Malene Degn is 23 years old and the current Danish National Champion. She is a bright and bubbly personality who is always a pleasure to meet at the races, but should never be mistaken for as an easy competitor. She is a hard worker and determined athlete who also enjoys sharing her story through her blog.
Bec McConnell: You took up racing early and were a star as a Junior rider with some amazing results including European Champion, World Cup wins and a medal at the World Championships. Stepping up into Under 23 you won World Cups and in your first season as an Elite last season you already reached the podium racing to 5th in Nove Mesto. Your progression through the sport has been consistent and an improvement each season. Would you agree?
Malene Degn: Wow Bec, you make me blush! But yes, I’m very happy about my competitive years in this sport. Of course I have had seasons which were better than others, but I have always managed to do at least a couple of good results and improvements each year.
You’ve recently released a video about the Wolf inside Malene, tell us a little about the Wolf and how you feed it.
My sponsor Orbea wanted to make a video about me and asked me to find some kind of ‘theme’ for a story I wanted to tell. So I thought about it and quite fast figured that I wanted to tell something about the mental side of training and racing. I used the wolf as a metaphor for this mental player. Our brains are affected by the events that happens around us which we can’t control, but what we can control is how we digest those events. And that’s where the wolf comes into the picture. Can you turn it into something positive and feed your wolf with drive, passion and dreams? Or do you feed and listen to the negative wolf the most?
There are so many different approaches to training - the volume, intensity, gym, psychological and yet the margins in racing are so little. Do you think it’s difficult to find the right balance in training and do you ever feel some pressure or doubt when you see what other athletes are doing on social media?
I think this ‘balance’ is a never ending task. In my 7 years of racing World Cups there hasn’t been a single similar year. Maybe it’s because I’m young and not so settled yet, but there has always been changes, which I had to balance, both in school life, private life, teams, calendars etc etc!
I like to follow other athletes on social media; Instagram, Strava and so on, and of course I some times think ‘oh man she looks strong’, but it’s rare I feel doubt or pressure, it’s more like a motivating factor for me. I wanna be as strong.
Do you find it difficult to stay consistent over a full season of racing? You usually start your race season in February in Spain with some stage racing and the World Cup series finishes in September. How do you structure your off season and training/race schedule around that?
Since I turned pro the long seasons has been a bit of a struggle for me. I find it pretty hard to be ‘on’ from February to September. But I have been doing trial and error over the past years, so hopefully I will learn to manage it one day!
How do you feel about the pressure on athletes to have a presence on social media? Do you feel it is an important part of your job and are athletes expected to always look good and be positive? Do you feel there is too much emphasis and value placed on a riders social media following?
Personally I have never really felt any pressure to be present on social media, I like to be on social media, so that comes very naturally. Nor have I felt like I needed to show some overly happy pictures of life (life has good and bad days, right?). I hope my followers can feel a bit of who I am through the filters of instagram, I don’t try to make idealized pictures, but I also believe that my followers know that all the photos are chosen, which already means that some kind of ’filter’/selection has been made from my side. Just to state that social media isn’t real life.
For sure the social media is an important factor for any athlete in 2020. No doubt. I guess back in the days you could ‘hide’ more, if you didn’t want to give so much of yourself ‘away’ to the public. I guess that’s a part of what some athletes doesn’t like about instagram and so on now.
You’re a regular blogger (malene-degn.com/stories). You share quite openly your journey. Your stories are real, raw and authentic which is not common in all athletes. What is it about blogging that keeps your sharing? Do you ever find it tough to be so open?
I think my motivation to do blogs comes from different sources. I like to tell stories, I like to write, I like to share and I like to be able to tell more than a photo and some hashtags. People have asked me, isn’t it too much vulnerability to show to the world and your competitors? But in my perspective from vulnerability comes strength. But again I’m only open about what I want, I'm the one in charge of my blog.
Sorry to ask but when your boyfriend is Loic Bruni, the best downhill racer in the world we’re going to have to touch on it. How did the two of you meet?
Haha, no worries. We met in Copenhagen, Loic was there for a vacation after his 2016 season. I stated that I would be his perfect guide for Copenhagen, hah, so after a kayak trip in the canals he invited me out for dinner. And from there it went on to become the best thing that ever happened to me.
Your typical World Cup race weekend is a little different to most of us. Friday Short Track, Saturday DH and Sunday XCO. Do you find it stressful at all watching the DH on Saturday or is it a good distraction? How do you juggle these double header XC/Downhill World Cup weekends?
My most nervous moment is definitely Saturday afternoon. When it’s my turn, I’m fine because then I’m in control, but when Loic is in the start gate my bpm is skyhigh. But to not be stressed out all Saturday I only allow myself to think about DH two times that day. After my own practice I go kiss Loic good luck and when I see his run some hours later. Every minute before and after is about myself and my preparation.
Loic has mentioned that there is a lot he has learnt from you that he has applied to his own racing and feels you are a big part of his success and consistency. What do you think these things are and are there things that you have learnt from Loic that have helped you to continue to improve?
I think falling in love with someone who supports, believes and on the same time brings you down to earth is the best combo. And I think we both have felt that. Loic is the one I feel believes in me the most and that feeling really pushes me to do my best. When we started dating I think Loic realised how much effort you have to put into being on top of the game in cross country, not just in training but also daily life. This consistently hard work day in day out had a really big effect on him I think.
You have an apartment in Barcelona. Is this your home during the season or is it more for winter training? Why not live in Denmark, or France?
The apartment in the mountains of Barcelona is the perfect place for me to prepare for the season. Temperatures are good, trails are brilliant, the climbs and the community. For the season, so May-September, I’m so much on the road that my suitcase feels like home. Denmark and France are awesome too, and I will definantly live in those countries later on, but for now I have the possibly to go wherever I want, so I use that opportunity.
How do you approach the races mentally, are you relaxed or super nervous and do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform on race day or set yourself expectations?
My mental space can be different, according to the situtation. But generally I’m pretty calm. When I know I have down my homework, then I feel good about myself and ready to send! I always expect myself to give it my best. And of course I want my best to be the best, hah.
Have you had any major challenges through the COVID-19 situation and now that there is a calendar set for the 2020 World Cup does that help you to plan for the rest of the year?
This time was not easy, not for anyone I guess. I actually stopped working so focused with training and took kind of a more relax approach. The extra time also made me stop, think, and see things in a bigger picture, which ended up being a change of coach and other pretty big changes to my set up! The calendar + new additions to my own setup has fired me up for a good summer of training.
And what does the future hold for Malene Degn? Do you have any major goals or bucket list items you want to achieve on or off the bike?
I hope for a lot of good times and happiness! That’s anyway the most important to me. But of course I have cycling goals and personal goals I want to achieve too. The most major goal being the Olympics (Surprise).