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?

 

 

Breathing Deeply

It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood. Nor did I feel like I had anything to say. I even debated taking this site down and shuttering it. But I’m not going to do this. While this type of writing feels very narcissistic, I do enjoy it and it does help me. So I’ll keep going – I’m not writing as often and my posts (in my opinion) are not that interesting as they were back in my racing, training, and Belgium days – but this is just like life – it ebbs and flows and we find excitement and thrills in different ways.

I haven’t been myself lately. I’ve been in a funk. I was frustrated with being injured. I determined that I “hated” summer (the last two summers I’ve been very sick) and now this summer I’ve spent close to six weeks being injured. I’m pretty good at snowballing small things until I’m neck deep in an avalanche barely keeping my head up. I was grouchy. I was unpleasant. I was behaving like a spoiled child. Good grief, I don’t know how Marc tolerated it – he deserves a few medals for his patience and logical words. I completely lost perspective on how unpleasant things can really be.

And now here I sit. I’m working hard at finding the good things in each day. I’m reminding myself how lucky I am and how much I’d rather have sore feet than a cranky and angry colon.  The last couple of weeks have been pretty good. While I’m not back to running and riding (I did manage a 35 minute road ride on Tuesday), I am able to get back into movement.

I know many people can’t understand how important it is for me to move my body and to feel my strength and physicality. Many people just shrug their shoulders and say something like “so find something else to do”. Well, the thing is, moving my body is my hobby and my passion. I love riding my bike. I love running. I love going to yoga. I like lifting heavy things. This is what I like to do. So when people brush this off as nothing – it is hard. Really hard. At first I worried that I’m a one-dimensional person – someone who only likes to do one thing. But this is not the case. I like to do other things – but I like to move my body the most. I guess for many people, moving your body equates to exercise – and many people associate exercise with unpleasant feelings and sensations. (This is kind of the way I feel about gardening, shopping, watching a lot of television, and not moving my body).

One really great thing that has come from this injury is my return to yoga. I used to be an avid yoga student – I had found a very welcoming community at Mountaingoat Yoga studio in Barrhaven. Talented instructors. Very friendly students. Going there feels like a deep warm hug. I didn’t realize how much I missed this until I returned a few weeks ago. Some of the faces have changed but really it felt like I had never left. Getting back into yoga has been a blow to my ego – I used to be very bendy and quite strong. But this is okay. This is me now. I’m happy with this me and I’m working to get strong and bendy again. Most of all, I’m appreciating yoga for more than a physical work-out – I’m discovering how much a yoga practice can do for my peace-of-mind and overall quality of life.

So this is the story. Small steps forward – both mentally and physically. Really learning to look around and see the good in all that I am lucky to have.

(As for the next trail race or other sporting event… I don’t know. I received some great advice on Monday – I’m not registering for any events – if I feel good the week of, then sure I might register. Instead of a focus on this race or that race, I need to focus on the process of fitness/training and overall body care. It’s so easy to get caught up in training for a specific event that, if you’re like me, you lose sight of correct training, rest, recovery, how the body is feeling and the bigger picture.)

And now, here’s some photos – photos that make me smile and feel great inside and out:

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