On Being Competitive as a Woman

As women we often apologise for being competitive. It's considered unfeminine. Here's why we should celebrate and embrace our competitive edge.

I recently read this article which talks about how as women we are conditioned to apologise often. We apologise for ourselves, our lifestyles, our bodies and our choices, even when no apology is needed.

Being competitive is something that women needlessly apologise for. A competitive edge is not considered to be feminine- it’s associated with being too aggressive, ambitious and demanding. Men rarely apologise for being competitive, but it somehow feels wrong as a woman to admit the desire to win.

I often hold myself back for fear of being perceived as competitive. Lane swimming etiquette says that slower swimmers should let faster swimmers pass if they are being tapped on the toes. However, at my club swimming session I’ll often hold back and avoid overtaking as I worry I’ll be seen as rude or pushy. The same goes for cycling, I’ll stay at the back of the group as I feel I’m perceived as a show-off if I push forward to the front.

At Cycle Rhythm, the studio environment is set up to foster healthy competition. Stats are displayed on a screen at the front of the room, ranking each rider based on power output. Men seem to embrace this concept from the outset. However, I often hear female members initially claiming they are not competitive, then being sucked in by the leaderboard wanting to overtake their rivals.

Women play just as hard as men. We’re just as competitive- Sheryl Swoopes

A clubmate described me as being competitive last summer when we were training for the Cotswold 113. I was taken aback and immediately felt the need to justify myself. I’d never considered myself to be competitive, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it is OK to want to win. The desire for success is an innate human trait regardless of whether we are male or female. It’s something I want to celebrate and stop apologising for.

I am a competitive person and it’s not something to be ashamed of. I’m competitive in triathlon, my blog, my career and my life. A little healthy competition gives me the drive to push myself and achieve my goals. It helps me to put in my best effort and perform better. Training alongside someone who is slightly faster than me spurs me on to catch them. Of course, I’ll never win a triathlon, but I can always compete with myself to improve on my last performance.

I recently came 1st lady in a 25 mile Time Trial organised by my club. To be fair, there was only one other female taking part, but regardless I felt that ambition to win.

You can’t always be the strongest or most talented or most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive- Pat Summitt

We are often told that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ but in fact I think it can be useful to compare our results to our peers in order to bolster the desire to achieve.

Being competitive doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see others succeed. I’m hugely supportive of my friends, family, colleagues and clubmates- I love to see them achieve their goals and reach their potential. I’m not threatened by their success- they are not my rivals, but my inspiration.

What are your thoughts on being competitive as a woman?

4 Unique Triathlons to Challenge Yourself

Looking for a triathlon with a unique and challenging format? These races include SUP, trail running tandems and night time racing

Triathlon is booming as a sport with a huge variety of races, distances and locations on the calendar each season. But what if you are bored of the traditional format and fancy something more challenging?

These four races put a unique twist on the swim, bike run concept…

The Starman Night Triathlon

New for 2017, The Starman is night-time middle-distance set in the Caingorms, Scotland. The race begins at midnight with a 1.2 mile swim in Loch Morlich, followed by a 56 mile cycle on dark, silent Speyside roads before a wild mountain half marathon.

Aimed at experienced triathletes looking for a new challenge, The Starman is said to be one of the UK’s toughest triathlons. Participants must have experience of open-water swimming, navigation, off-road running and hill climbing of at least 2500ft. The Starman takes place on 19th/20th August and costs £125 for individual entries of £145 as a relay team.

Looking for a triathlon with a unique and challenging format? These races include SUP, trail running tandems and night time racing

Tandem Triathlon

The Tandem Triathlon is possibly the only challenge of it’s type in the world and is fantastic for all abilities. Competing as a team of two, one team member will complete a 1km pool swim and then both team members cycle 30km on a road tandem bike. After that, the second team member completes a challenging 10km woodland run. A 5km tandem sprint finish completes the team’s race.

Inclusivity and community spirit is at the heart of this event with fancy dress encouraged. The Tandem Triathlon is suitable for both able-bodied and visually impaired athletes as the tandem can assist participation.

