Racing Again

This expression says it all - Sunday was tough but in a good way.

This expression says it all – Sunday was tough but in a good way.

On Sunday, September 14 I did something that I haven’t done since 2012. I raced my cyclo-cross bike. Boy oh boy was it ever fun. It was damn hard as well, but most importantly it was fun. I woke up at around 2 a.m on Sunday morning with a gnawing feeling in my stomach, I initially thought I was hungry – nope nervous.

Nervous as in a little bit freaked out. By the time the alarm beeped and I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m., my mind was in race mode. I was rethinking my race bag. Reviewing what I had planned to wear for the race. Thinking about water bottles. And trying to mentally rehearse cornering, descending, sprinting, and barrier technique. Yes, I was a bit of a nut (but in a good way).

The pre-ride, the cheering for the first race, the catching up with long-time friends, the racing, the race recap afterwards, the cheering on of Marc and the other guys in the third race and then the course tear-down were just so special. I know it was simply a local cyclo-cross race. But for me it was something else. I felt so very comfortable out there. It was so meaningful to be pre-riding and just feeling like I was in the “groove”. There were no thoughts of not being good enough, of not being fit enough, of not really belonging – nope I felt at home.

I attribute this to the people that make up the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series. I’m guessing that in other races, one often doesn’t hear on the start line “wow, great to see you out here”, “I’m really happy you’re at the race”, or afterwards “you looked great out there”.

The race was a good hard one. With a lumpy course that featured two tough climbs (one which I had to walk/power hike/drag myself up), some fun switch backs, a wee pile of sand, a very lumpy grass section (my favourite section), fast barriers and a speedy little descent (on which I managed to blow the line and ride completely off course over some rather menacing rocks) – there was nowhere to hide.

I was super impressed with the caliber of women (and the amount) who lined up on Sunday. There are some very speedy ladies racing in this series who can really put the hammer down. I was in the back (quite far back really) but that’s okay. I’m not riding much at all, I’ve finally built up to three rides a week (one of these being the ‘cross race), so suffering would be the theme for me at Calabogie. It was very different to be racing in my local series without hours and hours of training in my legs and soul – I felt a strange sensation of just relaxing into the moment. This might sound cheesy but if you knew how much pressure I used to put on myself to have a good ride (particularly when racing at home) then you would understand how and why Sunday’s race was so different for me.

My only goal going in was to be exhausted at the end. I can definitely say I was. I was happy to be lapped (yes, lapped) – this meant I didn’t have to drag myself up those two hills again nor across the lumpy grass again. The rest of the day was a bit of a write-off – I was that tired. An attempted nap in the late afternoon was made rather uncomfortable thanks to the rapid onset of ‘cross gut (do not eat that peanut butter bar with your post-race lunch – you will regret it…) – so instead I sat and tried to gather up some energy to do more than read Twitter accounts of Mike Woods’ amazing race at the GP Montreal.

Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross, you’ve stolen my heart and I’m happy to let you have it. Thanks for giving me a place to be on Sunday mornings. I didn’t realize how much I missed you. Let’s not ever be apart like this again.

‘Cross Bike Fun

Way back in 2007

Way back in 2007

It’s that special time of the year. Cyclo-cross season has started and the first race of the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross season is on the schedule for this Sunday in Calabogie. So it was the perfect time to kick off my cyclo-cross clinics. These are small clinics (since I’m the only person providing advice) and are for women-only.

Some may bristle at this women-only approach but it’s been my experience that most of the women who are new to ‘cross or have even been doing it for a few years, really haven’t had anyone show them how to do things like dismount, mount, pick-up their bikes, ride through sand, etc. It helps to learn from someone who doesn’t have “natural” ability (that’s me). I learned by repeated practice, by making  a lot of mistakes and by trying different stuff on my bike in an effort to get uber-comfortable rolling around at high speeds.

So last night we had some fun. We practiced coasting down a hill with all our weight on the left pedal (that’s right no bums on seats), we broke the dismount and mount down to a walking pace so we could identify the “dead” spots in these key moves, we ran/walked up hills carrying our bikes, and we talked and laughed. Yes, lots of fun.

I find these sessions so valuable for me, I get to help others with their ‘cross technique and these sessions get me to really think about how I learned to do things and then try to transfer this knowledge to others. Now, I was never the fastest or the most technically skilled cyclo-cross racer but I do know a few tricks that can help save a second or two on a dismount/mount, how to find the best places to recover on the race course, and how to work-around my weak spots on the course.

