British born professional mountain bike athlete, Annie Last, has been making tracks in the race scene since she was just 12 years old.
With her recent transfer to the Novus OMX Pro Race team, we caught up with 25-year-old Annie to chat about her career as a professional racer, the upcoming season and her preparation for securing a podium finish...
Who is Annie Last?
Like many of us, our passion for riding bikes is introduced to us through another rider. For Annie Last, it was her brother and following him to the races. She said: "He started racing cyclo-cross and road races so I would spend my weekends watching him race. I decided to try one out instead of standing on the edge of a muddy field watching him, and I loved it!"
A local 15 minute event for under 12's was Annie's first taste of competitive racing, and it was just enough to have her hooked.
Following her first dabble with racing, Annie sought out new experiences within all disciplines of cycling. From local cyclo-cross races, to road, track and then finally finding her home in the forest trails of mountain biking. At 15 years old, Annie knew she wanted to focus her training on the challenging trails and long distances that the mountains could offer her.
For any young athlete training hard and hungry for the gold, there can be a difficult trade-off to be made between education and pursuing a professional career. Upon finishing collage, Annie was offered placement to study a medical degree at university, but chose to defer it in favor of her cycling career. She said: "I realized that I could go back to medicine later if I wanted, but that if I wanted to be a full time cyclist I needed to do it now. I love what I do and am lucky to be able to ride a bike as my job."
To be an Olympic athlete demands a lot of training, hard work and discipline. It's an honour most professional athletes of any field can dream of, but for Annie Last, her dream came true. In 2009, Annie joined the British Olympic training program which helped structure her physical and mental training towards entering the Games in 2016, however her progress and skill level saw her be entered for London 2012.
For such a young woman to earn her fast track into the Olympic games, we asked Annie how she mentally prepared herself for such a big race: "Mentally we were told that it would be like no other race, but you just have to take everything as it comes and when it comes down to it, a race is a race and all you can do is do your job when you are on the start line."
Due to her age at the time, Annie should have been put forward for the Under-23 events, but instead competed at the adult level where she secured herself 8th place.
Having been a team rider for mountain bike race teams such as Milka-Superior and Trek Factory, Annie joined Novus OMX Pro Team earlier this year, alongside some experienced and talented athletes. With the new race season on the horizon, Annie shares her excitement with us, saying: "I am looking forward to having great support behind me, and to travelling and working with a great group of guys".
The World Cup race season begins Down Under in April, where we can't wait to see Annie doing what she does best.
Getting fit and ready to race is a lot more than just clocking up the miles on the bike. You need to work all areas of your mind and body in a variety of ways, whether it's at the gym, through yoga or simple stretches and floor routines at home.
However, one of the biggest hindrances to training can be the weather. Going for a cycle or a run in torrential rain, howling winds and whatever else Mother Nature throws at us, is off-putting to say the least. Cold wintery wet weather is another big contributor to hibernation syndrome. So how do professional athletes persevere through it?
Simply mixing it up. Annie trains both indoors and outdoors during the winter months with a mixture of longer endurance riding, and shorter technical rides. Mountain biking requires a great range of movement, muscle and cardio that each needs to be training differently. She tells us: "MTB needs so many different physical attributes, and different skills, that you need a good varied training program."
"MTB needs so many different physical attributes, and different skills, that you need a good varied training program"
To escape the wet UK winter, Annie and the Novus OMX Pro Team are soaking up the winter sun in Cape Town, South Africa for an intensive training and boot camp break in preparation for the upcoming race season.
If you've been toying with the idea of entering some races this season, then Annie has some advice and encouragement for you - saying: "There are lots of different categories within races of different lengths, so it is easy to find a race that suits your ability. The courses are always fun and challenging, and technical sections have different options for different level riders so it caters for everyone."
At the end of the day, though - it's all about enjoyment - she said: "The most important thing with training is to get outside and have fun riding your bike!"
Find some local races to enter, even the fun rides and sportives are great ways to get a feel for the race environments, without the competitive pressure.
"The most important thing with training is to get outside and have fun riding your bike!"
Annie Last is arguably an exciting young athlete to keep an eye on this season. Being just 25 years old, she's already represented Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, and secured herself multiple National wins.
She's an inspiration for young women looking to get involved with mountain biking, and pursuing a professional career in the industry.
With her new race team, Novus OMX, Annie is set to have a successful year in mountain biking, and hopefully see her on the podium more than once.
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