Ever since I really got into racing and training, I’ve sought out new events to challenge myself. I’ve now tried track racing, fixed gear criteriums (circuit races), Enduro and Downhill mountain bike races and road criteriums plus I’ve just signed up for an endurance event and a triathlon. The events might all sound different, using different bikes, locations or types of terrain but they’re all cycling and share common characteristics, so I’ve learnt lessons about myself and about what works from all of them.
One of the major problems for many women curious about competitive cycling is a lack of confidence. There are numerous reasons why this is the case, but for me, one really obvious one is that it can be rare to see other women competing and I think many of us really need that. I can recall more than one time I’ve been considering trying something new and wondering whether I’d be able to manage, then finally taking the plunge after seeing another woman competing, thinking ‘if she’s doing it, maybe I can too!’
Don’t deny yourself an experience because of other people.
It can also be tough if you know you’ll be very much in the minority as you can feel very exposed, whereas the men can enjoy some anonymity thanks to larger numbers. I get where you’re coming from with this and I’m not saying I don’t feel the same, but please don’t deny yourself an experience because of other people and what they may or may not think.
Winning the battle against yourself is the first victory you need on the road to success.
Sadly, I can’t magic up greater numbers of women at events or single-handedly give female athletes more media coverage. What I can do is share the tips for new challenges and pre race nerves that I’ve discovered on my racing journey. I’ve written before about cycling mind games, and that’s because winning the battle against yourself is the first victory you need on the road to success. So if you’re a woman looking to challenge yourself, read on to see how I manage my emotions and get my top tips for taking on a new challenge.
1. Concentrate on what you’re doing rather than what everyone else is doing.
When I’m racing, I don’t bother finding out who I’m racing or how good they’re supposed to be, because ultimately, their skill/speed/stamina isn’t going to affect my performance. It’s far better to concentrate on your own race and leave them to race theirs. You can risk psyching yourself out if you discover your components are very strong or you might think it’s not worth trying to keep up with them.
2. Beat yourself
I never let the fact I won’t win, podium or even come top ten put me off from trying something because I measure my success against myself rather than other people. What I try and achieve is a result that’s good for me, so that might be simply finishing a race, pushing myself harder than I’ve ever done or keeping up with a group of women I consider to be strong.
3. Remember why you’re there
When you’re on the start line feeling nervous, remember you’re there because you wanted to be. You’ve (hopefully!) put in the hard work and now the challenge is starting, remember to enjoy the experience because it’s meant to be fun!
4. Don’t let what you think other people think stop you!
A lot of the time, we can be put off trying things because we fear judgment from others, but what I’ve discovered is that most of the time, people are not thinking what you think they are! Nine times out of ten, people are not thinking:
‘Why is she here? Why is she bothering?’
What they’re actually thinking is:
‘Fair play! Good on her!’
The rest of the time they’re not thinking about you at all because they’re way more interested in their own race that what you’re doing.
5. The first time is always hardest.
I always like to remember when I’m feeling nervous that the first time is always the hardest; you’re leaping into the unknown and your mind is getting carried away with itself imagining all kinds of dramatic and ridiculous things that are not based on reality. So get cracking and get the first time out of the way and you’ll be laughing. The more times you do something, the less scary it gets.
6. Train properly.
If I’ve completed my training or put in lots of hard work, that gives me confidence on the start line as I know I’ve done everything I can to be in the best possible position for the challenge and that all I need to do now is enjoy the event. The race should be the reward for all your hard training, not something horrid!
7. Prepare well for the day of the challenge.
I find it really helps to write yourself a schedule of what to do when on the day of your challenge, so you’re taking control of what you can control and removing unpredictability that might throw you off. For example, I might write:
15.00 Eat pre-race meal
17.00 Begin warm up. Drink one full bottle of water
17.30 Take gel
17.45 Get to start line
I like to just follow my own instructions knowing the day will take care of itself and I don’t need to worry about anything, otherwise I risk getting in a flap!
8. Zip it!
I’ve noticed that before a race, some people like to tell everyone how nervous they are, how they’re worried they’ll be rubbish or slow or how scary the course is and when they do this, other women chip in a whip up an air of anxiety. I prefer to distance myself from that kind of thing, as it’s spectacularly unhelpful! It’s really important not to put yourself down before a race – hold your head up high, pretend to be confident and do not verbalise any negative thoughts you have as you’ll reinforce those beliefs. It’s not about making yourself look strong or confident in front of your competitors, it’s about convincing yourself.
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