Anyway, all this to say, that last night was a lot of fun. Many thanks to the women who came out last night. (Oh, and I’m not going to lie, my right shoulder is a bit sensitive from our uphill carry practice…)

How Are You Feeling?

(I just wrote an entire blog post and deleted it…) The blog post was about the mental/emotional aspects of living with a disease like ulcerative colitis. It was a deeply personal blog post. One that as I was writing it, caused my vision to get a bit blurry. I decided that really I didn’t want to open myself up so deeply. Sorry about this, it is not often that I do this. I suppose this is an indication that while I’m doing great physically, I’m still trying to come to terms with the mental and emotional components of having a disease that has no cure.  Maybe, I’ll feel up to such an honest post on another day. Or maybe not. Regardless, please think of this the next time you’re talking to a friend/colleague/family member and you ask “how are you feeling?”. Be ready for an honest answer. Perhaps an answer that you really weren’t ready for. The thing is, if there is one thing I have learned over the last year it’s that we have to be honest when we’re asked this question. If we’re not honest and ready to accept this honesty, how can we ever expect to actually understand and help one another?

 

Thinking about Cyclo-Cross

2008 Master's World Cyclo-Cross Championships (4th place)

2008 Master’s World Cyclo-Cross Championships 

Ah can you feel it? The air is getting a bit more crisp. The morning sun takes a bit longer to rise. The evenings are slightly cooler. The leaves are even starting to change colour. This means one thing – cyclo-cross season is right around the corner.

For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to this cyclo-cross season. Last year I didn’t get to line-up once. The season before was okayish but I was struggling mentally with my newfound reality. This year, though is different. Initially I hadn’t planned on participating in our local Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series – I really don’t have any fitness, haven’t been training, haven’t been riding much and I’m slowly coming back from my pesky running-related injury.

But, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll be out as much as possible on Sunday morning lining up with the rest of the enthusiastic women and girls who make our local series so special. Really what turned me around was a recent cyclo-cross clinic that I held. This was a one-on-one clinic with a young woman who is brand new to cyclo-cross. Her zest for this sport is overwhelming, she watched one muddy late-season race in Almonte and was instantly hooked.

On a very hot Sunday afternoon we rolled around in the grass working on the dismount. It was so exhilarating to watch this young woman go from not being sure about riding around clipped out and what would happen when she moved her right hand from her hood to her top-tube to being fully confident and super agile on the bike. A complete natural.

Seeing her so happy and thrilled with learning this essential cyclo-cross skill rekindled long lost feelings. I flashed back to my first races in 1994, hauling my Specialized Rockhopper with toe clips around Conroy Pit. I thought about the Ontario Provincials at Mooney’s Bay many years later when I was thrilled to secure third place in the masters’s women’s category. I became a bit teary when I remembered that first season of racing cyclo-cross in Belgium and the doors this experience opened for me. I could hear Marc cheering me on as I raced at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. I thought of all the people I’ve met over the years. The trip my dad and I took in 2010 to Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic is a very special one. To last season watching so many awesome women duking it out in the cold, rain, and mud, while smiling and having fun.

How can I possibly miss out on this? So often we forget how the little things really do make a big impact on our lives and of those of others. The Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series has really been a life-changer for me. 2007 in Belgium racing on the road and then on my cyclo-cross bike exposed me to what is possible. So, I’ll be lining up again, I’ll be doing my best to ride hard and to ride with a smile. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be hard at times. But once the bike is packed up and dry clothes are on, it will have been the best way to spend a Sunday morning. Bikes. Good people. Fresh air. Stories. Life-changing experiences.

Roller Coaster Living

Roller coasters are kind of awesome. You get the rush and the thrill of the steep climbs and the heart in your throat feeling of the speeding descents and tight corners. The rush, excitement, fear and thrill all add up to a massive blast of adrenaline. This is kind of how I think life should be. There are ups which can be challenging – likely a bit scary but overall you come out on top and a better person for these challenges. The descents and tight curves remind you that life is for the living and each day must be seized and enjoyed.

I get worried and concerned when the thrill of the roller coaster ride is gone. This is when each day seems to be the same. There is nothing to look forward to. Nothing to kick you out of bed in the morning.

What I think is important to realize is that this roller coaster approach to life doesn’t need to be one that is filled with the biggest and most scariest roller coasters in the amusement park. Little tiny roller coasters are just fine. A ferris wheel kind of day is great as well. Throw in some bumper car weekends and you’re really getting it.

