Learn from the best: Jasmijn Muller

J Muller 2Jasmijn is a long distance cyclist. Fitting her cycling around a busy job she does the races most of us think of as undoable. She is currently training to set a new record for cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats and aiming to complete it in under 52 hours!

Would you say you are goal driven?

Whether you ask my family, my colleagues, school mates or cycling friends, they will all confirm that I am very goal driven. From a young age I have had a strong work ethic. Much of that is probably just part of my character, but I also think that some of that discipline and drive stems from years of ballet training. I only started cycling in my 30s and competing in 2012. Whereas ballet teaches you to strive for perfection, cycling opens up opportunity to achieve more tangible goals than perhaps lifting your leg just that little bit higher. I have achieved some pretty cool cycling goals (some I planned for and worked my arse of for, others more accidental or by luck). The only problem is that once I achieve a goal, I like to expand my horizons. In 2014 I became Best British All-Rounder. Defending that title felt negative and was pointless with Hayley Simmonds absolutely flying in 2015. Achieving 2014’s goal of winning the National 12 Hour time trial title, on the other hand, felt all the sweeter in 2015. Having ‘failed’ at my first attempt, cycling taught me to be more patient and flexible. Goals are not rigid. Sometimes you need to delay a goal or move the goal posts. Some goals can be achieved in the short-term, others may be life-time ambitions. I may never achieve it, but my ultimate cycling goal would be to beat Beryl Burton’s 12-hour competition record (of 277 miles), that has remained unbroken since the 1960s.

Do you feel you have a personal responsibility to achieve your goals?

Achieving my goals is 100% my own responsibility. In cycling I pick my own goals. Time trialling is a very individualistic sport. It is just you and your bike against the clock. If things go wrong, there is nobody to blame but yourself. That said, success is not just the result of my own hard work, but I have much to thank others for (be that my coach for a great approach to training, my team mates for mental support or my husband for cooking me nice meals and allowing me to steal his car to go to races). Ultimately, other people can help to create favourable conditions and prepare me for my goals. But the responsibility to put the hours into my training, to stay focused on my goals and remain driven to realise them is 100% mine. In my work as a management consultant I try to apply the same mentality. I am not someone who is driven by promotion, titles or money. My goals are fuelled by passion. I want to deliver the best results for our clients and, if required, work around the clock to achieve that. But, if I need help, I should ask for it. If I don’t ask for help, I only have myself to blame if I struggle. 

Would you say you have an all or nothing mentality?

I would say that naturally I have an all or nothing mentality. Too often I still see things as black or white. But cycling has helped to see more of the colours in between and accept that it is OK to fail. The only real failure is giving up. There is something to learn from every race. On balance, I have many more races that don’t go to plan than those that do. Sometimes, when my body was screaming at me to stop and give up, my mind helped me to overcome that temptation and push on. The 2015 100 mile TT championships is an example of that. Despite constant cramp in my hamstrings from 70 miles onward, I still came third. At other times, I had to really fight the urge to give in to that little voice at the back of my head that tries to trick you into giving up because ‘it is all pointless now anyway’. After the 2014 12-hour time trial championships I was crying because I didn’t achieve my goal of winning the race (due to mechanicals and simply losing my head racing like an idiot). However, inside I had to smile and was proud of myself when I learned that others had packed up because things didn’t go to plan. I still came third and lessons learned during that 2014 Nat 12-hr helped me to push through 3-hours of constant cramp in my hamstrings in 2015 and finally win the title.

Because my work can get quite manic and is project and deadline driven, I have learned to be less rigid in my training, that it is ok to shuffle sessions around or even to miss a whole lot of sessions. As long as this is just a hobby, my training always comes second to my job. I do however tend to overcompensate and then ride long audaxes or spent long hours on the turbo in the weekend to catch up with training. So yes, at times, my work/life balance actually forces and all or nothing approach. 

