Taking their turn

I am delighted to hear that Sport England recently launched the next phase of #thisgirlcan campaign with a focus on women aged over 40. The original campaign was aimed at ages 14-40 and got over 1.6 million women exercising. It was well-received but I felt the campaign missed many women ouside of its original target age group.

“This Girl Can is a celebration of active women who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. Developed by Sport England, we want to help women overcome the fear of judgement that is stopping too many women and girls from joining in.”
– Sport England.

Last autumn I set about planning a series of group cycling development sessions for women. As a Breeze leader, I became increasingly aware of a large number of ladies who wanted to join a cycling club and go on a Sunday club ride. When quizzed (over cake) on why these secret ambitions hadn’t become a reality the common response was “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll never keep up.”

Having experienced these doubts as a new cyclist before my first club ride, I got the bit between my teeth and set up some coaching sessions. My friend and fellow Breeze leader, Emma Barraclough suggested using The Family Cycling Centre (the old Whitchurch running track) in south Bristol as a safe and traffic free venue. Emma and I used Facebook and Twitter to invite female cyclists across Bristol to the sessions and in early November the running track came to life with the chatter of women on bikes.

I was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of the group in tackling each drill and activity. The group worked together to improve their skills and practise new techniques, challenging themselves and supporting each other. They asked me lots of questions and showed an eagerness to understand everything, giving me the opportunity to learn and reflect on my knowledge as a coach.

On signing up for the course, riders were asked to complete questions about their goals and reasons for taking part. The overwhelming reason for participating was to build or boost confidence. Well, there was confidence aplenty by the last session! Clear hand signals, shouts of “passing on your right” and “last rider” as they whizzed around the track communicating manouveres assertively.

Many of these women found cycling later in life and more than half of the group were aged over 40. Several women have already made it out on their first group ride so look out for them soon in your local club!

If you’re interested in learning more about group riding, join me at the ‘Where it Begins’ event at the Specialized Concept Store in Bristol on 28th March – you can book your place here.

Wheels of wellbeing

I’m probably not alone in sharing that January is my least favourite month of year. As a cyclist I am celebrating the end of this miserable month and feeling excited about the onset of fresh spring days which promise evening rides.

My mental wellbeing really takes a hit over the winter months because I rely on cycling to help manage my stress and anxiety. The UK weather dampens my enthusiasm to get out and ride and it’s a real struggle to remain motivated.

I’ve tried lots of different indoor activities to beat my winter wobble but nothing delivers the happy vibes like cycling does. My (now) annual cycling trip to Gran Canaria takes the edge off the bleak start to the year but there’s no escaping the blues when I return home.

Recently I’ve been examining why cycling makes me feel so good and what other wellbeing benefits it offers. According to research by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) there are five things that can really help to boost our mental wellbeing – commonly known as The Five Ways to Wellbeing. This framework is widely used in public health and by charities such as Mind as a toolkit to fight stress, anxiety and depression.

After careful consideration (and copious cups of tea) here’s how I think cycling contributes to my wellbeing:

1. Friendships are forged on two wheels Connect
I have met a lot of my friends through cycling and we have shared highs and lows cycling together on challenging rides. There’s nothing like suffering with someone to form a special bond and a lifelong friendship. My cycling friends share my winter frustrations and we show solidarity on soggy rides or indoors on the turbo trainer.

2. Pedal it out Be active
My regular physical exercise is all about cycling and I feel good when I am pushing myself to ride further and faster. My brain benefits from all the happy hormones that are buzzing around after a hard ride and this can completely change my mood, leaving me feeling uplifted and more positive.

3. Miles are my meditation Take notice
Whether I am riding in the UK or abroad I try to take notice of my surroundings and acknowledge beauty and peace. In my mind there is little room for negative thought when I am riding my bike and exploring new routes. I am in the moment when I am rhythmically turning the pedals and listening to my breath.

4. Challenge yourself Keep learning
Over the last couple of years I have learnt a huge amount of bike-related skills. I learnt how to build my own bike and do my own repairs and servicing. I started my journey on the British Cycling coaching pathway and made it as a Level 2 coach and now have ambitions to get to Level 3. Coaching is a continual learning process as I reflect and improve my own coaching practice.

5. Pay it forward Give
I enjoy working in local communities to help people ride their bikes, develop their skills and improve their physical fitness. I love seeing people gain confidence as they learn new techniques and share their achievements with new friends. Giving my time as a Breeze Leader and giving encouragement and knowledge as a coach makes me really happy.

Perhaps I have all my eggs in one cycling basket, but I firmly believe that riding a bike is so much more than just a physical activity or a mode of transport. Here in Bristol we have some great bike organisations that can help compliment your wellbeing. Whether it’s socialising, volunteering or learning some new skills take a look at these links to get involved:

www.thebristolbikeproject.org

www.letsride.co.uk

www.lifecycleuk.org.uk

Happy cycling!