Entering the sport of cycling is sometimes tricky. It’s not a common sport that people watch on TV, not a sport that is available for kids to compete in at school, and not a sport that makes it easy to know where to begin. Everyone’s start in cycling is unique. I was fortunate when I started racing because my dad raced for a couple of years as an amateur during college. Since he had raced before, he understood what needed to be taken care of for my brother and I to start racing: buying a road bike, joining a team or club, purchasing a race license, and the list goes on and on. These steps are the basic entry-level requirements to begin racing. If you are thinking about racing and have no clue about what I mentioned above, I recommend reaching out to a local club or a friend you know that races and ask about these steps. The tips I am sharing are more about improving your racing journey and sharing things I wish I understood when I first started racing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
The best way to improve in cycling is to learn. This can be achieved by asking questions and trying. In cycling, there are “no dumb questions.” The sport is confusing. It has a lot of strange terms, different races to choose from, expensive purchases that might not be worth it, etc. It might seem concerning to ask for advice when everyone seems to know what is going on, but you have no clue. Don’t feel bad; everyone has gone through this and understands. Asking questions to other cyclists who are more experienced can save you a lot of trouble. A simple question like, “Does this course favor breakaways today,” can give you an idea of what you need to pay attention to in the race that day. Listening to the guidance from more experienced riders will help you improve quicker.
- Enjoy the process.
Winning a race in the sport of cycling is not simple and does not happen overnight. This sport is hard, and the best way to improve is to keep doing it. Racing is the fun part for me, but there is nothing glamorous about training to me. The “behind the scenes” work that athletes put in to achieve results is the process that is sometimes hard to enjoy. Showing up to train, giving a hundred percent during efforts, and then doing it all again the next day is the process that results in improvement. The process is not easy, but you need to find a way to enjoy it. I have had a lot of lows, but I have found ways to re-motivate myself to try again. It may mean taking a day off to mentally reset, going for a ride with friends, switching interval days, etc. If you are not having fun, why are you doing it? The answer for me reminds me why I started racing in the first place – for the pure joy I get out of riding and racing my bike.
- Everything is not perfect and adapting is the name of the game
This is a continuation of enjoying the process tip. In cycling, you will never be able to say something went to perfection…it won’t happen. As I have said multiple times already, cycling is a hard sport. You can train your hardest, eat the healthiest, get the optimal amount of sleep, and the list goes on, but on race day, one person’s attack during the race changes everything. Going into a race with a plan is a good idea, but it needs to be almost like a rough draft for an essay. You have your key points down and understand what you want, but it isn’t final and is open for improvements. That is the mindset you need when it comes to racing and training. You start a race and have a goal and an idea of how you might achieve the goal, but the race doesn’t go the way you thought it would go, what do you do? Adapt. That is all you can do. Being open-minded and changing plans mid-race is a skill that is learned through trial and error. This mindset is also needed for everyday training. During training, the quality of intervals and efforts ebb and flow in how they turn out. They are more controlled than races, but somedays are just not good days on the bike. This is where adapting and understanding that every effort can’t be perfect makes moving on to the next day a lot easier.
- You will receive a lot of advice
You will receive A LOT of advice when you start racing. When you first start racing, you will quickly find out that people in the cycling community, especially at the local level, support one another. The cycling community is welcoming to new riders and want to help. This help may be advice on how to race, set up your bike, what training should look like, and so on. It is incredible, and I love the cycling community for how welcoming it is, but you need to be careful not to get overwhelmed by all the advice. When I started racing, I had my dad helping me with training and racing. This made it a lot easier for me to focus on the advice from someone I trusted. “My advice” is to find what works for you. This doesn’t mean ignoring the help from everyone, but instead trying bits and pieces to construct a base knowledge of what works and doesn’t work for you. After you figure this out, be open to the advice, but focus on trying new advice that falls in line with what has been working for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things though, keep expanding your knowledge to improve.
I will add one more tip, have fun! Cycling is hard, but focusing on having fun will make the training days pass quicker and the racing more rewarding.
Until next time, thanks for reading, Megan Jastrab