Do you have a goal or sense of purpose for every session or prefer just to go and ride your bike?

I like to mix things up. I love structured training and sessions with a clear purpose. I spend many hours inside on the turbo exactly for that reason. It is a controlled environment. No cars, traffic lights, road profiles or anything else that can distract me or stop me from achieving the intervals and power targets my coach has set me. At the same time, I am acutely aware that in order to remain passionate about my cycling I also need time to just ride my bike, without even looking at the power numbers or average speed. Just riding my bike for the sake of riding my bike, to enjoy the countryside, be at one with nature, feed my thirst for adventure and completely clear my mind. I get that balance by mixing up my time trialling and indoor training with riding long audaxes, touring and visiting friends and family by bike. 

Do you have a methodical or a laissez-faire approach to your training?

I wouldn’t know what to do without a coach. Initially, he mostly reigned me in, made sure I wasn’t overdoing things. Then he created more structure, making sure my training is right for the goals I am aiming for and fits around work etc. I find training on the turbo very satisfactory as it allows me to really follow the instructions for sessions and feel a sense of achievement if I managed to hit all the power and time targets. Out on the road I find it a lot harder to stick to a brief and a ‘oh let me just ride my bike’ attitude sometimes takes over.

Do you prefer to train alone or with others?

In the off season I like to catch up and go out for social rides with people, but during the season I prefer to train alone. I don’t mind being alone. I even enjoy it. Just me and my bike and an empty mind. It is not often in life you get to enjoy that. I like my peace and quiet. I like riding at my own pace. My short time in crit and road racing taught me that I am really a diesel. I am not good at quick accelerations and reacting to other people’s speed. There are some people I really enjoy riding with and who have a lovely fast but even pace that matches my speed very well, but there are few people like that. I guess I am quite selfish about my training too. As my time to train is very limited, I want to make sure the training and riding I do is right for me at the time. 

What is your approach to obstacles that you find in your path?

My first reaction to setbacks and obstacles is usually quite emotional. I need to blow off steam (and that can literally be as brief as just a stream of swear words), but can then quickly move on and get on with things. I think it is important to allow yourself some time to feel frustrated, but also realise that ultimately the best attitude for overcoming obstacles is a positive one. Once those emotions are out, a more practical approach takes over. I think in first aid they refer to that as ‘stop, think, act’. I always try to think ‘OK, what can I do about this?’. What can I do to still achieve my goals? Where to start? And on reflection, what positives can I still take from this? There is always a way. Experience also helps. Knowing that you have already faced a number of difficult circumstances, gives you the confidence you can handle the situation better, or at least as well, next time you experience such difficulties. That’s why I like to push my boundaries and get out of my comfort zone. You grow and with it you keep adding tools to your mental trickery box.

What gives you your confidence that you can do LeJog?

Having done well in 12 and 24 hour races, LEJOG feels like a natural continuation. It is more or less a 48- hour challenge to break the solo women’s record, with the current record standing at 52 hours and 45 minutes. I maintain a blog titled ‘duracellbunnyonabike’, because over the years I have discovered that I seem to have an inbuilt battery, an ability to just keep going. I don’t excel at much, but somehow my body can just keep pushing on, or perhaps my mind can keep pushing my body to keep going. Breaking the record will require an average speed (including any stops for toilet breaks, food, change of clothes, traffic lights etc) of 16 mph. That isn’t to be sniffed at. The very fact that no other woman has even attempted to break this record since 2002 says a lot. Some of the A-roads I will be riding on are not for the faint-hearted. Riding through 1 night is relatively easy, but riding through 2 nights is a whole different kettle of fish. I am aware of the challenges and in the build up to the record attempt am doing everything I can to prepare myself as best as possible (physically, mentally and logistically). But I think, ultimately you got to have some faith in yourself and the determination that you can do it.  A ‘can do’ attitude. And call me crazy, but IF I can manage to break the LEJOG record, I would be mad not to keep riding for ‘just’ another 160 odd miles to also break the 1,000 miles record.  

