That Was Fun

Alicia having fun. (Thanks to An Vo for the photo.)

Alicia having fun. (Thanks to An Vo for the photo.)

As the saying goes: All good things must come to a close. And this most definitely rings true for the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series. Sunday marked the last race of the season and it was a good one. Racers lined up at Upper Canada Village on a rather chilly and “almost winter” day to race on a course that had a bit of everything: barriers, uphill running, fun switchbacks, twists and turns, pavement, long climbs, and a good blast of wind. I was impressed with how many people came out to race on a day that would have been equally well spent sipping hot chocolate and reading a good book.

I didn’t get to race yesterday but I got to do the next best thing: cheer and hang out with cool ‘cross racers.

One of the best things about this season for me has been the weekly ‘cross clinics/practices that a few dedicated women came out to every week. These ladies indulged me when I made them do crazy drills like barrier dismounts/remounts with imaginary barriers or slightly tight downhill cornering drills or riding their bikes not clipped in. These ladies challenged me with excellent questions about technique, racing, and bike riding. At the end of every Thursday night session, I drove home with a big smile on my face and a brain packed with ideas for the following session.

The race on Sunday was the icing on the cake. I got to watch these women race well and with extreme confidence. It was such a treat to see their improvements and to watch them do the little things that add up to big differences over the duration of the race.

Thank-you to the Thursday night gang for a fun season. You put a big smile on my face and reminded me why I love ‘cross so much.

Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month

November is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month here in Canada. To help raise awareness and the profile of Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada has put together a very powerful radio, television, print and digital campaign to help drive home how prevalent and debilitating these diseases are.

The thing about Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis that is so important for you to understand is that it affects 1 in 150 Canadians and more and more children under the age of 10 are being diagnosed with these diseases.

There is no known cause for either disease. There are no known cures for either disease. Instead it’s surgery, invasive procedures, a long list of drugs with side effects are often equally as horrible as the diseases, and that feeling of just always wondering how today will be.

I’ve been in a “remission” for almost a year now. This is the longest that I’ve been in a “remission” since my diagnosis in 2009. Yes, I trained for, qualified for and raced at the 2010 World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic while very sick. This doesn’t mean that ulcerative colitis is an “easy disease” to live with. It just means that I’m damn stubborn and highly motivated. My health took a rapid downturn in the winter of 2010 and it wasn’t until last December 2013 that I started to feel a bit better.

I don’t look sick. In fact I look pretty darn great. But remember appearances don’t mean much.

Even when in a remission the disease is always lurking. I’ve been feeling rotten for the last three weeks. Turns out I have an extensive blockage in my large bowel. Not fun. It’s painful. I don’t know how long it will take to go away. I don’t want to eat. I have horrible cramps. Raging headaches. Nausea. And to be honest, I feel like crap.

At times like this it’s hard to be positive and optimistic. Even when I’m told I’m “doing great” by my doctor, I feel rotten. That’s the trick thingy about Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis – there is no normal day – there are days that are better than others.

If you know someone with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis (or both – yes this is very common as well) – take the time to really ask them how they’re doing. Take the time to learn about these diseases and help build some awareness.

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is using the hashtag #makeitstopforlife during the month of November – and is hoping to raise 100 million dollars to fund research into these diseases.

This, That and The Other Thing

(Brace yourself – this promises to be a jumble bag of a post…)

This

Well, we’re back from Winnipeg and finally unpacked. The laundry is still lingering but that’s what tomorrow is for… All in all, an excellent time was had in Winnipeg. Marc had some bad luck in the race on Saturday – he was in the perfect spot and ended up crashing – so it wasn’t the result he was looking for. But, I do know that he loved the race course. I got to see a lot of the course and I was super impressed. I spent most of the weekend wishing I had a bike with me.

Between hanging out at the races, cheering on Marc and lots of other folks, and drinking tea – I got in some excellent runs. I’ve learned now that Winnipeg has some awesome urban trails that are perfect for running, cyclocross riding and mountain biking. If you find yourself in Winnipeg, definitely look up Whittier Park and the paths along the river. Good flat, twisty, smooth trails.

This weekend we’re off again. This time to the Cycle-Smart International Cyclo-Cross races in Northampton, MA. We’ve been going to these races since 2007. A very well-run and organized weekend that features some of the best courses that I’ve ever raced on in North America. I won’t be racing but I’ll have my trail shoes, thanks to Twitter I’ve learned about Earls Trails so I plan to get out for some solid trail runs in between cheering at the races.

