January doesn’t seem that long ago. That was when I made a commitment to try road bike racing in 2018. In April, I did my first criterium (crit) race, Crit On The Campus. Since then, I have made it to the start and finish lines of one road race and several crit races.
I set out to give it a go and reach the finish line. I wanted a new challenge and I wanted to support women’s bike racing.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect back in January. I don’t think I expected to enjoy racing quite as much as I did. I certainly did not expect to achieve as much as I did.
To put the above statement into context:
- Enjoying Racing – I had a moment wondering what on earth I was doing there every time I stood on a start line. I spent much of every race I did feeling like my heart lungs and legs were about to explode and fighting the urge to just stop. But after (sometimes quite a while after) every race, I felt brilliant. By enjoyment, I mean the kind of enjoyment that comes with hindsight.
- Achievements – I did not win a single race. I never expected to. My highest place was fourth (there were six of us racing that evening). But I finished every race I started. I learnt something new with every race (see below). I overcame my fears and self doubt. I achieved more psychologically than I did physically. I met some amazing people. I gained my cat 3 license (you can find an explanation of racing categories here). I won a regional development series bronze medal.
With the season ending, I thought it was time for some reflections.
What I Have Learnt
When I set out to try racing, I didn’t really give much thought to what I might learn. I really just wanted to find out if I could reach a finish line upright and in one piece. It turns out that yes, I can. But I have learned so much more:
I love crit racing, the jury is still out about road racing
I only managed one road race this year. I am proud of the fact that I did it and I finished. However, I was dropped by the bunch in the first mile and effectively rode a 38 mile time trial. For a long time I could see riders in front of me. But I couldn’t catch them.
It was a long way on my own.
Crit races are shorter There are plenty in the evenings. They do not involve other road users. They frequently involve far fewer potholes. If you ride them at the wonderful new Fife Cycle Park, they involve no potholes at all and a track which just makes you want to go fast.
With two young children, I struggle to find the time to train as much as I would like and I rarely get out for rides longer than a couple of hours. This is not ideal training for road races. For crit racing, you can get away with a lack of big miles.
I am stronger than I think
I am built for power, rather than nimbleness.I have always been fairly physically strong (ask my mother, one of my catchphrases when I was a child was “it just came off in my hand”). Yet somehow, I didn’t expect to be strong compared to other women who race. I expected to be last in every race. I was close a few times, but never actually last.
Women’s crit racing in Scotland involves fairly small fields at the moment. This means that you come to know the other women racing. This is great because they are a brilliant bunch of women who are far more friendly than the dark glasses on the start line would suggest. It is also great because after a few races you come to know how you compare. Turns out, I compare alright.
I am not very confident, even when I think I am
My confidence in my own abilities on a bike has grown over the season. I thought that I had become quite confident.
That was until I wrote this in a blog post:
This year, after racing a handful of crit races, I have gained enough points to become a cat 3 rider. This has been largely due to staying upright to the finish in some races with small fields.
I was called on this.
You talk about building confidence in women but in your text you are suggesting a lack of confidence in your own ability. you say you achieved cat 3 mainly because of a small field, this is untrue. Yes it would be great if women’s races had bigger fields and your main point is absolutely valid but you are a strong rider. You have achieved cat 3 because you worked for it.
This comment, posted on the All Bikes Scotland Facebook page made me realise how far I still have to go.
I still don’t know how to warm up
At my first crit race I was slightly lost watching others warming up on their rollers. I am still slightly lost when it comes to warming up. I still wouldn’t dare ride on rollers (at least not in public). I have at least progressed to attempting to look like I know what I am doing whilst riding my bike fairly aimlessly around nearby roads.
This is on my list of things to think about for 2019. Watch out for me looking supremely competent warming up on a turbo next year… But still not rollers.
Most folk feel like quitting after 10 minutes
I have not yet done a race in which I did not consider pulling out after 10 minutes. After 10 minutes I usually feel like either my heart, lungs or legs (or all three) are going to explode if I do not stop.
In my first few races I assumed that this was because I was not really fit enough.
Then I started speaking to others and came to realise that just about everyone is feeling exactly the same.
It’s not that I am not fit enough, it is that races are meant to be hard. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a race, would it!
Why YOU Should Race in 2019 (yes, you)
There are still not enough women racing bikes in Scotland.
I was discussing this with my husband at one point and he suggested that maybe this was because many women are just not interested in racing. Perhaps this is right. However, if you look at forums and social media pages, there are lots of women talking about racing. Filles A Velo run fantastic coaching sessions for women who are interested in giving racing a go and these are well attended.
Lots of women seem to talk about racing, but fail to take that leap into the unknown and enter a race.
Perhaps this is all down to confidence.
If you are a woman, you ride a road bike and you have ever considered having a go at racing, I would strongly urge you to stop considering and start racing. Everyone has their own reasons why. These are the main reasons I would offer you:
- Because you will learn a lot about yourself, about bike handling, and about other people
- Because women’s racing needs all the support it can get
- Because, chances are, all those reasons you have for not racing, are probably excuses really (see below)
Excuses….and why they are nonsense
Until this year I had all sorts of reasons why I didn’t race. Turns out that most of them weren’t reasons, they were excuses.
Racing With The ‘Big Girls’
Women’s races in Scotland are usually for all categories of riders. This means that it might be your very first race, but the rider next to you is planning to race professionally pretty soon. This can be somewhat intimidating.
Turns out, it doesn’t matter at all. Races very quickly break up into smaller groups and you probably won’t see the super speedy racers until they lap you. They ride their race, you ride yours. After all, were you planning to win?
Everyone Is Fitter / Stronger Than Me
Maybe…maybe not. Appearances can be deceptive. Chances are, at least half the women on the starting line are thinking this.
I Need To Watch a Race or Two First
As far as starting crit racing goes, there is really not much to learn. Ride in circles as fast as you can for a set amount of time. That really is all there is to it. Personally, I think races can look a lot more scary than they are. You don’t learn by watching, you learn by doing. There is nothing like having paid an entrance fee in advance to make you turn up.
My Bike Isn’t Good Enough
I used this excuse one year. A friend pointed out that it was an excuse by explaining that, since I was unlikely to win races in my first year racing, this really didn’t matter.
I Am Overweight
So many women worry constantly about their weight. I have certainly struggled with my weight since having children, especially since there really is nowhere to hide in cycling lycra! But it’s the local crit race, not the Tour De France. It’s a hobby, not a career. And anyway, so what? We all do the best we can with the body we have right now.
I Am Not as Well Trained As I Would Like
You will probably never feel as well trained as you would like to be. I am not sure that anyone ever does. Again, it’s a hobby, not a career. We all have ‘real’ lives which get in the way.
I Don’t Know What To Do
Do not let the dark glasses on the start line fool you. All the women I have met at races have been really friendly and happy to offer advice. We all want to get more women racing. If you are unsure about something, just ask someone.
It’s Expensive – you might be right there
Actually, it is kind of expensive at around £20 per race. At least spending all that money to enter in advance is a good reason to make sure you turn up on the day.
Why Crit racing is a great place to start
If you are thinking of having a go at racing a road bike then crit races are a great place to start:
- They are closed circuit races so you just go round and round the same route. It is very hard to go wrong.
- They are traffic free.
- They are short.
- They are often run as a series, which means you can compare your performance on race to the next.
- They are great for spectators, so they make a pretty good family day out if you have children to accommodate.
In short, stop thinking and just enter!
I look forward to saying hi to you on a start line in 2019. Or if you are really inspired, there’s always cyclocross…