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Road racing: start of the season challenges / Rachel Crighton / Alpine Bikes blog

Tiso employee and student Rachel has just joined Team 22 for the upcoming racing season. But how is she juggling training, dissertation writing and physical blocks? Here she gives an update.

The last month has been pretty tough. Balancing the last year of university with dissertation writing, assignments, coursework, working, graduate interviews, training and trying to fit in ‘life days’ has meant that it’s been super busy. There have been several days where I’ve started to question whether it’s feasible to fit everything in. If only you could split yourself down the middle, it would make things a whole lot easier.

The hardest thing has been the lack of sleep and trying to get the nutrition right for the amount of training I’m doing. I was speaking to a few people who also race, and it seems to be the consensus that this is rather hard to do. Some days you’re out training and you have plenty of energy and other days, ten miles in, it hits you like a tonne of bricks… Fatigue, followed by the realisation that you’ve somehow failed to refuel properly.

It’s a hard balance to strike. Like most humans, you eat until you’re full… but I’m starting to learn that sometimes that’s not enough. You have to force yourself to eat even when you’re fed up eating. It can be utterly frustrating. However, the importance of fuelling well cannot be emphasised enough. It literally makes or break your training. It’s like learning to read your body better; teaching yourself how to look after yourself all over again because your ‘training’ body has different needs. This is just part of the learning curve. It’s just a hurdle, not a road block.

Training at my current intensity is never going to be easy.

Road racing: start of the season challenges / Rachel Crighton / Alpine Bikes blog

I never expected it to be – and as my dad keeps saying – there will be very few professionals or amateur cyclists who wake up every morning feeling fresh as a daisy and raring to go. It’s hard work: sometimes it’s a slog when your legs are tired and your mind is doubting your ability; there are other days when you’re overwhelmed by the sheer love and joy that cycling gives you. It has its highs and lows. But that’s like any sport, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t love it because it has peaks and troughs.

You can’t expect to be better without inflicting a little pain and suffering on yourself and pushing further than is comfortable. Otherwise, it would be easy… and everyone would be Olympians, right?! Like anything in life, I think it’s 50% mentality: the ability to keep going when it gets tough, you’re frustrated, or think you’re not performing as well as you can.

Having a bad week doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or you’re never going to be able to race at the level you want. It just means that you’re having a bad week. Everyone does. Get over it, pick yourself up, brush yourself down and get back on the horse. It’s easy to beat yourself up, and tell yourself to give up because that’s the easier solution. But if you gave up every time the going gets hard, then you would literally never do anything. Fact.

And that’s exactly what my dad said to me. I had a particularly bad training ride, where I overheated and stopped to take some clothing off, and then was left chasing the lead peloton of men who are all very strong riders. As Dad said, a lot of people would have admitted defeat before even chasing because the likelihood of catching them was zero. But I dug deep and commenced a solo TT like effort into a headwind. However, in my attempt to catch the group, I forgot to refuel properly and by the time I did it was too late. I had literally hit the wall. Game over. And with 30 miles to go, my legs were brick-like and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay on. 10 miles before the end I decided to trundle home, very annoyed and a little upset. This was not the ride I wanted before my first race. How would I be able to keep up with the fast girls?

Dad quickly defused the situation. We discussed what I’d learnt from it and what I needed to do in the future. Just because I’d had a terrible day in the saddle didn’t mean that I was a terrible cyclist. It was the reality check I needed and we all need them sometimes. From every negative you always have a positive, and hopefully next time I won’t make the same mistakes again. That’s my silver lining.

So that’s the challenges. But there are lots of positives too! The season is shaping up nicely and I have my first weekend in England on the 12th. There will be three firsts. My first time racing in England, my first time doing a TT and my first time doing a stage race! Exciting and nerve-wracking all at once. I will be able to meet some of the girls I’ll be racing with this season and collect my kit, because I was unable to make the team launch due to interviews. I literally can’t wait.

To be honest, I’m also looking forward to having the first race out the way. The longer it takes to come around, the more I envisage elaborate scenarios in your head (such as being dropped spectacularly or falling on my face doing the TT track stand… and so on). So I’m looking forward to having that under my belt, and putting my mind at ease.

The months that follow will be pretty busy too. They’re going to bring so many opportunities: racing in old places, exploring new places… And of course, my parents will be by my side. Despite being 22, my parents have both been absolutely fantastic in encouraging me to pursue my dreams. So I’m looking forward to continuing the journey with them. They are very special people. Onwards and hopefully upwards!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s natural to have challenges or bad weeks. It doesn’t mean you’re defeated, it just means that you need to reconsider or re-evaluate your expectations of yourself. Take a deep breath and start again.

Challenges don’t define our limits, but instead force us to push yourself in ways we never thought possible. Ultimately, they make us stronger. So now it’s time to just relax a little, start the season and try and enjoy the journey.

Follow Rachel's training over on Instagram... and share your photos with us using the hashtag #mytiso! We'll feature our favourites.

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