Katie Compton Hero
Team USA

Katie Compton: Suffering To Win

Katie Compton doesn’t take it easy.

“I usually come into a race planning to go hard and suffer,” she says.

It’s all part of the game, part of being among the world’s best at what she does.

“I like suffering, but I also like having to think of something at the same time,” Compton said. “Picking the right lines and thinking about tactics, gearing, and riding certain sections a certain way. It kind of makes the suffering a little bit easier when you’re not just thinking about hurting.

“The sport attracts people who like to go hard and suffer,” she added. “It’s like 5K runners compared to marathoners. It’s a different effort. It can hurt really bad, but it’s super fun and feels really good when you’re done. Cross racers who end up being good at it are those who actually enjoy bearing themselves like that and suffering quite a bit, then just being done when they’re about to crack. That’s what I like.”

Compton’s strategy and her all-out effort in every race has paid off many times over.

She is the most successful American cyclocross racer of all time. She won her 14th consecutive U.S. Cyclocross National Championship earlier this year, a streak that started in 2004 when the discipline was just beginning its growth spurt in the country. She has more than 130 career wins and has four World Championship silver medals. She was also the first American to finish on the podium at a Cyclocross World Championships when she took silver in 2007.

Compton is now heading into this season with the same fervor. To do so, she continues to find new ways to evolve and stay at the head of the class.

Last year, she opted for the first time to spend the bulk of her season based in Belgium – the motherland of cross, where tens of thousands of spectators line the courses and riders are recognized without their kit.

“I wanted something different,” she said of her time in Belgium. “I think since I had been doing it for so long, it’s nice to try something different and adjust the season a bit and see if that will make me more successful. I think it did – I definitely felt better in February than I had in years past. I even finished the season enjoying it. I wasn’t tired yet, which was a nice change. Usually, with all the jet lag from flying back and forth, by January I’m pretty cooked.

“It was a good choice,” she continued. “I really enjoyed it – it was hard, it was intense every weekend and I learned a lot. I had some really good experiences and I definitely want to do that again.”

Belgium is on her calendar again this year. She’ll be heading over after the two World Cups in the U.S. – Waterloo and Iowa City – then will be based Europe for the season. She takes advantage of having so many races within a short drive. Of course, she’ll be back for Nationals.

It’s all part of maintaining that competitive edge. Compton has been racing since age 8 in multiple disciplines. Now, at 39, she knows the value of mixing up her training and taking care of herself.

“I think I have gotten better at all of it – smarter and more efficient,”- Katie Compton

“I think I have gotten better at all of it – smarter and more efficient,” she says. “I’m adapting my training, trying to prevent injuries, making sure I sleep and eat well, and have a healthy body so I can continue to do it all. That’s what I focus on as I get older – staying healthy and making sure my body works as it should. I know my body, and I have to be proactive and making sure I’m recovering well, resting well, and doing quality workouts. I don’t have the extra energy to waste time on bad workouts.”

This offseason, many of those quality workouts have included time on the track. Compton raced on the track as a junior and helped guide Karissa Whitsell to two gold medals at the Paralympic Games.

Near her home in Colorado Springs, Colo., she is fortunate to have access to a velodrome. When a track camp is in town, she joins the workout. At one of those track training sessions she was a full participant – during USA Cycling’s Talent ID Camp she raced with elite riders from multiple disciplines.

“I’ve been getting on the track more, getting out there with Gary Sutton and jumping in on some workouts,” Compton said. “I’m not fast enough or don’t have the pure power of a track racer. But, it’s nice to chase really, really strong women and hold on as long as possible. It has helped quite a bit with pure speed and strength, and I’m curious to see how that helps now in cross season.”

The offseason also saw Compton race in the Amgen Tour of California and the Colorado Classic. She switches between bikes and disciplines for training, depending on the day, and she’s been running and doing hot yoga.

“It’s good to keep the body moving and introduce different challenges so I can keep getting stronger,” she said.

Cyclocross continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the sport. The pool of talent is getting bigger – more riders are specializing and more are taking advantage of the accessibility of cyclocross. So, for Compton, getting stronger and maintaining fitness is required to keep up as the racing evolves.

“I’ve seen it grow over the years and become more competitive,” Compton said of cyclocross. “We’re getting more women into the sport and that makes for better racing.”

Following her most recent Nationals win, she acknowledged that staying competitive takes effort. “I keep thinking that if you win a lot, it will get easier, but it never gets easier,” she remarked after the race.

Compton doesn’t expect this season to get any easier either. She’ll take on the challenge of another season in Belgium, face a competitive field of riders in every race, and head into the campaign with the same goals she always has – to be consistent and fast.

She has her sights set on the podium in those first two World Cups on home soil, and on doing well on the World Cup circuit overall. The USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in Louisville, Ky., in December and the UCI World Championships in Denmark in February are also targets on her schedule.

She turns 40 just before this year’s National Championships, and as this new season arrives, she is carrying her same trademark confidence, her same “be at the front and get results” outlook.

“After this past win in January, I realized I haven’t raced in Europe not wearing the Stars and Stripes. That’s pretty cool, and I’m proud of it,” she said. “I’m going to keep going for it, taking one year at a time. I know the streak’s going to end at some point, but I’m going to do everything I can to maintain it. I just really like wearing the jersey – it’s a special thing.”

For questions, please contact Kelly Fox at apalermo@usacycling.org

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