It has been six years since I last interviewed Ruth Corset. In that time the Townsville-based mother-of-two has established herself as one of Australia’s best road cyclists; claiming 12th position at the UCI World Championships in 2009, becoming Australian National Champion (2010), racing in the Commonwealth Games, retiring from professional road racing in 2011, discovering mountain biking, returning to road racing, winning the National Road Series (NRS) in 2012, and is now leading the NRS with five races remaining. But the biggest change in gear? Her priorities.
“The biggest thing I say to the girls on my team is ‘believe in yourselves’ — if you believe it, you can do it, because so much is in the mind” – Ruth Corset
Like many women in professional sport, Ruth has always felt the constant emotional wrenching of being the best mother vs. the best athlete. It’s the main reason she retired from professional cycling in 2011, with the trips overseas for months at a time tearing her heart out every time she left her family in Townsville. Since her return to Australian road cycling, leaving her international racing career behind, Ruth has got back in the saddle with an attitude adjustment — winning is no longer everything.
“My priorities are a lot different now,” Ruth tells over a latte at The Willows between her massage clients (yes, they are very lucky to be looked after by an accomplished national athlete!). In a couple of hours she’ll collect her girls, Stephanie (12) and Caitlin (10), from school and taxi them around to their host of gymnastics, swimming, dancing and violin activities. “It was never my plan this year to win the NRS and it wasn’t my goal to be leading at this stage; although it is nice,” the petite blonde admits.
But the celebrated climber concedes her lead is unlikely to be for long — she has decided to forfeit the next two races of the national series in August. She wants to take Caitlin to her first ‘away’ gymnastics competition this weekend, which coincides with a three-day race; and she plans to stay in Townsville during the King Valley race weekend for the birth of her twin sister’s baby.
“My focus is on my girls and my family and I don’t race to get selected for the World Championships and Commonwealth Games anymore — I race because I enjoy it and now there’s no pressure,” Ruth says, “I really enjoy watching the girls compete now.”
Ruth’s husband Jason, a local primary school teacher, has raced at a state level and has been her cycling coach since Ruth’s professional beginnings; always supporting her decisions (even when she’s said “two more laps” and he’s said “you’ve had enough”). They have got their home life and training schedule down to a fine art now with the weekly timetable stuck to the fridge (Ruth jokes it’s purely for Jason’s benefit… it’s all in her head). Jason trains in the afternoons while Ruth takes the mornings so she can play taxi later in the day. The couple, with 14 bikes between them, actually met at a triathlon in 1998. Always a fan of the multi-discipline sport, Ruth has increasingly been returning to these fond beginnings, competing solo in the Sue Bell Memorial Triathlon in June and in the recent Townsville Triathlon Festival in the Olympic Distance bike leg, where she was able to beat elite-level men.
When asked if this gave her a buzz, she laughs. “I’ve always enjoyed racing with men in Townsville because they give me that extra challenge,” adding that it’s her passion to get more Townsville women into competitive cycling. “There are a lot of men racing, but not many women; yet we do have women who are, or have the potential to be, good enough,” says Ruth. “It’s just a matter of giving them the proper training. A lot of people don’t realise they have the talent until they try it.”
“A lot of people will say they hate hills or aren’t good at them, but it’s because they don’t practise them. It’s all about having a good power to weight ratio and having good core muscles — you need them to climb efficiently” – Ruth Corset
And this is the direction Ruth will be climbing towards in the future — coach and mentor. She is already unofficially filling this role within the Holden Women’s Cycling team with a lot of her teammates being newer and younger riders; but wants to take it to the next level by becoming an accredited coach. “I still want to compete, but my passion is to help others and teach them,” she says. “The biggest thing I say to the girls on my team is ‘believe in yourselves’ — if you believe it, you can do it, because so much is in the mind. A lot of young riders are scared to make an impact in a race — they’ll sit back and watch everything happen; but I’ve been encouraging them to do something in their races and that’s given them more confidence.”
Ruth is often asked for climbing tips, with many up-and-coming cyclists wondering how she can be such a good hill climber with Townsville being largely flat. “It’s all to do with quality, not quantity — make sure each climb counts,” explains Ruth. “I do at least one hill per training session. A lot of people will say they hate hills or aren’t good at them, but it’s because they don’t practise them. It’s all about having a good power to weight ratio and having good core muscles — you need them to climb efficiently.”
And, yes — the rumours are true — Ruth does wedge an extra 3kg into her saddle bag for a bit more of a challenge. “I used to keep that a secret for a competitive advantage, but I think everyone knows now!” she laughs. “The funny thing is, no one else wants to do it.”
As well as becoming a coach and a good role model for her girls, who are both getting into cycling now (with those genes – look out!); Ruth hopes she can also be an inspiration for other mums. “Just because you’re a mother doesn’t mean you can’t race, or achieve your other goals or dreams,” says Ruth, who admits she got a big rush when the girls told her she was the subject of their school assignment: They put her name into Google and excitedly told her, ‘Mummy, all this stuff came up!’. “It’s all about balance and time management, but you can make it work.”
Ruth’s Paluma Push victory
Just a few days after we wrote this story, Ruth rode on to secure her first victory at the Paluma Push — a 65km mountain bike ride from Paluma Village to Hidden Valley through gravel roads, cattle country, creek crossings and heritage-listed rainforest. Only discovering the off-road sport three years ago, she was able to beat mountain biking mentor and triple 24-hour solo world mountain biking champion Jess Douglas by 15 minutes — a feat that even surprised Ruth. “I did have a plan going into the race, but when I got to the more technical single-track section near the dam I knew she’d be catching me soon,” she recounts. “When I made the whole loop and she hadn’t caught me I thought, ‘Maybe I do have a chance’; and from that point I went as hard as I could, thinking the whole time she was right behind me.” But Jess — who is brilliantly suited to the longer rides — never caught Ruth, with the road bike champ climbing over the line at 3:01:44 (More in our Paluma Push report). “This style of race really suited me, and was so much fun,” tells Ruth, who’s biggest battle was vision around the dam. “My lesson for next time is to wear night lenses as it was quite dark around the dam loop, so I took my sunnies off and put them in my back pocket. I got so much dirt in my eyes that I could barely see and just had to hope I didn’t hit anything — I was lucky to stay upright.” Ruth plans to do more mountain bike races later this year, including Rockwheelers’ 12-hour night race, Dam Dark.