Janet Birkmyre won’t be a new name to you if you follow Masters racing; the woman has won on a prolific scale but not just as a Master, at UK Elite level too.
Here’s her tale…
Please give us a resume of your British, European and World Masters titles, Janet – and I believe you have won British Elite Titles?
“Three elite national titles (Scratch Race 2012, Derny Paced 2008 and 2015).
“Eight elite National Series wins in the 10 years 2005 to 2015.
“37 World Masters titles.
“28 European Masters titles.
“57 National Masters titles.
“These are not titles I know, but I have had a couple of wins on the road too, including: Tour de France women’s support race, Hyde Park 2007, Tour of Britain women’s support race, 2006 The Mall and 2007 Crystal Palace, Hillingdon Grand Prix 2009.”
And tell us about the records you hold.
“That’s a much shorter list!
“Hilariously I hold the national record for 5k on a tandem, set in 2006 with Hannah Manley.
“It is a random, non-competitive distance and that was why it was up for grabs and has not been broken.
“My individual World Masters Records previously set over 200m, 500m and 2K have all been lowered but when the Masters National records are published I should have four of those.
“The record set in the Team Sprint with Ali Chisholm of 36.55 (2013) and Team Pursuit with Maddy Moore and Mel Sneddon of 2:27.886 (2016) still stand.”
Has an age group Hour Record bid ever crossed your mind?
“No, why would anyone what to do that to themselves, it sounds horrible, I have always said that 500m is quite long enough to sort out any argument.
“In truth I have so much respect for anyone taking on the challenge of an hour record but it would take some serious arm twisting to persuade me that it was a good idea.
“Although, now that you mention it I have to say that it has rather peeked my interest … (heads off to do some research!).”
You came late to the bike, how/why?
“I grew up on a farm and had always been active, with horses being my competitive outlet growing up.
“It will be difficult for those who know me now to believe but I was very small as a child and I did not stand out at anything athletic at school.
“Once I graduated I poured all of my energy into my career and there was no time for anything else, until I woke up and realised I was working too hard and living too little.
“I gave up my job to travel around the world, finishing with a ski-season in Chamonix.
“Here I met a group of guys who were there to climb Mont Blanc. I am a reasonably handy skier and spent some time with them, in return they introduced me to mountain biking in the Peak District and it was immediately a passion.
“I turned to road cycling while I was working as a consultant with Marks & Spencer in London and thanks to The Twickenham I got my first taste of track cycling. That was 2001 and I was 35.
“I took some persuading to start racing, which included a 2up TT with my husband shortly after we got engaged. I recall telling him how much I hated him in the last two miles of that race and he just laughed and told me he hated me too but that was normal.
“I took even more persuading to race on the track, the thought of it terrified me, but actually once I was up on the track the nerves disappeared and I quickly realised it played to my strengths.
“I guess we all enjoy doing the things we are good at.”
What do you do for a living?
“I work as a marketing consultant, specialising in Trade Marketing (marketing between businesses, for example grocery brands such as Tanqueray and Coca Cola and the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury) and I also work with companies to measure and improve the customer experience they offer.
“It is pretty full-on at times and requires quite a bit of travel from Worcester to Scotland, the North East, South Wales and all points in between.
“That said I am my own boss, so wherever possible I try to avoid big travel weeks and back to back meetings in the days leading up to an event that matters to me.”
How do you fit training in?
“Often with some difficulty.
“If I am coming back from a long trip I will phone my husband and ask him to put a bottle on my bike in the garage because I know that if I get home and relax I will lose the will to train, but the legs never seem to work well after long trip in the car.
“Like everyone who works for a living, the weekends offer some high quality training time and in the lead-up to big events I ink the occasional trip to the Newport velodrome into my diary.
“It’s not easy but I know that I am not alone in trying to find a balance and my non-cycling friends are incredibly understanding.”
You compete in a wide range of disciplines, how do you accommodate that in your training?
“Some might argue that I am ‘a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none’.
“I guess there is a little bit of compromise and that is why I allowed myself to be talked out of continuing with the match sprint by my then coach, Chris Davies.
