On racing and being female.

Many times in the past I’ve begun ‘it’s been a long time since I last blogged’ – but never has it been this long. Needless to say, the injury I mentioned in the previous post didn’t really heal as quickly as hoped, and I spent quite a few months on the sidelines feeling sorry for myself and being a misery.

The good thing that came out of it all is that with a period of being BANNED from all exercise (advice I categorically ignored until a certain someone pretty much threatened to disown me if I didn’t do as I was told):

1) I got better,
2) I realised I missed my bike more than anything in the world. Certainly more than swimming and running.

So – after first discovering the bike to take part in triathlon, I opted to have a go at just being a cyclist. I’d actually been tempted many times before, and toyed with the idea all Winter 2011, so yet another injury being the final nail in the coffin of my running career made the decision quite easy.

Any cyclist who has suffered an injury will remember the first rides after the pain all stopped. It was a bit like emerging from some sort of enforced hibernation, rediscovering the world and the hidden stretches of country road. Every hill felt like a direct challenge to face down and every descent was like a dare between rivals.

The first TT back in the season was really bizarre. It felt surreal to be reminded that all this – the “3,2,1” of the timekeeper, the forceful final push, the miles of unconquered road, and the yummy crummy 50p cake – had all been there in my absence.

A few TTs down, I tried my first circuit-road races, mainly so I knew what to expect come Summer 2013 (I think it’s fair to say 2012 was going to have to be a case of clawing what I could). The first I dropped off the group and finished the race in a 3-girl gang. That was actually pretty helpful since I needed to learn how to ride the sort of corners you find on a track in a group, and a small group made for good practise. The second I felt pretty good, and got a 5th place that never appeared on the results (truly irritating), but the place was confirmed by all the girls there even if unrecognised on the BC website, so that was good enough for me. The third was much like the first, and the fourth was a lesson in ‘not sitting on the front only to be slaughtered in the last lap’. Still, I was pleased to stick with the group since these girls, if you ask me, are pretty damn fit. TTing involves pedalling hard and straight, there is a lot of skill I need to learn to get better at road racing.

Women’s racing, I found, is very much it’s own scene. Where once I worried there weren’t enough races on – I soon discovered I should be more worried there were too many I couldn’t pick what to do. With so few women racing in the area, it’s easy to get to know each other pretty quickly. Tactically that’s obviously not ideal, but on the social side it’s quite cool.

It is true that in female-only races the tendency is to bunch category E(very fast)/1(fast)/2(pretty fast)/3(decent)/4(only just started out – not necessarily slow) racers together – so it is harder to do well since the likelihood of placing well when vs E’s and 1’s is pretty slim when starting out.  However, with fewer women racing it isn’t impossible. Regardless, no one ever got into competitive sport for easy wins, so I figured it was best not to whinge and get on with doing the best I could.

I could say one of the flaws of cycling is that it is so much easier to be ‘part of the gang’ if you’re male. There is more competition nearby, there are more people to train with. The problem there is that staying out of a sport because it seems inaccessible will only make it seem more so to others, and then nothing will ever change.

So – here begins the documentation of an assault on a male dominated sport. I go equipped with the slightly altered chemistry of a woman who has done enough training to morph the natural hormones anyway, an intimate knowledge of all cosmetics ‘mini’ (great for commuting), a solid grounding in the art of drying my hair with a hand-dryer after an extended ride to work (or turbo then ride to work – even MORE sweaty), and a terrible habit of  being a bit too honest when putting pen to paper. Enjoy.

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