Balancing training with life:

An interview with amateur cyclist Liane Jackson

Balancing your cycling training with work and everything else life throws at you is no mean feat. We spoke with phenomenal amateur cyclist Liane Jackson on her tips for fitting it all in.

Tell us a little bit about your cycling story

Though I’ve been involved in sport since a young age, I only got into cycling a few years ago. I bought my first road bike in 2015 and entered my first sportive in 2017. I thought people were absolutely mad to cycle 100 miles! How things can change!

What does cycling mean to you? What keeps you in the sport?

Cycling is my headspace and my freedom. I’m conscious that a healthy body helps maintain a healthy mind – cycling keeps me sane! I love the social aspect and have made loads of friends from all over the world. It’s great for the camaraderie – and the healthy competition!

I have travelled to places I just wouldn’t have visited otherwise. Cycling up the Gavia and Mortirolo Passes in the snowy Italian Alps was hard work but I remember getting to the top and quite literally feeling on top the world. You look back down the climb and think ‘Wow, I did that!”

You have a championship place at this year’s L’Etape du Tour; could you tell us a little about your training and preparation for this event?

I first qualified for the 2019 event – and then again for 2020. I was very surprised to see I had qualified! There are structured programs on the Etape du Tour website that are really helpful. I am just about to start my full training plan [March 2020] to build my aerobic base and improve my FTP.

We hear you are a big fan of riding in the mountains; what are your top tips for taking on climbs?

Believe it or not, climbing can be relaxing. You are riding at much slower speeds so whilst the first half an hour can be tough, you can then settle into a chilled rhythm. I recommend thinking about your gearing and focusing on your cadence. Some riders swear by spinning higher cadences of 90 rpm plus – for me, my preference is around 77rpm. I also ride a compact groupset, which helps with the climbs!

Nothing beats climbing a long mountain to really get the experience, exhaustion and euphoria! I try to organise adventure weekends and holidays with friends to get some mountain training in. My work has been really supportive…

Working full time, how do you fit everything in? What are your tips for other amateurs out there who may be struggling to work training in around life and work?

I must admit, my work is pretty full on. On average, I work an 8 hour day, plus a commute. A typical week will comprise one weights session, one climb focussed session (usually on a Wattbike), an active recovery spin and long rides on the weekend.

Sometimes I will go to the gym before work for my strength session or to use a Wattbike – though this requires a 5.30am wake-up call, so I prioritise rest when needed. Otherwise I will head to the gym on my way home from work. I have a turbo in the house which is handy for the recovery spin. My Saturday long ride is a focused training session and my Sunday ride is more social which helps provide a nice balance. I also add in a bit of running as cross-training when I can.

You are keen to get more women cycling. What do you think are the top things that prevent women from getting out on their bikes? What would be your advice for women who are keen to get into the sport?

I am not sure of the exact numbers but from memory there were around 1000 women at last year’s Etape du Tour out of approximately 16,000 riders. This seems low – but it is optimistic to note that this is represents a doubling from the last few years! This is great news as we are now more and more visible in the sport which encourages other women to sign up.

So things are changing slowing but surely! My key advice would be to do whatever you need to do to find your confidence. Brush up on your mechanics so you can change a flat tyre. Take a friend on your first club ride. You’ll soon see that everyone will help. Cycling is a very supportive sport. Strangers stop to help with punctures – most of the time anyway! Aim to enjoy your event first and foremost. Taking away the pressure of a finish time will help you bypass any fear of failing. I focus on getting the best result for me. Just know that women are 100% strong enough – often women overtake men on the climbs!

British Cycling also has many resources for new cyclists – including a women-specific section. There are even women-only introduction rides to help you find your feet.

We are almost booked for Dragon Ride and for L’Etape UK; what would be your top 3 training tips for our riders?

1. Know your threshold. I ride within myself for most of an event. This allows me to enjoy it – and saves energy so I can ride well throughout and have some fun and accelerate when I want to! You can do this by using power or heart rate – but if you don’t have the monitors, or are a newbie, stay at a pace where you can still have conversation for the majority of your sportive.

2. Fuel properly!! Build up the amount of carbohydrate you can take on board to sustain your energy levels throughout your ride. Test different strategies in your training – different foods, different amounts – until you work out what works for you.

3. If you are totally new to the sport, build up slowly and have enjoyment as your core goal. Find the love and lay the foundations for strength and fitness, which will allow you to increase the distances you ride. It’s a great learning experience and there’s no better feeling than achieving your goals!

Do you have any mental tricks for when the going gets tough?

When training indoors I listen to music, use a training programme like Zwift or watch Eurosport. Out on the road, I focus on the route ahead, the views around me and lock into the rhythm of my pedal stroke. When the going gets tough, I look at the minutiae in the road – the cracks, the gravel, the colours. On long climbs, breaking it up into smaller sections can really help you stay in the present and not be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

When I am in a group, or a sportive even, I chat to people and have a laugh. The camaraderie of shared suffering can really help! Your average speed is lower on climbs so it gives you a good chance to get to know your fellow riders! It is good to remember that there is nothing wrong with stopping, taking a breath and rebooting. Pause, appreciate the views, take a breath.

If you could leave readers with a key message, what would it be?

Going back to basics, there are so many different routes into the sport – I started on a mountain bike! Joining a club is a wonderful way to explore your options. My club – and I am sure many others – offer a free club run on the first Sunday of every month. This gives you the opportunity to try before you commit. The group will show you the ropes and look after you whilst you work out if this is a sport for you.

To follow Liane, check out her On to Summit blog, follow her on Instagram or Facebook. To join her club, The Kingston Wheelers, on their free club run, check out the Join Us page for more info!

Feeling inspired? There are still places on the Dragon Tour and L’Etape UK!