How to get more women racing

I started racing about three years ago. Last season was my first full season of racing. I struggled with the thought about racing for several years before I actually lined up for a race. I noticed that during my first race I had a lot of fears and trepidations. So, I completed my first race and got a state championship out of it for my age group. Looking back at this experience and through to my experiences now, I’ve given much thought to what it takes to get more women racing.
I recently returned from a Women’s and Juniors Only Race Weekend in Columbia, SC. I am part of a committee through the Carolinas Cycling Association that is focused on women’s development. We came up with this idea through a collaboration with a similar committee focusing on junior development. When we were conceptualizing what this weekend would entail, we knew a few things would be important for women:
1. Women like community. They want to feel supported and included.
We knew that creating an environment where every woman could be made to feel like they could do it would be essential. So, we structured a clinic focused on racing skills like pacelining, cornering, and bumping to teach women the safe way to race and to show them how doable it actually is. We hosted races after a lunchtime discussion. After the races were over, we had a post-race discussion. That evening, we all had dinner together and the conversations continued. The second day we had more races and pre- and post-race discussions. We also made sure to have sign-up sheets for women who want race mentors. We had successful women racers and experienced women racers helped to lead the clinics and conversations throughout the weekend.
2. We partnered strategically with like-minded organizations. The Carolinas Cycling Association (CCA) (governing USAC body for NC and SC) was a natural alliance as was The Feed, Osmo Nutrition for Women, and others. We offered goodie bags for participants, which included water bottles branded with the CCA logo and lots of free samples of products. Every pre-registered participant was given a goodie bag. Partner with the Women’s Cycling Association (WCA).
3. We also were able to reduce registration fees to $10/race–a much cheaper option for most cyclists. We offered separate age group categories for juniors and a Women’s 4 and Women’s 3/4 races (separate). We had a huge turnout for the women’s 4, approximately 35 riders. I’ve never raced in a field that large in all of my years of racing! It was empowering and encouraging. Women after completing this race (many of which this was their very first race) felt accomplished and happy and well-prepared after their participation in the clinic. Overall, we had somewhere north of 50 participants! A huge success!
4. Social media is your friend. Create a Facebook page or event to support your event so that women can coordinate carpooling, housing/accommodations, etc. Also, use this opportunity to answer questions from prospective racers, allow them to use the forum to build excitement. Use Instagram and creative hashtags to highlight your events and pre-event efforts to build and maintain excitement. Here’s our Facebook page for the CCA Women’s Development Committee:
5. Follow-up with a survey for participant feedback and plan to do more in the future to continue building enthusiasm and excitement. Have women make connections with each other so that they can continue to support each other at races and in cycling in general.
6. Have fun. Talk about the fun that you’ve experienced!
Some pics from that weekend. More to come!
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About Mandy Gallagher

USA Cycling Level 2 Coach, Training Peaks University Graduate, Certified Power Based Training
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