Melissa Greaves at the Commute Cycle Cafe, Ilkley. Photo: Miriam Jesset
How do you combine a full-time job with riding at Elite level and all during a global pandemic?
Melissa Greaves shares her experience of riding with the Crimson Performance Orientation Marketing Race Team, her role at Leeds University and the cycling world record feats of her Grandad.
TGC: I read the cycling genes run in the family with both your grandfather and brother involved in the sport. How did that influence your path do you think?
MG: It meant that cycling was a part of my life from a young age. My Dad would take us mountain biking most weekends when we were younger. My brother started road racing when he was in his teens and after watching him I decided I wanted to get involved too.
“Breaking a world record is one thing, but he only had one arm.”
I was always very proud of what my Grandad achieved, in 1936 he broke the world record for distance covered on a bicycle in one year. Breaking a world record is one thing, but he only had one arm and the guy he took the record off had both arms. The fact that he overcame adversity like that to achieve something so big will always stick with me.
TGC: When did you start taking cycling more seriously and why does it mean so much to you?
MG: When I was a teenager I dreamed of becoming a professional cyclist. I got good results as a youth rider but by the time it came to stepping up to junior level, I decided to follow a more academic path. At that time the women’s professional scene was very limited and as a young woman, cycling just wasn’t a viable career choice.
Melissa on Cragg Vale Climb, near Hebden Bridge. Photo: Luis Alcantarilla
I spent a long time away from cycling but came back to the sport in my mid-twenties mainly for fitness and ended up doing a few races for fun. It wasn’t until 2018 when I got the chance to race the Ras na mBan (a 5 day stage race in Ireland that attracts female racers from all over Europe) that I realised how much more accessible women’s cycling had become and how much I still wanted to achieve the things I had dreamed of when I was younger. In 2019 I had two opportunities to ride at a UCI level, the first race in Belgium was cancelled due to dangerous winds and a week before the second race in France I crashed hard and had a really bad concussion so wasn’t allowed to race. I really hope I get another chance to race at that level.
“We all came away from that camp with so much excitement for racing, and even though we weren’t able to race together this year we have become a really close-knit group.”
TGC: How did you come to be part of the Crimson Performance squad? Can you describe the culture within the team?
MG: I was friends with Laura Tissiman who was already riding for Crimson and she messaged me and told me that the team were looking for new riders. The women’s team had started off as a development team, but they were looking to become more competitive. Another friend, Sophie Earl had said she had been asked to join the team and for me the idea of joining a team with two friends made perfect sense. I’d always been envious of the kit too!
The culture in the team is really motivating and supportive. At the end of last year Matt Hallam, the team manager got us all together and told us about his vision for the team. I think Matt’s ambition for the team was really motivating for us all. We then had a team training camp in Calpe in March and we all just clicked. We all came away from that camp with so much excitement for racing, and even though we weren’t able to race together this year we have become a really close-knit group. When the lockdown restrictions started to ease we managed to get together for some big rides in the Lake District, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales.
Melissa (far right) with her Crimson Performance teammates climbing Kirkstone Pass. Photo: Joe Cotterill
TGC: I understand your 2020 was supposed to be focused around The Tour of the Reservoir and the Ryedale GP. How did you deal with the disappointment of seeing that schedule disappear?
MG: I was really disappointed at first, I came into 2020 after a really good winter of training. I wanted to focus on the more attritional races like Tour of the Reservoir and Ryedale GP, but most of all I was looking forward to racing as part of a team.
“Beyond 2021, I still dream of racing at UCI level. I would also love to follow in my Grandad’s footsteps and try some ultra-endurance racing.”
My first race of the season was cancelled and from there it slowly became clear that there might not be a road racing season at all. I spoke with my coach Mark (Epic Coaching), he just turned it into a positive and told me we had more time to get stronger for when racing started again. I did some Zwift racing which was actually really fun and did a few local time trials, but for me the thrill of bunch racing is why I race.
Melissa dancing up Kirkstone Pass. Photo: Joe Cotterill
TGC: What are your ambitions within the sport for 2021 and beyond?
MG: My ambitions remain the same as they were for 2020, if anything I’m more motivated. I want to be in the mix in the National Road series races, and at the Ras na mBan in Ireland. I also want to ride in support of my teammates, we have some really strong riders and if I am able to help them achieve a win that would be amazing.
