A Singletrack Champion’s Year-Round Fitness Regimen

As love stories go, Karen Jarchow’s first encounter with competitive mountain biking wasn’t the head-over-heels courtship one might expect, but more of a head-over-handlebars type of affair.

After blasting through the uphill portion of the first lap of her first race with Vail Recreation District’s annual summer mountain bike-racing series in 2011, Jarchow hit a snag on the downhill. “My technical ability still wasn’t very good, but I was really fast at climbing for a beginner, so I’d pass everyone on the uphill, and then I would get really nervous because I was holding them all up on the descent,” she recalls. “So on the second lap, I thought, ‘Whatever. I’m just not going to use my brakes.’” The tactic sent her careening off course and into a sage bush, which still grows with a cartoonish split down the middle, where her front wheel chopped right through it. “I flew over the handlebars and landed on my head and got knocked out,” she adds. “I made sure my first ride back was on that same trail so I could get over it right away and move on. I took that experience, and it catapulted into me figuring out how to mountain bike.”  

Dsc00741 cmyk wcafce

The payoff for staying in shape during the winter? Long summer rides in Moab. IMAGE: COURTESY KAREN JARCHOW

That’s a bit of an understatement. Since that first ill-fated introduction to the peculiar sport of cross-country bike racing (also known as XC cycling, an Olympic sport since 1996 that sends a pack of riders over rugged terrain in races lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours), Eagle’s 33-year-old XC wunderkind has rocketed from the ranks of unknown beginners to the top of the pack on the pro circuit. Specializing in XC marathons (off-road cycling races covering 50 miles or more), Jarchow has racked up a trophy case of titles, including the 2016 National Ultra Endurance Marathon Champion, 2017 Colorado State XC Champion (which she won on her home dirt in Eagle), and most unlikely, 2017 Fat Bike World Champion (on a lark, she entered her first fat-bike competition—an XC course on snow that’s raced with balloon-tired mountain bikes—in Crested Butte last January and ended up winning the international event).

Jarchow has been just as successful with bike-related pursuits off the race circuit. She’s on the payroll of one of her longtime sponsors, Ergon Bike, as an assistant marketing director (her husband, Jeff Kerkove, a fellow singletrack junkie, also works for Ergon), and also is a program director at the Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy, overseeing a summer mountain bike camp for 120 kids (ages 6-14) that she took ownership of in 2017. “My hope with starting this kids’ camp is to focus on the stewardship of the sport, and how to treat each other on the trails,” she says, adding that her goal with the program is to mint new riders, not racers. “I try not to talk about racing at all with the kids—most probably have no clue that I race professionally, and I like it that way…. I had this one kid come up to me last year who was probably eight, and he said, ‘You’re not going to make us do intervals, are you?’ And I was like, ‘No, go do a wheelie!’”

Leave a Reply