Published: 08th Mar 2024 Images: Scottish Cycling

BlogHER: Back on Track after 43 years

This International Women’s Day, we sat down to Janet Clapton who started track racing back in 1981 to hear her story about racing of being only a handful of women racing at the time, to coming back to the sport later in life after moving to Scotland and competing in the Glasgow Track League and Scottish Championships.

“Over to you Mr Starter” and “I can’t believe you’re still competing”, two sentences heard during my track racing but separated by 43 years. My story is about enjoying track racing as a youngster, but then spending decades battling illness and injury to return to it in much later life.

I started track racing when I was 14, in 1981. The British Cycling Federation had stamped ‘Schoolboy’ on my paper licence. It didn’t really matter, as there were hardly any female riders that year at my local outdoor track. There were a few races for under 16 boys and me, and a few under 18 races, but most of the racing was a single senior category, at that time filled with men in their twenties. What about older riders? Among the men, there were several well-known time triallists who lived locally, and two old time track racers from the 1950s. At the time, I saw no older female track riders, until my boyfriend’s mother rode in 1983. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realise she was racing seriously, especially as she came from a cycle touring background, but we never know who is going to influence us down the years.

1982 was much better, when there were enough women to have separate points for races with the under 16 boys. This was a lot more fun; although most of us weren’t quite the standard of the Australian sprint champion, Sian Mulholland, who joined us for the summer. At that time, there were no indoor tracks in the UK, Leicester was one of the principal banked wooden tracks, so much so that the World Championships were held there that summer, despite the disruptive impact of rain. Leicester’s importance in the track scene of the time was such that I decided to go to college there.

This was where things unravelled quite badly for me. I picked up stubborn knee injuries from doing too many miles alongside a glute weakness; injuries that took decades to get under control. Even more problematically, I was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which involved several spells in hospital over the next eight years, and ultimately the removal of my entire large intestine. People do race with IBD, especially now treatments are better. But for me, I effectively lost my twenties to being ill.

Finally, in 2000, I got back to track at Preston Park, a large outdoor track on the south coast, which had a friendly league, but few women riders. Unfortunately, I only got a couple of years’ racing before my knees caused another layoff, this time for 15 years. Not getting any younger meanwhile! I finally came back in 2018 and 2019, by which time there were fewer young senior riders but more women and veterans, enough to enjoy racing in our own league.

Just before the pandemic, we decided to move to the Isle of Bute. Our first choice had been Tighnabruaich, but a friend persuaded us that Bute was a more practical place to live, being connected to a railhead by an hourly ferry service. By now it was nearly 40 years since I’d started racing on the track, but I felt spurred on by all the years I’d unwillingly missed. So, when a Bute clubmate organised an accreditation weekend at Glasgow, I seized the chance, even though the prospect of a banked indoor track was quite daunting. As it turned out, Glasgow was much easier to ride than Calshot, a difficult shortened track in a draughty hangar opposite the Isle of Wight. In the meantime, I had started structured training and strength exercises, which meant my glutes were doing a better job of protecting my knees.

So, what was the leap between accreditation and an indoor, faster league than I was used to? While I was at the Glasgow accreditation sessions, I saw the posters for Women’s Track Fund training, a series of women-only coached sessions. As well as getting more training, this helped me meet like-minded women, of all ages. This was so important, since one of the key things to enjoying and participating in more racing is knowing other people who will be there too. Therefore, with a long history of not being afraid to have a go or come last, I got back to riding track league and track meets, such as Monsters of Track, the Omnium Championships at Dundee, the Masters Nationals at Newport, and the Scottish Championships.

This time around, the age profile of female riders is much wider. I think that modern training techniques and equipment have gone a long way to ensuring that older athletes can perform at their best, coupled with the momentum of having others to race with and opportunities to race, sometimes in other categories’ meets. I’m so grateful the younger riders don’t laugh at us!

Why do I keep going? Well, because I’ve always enjoyed track riding, and I hope to inspire others. Give it a go – I promise you’ll find it fun!

Thank you Janet for sharing your experiences in track racing and getting back in the saddle after long periods of illness and injury.

If you would like to tell your cycling story for our monthly Scottish Cycling BlogHer article, please email Melanie, our Women and Girls Development Manager, on: [email protected]