This year has been all about trying new experiences and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Whether it’s cycling up a mountain or swimming in the sea, I’ve faced my fears and learned how much I can achieve when I believe in myself.
When I saw a post about a women’s road racing course over on Christine’s blog, I was intrigued and terrified at the same time. The Women’s Eastern Racing League were organising a second running of the course at Redbridge Cycling Centre, which is very local to me. I nervously signed up after tweeting them for a few more details. The league was set up to encourage more women to get involved in cycling and to proactively organise races for females in the region. I’m always keen to support any initiatives which encourage more women into sport, particularly areas where females are under-represented such as cycle racing.
Arriving at Redbridge, we were introduced to Huw Williams, British Cycling Level 3 coach, who would be sharing his knowledge with us throughout the afternoon. He was assisted by Tanya Griffiths, Corrine Hall, Nikki Juniper, Isla Rush and Caroline Stewart– all kick-ass female cyclists, with a series of awards to their names.
We began by cycling a small loop to warm up, increasing the pace every time Huw blew the whistle. He explained the importance of a good warm-up before racing.
We then rode a few laps of the track in a peloton formation. I must admit I was shaking with nerves initially when cycling in such close proximity to the other riders. We repeated the exercise again, but this time with more of an emphasis on communication. Shouting out “on your right” or “hold your line” to let other riders know your whereabouts makes for a safer road race.
To demonstrate exactly how close you can ride in a group, we were asked to set off in a line six-abreast with our outstretched arm on our neighbours shoulder. Everyone glanced around nervously as we anticipated the domino effect! The first lap of the circuit mostly involved me prodding the woman next to me in the arm- I couldn’t bring myself to hold her shoulder for fear of pushing her over. By the second lap, I had started to relax and ride close enough to actually rest my hand on her shoulder. I was amazed and relieved to complete several laps without any accidents!
We moved onto cornering. Huw walked us through the key pointers when taking a corner in a race- positioning yourself in the road, looking straight ahead, leaning the bike and accelerating out of the turn. There was an acronym to help remember the skills, but I forgot it almost instantly! It was fantastic to see how much everyone improved even after just 20 minutes cornering practice.
Working as a team is an important skill in road racing, as it uses considerably less energy to shelter from the wind behind another rider. We practiced two types of techniques for riding in a pack- a paceline and a chaingang. Both formations involved alternating the leader of the bunch and it was crucial to stay on the wheel of the rider in front- never allowing a gap to open. Again we learned the importance of communication- the lead rider indicates that they will move back with a flick of the elbow before moving out and softly pedalling until they join the back of the group. If anyone was dropping off the back of the group, they had to shout so that we could slow and let them join back on. After some practice, we grasped the skill and it began to fall into place, I actually began to enjoy myself!
The day was finished with a mock-race around the circuit, only three laps but enough to give us a taster of the type of event we could potentially take part in. We rode the first lap at a slower speed to “neutralise” the group, then the second and third laps were at a faster pace. I was determined to not be dropped from the group, although the corners and slight inclines really started to divide the pack. I was pleased with finish with the group- despite being just a short race it felt pretty intense!
I learned such a lot over the course of four hours, I came away with my head spinning! I met a great group of women, including Katie who blogs at These Girls Do. We were all encouraged to put our skills into practice by entering a race. I’m still not sure that my confidence levels are there, but it is something I am considering for the future.
A huge thanks for Huw and his team of pro-cyclists, for their patience and dedication. Thanks also to John Orbea for the fantastic photos of the day- I love this one of my ankle tattoos!