Last summer RAD Monika (aka Monika Sattler) made history as the first woman to ride the entire 3058km route of the one of cycling’s toughest grand tours: the Vuelta a España. Riding only a few hours ahead of the pro men, she covered all 21 stages and 49,337m of climbing in the blistering Spanish heat, her mission to inspire more people, particularly women, to get on their bikes.
Monika is one of the most upbeat, can-do people I’ve had the pleasure to chat with. She doesn’t put any limits on what she’s capable of and throws herself into life. Here, she chats about how she coped with the physical and mental demands of riding the Vuelta and reveals what a typical day during the three week ride entailed.
Last time we chatted you were about to ride the entire Vuelta hours ahead of the pros. Since then you completed it and have written a book! How has life been since your Vuelta challenge?
Life has its ups and downs. The Vuelta was absolutely amazing and I was very sad that it was over. During the Vuelta, the entire day was planned out, I knew exactly what I had to do, who my team was and what challenge I faced. Afterwards, I felt like [I was] in a hole. Like, What’s next?
Although I rode afterwards, it took a while until I found purpose to ride again. Because I knew this would happen, I promised myself to write a book during this time and I had so much fun writing it! Because it was another ‘challenge’ that I always wanted to do. Half of the book is about the Vuelta Ride. I also focused more on my own business – teaching others to live to their full potential by building confidence and the mindset and leadership for more success, fulfilment and satisfaction in life. To sum it up, I stay busy!
[Monika’s book, Unleashing The Devil In You is available here]
Blog guests often tell me that the logistics and run-up to a big challenge feels harder than the physical challenge. Was the organising and fundraising stressful?
Fully agreed! The year before the Vuelta was 10 times harder than the actual ride. As I’m not a professional cyclist, wanting to do something that is not only physically hard but logistically a huge effort, I had problems getting sponsors. Eighty percent of people did not believe I would make it even to the start line.
Where the pros had 20+ people to get everything ready, I was basically alone with a few friends helping me out. From the outside it might not seem a lot, but organising the hotels, the transportation, a dedicated support person, food, the pass from the organisers to say I can cross the finish line, the routes, etc for three weeks is a lot of work! Plus, I wanted to draw the media to this event. I had a mission and I wanted it to be heard! I became a project manager for sponsorship, fundraising, logistics, public relations, social media marketing, human resources and more. It was a lot of work but I loved the learning process of it!
You made history with your Vuelta Ride. Physically and mentally, how did you find it?
I absolutely loved it. Physically, I paced myself in a way that I could finish it. I had a few days that I was so tired that I had trouble to stay awake on the bike. Especially Stage 9. It was 206km. A long day out. I was by myself. I slept [only] 4 hours the night prior. I knew that this would the day that makes it or breaks it. But exactly on this day, a father and his 12-year-old son joined me for parts of the ride. They waited for me at 6am on a Sunday to ride with me for 40km! I felt so humbled that I knew this Vuelta Ride has grown so much beyond my own effort that sleep deprivation would not be the reason that I would give up.
I felt mentally very strong because every single day there were those highlights that encouraged me to keep going, of realising that people are supporting me from all over Spain.
What sticks in your head as being a wonderful memory from the whole experience?
The support from so many strangers. But my biggest help was my support person, David. I met him only three weeks prior to this challenge and he was the absolute best and most important person for this challenge. He was my second hand in everything I did. He supported me through the low moments and celebrated with me in the high moments. He knew what I needed and was always there for me. I can’t thank him enough for his help. I learned during this time what a real team was. We were a dream team!
Were there any days/stages in particular you found tough?
My lowest moment was at stage 9. It was the last day before the first rest day. I slept only 4 hours because it was so hot in the room – around 40 degrees. I had a huge day ahead of me and it was the first day that I didn’t have anyone riding with me. I knew it would be a defining day for me if I could make it. I made it and it was the only time I was crying – for joy and exhaustion – at the finish line.
As part of your preparation you went through a list of worst-case scenarios, just in case. Did you experience anything unexpected?
Hell, yes! In fact, after the first stage my hanger of the rear derailleur broke – a nightmare for every cyclist. I basically had no bike after stage 1! How unlucky could this be?! Luckily, my sponsor, Shimano, gave me a bike that they use for professional riders. Despite this very unlucky situation, I stayed relatively calm. I felt like I was prepared for the worst and told myself that these are just tests to see if I can keep it mentally together.