Entry is £60 for the team and the event takes place on 1st July in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire.

The Isoman Triathlon

In most triathlon events, the bike is the longest portion with less time spent on the swim and run. Iron distance pros for example will spend only 10% of the total time swimming, 54% of the time cycling and 36% of the time running. The Isoman is a new format which addresses the imbalance and creates a event in which you are tested to the limit in all three disciplines.

The Isoman consists of a 7 mile swim (11.2km), 61.3 mile bike (98.6km) and 26.2 mile run (42.2km). There is also a half and quarter distance on offer. Each distance can be undertaken as a team- for the first time in triathlon, all legs of the relay will have an equal bearing on the result!

The Isoman takes place on 1st July in Redditch. Prices start at £150 for the full-distance and increase closer to the date of the event.

Looking for a triathlon with a unique and challenging format? These races include SUP, trail running tandems and night time racing

#SUPBIKERUN

#supbikerun have replaced the swim with SUP (Stand Up Paddle boarding) and both the bike and run are set on off-road trails and tracks. Perfect if you’d like to experience a multi-sport event but you are not a confident swimmer.

There’s two locations to choose from- Llandegfedd, Wales on 20th/21st May and Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire on 2nd/3rd September. Both have two distances on offer and SUP board hire is available. Both venues come complete with on-site camping, catering, SUP demos from the leading brands and a chillout zone.

Prices start at £39 for the Warrior Distance and increase closer to the date of the event.

Have you heard of any other triathlons with a different format? Do you fancy trying any of these?

Racing as an Athena Triathlete

In the USA, triathletes can race in Athena or Clydesdale divisions based on weight. Should there be weight categories in triathlon?

In triathlon, it’s common practice for your race results to be categorised according to your age group. For example, currently I am automatically ranked against other females aged between 30 and 34. Awards are usually given to the top three finishers in each age group, as well as the overall race winners.

However in the USA, there are additional race divisions known as Athena and Clydesdale which are based on the weight of the athlete. USAT rules define an Athena as a female weighing at least 165lbs and a Clydesdale as a male who weighs at least 220lbs. Race organisers determine whether their triathlon will include these categories and an athlete can choose to compete as an Athena/Clydesdale when registering.

As I have never raced in the United States, these divisions have never been something I’ve considered. I would however fall into the 165lb+ category by a few pounds, so it got me thinking about the idea of competing as an Athena if the opportunity ever arose. Typically, I tend to finish around the middle of the pack in my age group- I stand very little chance of getting a podium place. However I wonder if I would be more competitive against women of a similar weight?

In the USA, triathletes can race in Athena or Clydesdale divisions based on weight. Should there be weight categories in triathlon?

Understandably, these weight divisions do cause some controversy amongst athletes. At first glance, it can appear that these categories exist to stigmatise fat athletes. However, the divisions were developed to ‘level the playing field’ so that those of a larger body size can compete amongst themselves. It’s comparable to weight classes in boxing or martial arts. The Athena and Clydesdale categories encompass tall, muscular athletes and anyone who falls outside of the typical petite triathlete build.  Someone who weighs 165lbs is technically working harder than someone who weighs 125lbs- it’s more weight to carry up the hills!

I would certainly choose to race as an Athena if the option was given. I love the idea that the category is named after the goddess of wisdom and victory!

I’m proud of my body and my achievements. Triathlon has taught me to focus less on what my body looks like and more on what it can do. Over the years, I’ve lost weight and I’ve gained weight, but I’m now in a place where I’m comfortable in my body. The longer I’ve been involved with this sport, the more I notice how inclusive triathlon really is. I’ve seen all shapes and sizes finish a race, proving the point that fitness and ability have very little to do with the number on the scale. We are all built differently and different body shapes have their own strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, success in triathlon comes down to mental strength, dedication and determination.

Should there be Athena/Clydesdale categories in the UK? Would you race in a weight category if given the option?

What makes a great spin class?