Hmm, what else? Well, my weekly cyclo-cross clinics are over for the season. I’m sad that these are over since I really enjoy the weekly practice session with the great group of women that come out. I find it’s challenging to figure out how to best pass on the skills/tips/tricks/techniques that I’ve learned over the years. I also get tremendous satisfaction out of helping women learn skills that they really didn’t think they could do. There is nothing better than seeing someone be able to take a barrier at full speed or manage sharp downhill corners.

That

In non bike riding news, I’m reading an excellent book. I’m a few chapters into Boundless by Kathleen Winter. If you were following along with my Canada Reads Top 40 blog, you might remember that Winter wrote one of my favourite books on the list: Annabel. If you’re looking for a book that interweaves  adventure, aspiration, and humanity – then Boundless is for you.

And now that my favourite show is over for the year (Great British Bake Off)… don’t knock it until you’ve watched it. I’ve been sucked back into the Homeland vortex. I was going to skip this season since I felt last season was really not very good, but I’m in and hooked again. It is so hard to say no to Mandy Patinkin. What I do need are some recommendations for television shows that good to watch on the trainer. Yes, the trainer. I plan to ride the trainer three times a week this winter – I want to find my pedaling legs again and the trainer is a great place to start. So if you have some Netflix faves or other shows that will help me pass the time, let me know (no television channels here – not even the basic channels).

If you have any interest in business continuity/disaster recovery, then you’ve likely heard of Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ). I’ve been working for DRJ for a while now, writing a range of content including blogs, newsletters, email content, website content, etc. Well, now I’m also writing a weekly column that looks at the media reaction to recent disasters, threats, natural disasters, etc. If you want to read this column, here are some links:

The Other Thing

In honour of National Cat Day:

 

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And because they are so darn cute and awesome:

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Winnipeg Vacay

Normally traveling to the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Championships is not a vacation for me. But times have changed and I’m here without a bike and with the sole purpose of cheering on Marc and all of the other Ottawa racers. Definitely a different way to experience a big race like this.

I have to say that from what I’ve seen of the race course set up at The Forks and from talking with lots of different riders (of all abilities) – this is a fantastic race course. There is so much going on: off-cambers, two sand sections, a stair run-up, a steep woodsy run-up, a fun little descent, lots of power sections in the grass, some fast crushed stone sections and a bit of pavement.

I’ve heard a few people say that this is the best course we’ve had in a long time for cyclo-cross nationals. And from what I saw, I’d have to agree.

While I don’t have a bike here, I did bring my running shoes. So I’ve been able to get in a couple of great runs. Who knew that downtown Winnipeg has some excellent urban trail running options? I have been pleasantly surprised during both of my runs to discover fun winding trails, dirt paths along the river and a cool urban mountain bike area.

Well, that’s about it from Winnipeg. Tomorrow is race day so I’ll be out at the course pretty much all day – cheering on Marc and then staying to watch the elite races.

(Maybe next year, I’ll bring a bike, a helmet, shoes, and a skin suit…)

Best of luck to everyone racing in Almonte this weekend.

Guindon Park Do-Over?

Guindon Park. Photo by David Bilenkey.

Guindon Park. Photo by David Bilenkey.

For some reason I was feeling a bit nervous during the drive out to Guindon Park on Sunday morning. I didn’t have my normal race-day stomach… but my head was swirling with racing thoughts. In fact I even said something to Marc along the lines of “maybe if I hadn’t had a better race last week I wouldn’t want to do even better this week.”… Yes, that old crazy brain was showing up again. Luckily Marc is the consistent voice of reason and I was soon back-on-track to simply going out and riding my bike.

(Flash forward to the drive home from Cornwall after the race…)

Marc, “so how do you feel about the race?”

Me, “I don’t know really. Not satisfied. I just didn’t have the same feelings that I did last week in North Gower.”

To put it simply and without going into the nitty gritty details, I simply held back. I held back when I should have gone for it. I was afraid of going too deep and not being able to recover. I think it was the course/wind combined with my insecurities with my fitness level. I didn’t have the belief that I could recover from hitting the long road section really hard (instead I sat on and “recovered”). I didn’t drill it from the lap finish to the uphill barriers and then use the descent for recovery (instead I attacked the finish section, rode kind of hard and then ran hardish up the hill). I didn’t grind it out in the hard sections where I know people naturally slow down (instead I slowed down as well).

The one thing that did work was my last lap attack (of course I should have done this much earlier in the race…). I noticed that on that tricky little single barrier I was very slow to remount and my close competitor (Naomi) was in the same position. I decided to gamble and instead of trying to remount right away on the slight uphill angle, I took an extra running step and remounted on the flat gravel road – this enabled me to get a faster and more smooth remount and I was able to sprint immediately and really drill into the finish. This short burst was a great moment – I put myself in that deep dark spot – my breathing was sharp and high-pitched, my legs were cranky – and best of all it worked.

