– By Sarah Gigante
No pain, no gain.
Train insane or remain the same.
Dreams don’t work unless you do.
We often hear these rules, and strive to abide by them, but I only realised this year that “work hard, play hard” is probably the most essential rule of all. My friends and I are mostly juniors and we have been riding our bikes on a daily basis for years.We can’t imagine a different life! However, as far as we have come, we still have a long way to go if we wish to keep progressing into the elites; which, I am sure, most of us do! A major challenge lies ahead for a combination of reasons, including increased pressures at school, heightened expectations on the bike and the desire to have a social life. Unfortunately, the number of girls competing in the U19 age group drops off dramatically when compared to younger age groups. So,with that in mind, as the new season starts and the U17 girls graduate into this mysterious, ever-shrinking U19 age group, keep these tips close – even closer than you keep your Garmin!
1. Ride with your friends!
This one I cannot stress enough. Training doesn’t have to be boring – it should be the highlight of your day! Find some riding buddies in your area – you may know them from racing, work, school, or just from seeing them out on the road! Get a Facebook group together and organise some rides – you can choose fast, slow, hilly or flat, just do it with friends!
2. Try a different style of riding
Cycling is the best sport in the world – that much is clear! So what could be better than riding your roadie everyday? Trying track! Or cyclocross! Maybe give BMX and mountain-biking a go! Riding in a different style is sure to spice things up and keep you on your toes. Every night, you should be asking yourself, ‘Tomorrow – will I be climbing mountains, sprinting along Beach Rd, racing my mates at DISC (this one is highly recommended!), or finding some routes less travelled and getting my bike dirty?’ Whatever your choice, this is certain to keep riding fun and, as a bonus, you will be training without even thinking about it!
3. Do what YOU want!
Some juniors take on a coach at a very young age. This often means that the freedom of when to ride,where to ride, how long, what heart rate zones and which races should be targeted all disappear. And freedom and exploration are half the fun! I had a coach for a while, and while I learnt a lot – for example, I never knew how much recovery a rider needs! – for the past nine months I have well and truly enjoyed being coach-less. I go on as many rides and enter as many races as I can! I am still putting in all the hard work, just it is a thousand times more fun!
4. Think long-term!
We may think that we are practically Olympians now but, sadly, we’re not quite there yet! We have many, many years to go! Don’t worry if this season hasn’t quite worked out for you, or if you’ve never really been able to compete against the top girls or boys in your age group. Basically, this race to be a pro is actually a marathon, even though we may be thinking of it as a sprint! Stay cool during juniors, do your best, and definitely keep focusing on school…you will want a nice job later to be able to pay for those lovely carbon bikes! Even if you do have to downplay the cycling action for a year or two while you complete Year 12, this is definitely not going to be the be all and end all point in your career – unless you let it be! If you do choose to have some time away from your bike, just ease back into it and remember, always keep it fun!
5. Don’t always look at the numbers.
This point is becoming more and more valid as bike technology is improving at a stunning rate. Sometimes, it’s just nice to leave the Garmin at home (or for all you Strava fans, you can keep it in your back pocket!) and just ride for fun with your mates. Don’t worry if you have to change your plans, this is actually what makes our sport so unpredictable and awesome. For example, I thought today was going to be a nice recovery ride but it turned into an interval day, thanks to one of my competitive friends! (Okay, guilty)…maybe on Friday I’ll take it a bit easier!
Hopefully as the new season starts we will see all of the girls who have been competing since U11s and recruit some more as well! If you’re ever unsure, just remember why you chose to start racing in the first place…