What makes a great spin class? An energetic, motivated instructor with an awesome playlist and high-spec bikes

For the past three years, indoor cycling aka spinning has been a huge part of my life. My job at Cycle Rhythm involves recruiting, evaluating and assessing our instructors as well as maintaining our studio equipment. I’ve got high standards and I’ve learned a great deal about what separates an average class from an amazing class.

Indoor cycling has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, both in boutique fitness studios and big box gyms. There seems to be a new studio opening in London on an almost monthly basis. I try to keep up with changes in the industry and ensure Cycle Rhythm is ahead of the game, by checking out what our competitors are offering. Last week, I was invited down to the newly renovated Fitness First at Fenchurch Street to take part in one of their spin classes.

What makes a great spin class?

Bikes

The average member of the public might not have an opinion of the choice of bikes, however I’m an indoor cycling geek so I was curious to see what Fitness First had chosen to equip their new studio with. It turned out to be Star Trac Spinner Blade cycles, which I must admit I’m not a huge fan of. The resistance is controlled by a dial and there is no console to display data making them feel outdated in today’s market. Chain-driven bikes can also feel clunky if not properly maintained.

Bike Set-Up

Proper bike set-up is essential to maximise your experience of the class and avoid injury. Too often I see people riding with their saddles too low or without the handles securely tightened. It’s part of the instructors role to ensure that both beginners and experienced riders are set up correctly before the class starts. Instructors should also run through the main hand positions and body positions which they will use during class.

Studio sound and lighting

The sound system and lighting concept in a fitness studio really work together to create the whole experience. At Fitness First, they’ve gone for a pared-down approach with coloured light bars along one wall. The opposite wall is lined with mirrors to reflect the light around the room. The sound quality was great and music volume was appropriate.

What makes a great spin class? An energetic, motivated instructor with an awesome playlist and high-spec bikes

Technology

Part of the Cycle Rhythm experience is about monitoring and tracking performance metrics, which are displayed on a screen at the front of the room. The approach at Fitness First is much more low-tech, with no use of data either on the bikes or on screen. Personally, I find that the use of technology really enhances a cycling class in terms of motivating me to ride harder.

Instructor- Appearance

Does the instructor look the part? Are they wearing appropriate clothing and cycling shoes? Are they clean and presentable? I found it strange that the instructor at Fitness First wore a long-sleeved top throughout the ride. It gave the impression that she was cold and therefore not working up a sweat, which in turn makes an impression on the class participants.

What makes a great spin class? An energetic, motivated instructor with an awesome playlist and high-spec bikes

Instructor- Motivation and Personality

An engaging and energetic personality really goes a long way when leading a spin class. Being an instructor is about coaching and motivating the class- their enthusiasm effects the overall atmosphere of the room. There is nothing worse than being taught by an instructor who is simply ‘going through the motions’ without any passion.

Class Structure

Every spin class should begin with an introduction. The workout should have a clear structure and purpose which is communicated to the participants at the beginning. Will the focus be on sprints or hill climbing? How long will each interval last? There should always be a defined warm-up, main workout and cool-down. I notice that a lot of instructors tend to launch straight into a sprint without properly warming up the participants, which can lead to injury.

What makes a great spin class? An energetic, motivated instructor with an awesome playlist and high-spec bikes

Music

The beat of the music sets the mood for the class and playlists should reflect the profile of the workout. Music is obviously a very subjective choice and it’s impossible to please everyone’s tastes. No matter the choice of genre, it’s important to ride in time to the beat of the music, adjusting your speed and body position accordingly.

Stretching

One of my personal bugbears is when an instructor stands on the pedals to stretch calves and hamstrings. It damages the pedals as they were not designed to be used in that way. Always dismount the bike before stretching. Stretches should target the main muscle groups used during the class.

Upper body workouts

Edited to add… One of my biggest no-no’s is movements like press-ups or the use of hand-weights whilst cycling. These exercises are ineffective and potentially dangerous. Upper body workouts have no place in the cycle studio. Thankfully, Fitness First opted not to include these in their classes, and it’s something you’ll never see at Cycle Rhythm.

All photos credit: Ben Kapur

What makes a spin class great for you? Anything you like to see (or not see) in a class?