The face says it all: how I got hooked on racing and why I think you might too

Ahead of Round 3 of the LWR Summer League (CC London Hog without the Hill) we invited Hannah Nicklin, Cat 3 racer for Dulwich Paragon CC to tell us about her racing journey so far this year. We hope Hannah’s story inspires you to come and have a go this coming Saturday. 

This is my face after my first race.

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8 months ago I pinned on my first bike race number and rode around Cyclopark in a Twilight Women’s Novice race. Explicitly aimed at new women riders (just like much of the LWR races) my first race was…. well, miserable. It poured with rain, water streamed into my eyes from the wheel in front of me. I hadn’t ever ridden in a group before, and I was riding around a floodlit circuit desperately holding the line of the woman in front of me thinking “if she can hold that line, I must be able to”. 45 minutes of that and yet… look at my face.

I was back the next week.

I work as a game designer as part of my day job, and in both game design theory and sport psychology there’s a state described as ‘Flow’ (check out the work of a dude called Csikszentmihalyi if you’re interested), which in part describes that feeling of being at the edge of your ability, but constantly improving – it describes those moments of intrinsic reward – not chasing a trophy, or targets at work that only benefit the company you work for, or life goals you couldn’t really give a toss about – that kind of reward which is about you, against your own limits.

Fast forward to present and I am a Cat 3 sticking in the bunch in 70km road races. It’s been less than a year but I’ve already been on an incredible learning curve the like of which I’ve never found anywhere else.


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Photo: Huw Williams

Been thinking about it but not pinned a number on yet? Well, there are a host of great articles giving you advice on the technique and skills sides of things, and often training events and sessions with clubs where you can learn them with others, but I’m not going to bother with that stuff, I want to mention some of the things that you sometimes don’t hear about, but that are a part of the magic of it. Here goes:

1: Shouting. I’m serious. Shouting is great. I love shouting. I also love being straightforward and to the point. But as women we’re often taught to apologise for ourselves, to be quiet, and to deny what we know. In the bunch, when there’s a split second between decisions, your job is to SHOUT. No time to apologise, you shout to keep each other safe and aware. ON YOUR LEFT. HOLD YOUR LINE. A flick of the elbow ‘your turn on the front, I’m moving off’. One of my earliest races, at the Hillingdon Winter Series, I remember really loving that I didn’t have to apologise for shouting.

2: Female friends from all walks of life. The women you meet in cycling are without exception badass. In different ways, with different qualities, but they all have that extra spark that at some point got them on a bike and it’s amazing to be around them. There’s this extra bit of solidarity, that recognises we’re doing something a bit odd (let’s admit it) and also awesome. There’s solidarity as well as competitiveness.

3: The gear. You get to chat with women about women’s gear and women’s bikes. It’s like a in-real-life Wiggle reviews ‘filter by gender’ section but where you actually get to touch the longed-after softshell, look at the weird shaped ‘supposed to relieve all soft tissue discomfort’ saddle, or lift the carbon frame you’ve had your eye on for too long.

4: It feels badass. Seriously. It feels amazing. The first time I smashed my pedals into the ground going around a corner at Lee Valley I found out that, yes, it’s briefly terrifying but quickly realised that Newton’s Third Law was on my side and the impact just rights you. Also, sometimes someone takes your photo when you’re cornering awesomely and you then become one of those cyclists whose Facebook profile is a race pic. Come on over to the dark side. Join us.


5: The sound. This is a bit of an odd one, and you’ll have to wait until you do an open road race, but honestly there’s something really special about the sound of 40 bikes going 60kmph in the bunch, there’s this… Roar; it’s quiet and breathless, like nothing else.

6: You’ll get dropped. Not necessarily at your first race, maybe not even as a beginner, but there will be a point when you get dropped. It’s just part of it. And it’s where I learned that there are different ways of progressing, many of which don’t end in winning. The way to learn is pretty much to do it wrong a lot. So, you get dropped? Process goal one is getting on the start line. Process goal two, get comfortable in the bunch. Three – move up in the group so when someone attacks you don’t hang off the back and you’re less likely to get dropped. It took me 3 races to get that. Being dropped was part of it.

7: I’m afraid. I’m someone who’s scared of… pretty much everything actually. I do a lot of stuff in my life because I refuse to be in thrall to that fear. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’m scared. That’s ok.

I’m still very new but I’ve learned an awful lot in the 8 months I’ve been racing. Every time I wonder through the nerves ‘why did I make myself do this’ – but the moment I’m in it, it’s great, it’s amazing, and the buzz afterwards lasts twice as long as the nerves ever did.

So if you’ve ever even entertained the thought of signing up to a race, just do it! The LWR summer league is a great opportunity to do so – Hog without the Hill on the 9th of July is a 2/3/4, and is on a really safe, non-technical course. If you’re not sure how to get there, or what you need, just ask on the Facebook Group – there may well be a lift you can catch, people riding out, or people with advice. There are always people with advice.

Maybe you came to a LWR training day but never had a go at a race? Well, I wrote this for you: sign up, come learn with me, honestly, it’s great.

Thanks to Hannah for sharing her story with us.  Want to share your experiences with us too? Drop us a line

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