I used to think I was wasting my days if they weren’t jam-packed with big rides and all the candy floss I could eat. Now I’m learning the benefit and gift of the kiddy rides and the smaller roller coasters. Realizing that the so-called smaller things in life  really add up to the big thrills and chills.

 

Bike Crush

Aigle, Switzerland 2010

Aigle, Switzerland 2010

This has been an interesting summer… intent on trail running and doing a few trail races, I kind of ignored my bike and focused on trail running. Well, as the story goes, I became injured. I tried to run like I had been running for years. I tried to apply the volume that I loved from riding my bike to running. Nope, I’m not an experienced enough runner to do this. My feet, tendons, shins, and general overall body protested until I finally exploded.

Flash forward seven weeks and I’m back with my first crush (sorry Marc) – my bicycle. (I’m easing back into running – so far so good and I’m committed to the long slow road to running fitness.) In the last couple of weeks I’ve been out on a few rides, boy oh boy, I had no idea how much I missed my bike. It is comforting to be out on familiar roads riding along and just feeling so comfortable.

For me, there is something about my bike that just makes me so happy and secure. I feel confident on my bike. When racing, I didn’t have the natural gifts that so many have, but I had a passion for the bike. Passion that encouraged me to set big lofty goals (goals that many didn’t believe I’d ever achieve) and then work hard to meet and surpass these goals. This confidence spilled over into other areas of my life – I felt good about myself, I was more confident when speaking with others, I got over my shyness (yes, I used to be shy), and I felt comfortable in my skin.

Now, of course, I don’t have that fitness that I once had. I’m no longer a bike racer. In fact I don’t really consider myself a cyclist. But I’m working my way back. There is something about that feeling that I really miss. The feeling of just knowing that you’ve “found your thing” and that thing makes you feel so darn good.

I’m not hanging up my trail shoes. In fact, I’ve got a running/skiing plan that will set me up well for some very sweet fun on the trails and on the snow. It’s just that I’ve realized that I feel so good on my bike. I’m working at getting my body 100 per cent healed and you’ll soon see me out on the trail runs, riding my road bike, and doing a bit of cyclo-cross practice.

Perhaps watching this short video with Anton Krupicka (amazing trail runner) will help you understand what I’m struggling to say:

(On a side note – I realized yesterday that this summer has actually been pretty darn awesome for me (and most importantly for Marc) – this the first summer since 2009 that we haven’t been dealing and living with an ulcerative colitis flare. So yeah, summer 2014 has and is a pretty good one.)

2014 Cyclo-Cross Nationals

Cyclo-cross Nationals in 2009

Cyclo-cross Nationals in 2009

Sitting here thinking about cyclo-cross in July might seem crazy to some, but the rest of you know that once cyclo-cross is in your soul, it is a very hard thing to shake. There really isn’t anything else quite like cyclo-cross. From the diversity of race courses. To the skills required to race cyclo-cross. To the most important factor of all – the people. If there is one thing that cyclo-cross is known for it is the community of people that come out to make the sport so darn awesome.

You’ve got the racers – these folks range from the pros to the hardcore masters men and women to the folks who just decided to “give it a try”. The tireless race organizers. The super fans who know your name and always have an encouraging word to shout when you pedal or run by. The little kids ripping it up like they were born on cyclo-cross bikes. The mechanics who often work harder and longer than the racers.

Every cyclo-cross community is slightly different – but there is one  common thread: passion.

Last week I met with Chris Huebner – he is one of the organizers of the upcoming 2014 Canadian Cyclo-Cross National Championships. Let’s just say, the team in Winnipeg is working very hard to put on a top-class event for us Canadian cyclo-cross racers. The venue sounds pretty cool with a good location that makes it handy for spectators and provides a good race course for the racers. The Winnipeg team is very keen to get some strong attendance numbers at this  weekend of racing – to help you the racer and  your supporters out, there is already a block of rooms set aside at a very good rate (the hotel is 1 km or so from the course – no car rental needed), there are lots of great places to eat nearby, there is a C2 race the next day, a day of clinics planned for Friday, and most of all there is a large dose of passion and commitment behind this weekend of cyclo-cross racing.

Check out the website (yes, it is July and the website is already set up and full of details!) and watch a race video from the Manitoba Provincial Champs to get a feel for the race course.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a cyclo-cross national championships – but I think this will be the year. I’m excited about the race course (I won’t be racing – just superfanning). The venue sounds really good (good eating options – what more could a fan and racer want?). Not to mention the flight from Ottawa is very reasonable.

Besides, the people at cyclo-cross races are very cool. I like hanging out with cool passionate people. So I’ll be there. What about you?