“He suggested I could not do it justice, riding it as a bolt-on event while trying to specialise in the pursuit and bunch races, especially as I was racing women who focussed on shorter distances and more explosive power but to be fair I had had some success with sprinting until this point.
“These days I focus on the individual pursuit and my feeling is that the training I do for this works reasonably well for the other disciplines; 500m TT, scratch, points, team sprint and team pursuit.
“Certainly the results suggest the bunch racing and 500m time trial have not been compromised as I become more and more focussed on the IP and even the odd 10 mile TT all work well to build a bit of endurance.”
Do you have a coach and/or mentor?
“Absolutely yes, I have both a coach and several mentors.
“My husband David Jack was my first coach and determined my training programme for the first six years, up to 2012.
“He has always believed in me and still supports me behind the scenes now.
“I then worked with Chris Davis until 2017 when a number of things conspired to make life difficult.
“Most notably my health was not good.
“I really struggled both on and off the bike and after months of feeling dreadful I eventually went to see the doctor, who took bloods and diagnosed me with hyperthyroidism.
“That seriously curtailed my training over the 2016/2017 winter and well into the spring when I found it very difficult to get back into proper training and racing having missed so much.
“That’s when Ivor Reid stepped up. We had known each other for years and we would meet up in Mallorca to train together. He had so many amazing stories and we would talk for hours – what was said on the bike stayed on the bike obviously – but I just loved those rides, his company, his humour and his ability to make me feel like a proper cyclist.
“Ivor’s offer to coach me fell out of all of this and he seeded the idea of going for the 2K record at a time when I felt a little lost for direction with my cycling.
“Since he has passed I have started working with Steve Cronshaw, who again I have known for years and have huge respect for.
“His approach to my training is quite different to anything I have done before but I am really enjoying working with him.
“He is very similar to Ivor in temperament and incredibly patient with me.
“He is challenging what I do and how I do it, just what I need to breathe life into my cycling at the end of a difficult season.
“As far as mentors are concerned, David is the most constant but it would be remiss of me not to mention Graham Bristow, who has had a huge influence in turning me into a cyclist. I met him at my first Masters Nationals in 2005 and following that he called me out of the blue to offer me some derny paced training.
“Graham taught me to suffer in a way that I had never suffered before. I knew that he was giving up his time to help me and I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. At the end of those sessions I would leave Herne Hill on my knees but it gave me the confidence to push myself I races and I found some new limits.
“While it was never the original goal, we went on to race together in the National Derny Championships for a full decade, picking up two titles which reflects on his abilities as a pacer more than it does on mine as a cyclist.
“I owe him a huge debt of thanks for everything he has taught me and for the fun we have had along the way.”
How do you maintain your motivation, year in, year out?
“In the early days it was easy, I remember coming away from my first elite National Championships in 2005 having finished fourth in the sprint and I was determined to win a medal the following year.
“I was so fired up that I managed a huge block of training that winter, despite working a particularly difficult job, 60+ hours a week and with a nasty commute thrown in for good measure.
“To be fair to myself, it has only been very recently, that my motivation has wobbled and that has been largely down to illness and injury.
“It’s so hard to keep motivated when you feel ill and the doctor has told you not to raise your heart rate above 120bpm.
“When I was at my lowest ebb Ivor stepped in and helped me focus on getting healthy, he gave me a goal that got me back into proper training and more than all of that he made me feel like I could still achieve something worthwhile.
“I miss him dreadfully.”
Tell us about your current team.
“The TORQ Performance Track Team is just amazing and the friendships now extend way beyond what we all do on the bike.
“I actually started riding for TORQ back in 2012 and won the national title in the scratch race in their colours.
“It was a natural choice for me to represent them because I had found their products, knew they were clean, well-researched and very effective.
“The team now includes Mel Sneddon, Maddy Moore, Lou Haston and Justin McKie who are all really lovely people, hilarious, generous and outstanding athletes too.
“If ever the motivation dips a training session or race meeting with any one of them puts me right