Blog – Elisa McDonagh


Join Elisa McDonagh on her journey from Eco-Warrior to racing cyclist with her five year plan

RST Cycle  Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Blog – Elisa McDonagh

NOTE: Send your results as well as club, team & event news here

See Elisa’s blog here on the web  | Twitter 

Elisa writes … Today seems like a good day to write this blog entry as it marks a year to the day since I did my first ever circuit race part of the Pedal Pushers series in Lincoln and boy was I nervous (some things haven’t changed).

We set off at rather a sedate pace, not what I’d expected at all although it soon picked up and I found myself in a break with four other riders. I spent the remainder of the race clinging on for dear life. The others must have been cursing me as I never once took a turn, I couldn’t, I’d have died (probably).

It came down to a sprint finish but I had no idea of positioning myself and was just so elated that it was my first race and I wouldn’t finish any less than 5th that I sat up and with that I knew this was what I wanted to do, I wanted to race and racing was for me.

The week before I’d attended a novice women’s race training session at Tameside closed circuit coached by Frances Newstead (former GB rider) and Huw Williams. During the session, I’d learnt some of the basics needed to prepare me for my first race like cornering at speed in a group of riders.

Elisa McDonagh2

The start of the plan …
I’ve not been riding a bike that long as I only started in 2008. I’d recently changed jobs and hated the fact that I was driving the 12 miles to get to and from work each day. It wasn’t doing my eco credentials or tree hugger image any good. I’d been put off cycle commuting because I live at the top of a rather big hill, a mile long averaging 12% to be precise.

It wasn’t just the climb that was putting me off though. The thought of going down something like that was equally off putting. I’d considered various ways round it including bus and folding bike but one morning I just thought sod it dug my heavy old mountain bike out the shed and went for it and 45 minutes later I arrived at work feeling very worthy having ridden the entire 6 miles without stopping.

My euphoria was slightly overshadowed by the thought of my return journey and that hill. This wasn’t helped by my colleagues who took great delight in telling me they struggled to walk up it or felt tired just driving up it. Home time came and I set off. I reached the hill and there were people walking up it faster than I was cycling. I kept going. My legs were on fire and it felt like my heart was going to jump out my chest and I couldn’t breath any deeper to get anymore air in my lungs but something forced me to keep on going.

Twenty minutes later I’d done it. I felt so pleased with myself. Within a week, I’d decided to sell my car and use my bike as my main method of transport, quite a brave (most would say stupid) decision given I live in Derbyshire a county famed for it’s tough unforgiving climbs. I was amazed how quickly riding up the hill got easier. I never got any quicker at going down it though.

Before I knew it, I was the proud owner of a shiny hybrid complete with a rack for my new panniers and a triple chainset… things I wouldn’t be seen dead with now. Then came the SPDs and Lycra and pretty soon after my first proper road bike.

Mastering the skill of going Downhill!
Carl, my long suffering partner, would always scratch his head though as I seemed to get through rear brake pads very quickly whilst the front ones remained pristine. I’d never been taught how to brake properly and would only use my back brake which he didn’t realise until we went for our first cycle tour together. It’s no wonder I went down ‘the hill’ as fast as I’d go up it (about 3mph in case you are wondering) and on steeper descents would get off and push my bike down.

Several shouting matches later and just as divorce proceedings were about to be initiated, I mastered the dark art of correct braking. It was amazing what a difference this made. I was confidently hitting speeds of 40mph rather than feeling terrified if I went faster than 10mph. It also made our next cycle tour (in the Alpes Maritimes and over Mt Ventoux) possible. I think I’d still be out there now (5 years on) if I was still pushing my bike down climbs.

Things progressed quickly from there. I learnt to draught, joined Matlock CC and started going out on the Tuesday night club runs. I did my first 100 miler, raced cyclo cross and did some of my club time trials. I would cycle commute in all weather too.

Nothing stopped me, even through those bad winters when Derbyshire was under several foot of snow and my route to work was only just passable to those driving 4x4s. On one memorable occasion, I arrived at work and one of my colleagues smirked thinking they were being really witty “you’ve not cycled in today have you ha ha”. His jaw hit the floor when I nodded my head.

Elisa McDonagh

I then discovered Strava and for a brief period of time, until I deleted my account, I could never just go out for a ride without trying to become the queen of every random segment I passed. I’d go out and ride stuff like the Fred Whitton route on my own in torrential rain or up Mt Ventoux three times as fast as I could and my proudest achievement: going up ‘the hill’ in the big ring ‘coz I’m Elisa and I can.’

So really I suppose it was inevitable I’d want to start road racing but looking back I can’t help feeling like I’ve been groomed by Carl. Yeah, sure, it was completely my decision to start cycle commuting but every progression after that was all down to him.

He even asked Huw Williams to add me as a friend on Facebook. His posts opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing of and that was amateur women’s road racing (and life of his cat). Why would I have known it existed when even the top level women’s road racing got so little media attention?

It just wasn’t on my radar despite having a subscription to Cycling Weekly. From what I saw, there seemed to be women’s road races almost every week during the summer. Although, by now I was an experienced club rider, I didn’t really know what to do or where to start to make that jump from club rider to racer… then Huw put details on Facebook of a novice race coaching session just for women. This was the final piece of the puzzle. And there we have it, that’s how I found myself a year ago today competing in my first race.

A seasoned racer…
A year on, I’ve done almost twenty races and am really looking forward to next season. Since November 2014, I’ve ridden for Team WNT, a women’s road race team headed up by Marcus Nainby. Marcus has been incredibly supportive to me over the past year and I was chuffed when he asked me to ride for the team again next season.

The team is going from strength to strength and we have some awesome riders added to our existing line-up for next season. I fit about 10-15 hours training in per week around working full time. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount over the past year.

I suppose racing is a bit like driving, you don’t really start to learn until you get out and do it once you’ve passed your test. Best of all, I’ve met some wonderful people and made some great friends. Although I love racing, my favourite bit has to be the social side. There is such a strong community.

Whilst I wouldn’t have got to this point without Carl, I would never have made the jump from club rider to racer if it hadn’t have been for the women’s race coaching session. I probably wouldn’t have stuck with racing if there hadn’t have been a selection of suitable races where I could compete with women of a similar standard.

Road racing isn’t an easy sport to get into or to stick with. There have been moments where I’ve wanted to throw my bike in the bushes in disgust and take up something a bit easier like swimming with sharks or wrestling with bears.

Women’s road racing in the East Midlands is growing. We had a novice race coaching session in April attended by over 40 women. Local clubs have been fantastic at recognising the need to support newer women into the sport. Matlock CC have held 3/4 women’s races whilst Ashfield RC have held women’s 2/3/4 at Darley Moor circuit, all getting fields of 20-35.

The races, coaching and Matlock CC women’s TT league have had invaluable support from local business Cicla. Eve Roberts of Derby Mercury RC and Denise Bayliss of WCS run excellent weekly women only chaingangs. Looking toward 2015, I’m hopeful there will be another novice race coaching session early in the new year and some 2/3/4 women’s road races ideal for newer racers in addition to the circuit races at Darley Moor.

There are some wonderful people in the region (and further afield) with great vision who are keen to grow novice women’s racing, these are exciting times.

So there we have it, I started cycling as a one woman crusade to halt global warming yet now I find myself driving to work to save my legs and have clocked up thousands of miles travelling up and down the country to get to races. Certainly not what I set out to achieve but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Elisa’s Team on Twitter  @WNTTeam

See Elisa’s blog here on the web  | Twitter 

Send your results as well as club, team & event news here

Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK

Tags: , ,