I knew that Kenny Kocarek, who rides for KNOBby Side Down Racing, was a cool guy when I ran into him on the trail for the first time. We were at The Wilds and two guys came up on us pretty quickly from the rear. I believe the other guy was Kenny’s friend, Andrew Crow. Kenny knew that I was going to be there from my posts on Quickdirt and came prepared. When I saw him, he told me that he had stashed some Hoppin’ Frog beer for me under my car.
Mmmm… I can still taste that delicious post-ride beer. He truly knew the way to my heart.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was how cool this guy was in so many other ways. Kenny used to be a big guy. He weighed in at 230 lbs, but did not have the height to match. He literally biked his ass off and lost over 50 lbs with the support of his loving/cycling wife, Corianne. He has an appetite for an adventure and has knocked so many epic events and trails off his bucket list in a short amount of time, many more than I’ve attempted. And, he donated parts to my Garage Bike Project!
I’m a little jealous and inspired after the Q&A I did with him.
Please share this with your friends on Facebook and Twitter – especially the ones that like to ride their bikes like Kenny.
1) Give us some background. How did you get into mountain biking?
I’m Kenny Kocarek, age 33, and I live in Canton Ohio.
Getting into mountain biking was an evolution of riding the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath trail about five years ago, Corianne (my wife) and I were newlyweds and getting “comfortable” (by that I mean fat and complacent) we live in close proximity to the towpath so we busted out our old Huffy’s and started riding. I still remember when we were stoked when we rode ten miles in one ride! The huffy’s did not give us much confidence in “long distance” rides so we got new Trek 4300 mtb’s.
The distances kept getting longer and I saw something about the Spokejunkies first ride at Mohican, it said all levels welcome and I thought it would be a great opportunity to “step up” our game….I mean we owned real mountain bikes now right? So we went, nervous as all get out, but we figured we’ve ridden 25 miles on the towpath pretty easily so we’ll be alright, we thought that literally a mountain bike trail would be like the towpath just with hills. Someone at the start gave me some advice and told me that I would not need the weight of my bike lock and convinced us to put our newly purchased clipless pedals on (we never used them other than spin class before this) and off we went.
The first switchback we both fell and continued to fall and walk numerous times we made it to the road at mile 8, horrified, we tried to bail out by going left..to the covered bridge, realizing that we completely hosed ourselves we became frantic because we had no idea where we were and obviously the only way out was up. Luckily a couple of smart veteran Spokejunkies noticed our distress and they had staged a truck at the bridge and drove us back to the parking lot. We packed up quickly and drove off with our heads low. (We still go to the Spokejunkies first ride every year and glad to say completing the full loop isn’t as big of an issue anymore).
For some strange reason we decided to stick with mountain biking and found a beginner trail close to us called Quail Hollow. We started riding there and Huffman Park and as we progressed we kept moving onto the more “difficult” trails and continue to do that to this day.
2)What are your mountain biking goals for 2015? What events or trails are you looking forward to the most?
Can “not suck as bad as last year” be a good goal? Right now my goal is to break my PR at the Snake Gap Creek TT of 3:56 and get my second belt buckle. Then I’ll evaluate where I feel I’m at and set my goals for the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to the Pisgah 111k because I have yet to ride down there and by far I am stoked for 331 Racing’s VK24 -24 hour race at Vulture’s Knob. It is great that they are bringing this race back and it’ll be my first 24 hour race (with a team of course!) Also I am looking forward to many trips to central PA I want to ride both the Rothrock and Coopers gap IMBA epics.
3) In 2014, you started racing in the expert division in OMBC. Halfway through the season you decided to “cat-down” to sport? Why did you shoot for expert in the first place? How was your experience racing with the big guys and why did you ultimately decide that you should be in sport? Describe the difference between the two levels.
When you put it that way it makes it sound so bad! I did two expert races and one sport race! I started off in expert because in 2013 I had a huge jump in performance. My 2013 year started off with sport because I got 4th overall in novice the year before and took 2nd and 3rd place my first two 331 races as a sport rider. I really wanted to race with my teammate Andy Crow in Sport Plus (an open class in the 331 race series for the faster sport guys and slower experts) so I catted up to that division and placed 4th overall in 331 Racings for sport plus. So as all top 4 sport riders you face that question do I make the step up with the big boys or stay in sport.
Going into 2014, since I was planning on doing the Trans-Sylvania epic I decided to go to expert to see what it was like plus it would force myself to “race” a longer distance. I got my butt whooped pretty bad, but all of my training in the beginning of 2014 was focused on building my endurance and being able to survive day-after-day long ultra-like rides, however, I did not really work on building the power I needed to hang with those studs. After the epic I was burnt out so bad I did not even want to read about mountain bikes (literally I picked up a magazine the next week and put it down I was so tired of it)/ I completely stopped “training” and it was only June. The Lake Hope race came up and we made a fun weekend of it. I was still not really feeling the racing thing so I signed up for sport just to gauge how far I had fallen and I’ll be honest I sort of needed a confidence booster because every race I’ve done so far in 2014 I was pretty close if not DFL. The gravel climb at the beginning I felt like garbage and entered the woods in last place (so much for confidence booster) however I got settled in and ended up in fourth place.
