In her latest blog, supported athlete Rebecca Richardson, writes about how important a support network is in becoming a champion cyclist.
As we approach the end of an unprecedented year, I look back at the incredible people around me.
When I was in my late twenties and heavily pregnant, I had the epiphany that life really is short! It was at this point I decided to truly pursue my dream of being an athlete. The next few years were difficult, full of painful learning curves on the bike and off the bike. Dreaming is far easier than the reality of doing. Probably why mostly we dream! I also dreamt or aspired to a certain way of life, similar to how I grew up. I am one of seven sisters, and my mum and dad moved to Wales when I was 3 years old (I am the eldest), we lived in caravans whilst they converted initially a cottage, and then afterwards a barn. We lived up tracks, drinking well water, free to roam, no television, but plenty of adventures.
My dad, a teacher at the time, started raising money for charities, and his fanatic biking and running led to a 48hour lands end - john’o groats relay; and other similar challenges.. I was 11years and allowed to join a small segment of one challenge on my little bike; I was in total awe of the adults! ‘Richardson Runners’ did other money raising adventures, such as the three peaks (before it was so popular), and my uncles and aunties all joined in. Being too young, I had to stay home with my younger sisters.
A few times a year we would all (mum and my six sisters) bundle into an old minibus (we didn’t have a car!), and make the trip to see my Nan in North Wales. Dad would bike there on an old hybrid bike. When I was 23yrs old my younger sister, Lizzie, and I finally did this 110km bike trip, our first of this kind on bikes. Our nutrition strategy was funny looking back. Our strategy was to eat every “40km”!. We also mimicked the mountain camping trips my dad used to do alone. My sisters and I in our early twenties and late teens taking pop-up tents (like you get at festivals) up Cadair Idris and Aran Fawddwy, hauling the trangia (cooking stove) and sausages. It was all a bit of a laugh, but the true intention was for adventure, to push our mind and body like my dad seemed to do.
Meanwhile Mum was back at home, picking up the pieces! Hospital visits for broken arms; picking up canoes adrift down rivers; and, with no mobile phones in those days, my parents gave us unprecedented freedom for us to ride out along back lanes, and go up mountains behind the house we lived in. We learnt the highway code pretty quick! Although I never told my mum of those times! I was always pushing the boundaries of how far I could explore from home, and a couple of times was nearly grounded for going swimming the glacial rivers after school instead of going home. The worry it must have caused my mum.
I was so used to being independent, I begged mum and dad to allow me to ‘move out’ of home at 13years old and live in the caravan in the garden, they finally conceded! Over the next few years all of my sisters followed suit, until we ALL lived in the garden in various huts! One of my sisters lived in a tent and a hammock in the garden when she was 13-14. My sisters and I carry an independent trait, and so when I started on the path of becoming a cyclist it took me a while to ask for help! My bull-headed ways were not working and I was suffering burn-out from too much intensity in winter months. When I finally arrived at the decision to get a coach I had already made all the mistakes, and arrived at the humble point of only wanting to listen, obey, learn! Liam and I have been working together for three years this October.
I remember the first time I asked for support. I went to a local-ish bike shop and just asked! Not good enough it seemed. And, looking back it wasn’t good enough! My performances were ok, and yet what was lacking? It was my approach that was lacking.
When I joined the team I started observing how necessary your own support network is. As I evolved as a cyclist I asked myself several questions:
A) who do you want to ‘be’? In a more wider sense. It is a question of working out your vision and your values.
B) what can you offer back to your support network? How ready are you to be engaged? To build meaningful connections?
C) what is your story? What is your journey?
This isn’t an exhaustive list.
I have listed below the main people that help me realise my cycling goals:
Liam Holohan - Coach
After three years of coaching, every day feedback, Liam is so professional and diligent. I am so lucky to have him there, his quiet and to the point way of coaching suits me so well. He is consistent, and never creates subjective viewpoints. His care and concern as to my welfare shows his holistic approach. This year he has encouraged me to start ‘coaching’ myself, I value his desire to see this progression.
● British Cycling Level 3 Road and TT Qualified.
● ABCC (Association of British Cycle Coaches) Qualified.
● Training Peaks Level 2 Accredited Coach.
● Torq Accredited Nutrition Centre.
● Training Peaks Advanced Power and Data Qualified (WKO5).
● Over 20 years racing experience at all levels of the sport.
● Have worked with some of the best coaches, managers and nutritionists in the business.
Liam is a former UCI pro road cyclist, he draws on a decade of international racing experience, a deep interest in physiology and psychology, plus top level coaching qualifications from the Association of British Cycle Coaches, British Cycling and Training Peaks, to help cyclists, from beginner to pro, achieve their potential in the sport.