How do you feel under pressure? Do you ever struggle to make decisions?

In my early twenties I worked for five years as a scuba diving instructor. So I literally know what it is like to work ‘under pressure’. Diving is a very safe sport, but it does require you to stay calm and not panic if things go wrong. It teaches you a ‘solution-thinking’ approach. Pressure is a bit like a curve. There is an optimum point of pressure (and that point differs per person) at which I thrive under the pressure and can really perform at my best. But equally, when the pressure gets too much I can feel overwhelmed and ‘blocked’ to achieve anything. The only way out of that, is just to break things down. Prioritise things. Start with one thing (and sometimes that is just getting through the first hour or even first 5 minutes of a race). Then the next and work your way through until eventually you have actually achieved what you needed to do. In cycling, my best results have been when I try not to put too much pressure on myself. Just think of the race (even when it is an important race or a national race) as another bike ride and to just enjoy it. For me, enjoyment and positive thinking is really key to performing well.

I don’t usually struggle to make decisions, whether or not they are always the right decisions is another thing. Perhaps some of my decisions are too rash, too much based on gut feeling. My husband is very good at helping me make more thought-through decisions. Looking at things rationally. Weighing up pros and cons. Thinking about a strategy to get what I want.

I am quite independently minded. I like to make my own decisions. I am quite determined. If I set my mind on something, I like to try my best at achieving it.

I have noticed that my ability to make decisions and think clearly is impacted by fatigue and cold. When cycling through a cold night on a long 400 mile Audax in Wales with insufficient clothing to protect myself for example, I made a bunch of navigational errors and ended up hopelessly lost on steep sheep trails. For my LEJOG record attempt this should hopefully be less of an issue as it is mostly a matter of head north and keep going straight on. I will make sure there are people to guide me through more difficult sections when passing through bigger cities though.

Do you ever find your commitment waning when mid-way through a challenge or when you encounter a set back?

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. I don’t shy away from a challenge. If anything, it strengthens my commitment. Endurance cycling requires real strength of character and a determined personality. I recently discovered a great podcast, called the Tough Girl Podcast. It helps me through long turbo sessions. It contains stories from some remarkable women about all sorts of physical challenges (in cycling, rowing, motor racing, climbing mountains you name it), but what interests me most if how the podcasts focus on the mental strength required to undertake such challenges. In one of the podcasts, Parys Edwards, a professional triathlete, shared a quote of how “the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It is not about the circumstance, but about what you are made of”. I just love it! Such a great quote. I definitely want to be the egg. You can choose how to react to your circumstances and be strong. In my family (my dad is part of the last Dutch generation born in Indonesia) we also use a saying that “we are like bamboo, we bend, but we don’t break”. That’s how I like to approach things. Sometimes you need to find a way around obstacles, but I won’t let them break me. 

Do you ever find yourself setting new and bigger targets?

[Laughs] I constantly set myself new and bigger targets! It must be an addiction. It is such a slippery slope. I achieve one goal and instantly look for the next. What can I do that is bigger, longer, more challenging, more crazy?

I get more satisfaction out of trying something new or something different, than doing the same thing again or just trying to be faster over the same distance. Setting a PB in a short time trial (say 10 or 25 miles) can give me a short buzz, but the sense of achievement of overcoming bigger obstacles on long endurance rides and races gives me an inner glow that lasts much longer and that I can carry through into other areas of my life. I feel like I grow from it as a person as much as a rider. And it is not just pushing my body to new limits. It is training my inner capacities and my mental ability to new levels too.

I already have my next goal lined up for when I achieve my LEJOG goal. The ultimately goal is to compete solo in Race Across America (a 3,000-mile, 9-day challenge which many consider the ultimate ultra-endurance race). But I may need to save up some serious money and try my hand at Race across Ireland or another week-long race first.