We had hoped to spend some time racing in Belgium as a team this year, so hopefully that will be a possibility for us in 2021.
Beyond 2021, I still dream of racing at UCI level. I would also love to follow in my Grandad’s footsteps and try some ultra-endurance racing.
“It is a really varied role because Leeds is such a large, diverse campus. We even look after a pig farm!”
TGC: Tell us a bit about your day job at Leeds Uni and how that has been affected by Covid.
MG: I work as part of the Estate Planning and Information team at the University of Leeds. Basically, my team make sure there is space for everyone on campus. It is a really varied role because Leeds is such a large, diverse campus. We even look after a pig farm! Over the summer I worked to get the teaching spaces ready and socially distanced for the students returning for the new term in September.
Due to the Covid pandemic I have been mostly working from home. This has actually been a positive thing for my training, as I have a lot more time to train now that I don’t have to commute to and from work each day. I do miss being in the office though.
TGG: How do you fit your training and race schedule around your day job?
MG: It can be difficult but having a coach to help me plan my training around my job is really helpful. Having a coach takes all the stress out of planning my training so all I have to do is be motivated and do the training.
Melissa on Buckstone Pass. Photo: Luis Alcantarilla
You have to be organised too, and having a routine really helps. I make sure that I jump straight on the turbo as soon as I get in from work before I get too relaxed. I always have a good look at training peaks on a Sunday night so I know what training I have over the week.
During the racing season it can definitely be more difficult because you don’t always get the recovery time. You can be racing all weekend and travelling all over the country but still have to get up early for work on a Monday morning. Sometimes you have to give yourself more time to recover so you don’t burn out.
“Making sure you have time to relax away from work and cycling is really important too.”
TGC: What are the main challenges for you combining the two? How do you deal with the mental and physical fatigue?
MG: I think you just get used to being tired and find little ways to make life easier. It may not be the healthiest habit, but I would rely very heavily on coffee when I was in the office, and always had an espresso before my evening turbo session to give me a mental boost. I also started being really strict with myself about getting enough sleep, I aim for 8 hours but never have less than 7. It’s easy to lose track of time on an evening, so I just got into the habit of making sure I was going to bed at a decent time.
Making sure you have time to relax away from work and cycling is really important too.
“Normal life’ is definitely the area of life that gets neglected because of cycling.”
TGC: How do you fit in ‘normal life’ within these demands?
MG: ‘Normal life’ is definitely the area of life that gets neglected because of cycling. Before I started taking racing more seriously, I would prioritise my work life and social life and just fit training in where I could. Now that I put training first, I can see the difference in my fitness, and I know that the sacrifice is worth it. Having supportive friends and family helps too. My friends and family know that I spend a lot of time on my bike and are happy to work around that.
Melissa (far right) descending Kirkstone Pass with the Crimson squad. Photo: Joe Cotterill
That said, I think it is really important to make time for normal stuff and spending time with non-cycling friends. Life is all about balance and it doesn’t hurt to go out and have few drinks every now and then. Cycling can take over a little bit so it’s nice to spend time with people who have no interest in cycling and just get that mental break from it.
“If you are wanting to balance full-time working or education with cycling the best place to start would be to find a coach to help you train as effectively as possible.”
TGC: What advice would you offer to any aspiring female riders who would like to follow in your footsteps?
MG: I think there are a lot more opportunities for young women in cycling now. If I was 18 again now I would probably take a year out from education and race abroad for a year. The Dave Rayner Fund is great as it offers a chance for young riders, male and female, to live and race abroad.
However, if you are wanting to balance full-time working or education with cycling the best place to start would be to find a coach to help you train as effectively as possible with the time you have. I really wish I’d found my current coach sooner. Once you have worked out where your training fits in you can get into a routine and get organised, that makes life so much easier. You can then plan normal life around your schedule.
Something I wish I had known earlier was the importance of rest and recovery. If you don’t recover properly from your training you won’t see the improvements. I think this is especially important when you are balancing a full time job with training.
The GC would like to thank Melissa for sharing her insights on how to combine a full time job with racing at elite level.
We wish her and the Crimson Performance Orientation Marketing team every success for the future. If you would like to know more about the race team please visit their website crimsonperformance.com.
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