This is the second installment in a 3-part series. The first part can be found here.
The road to cat 1 can be best described as exponentially more difficult. It is not a linear progression. I can’t speak for everyone who races, but I know that when I was a Cat 4 and learning how the upgrade system worked, it seemed pretty straightforward that going from Cat 4 to Cat 1 would be a logical progression. It was based mostly on numbers. Race a lot. Get a lot of good results. Earn a lot of points. Upgrade.
Naturally, the maniac in me started planning how I was going to turn professional in five years. This is my eighth full season racing. I had done a few races right after I graduated college but struggled with a lot of auto-immune health problems and was in and out of the hospital and eventually completely off the bike for the better part of 8 months. During 2008, I moved to California as a Cat 4 because I had learned that it was the best place to be if I wanted to go pro. I have no regrets. As a result of the bulk of my racing being in Northern California, I was afforded the opportunity to toe the line with national and world ranked cyclists on a regular basis. Competing at nearly every single race as a Pro/1/2 categorized racer meant that there was rarely a race I did where there wasn’t at least one legitimate female pro bike racer. California is also arguably considered the most competitive bike racing region in the US. I couch surfed that whole summer as a cat 4 and earned the rest of my points to get my cat 3 upgrade. Early the next year I became a Cat 2.
The disadvantage of racing in that kind of environment was that it can lead to becoming addicted to, or somehow dependent on the belief that you have to compete against that level of competition in order to get better. I moved to Seattle in October of 2013 to continue following my other dream: a career path as a coach and trainer. The racing scene is very different here than in California. The weather, courses and race calendar progression and flow doesn’t even compare and the number of women racing was more reminiscent to me of what it was like in Arizona and Utah. By the end of my first season in the Pacific Northwest however, I realized that there is never a bike race where you can’t learn something or get stronger. Winning in a small field is harder than you think. Winning without any teammates against a dominant team is harder than you think. Don’t ever take life’s opportunities for granted and don’t ever underestimate your competitor.
What I learned was I didn’t have to race the big races all the time and I needed to learn how to win locally first and that I didn’t have to get smashed every weekend by national pros in order to get stronger.
Assess your motivation, resources, goals, time lines & don’t compare them to anyone else’s. Put your cart behind your horse and start pulling it at your pace. Fill the cart with resources available to you and let your goals motivate you to keep pulling no matter what. Don’t use someone else’s reasons to pull or compare your ability to pull to theirs. Yes, I do think that doing some big races is a good idea; especially if you want to be competitive at the national level. You need to know what that level is like. The gap between local women’s racing and the national level is a lot bigger than it is for men because of the same reasons I stated before: numbers and resources. There is far less overlap in women’s racing than there is in men’s. I’m not complaining, I’m simply stating a fact. A warning. It is what it is. Structure your goals accordingly. You’re not a victim as a female athlete. Empower yourself with coaches, teammates, directors, industry professionals, books etc. all of this is absolutely vital in laying out your own timelines and being specific with your goals.