[#aboutcycling] "I know where my boundaries are. The best thing is when they start to shift."
In our series #aboutcycling, female cyclists share their own personal cycling story. We sat together with our new ambassador Jana (@jananas.banjana) to talk about why endurance sport is part of her DNA, how she managed to overcome a serious bike crash and mastered her biggest bike adventure to date: the Three Peaks Bike Race from Vienna to Nice last summer.
Jana, when and how did you get into cycling?
I grew up in a very sports-crazy family. For as long as I can remember, we've been watching the Tour de France, Vuelta and Giro on television and my dad was pedaling more than 10,000 km a year. I also had strong female role models: my mom does mountain biking and ran a marathon when I was 18 years old. I said to myself: I can do that as well and did a marathon the following year. After a few marathons, it was through friends that I got into triathlon, I think that was in 2016. For my first Triathlon at Tegernsee near Munich, I borrowed a road bike – and never handed it back. I bought it. Because one thing was clear: cycling was my favorite discipline. After I completed my Bachelor's degree in Psychology in Tübingen, Germany, I moved to Innsbruck, Austria, where I fell in love with the mountains and met lots of bike-crazy friends. While I was initially in a triathlon club, I soon focused on cycling... higher, further, steeper. After a couple of long distance races, I got hooked.
What does cycling mean to you?
Complete satisfaction. Family and friends often describe me as stubborn. In my everyday life I am often restless and constantly looking for change. When I sit on the bike pedaling, my mind is free. There’s no other thing that makes me feel as authentic as being on a bike.
"I felt great respect for the race - but never before had such pleasant anticipation, too. "
Last summer you finished the Three Peaks Bike Race from Vienna to Nice. Have you always been in favor of ultra-distances, or did that come over time?
During my (bike) marathons and triathlons, I noticed that, compared to other competitors, I was always better the longer the race lasted. Long-distance races became my thing. I also got to know a completely different side of cycling, apart from the races, on the way to the westernmost point of Europe. I cycled there more than 2,400 km with a friend in 2019. What surprised me most: it was easier than expected. A good friend then inspired me to do long-distance races that truly unite both of my pleasures: competition and ambition, but also a craving for adventures and long distances. When I signed up for Three Peaks, I felt great respect for the race - but never before had such pleasant anticipation, too.
How did you prepare for that race, what did your training look like?
In contrast to earlier single-day races, I did not train consciously or followed a training plan. I went on a number of trips with a friend and partner. From March, after the first corona lockdown, we went on bikepacking trips almost every week. First to Vorarlberg, then towards Carinthia and Salzburg, finally to the Czech Republic and the Dolomites. I also surprised my family on the bike, who live 330km away from me. For me that wasn't "training" but the pure joy of cycling. I saw so many new places in this "preparation" for the race and also optimized my bike setup. I also became familiar with many technical breakdowns and my equipment. Sleeping outside had become routine. At the start of Three Peaks, on July 25th, 2020, I had already cycled more than 10,000 km with 200,000 moa that year, and I've had more fun cycling than ever before.
"Your legs can do it if your head wants to."
You have a psychology background. How important is your mindset in a race like Three Peaks, do you prepare mentally for it in any kind of way?
Since last year I've been doing a post-grad doctorate in social psychology. But what matters much more than theory is that you know yourself well. I know where my limits are from numerous personal and physical challenges. The best thing is when these boundaries start to shift. In sports this happened almost without me noticing it. It's nice to have someone by your side, friends, family or partners, who trust you even more than you trust yourself. Whenever I thought I couldn't make it, I was taught better. It's easier with two people. "Everyone said it couldn't be done, and then two came along who didn't know and just did it!" The limits of what is possible are only in your head. That's why the mindset is particularly (but not only) decisive on long distances. Your legs can do it if your head wants to.
Looking back, what would you say was the most difficult moment for you in the race?
