Advice For Young Riders
I appreciate that I’ve touched upon this issue in previous blog entries on other sites but as I grow and mature myself I realise that there is more to be grateful for.
Alternatively I am also able to see situations a lot clearer as time passes. I experienced a lot of hardship when I was younger subsequent of my struggles with mental health, this was due to the sheer amount of pressure placed upon me and also as a result of decisions that I made. So from all of my experience, here’s my best advice for younger riders!
Photo: Andy Whitehouse 2015 (enjoying being at the front at Builth Wells National XC Series)
1. Enjoy Your Cycling
First and foremost enjoy your cycling! Whether that’s training, racing or riding for leisure, cycling is amazing and can bring so much happiness and joy. Just the moving element of cycling brings so many health benefits such as an increase in endorphins and a reduction of stress levels. Therefore if you are stressed out, jump on your bike, whether it’s planned training or just a spontaneous ride (but don't over do it) go out and enjoy the environment around you.
The social element of cycling (I appreciate that the current pandemic has somewhat limited this) is also a great aspect of enjoyment within cycling. The many friends that I have met through cycling have brought many amazing memories and so much happiness. I'd also highly suggest doing as many disciplines as you like / can afford to do, this way you really develop into a good all-round cyclist. Trying out new disciplines is also a lot of fun!
I also accept that racing can be nerve wrecking and stressful, even when you are younger, therefore try to focus on the enjoyment side of racing and how amazing it feels pushing your body beyond your previous expectations.
2. EAT - Fuelling Properly is Paramount
It’s very easy to look at your cycling idols and heroes and think that because they are all very lean and muscular that you feel obliged to look the same and that it’s the main reason for their success as athletes. However, when you are young your body often won’t be able to look the same as this - because they are fully grown adults. Therefore it’s so important to focus on fuelling properly and not on being ‘lean’ and trying to attain a certain aesthetic.
It’s important to note that especially for young women, as you get older your body will fill out and displace fat (fat being something we need in order to be healthy) so you won’t necessarily look the same but rest assured that as you mature you will be stronger as a rider - something the numbers on your scales won’t convey. Weight gain during puberty for both males and females is normal and healthy. Without enough fat both women and men can become infertile and for people who experience menstrual cycles you can also lose your period for a sustained duration. Therefore please don’t think you need to counteract this weight gain / body changes with under eating and restricting calorie intake.
Making sure that you fuel your body correctly will help you to achieve your goals, both short term and long term. Your body needs the nutrients and energy from eating, especially when training and at school - your brain is a very demanding organ which is also massively affected by under-eating. Therefore eating the right amount will mean that you succeed in cycling and in education.
Photo: Dawn Fry 2013 (at one of my skinniest points brought on by under eating)
3. Listen To Your Coach
I know how very tempting it is to train as much as possible but it’s vital to remember to listen to your coach and communicate with them as to how it is you are feeling. If you fancy doing more on the bike please don’t hide your training, please consult your coach. Subsequent of this ‘secret training’ overtraining could occur, which will mean day to day tasks will likely become difficult to carry out - let alone training.
Overtraining in this way will also lead to a compromised immune system meaning you will be susceptible to illness and viruses. It’s not uncommon to hear of this happening to riders who unfortunately end up cutting their careers short due to illnesses caught from overtraining.
It’s important to note that over loading your training is a great tool if your coach has set this specifically. Your coach will always have reasons as to why you are set certain sessions, therefore even if you aren’t a fan of a session it’s important to communicate with your coach and listen to them in regards to their advice.
4. Be Thankful
Something I’m ashamed to say has taken me a while to really appreciate fully is the sheer amount of time and effort put in by my parents, coaches, supporters and extended family over the years. My parents have been my absolute rock throughout the years, through good times and bad. But when no one had my back they always did: even if I didn’t see it.
Be very thankful for the effort that these people put in for you. Parents/carers put in so much time and money to allow you to compete in cycling and I’m sure have sacrificed a lot at times, be that money or time. It’s a stressful journey for many parents, therefore remember to go easy on them and be thankful for the sacrifices that they have made in order for you to compete.
I know it can be a very high pressure environment for both the parents and child, thus arguments often occur. But at the end of the day, your family is your family and they are the ones who are there for you when times are bad. Look after them and cherish them. Arguments come from the love your parents have for you, they care so much and always just want the best for you. Equally if you are able to afford cycling you are incredibly privileged in the first place, so remember to be thankful for that too.
5. Don’t Lose Yourself
The most important part of growing up and becoming who you are meant to be is your integrity and personal moral compass. For me I realised as I became more successful that I started to slip from who I was in my heart. This made me so incredibly unhappy and alone. Because of this I started to hate myself and started punishing myself.
Therefore it’s so important that along your journey you stay true to the person that you are. Yes we have experiences that will change us forever, good and bad, but to intrinsically feel fulfilled we have to feel good within ourselves and our decisions. A happy athlete who has a strong sense of self and a strong set of beliefs and morals will be more consistent and will also be less likely to turn to alternative methods to attain success. Yes I’m talking about doping..
A happy athlete who also has a greater sense of self will also be more accommodating of their fellow athletes instead of seeing them as rivals primarily. Competiton is health but it's often pushed too far. You really do never know when you may be team mates with your rivals in the future so it's not worth creating drama from your own insecurities. So bluntly put: please just be pleasant.
Photo: Matthias Barnet 2014 (happy: about to move away from the high pressure track environment )
All in all a lot of this I guess you could say is common sense but equally it's important to reiterate to young people the importance of looking after yourself first and foremost. We live in an age where facades on social media will teach our future stars how they should be and what to look like. Take it from me, unfortunately a lot of the people you look up to are not genuine, they are egotistical and lonely and it's a crying shame.
Therefore, focus on you and listen to the people around you and remember to enjoy cycling, it's an amazing sport which offers so many amazing opportunities to travel, meet new friends and it will also teach you just how resilient you are!
Until next time, Charlotte x