Off The Drop | Isla Short | XC World Cup Racer
We are super stoked to have Isla on our wheels for this season. With some race dates now being confirmed for this year, it's looking like September will be the start of the season. Isla will not only be racing but will also be helping us develop some top-level wheels designed to make the fastest of racers go even faster. Here is what she had to say when we sat down with her for a chat.
Name – Isla Short
Age - 23
Ice Breaker! Describe yourself in 3 words-
Passionate, mindful, curious
What’s your secret hobby/passion away from the bike?
Before cycling came into focus I was at a specialist music school studying the harp. Growing up, music was the primary activity but I discovered my love for the hills and that changed my direction totally. I still play but strictly for pleasure now as I had a pretty intense few years pursuing it at a young age.
What is your earliest cycling memory?
Sticking my foot between the chain and the chainring on the back of a moving tandem whilst touring in France with my family when I was 4. I sliced my big toe to the bone and tore my barbie trainers, but I did get an extra scoop of ice cream and my sisters didn't so it was worth it.
How did you get into riding?
My parents opted out of family holiday norms and took me and my sisters around Scotland, the lake district and occasionally abroad cycling camping on our tandem and triplet. Cycling was a huge part of my childhood so I had a deep-rooted relationship with it early on. My dad was also a bit of a beast racing endurance MTB events; I eventually got bored of feeding him tinned rice pudding in the pits and wanted to give it a go myself when I was about 13. It escalated pretty quickly from there!
First bike & favorite bike?
The first bike I remember pedaling was a hand me down Trek from my big sister. I stole it from her at a campsite in Germany and cycled to the lake by myself. I got in a lot of trouble for that. My favorite bike is my Orbea Oiz because it fits my 5-foot stature perfectly and rides likes a dream because I'm running exactly what I want to on it; it really is my dream bike. I also have a sentimental attachment to the bikes my dad built for me to race when I was younger. They were all top of the range with components so light they didn't actually do the one job they were supposed to do. I looked pretty good though haha.
If you could ride 1 trail for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A trail called Hush Hush at Glentress. It's an off-piste one that's been used in quite a few enduros. It's 2 minutes (or less if I'm on a dry day) of steep, tight corners full of mud and rocks and flows like a dream. It was one of the first enduro type trails that I nailed on my XC hardtail so I'm attached for sentimental reasons too!
So many riders these days are turning their backs on racing and finding new and exciting ways to express themselves and their sponsors on the bike via social media. How has your perception on riding and racing changed, if at all, as the years have gone by?
I have always ridden a bike for the simple joy of turning pedals, exploring new places, and testing my own limits. My progression with racing has been really organic but never the primary reason to ride. I'm in love with the process of improving and to be able to take that to a professional level is a bonus. That, combined with my desire to win makes bike racing something really enjoyable. It's true that social media is an increasingly central part of professional sport and of life in general, and it's a useful tool in many respects. I've had my own problems with managing a social media platform and searching for that balance between honesty and self-promotion when trying to build a profile and keep sponsors happy. I'm in a really great place now because my current set up allows me to do both of these things in a very natural, real way. However, it is just a tool and a very small part of the happiness that racing and achieving brings me.
Obviously we are in pretty challenging times at the moment, what are you doing to stay sane during isolation?
On a personal level, it is difficult to effectively be missing a season of racing, but I'm in a very fortunate position because as I said earlier, I enjoy pouring everything into the training process and that is currently my sanity. I'm really enjoying having a sole focus without the stress of traveling. There's a lot of speculation about when races will resume and cancellations are still happening. Initially, I felt disappointed about it all but I've moved into a different headspace now of focusing on the next few days rather than longer term goals. I'm going on the assumption that we won't be racing in 2020, and if we do that's a bonus. My coach and I have structured my training around having the option to be race-ready in the autumn so if racing does happen, I'll be prepared. Our cycling bubble is a small one and although I miss it too much to dwell on, I'm aware that the world of racing is far down the priority list, as it should be just now.
What does a normal week look like for an XC world cup racer?
My weekly structure varies hugely depending on the time of year and whether I have a university or not. Through the winter it's a constant juggle between training sessions and class. I'm very lucky to have a group of really supportive staff at Glasgow University who allow me the flexibility and trust in my work ethic. Sometimes I get frustrated because I want to give everything 100%, 100% of the time and that's just not realistic when combining a degree with professional sport.
Normally I go into university about 3 days a week, and on these days I do shorter training sessions. I take advantage of my days off with long rides, or use the time to ride in different places to keep my trail riding at the pointy end. I train in the gym twice a week and also do quite a lot of running. I love the variation and I think mountain bike is a great sport for this. There are countless ways to be faster on an XC course and I love working out this puzzle whilst trying to keep on top of my studies.
What are your thoughts on the progression/current situation of women’s riding and racing?