The Vuelta included some incredibly steep climbs. Which was the most challenging?
The most challenging was La Camperona because it was the first of all the incredibly steep climbs. I knew it was tough but it was even tougher than I expected. My front wheel came off it was that steep! Plus, the road was narrow so I had not a lot of space to zigzag my way up. I was literally scared I would fall off my bike.
You were riding for an average of six hours each day. What did you eat and how often?
I ate real food. When you’re riding for 3 weeks, real food is the way to go so you don’t mess up your stomach. I ate all the great Spanish food along the way – Spanish tortilla, Pulpo a la Gallega. It was a culinary immersion. I loved it. I ate when I was hungry and usually stopped with my support vehicle and ate what was in the car. We went grocery shopping after the rides so we always had fruits, veggies and the Spanish food in the car.
Talk me through a typical day?
6:00 Drive to the start location
6:30 Start bike ride
13:00 Finish the stage
15:00 Drive to hotel which could be up to 3 hours away
17:00 Arrival at hotel
20:00 Emails/ Communication with Media/ Route planning for next day
22:00 Bed time!
Mentally and physically, did you find it got easier or harder the further you got into the ride?
Mentally and physically it got easier as the stages went on. I got into a rhythm and so I knew how fast I had to go, what I had to eat, etc. Also, physically. After the steepest climb and the longest stage, the crappiest weather conditions, there was not too much anymore which negatively impacted me. I had huge respect for the Andorra stage because I knew it would be tough. But I was positively surprised how much easier it felt than anticipated.
You rode an average of 145km a day. What was your recovery routine like each day?
I tried to eat quite quickly after the stage to recover but I had not too much of a recovery process. I got two massages during the three weeks but I didn’t want any more because I was scared it would actually negatively affect me. I preferred to have my body heal itself on its terms.
Before the Bilbao stage, I got very sick and I thought I would get the flu which would have meant I am done with the Vuelta. It was basically because I had two rest days back-to-back and my body wanted to recover. I bought half of the pharmacy and was able to hold off the sickness until after the Vuelta was done. I was operating on a very low immune system so it was just a matter of time when I would get sick.
You’ve said resilience is like a muscle – do you look on tough times as an opportunity to build resilience?
YES! Stage 9 was my day to shine and prove to myself that I would be resilient! I knew that this would be a great opportunity for me to become a stronger person. It sounds completely contrary to what you usually would think: survival. But if you make yourself aware of the times when it is all about resilience then you can get a more objective view on how important this moment is for making you stronger.
Your aim with the Vuelta Ride was to inspire others to get on their bike. Was this a success?
A huge success! When the National TV wanted an interview after the first stage, I was completely flabbergasted. I thought the media might be interested a few weeks into the challenge but not at day 1! I was interviewed by five national TV stations so people knew about my challenge right from the start. And somany people joined me randomly along. They were inspired to partake in this historic moment. Groups of women drove over 200km just to join me for one stage. But the moment when I was most awestruck was when the father and the son joined me on a Sunday morning at 6am to ride with me for 40km.
How did you find writing a book about your experiences?
I really enjoyed it. It brought back a lot of memories. Although it talks about the Vuelta, the book conveys a bigger message: about pursuing a passion, about creating your own luck, and that it is OK to have setbacks and doubts, to go for your dreams. The book also talks about that no one should ever tell you that you can’t achieve something, no matter how seemingly impossible it seems. If you believe you can, you will!
What are you up to with your business at the moment?
I am teaching students, corporate teams, athletes and individuals to live to their full potential. More people than you think don’t live up to their talents, motivations and passions due to different factors. Often lack of self-confidence – especially in women! – fear of the unknown or not knowing how to do it keeps very talented people away from living a more successful and fulfilling life.
Through workshops, talks, one-on-one coaching, and soon online courses, my clients learn practical tools and develop the mindset to live to their full potential. A very popular talk I give is called “Self-confident women in a male-dominated environment”. There is a real need for this topic! I love my job to be able to create true impact in other people’s lives.
For more inspiration you can follow Monika via her social media channels: www.instagram.com/RAD_monika, www.twitter.com/rad_monika and www.facebook.com/radmonika1. You can also visit Monika’s website, www.radmonika.com.