Push Pops, a jar of pickled green beans and uncooked ramen noodles.
That was breakfast one morning for Erie resident Maggie Livelsberger. The 40-year-old only had so much to choose from at a quick gas station stop during her 487-mile bike-packing race in Arkansas.
The unconventional breakfast didn't hold her back. She won the race.
Livelsberger, a clinical dietitian at UPMC Hamot, competed in the Arkansas High Country's South Loop in October. She became the first woman to complete the nearly all-gravel route with 32,000-plus feet of elevation change on a single-speed bike, which she built herself.
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She holds the fastest overall women's time and fastest known time on a single-speed for women at two days, 22 hours and 24 minutes.
But those are only her latest accolades.
Earlier this year, she became the first woman to attempt and finish on a single-speed bike the 213-mile Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder in Michigan. She also finished first in the women's single-speed and was the third woman overall in the 300-mile Garmin Gravel Worlds in Nebraska.
Livelsberger said the wins feel weird sometimes, knowing she only started endurance cycling in 2021.
"I feel like I have a terrible imposter syndrome and one day people are going to be like, 'How did you pull this off? There’s no way,'" Livelsberger said. "I never stopped enjoying being on the bike and I was really excited about the races I was doing this year, so I’m doing all right."
Crashing turned into motivation
In 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Livelsberger found herself casually riding her bike more and more.
"I hadn’t really thought about racing at all at that point, but a friend of mine did a few races and I thought that’d be fun," she said. "I also think the COVID lockdown lent itself really well to having a ton of free time to be able to go out and ride and sort of explore the idea of, 'Can I do this?,' and see what happens," she said.
With little preparation, Livelsberger entered her first race, Buffalo Gorge, a 30-mile course in Armstrong County.
"It was a big learning curve," she said. "I crashed twice, flattened my tires, cut myself all up and then I thought, 'Well, I’ll do another one because all the bad karma is out of the way.'"
Her perseverance led to her winning the 123-mile Mammoth Endurance Gravel in Wellsboro, Tioga County, the next year on her geared bike, along with several other podium finishes in 2021.
"That was my first full year of actually trying racing, so I thought, 'Well, I did that, what’s next?'" she said.
She built her own single-speed bike
Before Livelsberger started competing in the single-speed division, she raced with her geared bike, which utilizes a system of multiple gears. A single-speed bike does not have additional gears.
After seeing other women cyclists race on single-speeds, Livelsberger thought she'd try it out, too.
Livelsberger said the extra challenge of discovering what she described as, the "magic ratio" — the amount of tension the bike chain can keep without falling off — has been a cool part of the process.
"Those other riders were really influential for me wanting to ride single-speed, but the absolute enjoyment of riding single-speed is what made me want to keep doing it and challenging myself on it," she said.
Training her brain for competition
When Livelsberger isn't competing, she still carves out time to ride.
When training for her hundreds of miles races, Livesberger rides around the Howard Eaton Reservoir in North East and Greenfield townships and areas with gravel roads near Corry and Columbus, Warren County. She said she tries to get out to Allegheny National Forest to train, too.
On the days where she can't get outside to train, Livelsberger hops on her stationary bike in her home.
As vital as the weight training and the off-season rides are to Livelsberger's cycling success, she said training her brain has been one of the most important things that gets her ready for races.
"I remind myself when I’m riding, when I feel good, push it, because I’m not going to feel good forever," she said.
Giving herself mental reminders is how Livelsberger made her final 220-mile push to win the Arkansas High Country South Loop. Her friend and riding partner, Shannon Allison, was there to watch her cross the finish line at 5 a.m.
"She was just smiling ear to ear as if she didn’t just ride 500 miles," Allison said. "She was on this race high and she was so excited when she found out she was first place."
Even after Livelsberger finished her race, she went mountain biking with Allison every day for the next week. Allison said Livelsberger's passion for riding has only grown since the two forged a friendship over biking just a few years ago.
"She’s very diligent," Allison said. "She knows that if she calls me up and says, 'Shannon, this Saturday, do you want to go ride 80 miles,' I will say 'yes' every time, and vice versa."
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"It’s considered one of the most difficult and craziest routes," Livelsberger said. "It's 375 miles with over 41,000 feet of climbing. There’s a very high did-not-finish rate, so this will be very interesting doing it on single-speed."
While Livelsberger trains for one of her toughest single-speed races yet, she'll also be working on another biking project.
Livelsberger, along with several other women cyclists, recently created Hellbenders Collective, "a community for women/femme/non-binary people interested in bikes, bikepacking and PA exploration," according to information on the group's Instagram page.
"We thought it would be really cool to create a resource for women — since there are a lot less doing events like this — to learn more about fixing bikes, to have references who they can talk to, to have group rides in areas that maybe they wouldn’t have explored and to teach them about bike-packing and adventure cycling," Livelsberger said.
"It’s been just a really great way to have grown a community of people that I enjoy spending time with," she said. "At the same time, I love challenging myself to see what I'm capable of and pushing those boundaries."
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie cyclist Maggie Livelsberger wins endurance races