He works with clients who are juggling busy lives, but through seeking to understand their motivations, goals and availability to train, he will tailor his approach to each individual to ensure they get the most from their time riding, with a scientific evidence based approach, whilst crucially still enjoying it!
Working with juniors to veterans, 4th cats to World Tour professionals.
Brother UK Cycling
Phil Jones MBE saw my results last year during the hill climb season. I did a lot of social media last year in the hope that more women would see that it is totally possible to be competitive; run your own business; and have a kid (if you want!).
Life is not perfect. I thought only ‘perfect life’ athletes got sponsored. It was just incredible to receive this help. It altered my thought process from being “can I do this for another year” to “yes, I can”!
Tony Brooks - Strength & conditioning coach
Tony Brooks of Brooks Cycles is someone who I have known in many respects all my life. My first most treasured bike was brought second hand from him when I was 11years old. I brought my first road bike from his shop in Welshpool.
Two years ago he asked if I would be interested in being coached in gym for strength and conditioning. He is a qualified coach and also is the current british national olympic weightlifting champion for his age category three times.
His understanding of cycling and strength is perfect. But, more than that! He really cares about my progression, he sees my passion for improvement. Over two years he has been so committed and consistent , I value his input and we have built a fantantasic working relationship.
He has watched me evolve from a cyclist to an athlete. From a club rider doing local 10’s, to a cyclist meticulously following a training plan. Some days I feel a bit tired or low and Tony sees this, he adapts the training accordingly, either he will make the session less intense or same intensity but more fun. These are massive motivational pick-me-ups through the week.
Lee Thorestensen - Zed Bike Wheels
I got to know Lee at the end of the hill climb season last year. I had long since abandoned the idea of approaching firms for sets of wheels, somehow the business transaction seemed so cold, and I have a big insecurity about my ‘image’. I cannot create ‘media perfect’ instagram posts. And, going back to the point a) who I am?, that means that I never will be able to create such posts.
So, I met Lee through a series of friends, and he spotted my posts I was writing about, some even touched on the subject of depression. So, really, I was just being me! I connected with Lee, his passion is wheel-building, and he was so busy doing it and giving wheels to top riders around the country that he forgot to market himself! So, nobody really knows that he makes insanely good wheels for any discipline. Currently he is busy getting wheels built for the cyclocross National Series for his sponsored riders. The crazy thing is, well crazy to most people, is that Lee just wants to help. He doesn’t want anything in return, no social media posts, shout outs.
His gesture to give me a pair of ‘string wheels’ was so overwhelming at the time last year. Even two weeks off work leaves me in debt, as I am a single household and self-employed. I would never ask or presume anyone to give me something of value as I empathise truly with needing to make a living. I am eternally grateful to Lee, the wheels are 750g a pair!
We reach out and chat on facebook messenger, asking how each others families are, the state of the world, and general life. Lee’s family are lovely and I admire this hard-won business they have set out on. You can visit his website on www.zedbikewheels.com
Cycles in Motion - bike workshop
I would be nowhere without the generosity of spirit found in the hill climb community. One such place is the Cycles in Motion bike workshop in Sheffield. Their complete enthusiasm and positivity to find solutions to bikes is astounding!
They have supported me wholly since last year, providing me with necessary upgrades / replacements. In 2019 I raced and finished all of the National Series and placed in the top 25, yet my bike needed serious work, but finances wouldn’t allow it. Changing a chain or cables was outside my budget! The day before the Welsh National Road Race my Dad spotted my gear cable was almost sheared (the outer had rusted), I didn’t have the money to replace it. Luckily, that day, they helped me out. Now that Cycles in Motion help me, I realise how insane my circumstances were, because my bike has a new chain and cables anytime I need them!
Anthony Wood - Photographer
I have made friends with Tony, he is a very caring person. Outside of his passion for photography he takes an active interest in the hill climb scene. Over lockdown he would touch base with me once a week to ask how I was.
Tony volunteers all of his photographs for use by athletes and Brother UK. He is always giving me motivational talks, which I value.
Friends and family
Thank you for your time and help.
Through the first two years of being coached by Liam, behind the scenes aside from my mum, I had zero support. Unfortunately this made me vulnerable on a couple of occasions to people who used that to their advantage. I had a very lonely few years, and very slowly have built a resilience and determination that unless you have experienced the traumas can be fully understood. My level of empathy and concern and care for people is that much higher now that I have been through difficult years. I embrace that life is unfair, and I deal with it, but Together we are stronger.
Good luck to everyone completing their 2020 season.