Professional Squamish mountain biker Miranda Miller undertook a new challenge this year, switching from downhill to endurance racing, and placing ninth overall in the Enduro World Series.
The 29-year-old has been competing internationally for 10 years, and professionally since 2017.
In 2019, Miller took on her first endurance-racing season. The Chief caught up with the local for a chat about how she did, what she learned and what’s next.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: What inspired you to make the switch to enduro?
A: Mainly, I felt like I was repeating myself. I wasn’t feeling like I was progressing. I knew I could ride and race better than I was, but I just wasn’t doing it. I needed to change something, and I had the opportunity to go do a full enduro season. I’ve also been battling old injuries and getting quite a lot of pain through my wrists. In downhill, because you’re going at such a higher speed and the compressions are so much bigger, just physically I having some problems there. Enduro, while it’s physically harder in the sense that you’re out there longer, you’re not doing those same compressions or the jumps and drops aren’t as big. It’s a little bit easier on your body that way, even though it’s far more physically draining.
Q: How did your first enduro season go?
A: It was good. It was a change of pace for me. A new challenge across the board, as far as different bikes, different preparation, different race format. Each event I felt like I figured one more key piece out. It’s just becoming aware of things you need to do. Sometimes it’s hard to actually then execute those things each weekend, but it was cool in the sense that every weekend felt like I was progressing or figuring something out, as opposed to the past few years in downhill when I felt like I was repeating myself and not progressing the way that I would have liked to.
It was a pretty cool year.
Q: Were there any surprises that you faced?
A: Perhaps it was more physically challenging than downhill, where downhill is very precise and you’re kind of searching for perfection, enduro is just more of a physical effort. It’s trying to balance the intensity with the longer distance. I made a spreadsheet of each race and each stage result to see how I did. It gave me information like the second last stage of every day was my weakest stage, which then just showed that perhaps I was suffering from fatigue more than I thought.
At some races, that could have been mental fatigue, just because you’re out there for so long, like a six-hour day, then you have to get yourself fired up to race these stages every hour throughout that day. Sometimes, that’s hard mentally and then sometimes it was just purely physical.
Q: How do you hope looking at that kind of data will help you get ready for next season?
A: It just shows me what I want to practice on my bike, then as well how to train. For example, if the stage was a consistent speed the whole time, generally high speed the whole way or if it was slower the entire way, I did pretty well. But when it flip-flopped between the two, between high speed to really slow speed to back to high speed, then you can work on improving your power to then get back from that slow speed. Not only from a physical standpoint, but as well a mental standpoint. Sometimes it’s hard to realize how fast you need to get going again to then make up that time. Skill-wise, I was better on the downhill style, coming from downhill. I need to get better on things that are tighter, flatter terrain — things that generally I wouldn’t have raced before in downhill. I really like having numbers to look at, because it doesn’t matter what you feel like — the time’s going to tell you.
Q: What are you doing for training during the off-season?
A: I actually had surgery two days ago, so I’m still recovering. I’m not quite training yet. So, it will be a soft start next week. My general endurance is pretty good, but I could have a bit of a stronger base, just so that way, those second-last stages aren’t as effective. I’d also like to gain a little bit more snappy-ness or just general athleticism when it comes to hand-eye co-ordination. I found that I’ve been doing the same thing for so long that I’m almost stuck at working at a certain speed, so I need to break out of those patterns. I want to do a little more cross-training that way. I went to a couple boxing classes where you have to work really quickly, listen to instruction — simple things that you don’t really do when you’re in an individual sport like cycling. You’re just in a rhythm when you’re riding your bike, and that rhythm can get stuck in that motion. This helps my body react a bit quicker.
Q: How did you feel about your performance at races over this past season?
A: I think at the beginning of the year, I was definitely a bit more disappointed. But then, once I reflected a bit on each performance, there was always really good pieces to take from each one. Something to improve on the next week. I finished the season in ninth overall, but I also had two podiums on the EWS circuit. [For her first enduro podium, Miller came in third place in 2019 EWS #5 at Les Orres, France, on July 6. On July 27, she earned second place at Panorama Resort at 2019 Norco Canadian National Enduro Champs, an EWS qualifier. That same weekend, she came in third at the Canadian Downhill National Championships.] That is pretty cool in itself as well, to be able to podium a world cup for downhill and podium for an enduro. It kind of shows me that I have a well-rounded skill and I do have potential to go a bit faster, do a bit better next year. A lot of the time, I would have some good stage results, and then one or two that were just super bad. That would then put me back overall in the rankings. Whether that was me crashing or one race I got my bike stuck in this fence and it pretty much ruined my race. Just because there are so many variables in enduro that one thing can just drastically change your race — but that one thing could change your race in either direction. It could ruin a race or it could move you up and make that race amazing.
Perhaps I was most disappointed with the round in Italy, just because I felt so strong and really good in practice, and then I was just absolutely ruined in the race. [In Val di Fassa in June, at the 2019 Enduro World Series #4, Miller came in 11th overall.] I quickly figured out that in practice, I was still stuck in habits of a downhill, where you can practice these stages and short segments very intensely, but then that doesn’t actually translate over when you then have to race it all in one go. Those stages are anywhere from six to 15 minutes long, so that race taught me a lot about my bike set up and nutrition as well. I missed a few key markers with such high heat — it was high 30s all week. It was in the middle of that heat wave in Europe, and it was insanely hot.
Q: With this upcoming season, are you going to be focusing on both enduro and downhill?
A: My main focus for 2020 will still be enduro, but I will be racing a few more downhill events. I still love downhill, but you have to be 100% in it or else it’s pretty dangerous. So for me, I can show up to the odd weekend, and I can be 100% in it, but just with the number of injuries and stuff that I’m trying to fix right now, I feel like I couldn’t be 100% into a whole season. The risk is just too high. It’s actually quite nice you can just show up on a weekend, be 100% focused on it but then you can kind of just detach for the next weekend and go back to racing enduro.