What's your day job?
I work in an architecture office: I’m an intern architect. My degree is done, but the internship is necessary to get licensed. So, I work full time and get to study in my free time.
How long have you been racing?
I would say not quite a year yet. I did a few novice races, but I wouldn’t say they were the full racing experience. It was a couple of years ago and I did two of those. I guess I didn’t get excited enough to continue at the time. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it was a lot of fun but I expected to have a real race. They were a bit on the easy side, but I guess that was so people wouldn’t get scared or intimidated. Anyway, I didn’t get back into it until cyclocross last year.
Why did you decide you wanted to take up racing?
Personally I feel like I can do it and the competition is something that attracts me. Part of it comes from watching the races because it made me want to be a part of it and I still get that feeling when I watch other people, especially seeing the kids’ groups racing and older folks racing. You think “why am I not doing that?”
Did you know anybody in the races when you went to watch?
My husband actually did some racing and I think because I have that person close to me, I feel a bit more familiar with it and it’s not as intimidating. He usually jumps into things faster than me, so he’d start and I’d usually wait a year before trying it out.
What disciplines do you compete in?
I really want to do mountain bike racing, but I’m so far away from being a confident MTB’er. I actually just got into this year and I think cyclocross contributed to my desire to do it. I’m just waiting until the skills develop enough so that I don’t have to walk some of the trail features that I do now and then I’ll do it.
You mentioned being drawn to the competitive nature. Did you compete in any other sports?
Actually, when I was a kid, I didn’t do any other sports. I grew up in Russia and I think generally speaking, we weren’t into athletics as much as Canadians are. I think that’s a negative thing and I wish I had been more active as a kids, especially when I’m watching the DEVO kids because I feel like I lost something growing up and not doing anything. At the same time, I grew up in a small town and there weren’t that many opportunities, but I made the most of what I had. I think the competition actually started with running, which I did when I was in Calgary just to get healthier. I did it mostly for my mental health, but my physical wellbeing also improved along with it. Cycling came after running, and swimming came after cycling, and I did a few triathlons too.
How do you find balance between training, racing, and the rest of your life?
Sometimes it feels like the busier I am, the more organized I get. It seems like the more I have on my plate, the better I can arrange my day. I found that, especially with studying, if I take time off to do some cycling and come back to it, I could accomplish just as much as if I just stayed at home and studied because I would take breaks while working anyway. You might as well take your bike out and spend the break doing something fun instead of just sitting at home. With work, sometimes it’s tricky because we sometimes have irregular working hours and it’s quite common to stay overtime. I look at it from a different perspective though: because I have something to do after work, I try and finish as much as I can during regular hours and then unless I absolutely have to, I make myself leave on time. It seems to be working well so far on most days.
As far as having a husband goes, it’s pretty easy because he’s a cyclist as well. On those days where I might not feel like it or the days where I’m hesitating about whether to go out or not, it’s easier to get motivated when there’s another person there who wants to go.
Do you remember your first race? Tell me what was going through your mind.
I remember cyclocross: I think the biggest thing that I felt was that I didn’t want to be last. I was totally fine being mid-pack or even second-last. I kind of jumped into it because I really wanted to try it. I didn’t have a cyclocross bike at the time; I went with my road bike and I got some beefier tires. I didn’t have shoes and I didn’t have cleats but despite being generally nervous, I don’t think I had a fear of trying it. The desire to do it was bigger than the fear. Cyclocross also seems a bit different than road racing: it’s definitely way more fun and there are other kinds of challenges and most people take it in stride. You’re crawling through mud and you have to run and everybody struggles. There’s no pack per se, so you don’t have to be as good at riding or turning in a big group, at least not to the same extent as road racing.
What are your thoughts on the current state of women's racing in the Lower Mainland?
I actually just started watching some of the women’s racing this year. There’s a lot of it on YouTube and because I hadn’t watched much before, I can go back and see a lot of the old ones. You can tell that even production quality is lower. For example, there are no helicopter shots, but it’s something and it’s interesting how I can relate to it better than watching coverage of men’s racing. It’s not that I don’t like watching men’s racing, but it feels different because I can imagine myself doing it when I see women on screen and it’s easier to translate that to wanting to race locally.
What can we do at the local level to help grow women's participation?
Information about races needs to be a bit more widespread. Now that I’m into the sport and I’ve joined a club and am racing and all the people around me are somehow related to cycling, I see all kinds of news and posts about races. But if you’re new to the sport, you may not hear as much about it. It’s not that we don’t have enough races, but rather that not enough women know about them.
There are new women’s teams coming up and I just heard recently that there’s a women’s only ride club which is great. For me personally, it didn’t matter it didn’t matter whether I had guys in my group or whether I was the only girl on the ride, but I could see how it could be intimidating.
It’s obviously not a fast process, so you can’t really expect to organize a few women’s races and ask why don’t we have women coming out? It may take a few years for things to keep building.
You recently joined a club. How would you compare your experience before and after joining the club?
My riding became much harder. I’m actually exhausted after every single ride. It’s good because I know improvement will come from pushing just a little harder and I think it will be easier to decide to sign up for races because I know there will be fellow club members there. Steed does road racing, but they’re really into cyclocross, which is part of why I joined. I’m looking forward to doing some mountain bike races as well.
It’s amazing how different it actually is when you join a club and start going for rides because it’s no longer about where you’re going, but now about having a social experience along with all of the riding challenges. It used to be boring and going for rides used to be about a destination, but now it’s more exciting because I don’t have to think about where I’m going anymore. Now it’s just about riding. It’s revived the whole experience.
What advice or wisdom do you want to pass on to women who are thinking about lining up for their first race?
I think I’d share my story. We all seem to share similar feelings in terms of feeling worried, or not confident in your abilities. In the end, it’s just a matter of taking that first step. If it turns out that you didn’t enjoy the experience because that fear lingered through the entire race, then maybe it’s not something you want to pursue immediately, but I think it turns out to be a positive experience for most people who try.