Elinor Barker: 'I’m not even expecting to finish Nationals. I’m looking forward to it.'

New mother and Olympic medallist Elinor Barker on her return to racing in her own words.

Elinor Barker
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Olympic gold medallist and new mother Elinor Barker writes a column every month in Cycling Weekly magazine, on sale at all good news agents. Subscribe here.

I’ve bought my share of stupid things recently, having taken to online shopping to keep myself awake during the night feeds. This includes a pair of kitchen stools apparently made for giants- I needed a leg up to sit on them, and a weekly shop delivered to the wrong address.

I should probably try to pass off my entry into the national road race this weekend as another sleep-deprived purchase to be returned when the light of day reveals my foolishness. This is not the case. I’d decided I wanted to be in the race well before I’d even lost a minute of sleep to my now three month old boy. Within a few weeks of finding out my due date, I did the maths and figured if I was lucky, I might be able to get myself on the start line. 

Before you ask, no, I've never been a particularly patient person. After taking one year away from road to focus on the Olympics, which Covid turned into two, by August of 2021 I was ready to be back in the peloton. An unexpected pregnancy threatened to extend that to three full years away from road racing if I put off racing until next season.

Elinor Barker in Machester

(Image credit: Sophie Capewell)

You’d be forgiven for assuming choosing to race now means I’ve “bounced-back” to my pre- pregnancy self, after all why race if not to try and win? The reality is more of a continual slog than a bounce. Although in comparison to training while pregnant I feel better than ever, not least because my lungs aren’t fighting for space with baby feet. But I’m still building up my training hours gradually.

My new threshold is my old zone three. My power is lower and my mass is higher than it’s ever been on a race day. I’m not aiming to win. I’m not even expecting to finish. And yet I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to a race so much.

For now, my desire to race is far greater than my pride, and I firmly believe turning up unfit now will set me up for a better 2023 season than waiting until I'm "back" ever could. So, if you see me at the finish, with my hands around a coffee rather than my handlebars, know that this particular failure is very much part of the plan.

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