So there is the ultimate sport rider dilemma, I entered a race and felt like I was nowhere the shape I would want to be to race and get fourth. I’ve come to an understanding with myself I’m always going to be a bridesmaid to the podium in sport class, the top two sport guys are always going to be running at expert speed. So stay in sport and run expert speed just to step on the box or just suck it up and take my lumps in expert and try to get better. Phat J at Edge Outdoors put it best to me “do you want to be the fastest of the slow guys or the slowest of the fast guys?”
The jump to expert to me was so much of a mental battle, plus like I said earlier I wasn’t really ready to race at that speed. In sport you get eyes of someone in the woods you are more than likely going to run them down in expert they either run away from you or it takes so much longer to reel them in and once you fall off the main pack it is difficult to keep yourself mentally in the game to keep pushing because in my case you are all by yourself and have to self-motivate to stay at your redline. After the Lake Hope race results and lots of thought over the winter I’ll be strapping the expert plate back on and keeping it there, my goal will be to see how long I can hold off before Mr. Quickdirt passes me!
4) Last year you decided to do the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic? That’s a bigger challenge than most cyclists take on in a typical year. What was it like and would you recommend that other mountain bikers sign up?
It was huge, and talk about running with big dogs (well more like standing at the start line and watching them run away from you!) It was amazing, I went out there only pre riding the Tussey ridge trail which is one trail at Rothrock state park. I knew there would be a lot of rocks and technical riding but it is almost unimaginable until you get out there and ride it, literally rock gardens that last miles. The whole area is what I always imagined real mountain biking was and just going out there to ride and experience all those amazing trails and views was great.
I was moved up to Solo Pro because I was originally going to compete in the Duo Category with Andy Crow, however, he had surgery and was off of the bike most of last year I still went out and did it because I already had put a lot of effort getting ready for it and figured it would be a good experience to learn what we were getting into if we decided to do it again in 2015.
It was a lot of long days in the saddle of epic riding but as with most Summer Camps (even mountain bike summer camp) I became homesick, Corianne was doing the Mohican 100k for the first time and I was bumming because I was fighting my own battles and not going to be there to support her. I decided to bail out after the fifth stage, first of all I wasn’t winning anything (see note on DFL in Ohio expert races!) and I wanted to support Corianne so I snuck home and surprised her and lined up at the Mohican 100 and rode it with her and her friend Lisa, and also the won husband of the year award. It was great be there to support her and ride with all my Ohio MTB peers. Plus, we convinced some guy at aid station 2 not to drop out and he finished with us! I still ended the week with 203 mtb miles and 28,000 feet climbing for the week and topping it off with Mohican 100k I figured that evened out bailing on the last two stages for my epic riding for the week! Overall I was pretty happy that all my endurance training paid off even if it did not translate well to racing expert class.
My recommendation to anyone thinking about it, do the three day option that way you get a taste of everything, time trial, endurance race, and an enduro. If you liked that and want to repeat it then go back next year for the full week
5) Do you train to race or are you more casual? What is your approach to training and how do you gauge success?
This year I’m training to race, I’ve been focused on getting PR’s at the Snake Gap Creek Time Trial which will cause me to peak super early, I’ll take it easy for a couple weeks after that and decide if I want to focus on XC or endurance events for the rest of the year. I’m trying to become more structured in training but that is usually not as fun, I typically just wait for someone to mention something stupid like going and doing the Dirty Dozen in Pittsburgh, or the Pisgah 111k, or a ride in amish country that doesn’t stop until you find a camel and jump on those. They are usually fun and indirectly make me better. As long as I am having fun and being a positive ambassador for our sport I consider whatever I do a success
6) How do you stay in shape in the off season? Are you ready for spring?
In transition phases I will do P90x or T25 but I usually ride on the road all winter long. This year even the roads have been snow covered and icy so I’ve spent a lot more time than usual in the basement on the trainer. I gave Trainer Road a try this winter, and the structure along with all the data it can give you really kept me engaged to riding in the basement plus it’s been fun having other teammates workouts in the feed and being able to watch how there rides go and watch everyone make gains.
I am really looking forward to spring I think there are a lot of great races all over the state this year. I experienced my first six hour race at Six hours of Brady’s Run last year, that style of run never seemed interesting to me and on a whim I did it with a teammate and I had a blast. That has motivated me to try other style of races I feel I have set myself up to be able to try whatever style of race and have fun with it, as long as I’m having fun and challenging myself I’ll be out there on the trail!