Deep vein thrombosis has pretty much stopped all play this summer, just as my 2016 season was about to start properly with the long distance time trials over 12 and 24 hours. I could sit down and moan about it. Instead, (after a short moan) I chose to accept the situation, train hard indoors and set myself a new and even bigger target for 2016. If I cannot compete at the National 24 hour time trial championships in July, why not aim for the World 24 hour time trial championships in November (when my DVT medication is completed) instead?! The race happens to be in California, so a great way to swap cold Blightly out for Californian sunshine.

Getting on a long-haul flight might be a bit of a leap of faith after my recent DVT setback, but I now know to stay hydrated and keep moving. Hopefully flying with BA and a team mate whose husband is a pilot will help to get an upgrade into business class for a big more leg room. 

Do you worry about performing poorly?

I think it is only natural to want to do well. Nobody likes to perform badly. But I don’t actually worry about performing poorly. With the LEJOG record there is a little bit more at stake than with any other ride or race I have done to date. In other races you can be satisfied with setting a PB, or winning the race even if that wasn’t the fastest time any other woman has ever covered that distance in. It is still a win on the day. With the LEJOG record attempt there are only 2 outcomes. I either break the record or I don’t. Success and failure is very clear cut in this case. Perhaps those attempting the hour record go through a similar process, but even then, an hour record attempt is relatively easy to repeat, whereas a LEJOG record is a bit longer and consequently takes a bit more preparation.

The LEJOG record attempt is a challenge I will have been building up for over 18 months come September 2017. Several other people have generously given up their time to support me in preparation and to be part of my support crew during the attempt.

There is more weight on this challenge than anything else I have ever done. At the same time, I am acutely aware that many of the other LEJOG record holders didn’t succeed on their first attempt. There is an element of luck, especially with the weather conditions. But much is down to good planning and preparation. If I know I have done that to the best of my abilities, then there is no point in worrying about things. All I have left to do in September 2017 is just ride and make sure I enjoy the experience.

Do you find yourself getting anxious about whether you can achieve your challenges?

During my LEJOG recon ride in early June I felt incredibly anxious once faced with very mad and busy traffic on the A9 between Perth and Inverness, which is mostly single carriage and dubbed ‘Killer A9’ for a reason. I had managed to make my way through the busy A30 in Cornwall without any problem, but this was a whole different level of A-road madness and I actually felt that I could no longer flex my nerves of steel and had to stop in a few lay-byes just to give me a break mentally. Still, it hasn’t stopped me from feeling confident about being able to achieve my LEJOG goal. Instead it taught me (even more so) the importance of planning and preparation.

If you are well-prepared and have planned well, you don’t need to be anxious. During my recon ride I didn’t anticipate at all the amount of traffic on the A9. The simple fact that all previous record holders took this route gave me the confidence that it should be fine. I should have paid attention to the fact that they actually covered this stretch during the night time with a lot less traffic. Knowing that, and knowing that during my record attempt I will have a follow car behind me with warning signs to make things a little safer, I now feel a lot more positive about riding that stretch of the route and more confident that it won’t stop me from getting to John o Groats in a new record time.

I don’t get anxious about whether I can achieve my goals. I notice that some people need a lot of confirmation in the days/weeks leading up to their challenges. They need others to tell them that they will be fine, that they will do well. They worry about so many things. It really doesn’t matter what other people say or think. They won’t be there to ride the bike for you. You have to make sure you show up to that start line feeling confident and positive and eager to do what you love and have been looking forward to for so long. The longer the race, the more mental strength is what really can make the difference. And for mental strength you need self-belief, not anxiety.

All that energy wasted on worrying, is much better spend on relaxing, freeing your mind from doubt, and instead channelling those nervous feelings (I can’t deny I don’t get nervous) into positive excitement and looking forward to what you are about to do.

Read more from Jasmijn at: https://duracellbunnyonabike.com/

Or follow her on twitter: @jasmijnmuller1

 

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