H eather McWilliams Mierzejewski, a freelance journalist and editor in Boulder, mother of two and member of the Boulder Orthopedics masters cycling team, spends a little time each week planning when and where to squeeze in her workouts.
On Wednesdays, she wakes up early for a 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. ride with a headlamp. Other days, she fits her ride in before her 5-year-old daughter gets out school.
"Day in, day out planning," she said. "That's how I take care of myself and how I learn. It's my gift to myself."
The Boulder masters cycling team, founded in 1984, has a growing contingent of female cyclists after the all-male group added a women's team four years ago.
This year, Mierzejewski placed eighth at the Masters Cyclocross World Championships, second at the Masters Road Championships and first at the Colorado Masters Road Championships.
Mierzejewski joined the team after striking up conversations with other female cyclists on the team at races and events. She says she finds fulfillment surrounding herself with intelligent, hardworking professional women and mothers who also happen to kick ass at riding bikes.
"The women that I have met on this team -- they're amazing," she said. "They're dedicated, they're smart and driven and successful. They have a sense of self. They're not afraid to speak up for themselves. Instead of girls' night out, I show up at a race on the weekend and say, 'hi' and catch up."
The coed team is an eclectic group of 57 working professionals, business owners, parents, scholars and researchers who all find time to train at least 10 hours per week, all year long, said team spokesman Len Pettyjohn, who has coached many pro teams, including the Coors Light team.
The team includes 18 current or former national or world champions and was named the No. 1 masters track team at the Masters Track Nationals in August, and then named No. 1 at Masters Road Nationals in September. In October, the team's Steve Worley won the 2012 Masters 60-64 Individual World Championships.
Mierzejewski's teammate, Christy Orris, joined the team before the women's team competed.
Orris began cycling when she was 15, and then picked up triathlons a year later. As the team grew, and the women began competing, Orris realized just how powerful the group was. She said when she first started competing, she thought she would play it safe and only compete in disciplines she was familiar with. That changed quickly, she said.
"They took me, a novice rider, and made me into a competent rider in many cycling disciplines," she said. "Road, criterium, track and cyclocross."
The team boasts an experienced crew of training and health specialists, which is why team members are able to fit training into their busy schedules. Andy Pruitt, one of the team's founding members, founded the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and works as a medical design consultant for a bicycle company.
Neal Henderson, Boulder Center for Sports Medicine director of sport science, has coached Taylor Phinney and helps each member of the team form a training regimen.
Because of the train smarter, not longer mentality the team has, Mierzejewski said she no longer wastes time going for extremely long rides for conditioning.
Watching her plan her week to fit in her workouts has been good for her kids, too, she said. Mierzejewski's son took up cyclocross this year.
"Racing has made me a better mom, a better role model for my kids," she said. "It's good for them to see me stick it out on hard days, be disciplined."
Mierzejewski turns 40 in January. She says even though she's lived plenty, she said she still manages to learn a thing or two each time she races or works out.
"This team is a lifestyle choice," she said. "You live this. Racing can teach you a lot about yourself. How to tolerate failure and disappointment, how to push yourself harder, how to deal with success, how to be an appropriate and gracious competitor. A lot of it is just doing the work. I'm not some athletic genius, but I'm doing the work."
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.