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In the world of mountain bike racing, winning comes and goes and there are only so many spots on the podium. Hannah Barnes goes beyond winning races to win the hearts of just about everyone she meets.

It's been said that to succeed in bike racing, one must reach deep into one's “suitcase of suffering” to pull out the strength, speed, and power needed to win—or even to merely survive. The phrase conjures an image of a heavy, old battered suitcase, packed with the weight of strict training regimens and more losses than wins. But for Hannah Barnes, professional mountain bike racer, her racing bags are carry-on sized and fit neatly in the overhead bins. Her strategy for success is simple; do what you love and you're always winning, regardless of results.

Hannah began riding mountain bikes ten years ago, after her younger brother started racing. She caught the racing bug herself after attending a few races to cheer on little bro Joe, and hasn't looked back. “It just looked like such good fun, and I thought I'd give it a go. I just loved it, so I kept at it,” she said.

Over the past five years, Hannah has raced in dozens of cross country and enduro events, and scored numerous podium spots and wins at major international races, such as the Trans-Savoie 6-Day Enduro race, and the Bluegrass Enduro Tour. And in 2012, she and Joe both won the IXS Macavalanche—the “little sister event to the Megavalanche”—at Glencoe Mountain, renowned for its gnarly reputation on the downhill racing circuit.


Hannah Barnes

To be sure, competing at the Enduro World Cup level requires a fair bit of training, and for many that means strict diets, daily regimens of race-pace riding, rigorous cross-training, and extensive time on the road away from loved ones, friends, and the comforts of home. But Hannah marches to the beat of her own drummer, just by following her bliss. “You have to push yourself to improve as a racer,” she said, “but not to the point where you get or injured or overly tired. So I just really listen to my body and do whatever I'm feeling.”

During race season, Hannah typically has practice rides three days a week leading up to racing on the weekend, which can sometimes be five to six hours of hard effort riding each day. “But honestly, I don't really follow any strict routine for cross training. I do something every day but it depends on my travel schedule and weather. On any given day I might go for a three-hour road ride or a cross country ride. If it’s awful weather I’ll go to for a swim or do a longer yoga session. If I only have half an hour I’ll go for a run. It’s not scheduled or regimented at all.”

Much of Hannah's winning disposition stems from her basic attitude toward life. “My feeling is we should be having good fun, not stressing, and really just trying to be content,” she mused. “Even though being a pro rider isn't an office job, it's still a job, with a lot of hard work involved, but there's also big rewards. I get a lot back from it.”


Hannah credits yoga with helping her to cultivate her ability to listen to her body. “Yoga has so many benefits for riders at every level. It teaches you to be more in tune with your body. It works on so many levels…physical, mental, it helps with balance and spatial awareness and core strength. It helps with flexibility and balances out the effects of riding so much and so hard. It’s helped me notice the little things, not just physical sensations but also my breathing and mindset.”

Besides riding and competing at a very high level, Hannah enjoys racing for the atmosphere and culture she finds at events. “Everyone at the races—from the racers to the mechanics—are such lovely people, genuinely nice and happy to be doing what they love and what they're good at. Even if a race doesn't go as planned—whether you come in 5th or 15th—just being out there, riding on the mountain all day, is incredible, really. The racing is at such a high level and we can't all be on the podium. I just focus on doing my best and feel fortunate to be able to do something I love, surrounded by positive people. And I don't take it for granted—it's quite rare to be a part of something like this.”

Between races Hannah works as an accident and emergency nurse on-call, back home in Fort William. The challenges of caring for others helps balance out her life as an athlete. “I’ve always liked looking after people. I love having the practical skills and mental stimulation that nursing provides. Every day is different—I might see anything from a fish bone stuck in a windpipe, to multiple traumatic injuries from an avalanche rescue. I get to meet a wide variety of people through my work; it can be really exciting and is always interesting.”

When asked to put on her nursing cap and write out a prescription for her secret to success, Hannah obliged. “A simple life is a good life. Rather than always thinking there's something more or constantly looking for something different and better, you've got to appreciate what you've got and be content. Rather than wanting it all and chasing after it, you can have it all by having the right quality of life—and the right people in it—rather than a huge quantity.”

“Hannah is fun to be around—a breath of fresh air in a competitive environment,” said Gavin Noble, the Specialized Sports Marketing lead who works with Hannah. “Often in the mountain bike world, riders can have an air of entitlement. Not Hannah…she is not expectant and is always appreciative. Winning comes and goes, so more often than not it’s who you are as a person that people remember. That’s definitely the case with Hannah.

“It definitely starts and ends with fun for her,” he adds, “but Hannah is also organized, independent, and resourceful. If we didn't support her I know she would be the same person; loving life and taking her bike on adventures.”

Hannah Barnes certainly does live the good life. Racing, riding, playing her fiddle—which she's been doing since she was 12—doing yoga with her mum, reading a good book, caring for others, or just having tea and cake with friends are just some of the ways she exemplifies a good—and simple—life.

Oh, but that bag in the overhead bin mentioned earlier? That's her fiddle, which she often takes with her to races. Because not only does Hannah march to the beat of her own drummer, she's also the string section. Her favorite music? Why, upbeat, cheery traditional Irish music, of course.


Written by Üma Kleppinger
Photography by Justin Sullivan and Paris Gore

Monday, June 1, 2015