Meet Kirsten Landman, The Iron Woman Of Enduro Racing

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Profile

When it comes to enduro racing, getting on a bike and racing through the dirt, one South African woman immediately comes to mind. Kirsten Landman, the fearless competitor among the men, is working hard to open up the sport for more women to compete while etching her name in the history books as a competitor to watch.

Landman got her love for motorbike riding at the age of eight, where she raced around with her younger cousin. She was also a competitive swimmer at the time and her dad promised her a bike if she placed well at the Gauteng provincial level. She did so and got a little Yamaha that she could spin around in and ride around the complex where she lived. “[The complex] was not fully developed and there was a lot of open land,” she says. From there, it snowballed to track sessions and competitions.

Now, the animal activist and regular Dakar Rally competitor has made a name for herself in the sport in a male-dominated space. We talked to her about her training, fuel and how she keeps pushing the needle forward.

Kirsten Landman on her bike racing through sand
Kirsten Landman by Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool

Competing with the boys

The Dakar Rally, the premier, gruelling race of the sport, is almost completely dominated by men. Competitors must race 8,000 km of dirt road and varied terrain. But within the line-up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman in the race. There are but a handful of women who have taken on the event. Landman stands among them, known as “the iron woman of Hard Enduro”.

For her, competing on even ground with the boys is what it’s about. “I don’t see myself as a different competitor,” Landman says. “I mean, I’m a competitor. Same goal at the end of the day and I don’t feel any different, nor do I expect any different treatments.” For her, it’s all about riding her bike and having fun. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. “I’ve always been with the guys,” she says. “I’ve always had to train harder, work harder, put in extra effort just to make myself on the same level.”

Kirsten Landman; image by Craig Kolesky

Opening the sport for women

Part of Landman’s job, aside from racing, is inspiring other women to don their helmets and try it out for themselves. When Landman was starting out as an athlete, she’d reach out to other professional sportswomen and ask for advice. Their response? Radio silence. “Today, I get so many messages. It’s so many emails, and I’d go out of my way to try and reply and you know, I’ll never not reply to someone,” Landman says. “When I was growing up, if those sportswomen had replied to me, it would’ve meant so much. It’s really cool to be a part of something that can inspire young girls.”

Physical demands

To really even the score, Landman spends a lot of time on the motorbike getting saddle time. “You can’t really mimic that,” she says. To fuel her muscles for taxing rides, she spends a lot of time cycling and doing leg, upper body and core strength workouts. “I am riding a motorbike, and that is power generated from an engine, but the person on top of it is 70kg riding a bike that’s nearly twice my weight – and I’ve got to throw that thing around,” she explains.

To cap it all off, riders should be equipped with hydration packs and other fuel, which all goes on the bike, adding to the weight. There’s also balance at play and a lot of standing on the bike, so racers need good core and leg strength to control their movements well. Adding to that is the heart rate that soars when you’re racing. Take one race on a Saturday, where Landman was in the saddle for six hours. Her heart rate average? 162 – going for six hours straight. That’s a lot of intensity for a very long period of time.

Fuelling up

Burning calories at such high numbers (sometimes 10,000 in one day) means that eating well is of the essence. “I work really well off of carbs,” says Landman. That means lots of pasta, protein and carbs for the enduro racer. Also on her plate? Simple sugars to refuel fast and the odd chicken and veggies. “Because I train so hard and work so hard, the one thing that really makes me happy is food,” she says.

Landman also takes supplementation seriously to replenish what’s lost after long hours riding. She relies on magnesium, potassium and glutamine for recovery. She also takes recovery shakes with collagen.

Looking forward

“Just in South Africa, from the upcoming kids that I’m seeing, I think in 20 years’ time, we’ll have a full women’s category competing in the Dakar,” says Landman. Already, other countries like Spain are looking ahead and are training kids to take on motor racing. The future is looking brighter for women in sport.

Keen to hear more about Kirsten Landman? Follow her on Instagram as she tackles rough terrain of all sorts around the world.

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