The Cycling Activist Training For Unbound
In this series we will be interviewing Marley Blonsky, a cycling activist training for Unbound Gravel cycling race. When she crosses the finish line, Marley will have proven, once again, that all bodies belong on bikes. Along the way to the finish line, we will follow Marley’s training progress. This path will not be linear as we will see her ups and downs. While this is a specific event, Marley’s activism for cycling didn’t just start. We will discuss her activism along with her training to get a full picture.
In this interview with Kristin Jenny, Marley talks about ……
Cycling Activist Training For Unbound, Meet Marley Blonsky
Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas, is known as one of the most grueling – and most fun – gravel races in North America. The event features course distances ranging from 25 miles up to the “XL” route of 350 miles. Each course goes through the dusty, hot gravel roads of the midwest.
Arkansas-based Marley Blonsky is preparing to take on either the Unbound 50- or 100-mile race on June 3 this year. Blonsky completed the 100-mile Unbound course in 2022 and is excited for more this year.
Beyond just training for Unbound, Blonsky is a well-known cycling activist and founder of All Bodies on Bikes, which is a “movement to create and foster a size inclusive bike community” through social rides and meetups nationwide.
For Blonsky, each race she starts is more than about reaching the finish line. Every race presents an opportunity to find and share joy in riding a bike. These race starts enable those in larger bodies to find their home in the cycling community.
“Commuting Is The Worst” – How Blonsky Became an Activist
One of the best parts about Blonsky is how approachable both she and her journey are. Her journey to becoming a prominent cycling advocate started out with a feeling: frustrated.
“I got into bikes about 10 years ago,” Blonsky says. “I was commuting to and from work in Seattle on the bus and it was taking 45 minutes to go two miles. I knew there had to be a better way, so I started bike commuting.”
Blonsky says her foray into bike commuting and riding for recreation was a “rough start.” There was a lack of bikes and cycling apparel designed for people in larger bodies.
“Spoiler alert: I didn’t find clothes that fit for a long time,” Blonsky says.
Blonsky knew she was not the only person feeling excluded from a typically homogenous cycling community. She started blogging about her bike adventures, ranging from her daily commutes to her eventual overnight bike-packing trips.
She wanted to share her experiences with others because, as she puts it, “I felt like I had to discover a lot on my own by trial and error. There was a lot of info out there about people who wanted to bike fast. If you wanted to ride a bike for transportation and live in a bigger body, the info just didn’t exist.”
Since her blog nearly a decade ago, Blonsky has become a fixture in cycling advocacy. The advocacy has a particular focus. Making all aspects of cycling, from apparel to races, accessible and welcoming to all bodies as well as all abilities.
Blonsky founded All Bodies on Bikes, a nonprofit that aims to make cycling more inclusive to all. That all means all, regardless of their size or weight. The organization features group rides, social events, and race meetups across the United States.
Racing to Celebrate
As Blonsky prepares for Unbound this year, she recalls finishing “DFL” or “Dead F*cking Last” at another popular gravel race, Midsouth Gravel, in March 2023.
While finishing DFL can be a fear for some athletes, Blonsky embraced being DFL.
“[Finishing last] was a celebration of still being able to ride my bike,” Blonsky says. “I had knee surgery in September 2022 and Midsouth was my first chance to test [my recovery].”
Blonsky explained that Midsouth was not about proving anything. She wasn’t pursuing beating previous personal bests or trying to get DFL to make for a good story.
“I didn’t even realize I was DFL until mile 68, and it was kind of a relief to be DFL,” Blonsky says. “I knew that as long as I finished, people would celebrate me. I continued to ride my ride. I didn’t do anything different [after realizing I was in last place].”
Blonsky brings this same self-awareness and joy of riding bikes to all her races, and Unbound is no different.
Bound to Unbound
“I’m legitimately nervous,” Blonsky says of Unbound being just seven weeks away.
Blonsky is currently signed up for the Unbound 100-mile course, which last year featured nearly 5,300 feet of climbing (courses are subject to change each year) across the century ride. Blonsky completed the distance as her first century ride last year in just under 13 hours.
This year, though, Blonsky is open to dropping down the 50-mile course, which as of last year had 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
“At this point [in the year], my base fitness is there. I need to start increasing my volume and riding a little bit harder. Unbound 100 does have the cutoff speed of 10 miles per hour and I tend to sit at about nine-and-a-half miles per hour, so it’s close.”
Blonsky notes that she is trying to be gracious with herself and give herself the option to drop down to the 50 mile course if that’s what feels right for her body.
“I have other things to be excited about at Unbound, too,” Blonsky explains. “I have a film festival at the race to attend, I am going to record a podcast, see old friends – I’m not just there to ride my bike; there are so many other elements to that weekend.”
It Will Feel Like A Reunion
Regardless of the distance, Blonsky is most excited to attend Unbound because it “feels like a family reunion with [relatives] you actually enjoy spending time with.”
A unique part of Unbound is that racers have the option to stay in the dorms of Emporia State University for a discounted price. While some might cringe at the idea of returning to college dorm life, Blonsky loves it.
“It’s almost like a summer camp,” Blonsky says. “The event is very down to earth and humbling. People eat together in the dining hall and catch up in the dorms… it’s just such a fun community celebration.”
As Blonsky continues her training for either the Unbound 100- or 50-mile distance, she wants to stay connected to her initial love of riding bikes.
“When I first started riding, I just rode my bike for fun,” Blonsky says. “I still try to keep the mindset of ‘this isn’t a chore,’ and to find joy and community in my riding and racing.”
Run Tri Mag will check in with Blonsky again next month, as we continue to follow the cycling activist training for Unbound.
What Marley is Wearing
Great cycling adventures require great gear. Blonsky is part of team Pearl Izumi, which is dedicated to making size-inclusive cycling gear for all bodies. This past month, Blonsky has favored these two pieces of apparel from Pearl Izumi:
- The Pearl Izumi Classic Jersey, which ranges from 3XL to XS and is made from 100% recycled materials.
- The Pearl Izumi Quest Barrier Convertible Jacket which also ranges from 3XL to XS and is water repellant and has snap-on sleeves to quickly change from jacket to vest depending on the weather conditions.
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