Women's cross country is in an incredible place just now! The perfect example of this was the first two rounds of the UCI World Cup in 2019. Each round had 5 different riders on the podium, which is so cool. The level is insanely high with any one of 10 or more riders capable of winning. I'm really excited to have entered elite XC at this point because we really are at an all time high. It's no longer the fittest or fastest technically who wins; it's about racing smart, and figuring out how to cross the line first in a group of riders who all have that chance. I'm so excited to get back to learning this art. I've definitely seen a big increase in female engagement at a grassroots level too; at local events or even on social media I see a lot of enthusiasm from girls and I we're at a critical point where we have to continue to boost support and opportunities in order to solidify a really good base that will then grow naturally.
If you could have anyone’s riding style, who's would it be?
If I could descend like Ella Connolly, a Scottish enduro ripper (she podiumed at an EWS as a first-year elite in only her 2nd year of racing enduro after moving from XC), I'd be hard to catch downhill. She has a really natural style and has just gradually gotten faster and faster without needing to force anything.
Which events are you most excited about racing or attending next year?
I had some exciting events planned this season which I will definitely be rescheduling in for 2021. In 2019 I raced my first marathon World Championship and just fell in love with it. I plan to race British, European, and World Marathon Champs as soon as I'm able to. But of course, my primary goal is to get back onto the World Cup startline and break into the top 10. I'm also actually really excited for Short Track! Anybody who knows me will think I'm lying because it was a massive hurdle for me psychologically in 2019 due to some undiagnosed breathing conditions. I've had surgery on my throat so I'm really hopeful that XCC will become something I look forward to and can succeed at.
Apart from MTB what else makes you tick?
Hill running! I started running to complement my training a couple of years ago and it's gradually become a really integral part of my routine and my happiness too. It's so easy to head out the door and into the hills and the act of running itself is so simple and pure. After my cycling career, I plan to move into ultra running and explore my limits there.
Goals for next year?
I've sort of just moved my 2020 goals back a year. After two World Cup top 15s in 2019, I want to break into the top 10 and become a regular there. I have some goals for my marathon events too that would give me a really good idea of how to get to the front of those races at the same time. I also want to race the Tweed Valley EWS on my XC bike. That might be my biggest goal haha.
So what has made you make the decision to run a full-suspension bike?
In the past, I'd always had either a full suss or a hardtail, and the goal was to work with a brand that could provide me with both options so that I could pick the fastest machine for a certain course. These days, the tracks are so demanding technically and often quite rough that I barely use the hardtail for racing. There are only a couple of tracks that have steep climbs and smooth descents suitable for the Alma (Orbea's XC hardtail), so I spend most of my time on the Oiz full suspension and recently made the switch to this as my training option too. It makes a lot of sense to ride a full suss as light and capable as the Oiz because the gains I can make throughout a race on the technical stuff outweigh the potential disadvantage on some climbs. I would almost always choose the Oiz for marathon racing too because the race is so long and your arms turn to jelly after a few twenty-minute descents without a shock.
What has been your worst crash over the years?
If being hit by a car counts as a crash, that's definitely my worst. In 2013 I was crossing a road and was hit, fracturing my spine and breaking my collarbone along with a concussion. If you mean actually falling off a bike whilst on a trail, I fractured my spine and broke my collarbone again in 2015 whilst at Lenzerheide World Cup, when I decided to do a drop that I didn't have the skills for yet. Those combinations of injuries is my special talent it seems.
If you weren’t a pro mountain biker, what would you be doing?
I like to think Id' be pro in another sport! I really can't imagine me doing anything other than a job that allows me to spend every day outside pushing my limits and stepping up against the world's best. The singular focus suits my personality, as does the variation it brings into the everyday. I think most likely I'd have ventured into the world of competitive hill running...
Your favorite creature comforts?
I have many of these. I get really homesick when I'm away racing, and it's one of the only aspects of my job that I dislike. I really cherish moments at home with my family, my local hills and trails, and my dog. During the season it's really important that I stock up on these things regularly to get me through my travels. I'm not somebody who enjoys living from a bag and spending weeks away from home, I love my base in Scotland and make sure I have somewhere secure to escape to when I need a break from the high intensity or pressure of racing. So, in short, my family (furry members included) and the Scottish hills! When I'm away I take a lot of food with me that I can't get over there. Tesco branded pesto makes me feel closer to home haha.
How did Short Factory Racing come about?
Short Factory Racing was a long-standing joke that my boyfriend created to describe my dad's dedication to my racing over the years. My dad loves to be involved and was the one who refused to believe that I wasn't good enough to be where I wanted to be in cycling. I achieved my first Junior World Series podium with just him for support and he threw himself into pimping my bikes - he loves that stuff. When I rode for my first professional team he took a step back and although it was always the goal for me to be on a team and have a bigger system, I think he found it hard. I spent four years on professional teams and realised during this time that I really was the happiest racing with my dad by my side. At the start of 2019 I was in a position to step away from a team set up and build something really personal to me that would allow me to be at the front of bike races. My time on teams was really valuable in teaching me what sort of environment I thrived on and the equipment I could genuinely see myself connecting with and performing on. My big realisation was that PEOPLE are at the core of success and happiness, and that's how SFR blossomed into what it is now. I'm so excited that my little project has become something so special to me and that I have a group of sponsors on board for the journey because they're an absolutely crucial part of my success and the message I want to send out.
Thanks for your time Isla we can't wait to see what you get up to this year. Ride-On!!!!