‘Cross Training in Iraq: A Chat With Beth Mason

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Beth Mason facing conditions she did not find in Iraq. Photo by Eloy Anzola.

A year ago we published an interview with licensed physical therapist, certified bike fitter, and Cat 1 road and cyclocross racer Beth Mason. If you haven’t read it, take a couple minutes and do that now. Although Beth currently lives in West Point, New York, she has strong ties to the Mid-Atlantic racing community. During the cyclocross season Beth will make it out to several MABRA and MAC races and periodically sets up shop in Northern Virginia for several days of bike fittings. 

In addition to being a top-notch physical therapist and bike fitter, Beth also holds another job: U.S. Army officer. Maj. Beth Mason has spent most of 2010 serving a tour in Iraq. Now safely back in the states, she is restarting her fitting business with a four day stint in the Mid-Atlantic. 

As of today, she still has a couple slots available for an in-depth session that, according to Beth’s website, includes the following: 

“A detailed history, flexibility assessment, and static and dynamic positioning. Dynamic positioning will include the integration of the state-of-the-art Retul motion capture system for bike fitting—you have to see it to believe it! At the end of the fitting session the client will be provided with documents detailing their position, and their optimal bike position. Special emphasis is always placed on the foot/pedal interface, with respect to cleat adjustment, and wedging and shimming when necessary.” 

If you suffer from aches and pains on the bike or want to make sure you’re riding efficiently, do yourself a favor and contact Beth for scheduling or questions. She can be reached at bethbikes1@gmail.com or 410-562-4776. 

I caught up with Beth recently to ask her about her tour of Iraq and what it was like to ride a cyclocross bike in the desert. 

Thanks for reading. 

Many readers know you as a bike fitter and Cat1 racer. They may not know that you are also an officer in the U.S. Army and recently returned home from a tour in Iraq. Welcome home and we are glad you made it back safely. I know that before you left one of your goals was to keep as much bike fitness as possible. This seemed like an ambitious challenge that I’d like to have you walk us through.  
What cycling gear did you have shipped to Iraq? 

I had my Blue CXC cyclocross bike with Ksyrium wheels and Hutchinson Bulldog tubeless tires, a Cyclops Fluid trainer, a trainer tire, a floor pump and an inadequate stockpile of inner tubes. I quickly went through all of my tubes and had to call in favors from across the globe. I was sent sealant, tubes, tire irons, CO2 cartridges … I felt the love! 

Describe your accommodations and if storing bikes, trainers, etc. was an issue. 

I had my own Containerized Housing Unit (CHU), which was about the size of a tractor trailer box. Initially I stored my equipment and bike inside and really had no issues. Eventually, however, I was able to move my things to a “bike CHU” that I shared with the senior enlisted soldier who had a mountain bike and some equipment. 

Tell us about your ride schedule and what kind of terrain you faced. 

Initially after building up my bike, and stabilizing my tires with a tubeless system, I was riding consistently twice daily: once during our two hour lunch break, and then immediately after work. At that point, I was riding about 200 miles per week. This was challenging, because the base we were operating on was extremely small, and I was only able to ride out about 3 miles, and then would have to turn around. It was always the same out and back route with small variability, and the terrain was cement-like dirt and trap rock. There was a road (dirt with some black top) to travel on, but if you chose to travel the road, you chose to eat the dirt spat out by the passing vehicles. The alternative option was the trap rock fire road – better for the long term emphysema options, worse on the tubes if you were running them. 

Any challenges as far as kitting up for rides? Were you able to wear a jersey and cycling shoes or were you on your rig in BDUs and boots? 

I was relegated to wearing the Army Physical Fitness Uniform, which includes a gray t-shirt and black shorts, white socks (no logos, thank you very much), and a yellow reflective belt. I was able to wear my cycling shoes.

BDUs are obsolete, I believe we phased out around 2008. ACUs (Army Combat Uniform) are what we wear now (not on our bikes, thank God). 

I’m guessing a lot of race bikes don’t make it in theater. What was the reaction of your fellow soldiers?

I don’t think anyone really had any idea that my bike was anything better than a Huffy, or that I was anything more than a recreational rider. 

Any funny ride or bike-related stories you can share?

Crashing is always funny, right?

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If you can do handstand pushups, this is a piece of cake. Photo by Sterling Natalia McKittrick.

There was the time I was at the 3 mile turn-around point, which happens to be at a Ugandan compound, complete with Ugandan guards. I smiled, and did my high speed 180, but my tire pressure was low and I washed out. The next thing I knew, I was impaled on a number of very sharp rocks and was bleeding from my left hip and my left elbow. The Ugandan guard was running toward me, obviously concerned…ironically yelling “sorry!”. Of course I was just pissed off, and I got up as quickly as I could, ensured my chain was on, and ran a few steps before mounting the bike and riding away, blood running down my leg and arm. 

You were introduced to CrossFit while in Iraq. Can you tell us what that is all about?

CrossFit is an exercise regimen that delivers fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. It was a way for me to work on something new and different, which I needed while I was overseas. 

It seems like CrossFit involves a lot of upper-body work that is going to have most cyclists running in the other direction. Do you think this will benefit your cycling? If so, how?

After being home for awhile, and riding a bit … I’d have to say no. But I’m working to get that back. I might need to scale back on the pull ups and the handstand pushups. 

You’ve been back in the states a couple weeks. How’s the bike fitness compared to when you shipped out? 

This is pretty anti-climactic … horrible. The extra upper body muscle, plus a few extra pounds of body fat, factor in some stress…I can arm wrestle ya! 

From time to time you take your bike fitting business on the road. You are scheduled to be in the D.C. area June 26 through June 30. If folks wanted to make an appointment during that time do you still have slots available? If so, what is the best way to get in touch with you? 

I do still have some availability. I can be reached at bethbikes1@gmail.com or 410-562-4776 for scheduling or questions.

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