Coming full cycle from pro-athlete to adventurer with Emma Pooley

For those who follow professional cycling, Emma Pooley needs no introduction. Women’s world Time Trial champion in 2010, she is one of the most successful female pro cyclists in the history of the sport. An advocate for equality, she’s since been an outspoken campaigner for the development of women’s sports across the world. And we couldn’t be prouder to introduce her as our new komoot ambassador. 

In 2019, Emma Pooley won the inaugural Further event outright (beating all participants, male and female), a small adventure cycling race routed over the French Pyrénées and the borderlands of Andorra and Spain. Covering a tough loop through the mountains, a select group of riders was treated to curvy tarmac winding through remote settlements, gravelly roads creeping into the hills, thousands of vertical meters of hike-a-bike and of course, the unique sensation of being alone among the peaks – a feeling of “aliveness,” as Emma puts it.

It was a tough race. But that’s not why she puts it down as one of the most pivotal adventures of her life. For someone who’s spent a lot of her life adhering to training schedules and juggling work with her athletic career, Further represents a happy place that she doesn’t often access in her day to day life.

Like most people, her life has the usual dose of day-to-day demands, with a side of anxiety, but when she was racing in the Pyrénées, she was treated to a new perspective: “I accidentally ended up in this state of mindfulness. Suddenly my priorities shifted, and it was just: move forward, find food and water, sleep. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and all the things you normally think about just disappeared. Life became very simple.”

“I’ve always wanted to go adventuring and I guess I finally got back to that. It just took me a while.”

In some ways, this is Emma Pooley coming back to her adventure-loving self. Talking to her over a video chat, she says as a child she always wanted to be a mountaineer, to go adventuring in the mountains. But being a determined, hard-working and talented athlete, she found herself being offered plenty of opportunities that lead her towards highly competitive sports. Her philosophy of embracing life’s opportunities meant she was soon swept up in the world of competition, winning numerous championship titles and medals over the years for sports ranging from cross-country running to triathlon until she focused exclusively on road cycling and quickly reached the top of the UK and world podiums. 

It’s only in the last few years that she’s re-awakened her adventurous spirit. As she puts it, “I’ve always wanted to go adventuring and I guess I finally got back to that. It just took me a while.”

Emma’s shift away from pro sports has taken her to beautiful places and uncovered whole new avenues for experiencing life outdoors, from buying herself a gravel bike and gradually tackling more off-road riding, to sleeping under the stars in a bivvy bag and embracing her love for trail running. And the transition has enabled a change in mindset around sport and training: “I always enjoyed running and cycling more with friends than alone, but sometimes with a specific training plan it’s hard to fit that in with other people. It’s fun to be more spontaneous and sociable these days — getting inspired by the challenges my buddies come up with, sharing route ideas, and doing multi-day trips with campfire dinners and several brews of coffee the next morning… It’s not that I don’t enjoy solo challenges, but it really is true that adventures are better with friends!”

She counts herself lucky to have discovered komoot early on in her adventure-journey. Firstly she notes that the difference between a 40 kilometer and 50 kilometer road ride isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re out in the mountains doing a 200, 300 kilometer loop, and need to factor in where you’re going to get water and food and sleep, the small details matter. She uses komoot’s Tour profile when planning her rides so she can see details like surface type and elevation gain, giving her a more accurate idea of what to expect and how to prepare.

In a testament to the shared community knowledge on komoot, Emma says: “Komoot has helped me find places that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.” You can always ride, hike, or run with friends who ‘know a cool route’, but Emma is not alone in saying that the community Highlights and tips other users share really open up the opportunities for adventure. Although she does caution, “Komoot is not a replacement for your own brain and common sense.” You should still cross-check with the community by reading the comments and seeing what other people have to say about a trail. 

For Emma, the last few years have been awesome. Her desire to challenge herself is strong but she thinks she’s found a good balance, “I wanted to make training fun again, and along the way I arrived at a different perspective: fun adventures are amazing training! And also a great way of challenging yourself. The challenge is really important to me. I just think it’s cool to push my limits because it feels somehow like I’m more alive.”

So here’s to adventures and feeling alive! Check out what Emma gets up to on her komoot profile: