Pressure is part and parcel of competing at the highest level, but we all deal with it differently.
Richards has had a standout season, which was crowned with a silver medal in the short track before a storming ride to take the world title in the cross-country event at last week’s world championships. However, she had a crisis of confidence Leogang World Cup at the start of June, and she needed a pep talk with her mum and sister to give her a morale boost before racing.
Family and friends are an important part of how Richards deals with stress and pressure.
“When I feel under pressure, I can almost pre-empt what will happen. I will stop seeing my friends, I’ll train harder, and actually, it makes the pressure worse,” Richards told VeloNews. “I always feel like when you isolate yourself and just train harder and kind of go off on your own, it makes it worse. So, for me to deal with the pressure is just to keep seeing my friends and be sociable.
“Obviously, I need to train well and I’m the happiest when I know I’ve done my training well, but also when I’m seeing my friends and like enjoying life.”
For Richards, pressure is something that can build up around an event or a major goal, but it’s not something she experiences during a race itself. Once she gets to the day of a race, she’s in her element and can control what she needs to do.
In a video posted after her worlds-winning ride, Richards can be seen with a notebook and pen jotting down notes. This plays an important role in her race preparation, as does finding a good track to get herself pumped for the ride itself.
“On the day of the race, I don’t even think about it. It just happens. I write down my timings and my body just does it,” Richards said. “Pressure on the day of the race is never something that comes into my head because I do the same thing at the same time, for every race. It’s so drilled into me now that it almost just comes naturally.
“Music’s a really big thing for me. I love listening to music, so I always get some good music on in the morning, and I like to ride over to our pits. I think it’s really nice just to have a second of calm and just being on your own and in your own space for a bit. For me, writing stuff down is really important. I like to write a list in the morning and go through my timings again, writing a list of the course, and go through it in my head again and imagining it, and then when I get to the pits, I like to just sit and chat for an hour.
“I always arrive an hour early, and I chat to the team. We sit and I can make them coffee and just really decompress before everything starts. Then I start my glute warm-up, I drink my red bull the same time before every single race. And from there, everything just kind of flows.”
Even in the midst of a race, Richards’ family is important to get her ready.
“The last thing I always do is read the card that my mum sends me so that’s always like happens before I race anything. Normally it stays in my back pocket as well when I’m racing,” she told VeloNews.
Showing the good and the bad on social media
Richards is a prolific user of social media, particularly on Instagram where shows her life on and off the bike. Recently, there are many pictures and videos from her successful stint at the world championships in Val di Sole, there are beach snaps and pictures of her hanging out with her family in Cornwall, and a video of her being chased by her excitable Labrador as she does hill efforts on her mountain bike.
In between the images of smiles, mud, and excitable dogs, there are some posts detailing when things don’t go to plan, or when she feels down or unmotivated. Richards wants to be honest to her nearly 150,000 followers, especially for those that may be getting started in their own athletic careers, but it’s a difficult balance to make.
“I think it’s a really hard thing to do. Sometimes I struggle to know where the line is, with social media,” Richards said. “I think it’s really important to see all sides of an athlete because otherwise the younger kids looking up, if you just show the good times, then when something hard happens to them, they just think well, “why is this happening to me?” or like, that’s not like fair, it’s always good for them.
“I try and share a bit of everything that’s happening, but I always find it hard, because I’m obviously in a very lucky position. But I also think it’s good because social media can just be like the highlight reel of all the really good things. So yeah, I think it’s important to sometimes show actually what is happening or how you are feeling. But I think it is hard when people can be very judgmental, then it’s a fine line.”
Richards wishes she could have seen other riders discussing their more difficult times as she was getting into the sport. She now looks to athletes from other sports, such as climbing’s Shauna Coxsey to get a more rounded view of what others are experiencing.
“I think the people I followed were very, they probably only posted the good things, and I don’t think that helped me,” Richards told VeloNews. “I follow people like Shauna Coxsey now, and I love to see her social media because I find it really refreshing when she shows everything when she’s struggled in an event or she’s not motivated to train because I think we can, we can all relate to that stuff, and I think that’s really important.
“I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good at doing it as Shauna is. But I, those are the people I like to follow on social media. I don’t like to follow the people that are only like doing everything through rose-tinted glass that everything’s perfect. I want to see people having fun, but I also want to see what’s actually happening. I try and do that. I’m not always the best.”