Each month we highlight one of the incredible ambassadors we’re fortunate to work with. This month, we talk with Team Topeak Ergon rider Karen Jarchow who has become one of the top endurance mountain bikers in the country. That’s not all she’s up to though; in addition to racing, Karen has a full-time marketing job and runs a kids mountain bike program called Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy.
Most athletes at the top of their sport have a singular focus, but you have quite a bit going on in life besides the training and racing components. How are you able to maintain a balance and passion for what you’re doing?
I really strive to be able to perform at the highest level, but with a demanding schedule, I have to really tread lightly on putting too much pressure on myself to try to battle it out every weekend. I truly enjoy so many different formats of racing, so I try to dabble in it all when my schedule allows. That means some gravel, fat-biking, road, enduro, cross-country, etc. Basically, if I can get my hands on a bike for the event, I love to give it a go! I'm now racing at the elite level, and I have to remind myself to go back to that beginner mindset - I do this sport because I absolutely love it. I love where it takes you, the sights you see, the lessons you learn, and the people you meet along the way.
What's your athletic background and at what point did cycling become your main sport?
I grew up on a farm in a small town in the Midwest as the youngest with two older brothers. My sport choices were heavily persuaded by whatever my brothers did, so it was basketball and softball for me. Endurance sports were not really a focus in our family; I didn't find that love until college when I picked up running, swimming and road biking to stay active through a heavily sedentary schedule sitting in lecture halls.
I found cycling when I moved to the mountains post-college and met friends who were all rock-stars on the bike. I then worked medical crew for a couple local women who were on a Race Across America team, and through the long days of seeing these women go through so many ups and downs, but coming out together made me want to see how far I could push my limits on the bike. It was a sink or swim introduction for me, but I loved the sport so much that no matter how hard the crash, I kept getting up and trying again, and again, and again.
Having been privileged to travel the world to race your bike, what are some of the favorite places cycling has taken you?
I've been to some amazing places, and have truly enjoyed every place I've been able to see by bike. Honestly, my favorite though is my current reality. Where I am right now is all thanks to cycling. I live in Eagle, Colorado, with my husband, Jeff Kerkove, who I met through cycling. We both work in the industry, race for Team Topeak-Ergon, and are involved in our local cycling community. We can ride trails a minute out our front door, and have access to so many amazing places within a few hours drive in any direction.
My life has really evolved to be completely intertwined within the cycling world. Over the years, cycling has always been my safety net - through failed jobs, relationships, and life's curve balls - I've been able to go to my bike, in this valley, and feel like I can find the answer to pull myself through some challenging times. That being said, laying in the tall grass in Costa Rica with heat stroke, five miles from the finish of a 100-mile race was quite an experience I'll never forget.
When did you first try PR Lotion and at what point did you know it was something you had to incorporate into your routine?
I first tried the PR Lotion this offseason when I was putting in six hours a week of weight training. I used it before each session as well as the double days when I'd lift and ride. Being pleasantly surprised with how it helped reduce muscle fatigue, I now use it almost every day throughout my training schedule. Since using it on a regular basis, I've PR’d all my sprint workouts! It gives me that extra confidence that I can still nail a workout or race effort even if my preparation is filled with expo work and running around herding little kids on bikes.
You mentioned weight training–how often do you add in things besides just training on the bike?
Prior to being focused on cycling, I did all the sports. If someone was willing to teach me or let me tag along, I was there! I loved rock climbing, trail running, alpine skiing, ski touring, snowshoe hiking/running, hiking, mountaineering, SUP - basically, anything that got me out trying something new in our beautiful Colorado mountains. This off-season, I took two months off the bike and focused on time in the gym. I became absolutely obsessed with this, put on some muscle mass, and cannot wait to get back in the weights 3x a week again next off-season. Yoga isn't really a sport, but I incorporate a regular routine throughout the year for core strength, flexibility, and a healthy headspace. I still like to splice in some hiking, SUP, and winter sports throughout the year to keep a fresh perspective and not go too far down the rabbit-hole of a cycling-centric life.