and a half CD that plays and I’m in what she calls a “Theta state,” which is right before you go into your sleep state.
So again, it's positive reinforcement.
So yeah, the mental part is huge and it's very, very important. A lot of people do discount it and may not ask. I’m glad you asked because there is so much. The other thing I say is that it takes a certain personality anyway. There's a lot of people who can do parachuting, jumping out of planes, right? Skydive. But not everybody wants to do it. A lot of people are pretty much, physically able to but it's like, do they really want to do it?
Yeah, totally, that makes a lot of sense. With racing, there’s a mental component too and I think that can make or break your race just as easily as if you trained specific to the race or not. I totally think the mental game of it all is super important. I've read that you're part of the Maximum Overload for Cyclists. How much has your training changed since you first did it? I think you're back on it, right?
Yeah, just started within the last month.
Oh, cool! So, is it a big change since the first time you did it when you were prepping the first time? Is it the same sort of stuff?
You know what, it's the same stuff I'm working on: foundational again with movement and muscle base and prep. Because it's a year out, Jacques DeVore – with Sirens and Titans Fitness – and I are working on a program that's going to cycle me correctly so I’m ready in September of next year. We're not pushing the weights too hard right now, but I'm going through the motion of all the exercises.
And I tell you what, the one thing that I can honestly say is – I mean, I did the maximum overload, thinking, "Okay, everything's going to help" and I believed in the process. But yet, when I ended up doing that surging or that oscillation in the back, in that air pocket behind the SUV, it replicated those walking lunges. I couldn't believe how much those walking lunges helped. I don't even think Jacques DeVore knew that that was excellent for the absolute power outlet and everything else. It transferred over just perfectly for being in the back of the Range Rover. I would have to surge with almost 700 watts output, pushing myself.
When I'm floating back, that is when I'm putting in 700 watts because I'm not wanting to get shot out the back of the vortex. So I'm in-putting like you wouldn't believe into the pedals and then I get to the back of the vortex and I get shoved forward because that's how the oscillation would happen.
I'd go back a bit - even though I'm fightin' going back - and the back of the vortex would shove me forward.
Then all of sudden I'm light pedaling at only 150-200 watts thinking "don't hit the car"
hoping Shea is increasing her speed as I'm sort of being shot forward and I get right to that magic spot and I'd start the oscillation going back again. Now I'm inputting a whole lotta watts on that. So I'm going from 700 to 200, from 700 to 200, which emulated the Max Overload Training which is ideal.
Now that I'm going through it a second time, I don't just believe in it because of the history, I know now from my own experience this is exactly what I need.
I've read that. That was amazing. What do you think is going to be the biggest obstacle for September 2018's record? Do you surmise any big obstacles other than it might rain or be windy?
Finding the vehicle and the weather because - well, the weather is not a controllable obstacle, but finding the vehicle really is. When it comes to the training and preparation, I mean there's always unforeseen things that can happen. I don't even want to put thoughts into my mind. I mean, the most bizarre things that can derail me. That's going to be your luck of the draw – when something happens that's out of your control. Pretty much the two main things are finding that vehicle and hoping the weather cooperates. If those two things happen, I know I'll be ready.
I have enough people surrounding me with our team, you know, even if I have a moment that I get, maybe, I get a little frustrated with training, I have enough people around me that I have a core group of support.
And of course now, my husband too. You heard about that. I met him March 4. Engaged by April 1. Married by June 23. All this year. I've always heard about it and I believed in that whole fairytale of it, but I never imagined it would happen.
And of course I got to use the joke, "Well, I do everything fast - including getting married." I'm just following course with how I live.
Being the only woman who's attempted this and you're going to try to beat your own record - what do you think this goal means for women?
Well, you know, this was an opportunity that no other woman had done before so I think that was the first thing that attracted me. Something within my scope of abilities and no woman has ever done it. I got to have that unique opportunity because there aren't that many records out there that women have not attempted or have accomplished already.
So that was the big thing.
After this is done I’m going to do some public speaking and maybe some inspirational speaking. Listen, I was a kid that from when I was 14 through 19 I raced. I did what a lot of people do. They’re in Junior High, they're in High School, they do all these athletics. Then they grow up and raise a family and they do career.
And a lot of times people get stuck in that rut. I was your typical person: Career. Family. And yeah, I went to the gym and I kept healthy by going to the gym. I had my core of friends. We'd see each other almost every day, you know, but I was not pushing my limits. I had some friends that went and did a marathon. It was their first marathon and they were from the gym. We watched their training. We watched all their preparation that came from doing the marathon.
A group of us from the gym went down to San Diego and watched them. It was at that moment that I went, “Wow, I can do this.” So, I set myself a goal: I'm going to do a marathon next year. That was in 2009 I saw them. In 2010, I did my first marathon.
In the process of setting that one goal, I set another, and another.
One of those goals led me to John Howard who coached me when I was a junior. I rekindled with him because I wanted him to coach my son – my middle son, who's 16 – who ran 19 half-marathons in one year. John’s the one who got me back on my bicycle. Then once I got back on my bicycle, he was the one who came up with the, “Hey, no woman has ever done this.”
If anything, the point of inspiration I'd like to have with people is about the fact of, listen:
Get back into the game of life, because you know what, just 'cause you're in your 40s, you've done career, you've done family, it's not hopeless.
Here I came back out of retirement from racing, essentially, got back into racing and then set something crazy like this. I think that's the thing, is just for people to, you know, instead of thinking, “Oh well, this is what life's going to be like for the rest of my life and I’m in this rut.”
Get out. Set one little goal. Then set another goal. You don't know where it's all going to lead.
That's really cool. That's great advice. My last question and you've kind of answered this: What inspires you to ride your bike?
I'm pretty much inspired by whatever goal or carrot I’ve put in front of me. Right now, it's what I need to do for the land speed record because that's my next goal and it involves being on the bike.
Beside the fact that I feel at home on the bicycle. I get to ride with my husband because he rides also.
I truly enjoy being out on the bike, but after the land speed record, who knows? I may point towards another goal and do something else. I'll still always get out on the bike, it just may not be on the same intensity level.
I think the bicycle, because I did it as junior, will always be part of just who I am. It's like going home.
A lot of people have that same workout - whether it's walking, whether it’s running, whether it’s swimming. It's a fallback that's natural for them. The bicycle is that for me. I'll always naturally go towards that, but maybe not at the same intensity level. I may get into something else. you never know?
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