Well, speaking about mindset… it's never been as difficult for me to keep my motivation high as in the Three Peaks Bike Race. On the second day, with bad knee pain, I was pretty sure that it had been a very naive crazy idea to do this race. It's not that I never lose heart. But it is important to learn that you are the master of your emotions and moods and that you can influence a lot of them by changing your perspective. You are not a victim of your feelings. At Three Peaks I had a wide variety of strategies: Sometimes I distracted myself from cycling with podcasts. Other days it was nice to intensify the experience of cycling with the right music. There were many difficult moments, but they were mostly emotional and motivational in nature. And I'm glad that I've managed to refocus on the pure joy of cycling every time.
And what was perhaps the best moment in the race?
The single-most beautiful moment is impossible to call out, there were so many. To reach the first checkpoint at the Edelweißspitze (Großglockner) before the thunderstorm. To climb the Albula Pass at sunset. When it finally got warm on the third day. A cold ice cream on a market square in France. The decision to stop looking at the race websites and just focus on cycling. Riding up Mont Ventoux in the pleasant cold of the night, spontaneously. To drink a café au lait in the morning in the Verdon gorge and have four pains au chocolat in a row. And my family who surprised me at the finish line, and the long-awaited jump into the sea.
"I was incredibly lucky. Still it was a tough time. But the joy of life came back and with it an infinite gratitude."
In the Three Peaks documentary, you also talk about a serious bike crash which you had not that long ago. What did the crash do to you, and how did you return to cycling?
In preparation for the Ötztal Radmarathon 2019, I crashed just two weeks before the event. My front wheel got stuck in a crack in the tarmac and all of a sudden I went over the handlebars. I ended up with a triple mandibular fracture with rupture of the middle ear canal. I spent two weeks in the hospital and even today am still doing physiotherapy. I was incredibly lucky. Nevertheless, it was a tough time, which also challenged me a lot mentally. I think I cried every single day for three weeks. Because I couldn't eat, hardly speak, I was in constant pain. Of course, I couldn't take part in the Ötztal Radmarathon, but I was there at the finish line so that I could at least catch the mood. I decided to do a marathon instead, which I did in November. The joy of life came back and with it an infinite gratitude. I was back on the bike in January - very cautiously (and against the doctor's advice), because another crash could have meant never being able to eat again. Still, it was mentally important to regain trust. I had panic attacks on the bike twice, after that it got better. From my studies I knew that the only way to overcome the fear was to ride my bike again. And so it was. I rode my bike. Nothing happened. After I had overcome this fear, I became even more enthusiastic. I was ready for new adventures.
[We have a thousand reasons to be scared. And a million to be fearless.]
In the past year, many people discovered cycling for themselves, especially many women. What 3 pieces of advice would you give someone who just started?
- Just do it! Sometimes it's better not to think too much. It's raining? Do others tell you your bike is not cool? You don't know where to go? It does not matter. Just go out, get on your bike, and along comes the fun - no matter what. You can always turn around and go home. The journey is more important than the destination.
- Dare to ask! Nobody is born with expertise. Things you do not learn yourself are worth learning from others. Dare to ask other cyclists, whether on social media or in real life. Bike talk is always welcome!
- There are advantages in being a woman! Sure, it's annoying to get your period during bikepacking, and when it comes to short sprint distances we often don't have a chance against guys. But when it gets adventurous, when the distances are getting longer, and when it's the fun that matters – we're equal or even have an advantage. And when you are out on the bike you will always easily find people who will help you if in doubt. Also, don't be afraid. Sleeping outside has never (!) gotten me into any trouble.
What are your plans for 2021?
I very much hope that I can get through the year again without any crashes - health is the most important cornerstone for fun. If the pandemic situation allows, I will start at some events: the Italy Divide in April, the Tour Transalp together with Lulu (@lulu.on.tour) in June, the Ötztal Radmarathon (I have unfinished business...) and the Trans Pyrenees. And I'm excited to see what bikepacking adventures are still waiting for me.
Thank you Jana!
Editor's note: You can find out more about Jana and her Three Peaks Bike Race adventure in the documentary Three Peaks & In Between. Highly recommended.