So why didn’t I do this through-out the race? I did this in North Gower just a week earlier. When I finished the race in North Gower it took me a while to gain my composure and be able to actually talk. This is what I want to feel.

Well, a good lesson learned in Cornwall. Huge kudos to Naomi – she raced a great race and really rode the twisty technical stuff well. She doesn’t quit and I’m glad she was there to keep egging me on.

(I’ll be missing the next two races in the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series. This weekend we’re off to Winnipeg for the Canadian National Cyclo-Cross Championships (Marc is racing – I’m cheering). The following weekend we’re off to Northampton, MA for the super awesome Cycle-Smart International race weekend (Marc is racing – I’m cheering). But I’ll be itching to go in Perth…)

A huge congrats to the women who come on out to our weekly cyclocross skills practice – these women have made huge gains this season and it’s so awesome to see them improving and even better to see and hear how happy they are with their racing.

(In non-bike pedaling news – I had a great appointment with my gastro doctor… My methotrexate dose has been reduced in half and I don’t have to go for weekly injections anymore (now just a bunch of pills once a week). This is great news since that methotrexate injection really made me feel awful every Thursday.)

Crushing for North Gower

North Gower sand. Photo by David Bilenkey.

North Gower sand. Photo by David Bilenkey.

I think I found my favourite Canadian cyclo-cross course… And it is a mere 20 minute drive or 45 minute bike ride from my home. I sure did enjoy racing in North Gower on Thanksgiving Sunday. At first glance I felt like it was  a long course… but nope rather it was a course jam-packed with lots of action and challenges.

Tricky off-camber. Super fast barriers. Uphill barrier. Sand pit. Power sections. A bit of gravel. Some fun little wet dips. Two climbs. A nice recovery descent. Twists and turns.

Only thing this race course was missing was a fly-over! (No, I’m not trying to open up the fly-over controversy… I happen to really like fly-overs, but I know some people really don’t like them.)

Anyway, back to North Gower. Really it was just a super day for a cyclo-cross race. Initially I thought it would be a long-sleeved skin suit day but it turned out to be quite warm – it ended up being a short-sleeved skin suit no-base layer kind of day. Perfect! I arrived before the first race so I could get out and pre-ride with the women who come out to my weekly cyclo-cross clinics. This worked out fairly well, though I didn’t get a chance to ride with everyone – but I think overall it worked out well.

The biggest question mark for most was the sand pit. In my opinion, riding sand has a lot to do with confidence. Believe you can get through the sand and you can do it. Granted I’ve had the best sand riding experience and practice possible – a week practicing in Koksijde on the famous World Cup course, top-notch instruction from the Belgian Cyclo-Cross Team coach, racing in a lot of sand while living in Belgium, and living 15 minutes of pedaling from the Averbode cyclo-cross training course and super sand pit. I’ve also benefited from lots of practice with Marc, Conor, and Karl – each one giving me a nugget of information that helped me find some sand confidence.

Here’s a video of the women’s World Cyclo-Cross Championship race in Koksijde in 2012:

You’ll notice there are lots of different styles of sand riding in this video. But the major key is to keep the legs moving – the more the legs move the easier it is to “float” through the sand. As well, not steering – the more steering the more you’ll end up fighting the sand. And don’t forget – falling in the sand doesn’t hurt – much nicer to fall in the sand than on ice!

(Okay, back to North Gower…)

Really, the race and the day were just super great. I had my typical slow start and then found that gear I’d been missing all season. Slowly but surely I found my legs and I was deep in the cyclo-cross pain cave. My goal was to simply keep digging deeper and deeper to see how hard I could push myself and to not let the women chasing me catch up. I tried to stick to my race management plan and use areas of the course for recovery – for me this was the double barriers, the turns around the fir trees and the descent. Otherwise I was trying to ride hard and to sprint out of every corner, slow-down, barrier and obstacle. I found that in the last lap I was making small mistakes – a sign that I was riding hard and feeling some fatigue. All in all, I’m happy with the physical effort I was able to give and with my technical riding skills.

It seemed like everyone I spoke to after the race had a big grin on their face and was happy with the day. We all have sections and moments in the race that we’d like to “do over” but that’s what the next race is for. I know that next race I’ll try to have a more aggressive start so I don’t have to play so much catch-up and I’ll try to dig a notch deeper.

Thanks to everyone for the cheering and encouragement during the race. Many thanks to the photographers capturing the action for us racers. And a tremendous thanks to the volunteers who were out in the cold doing course set-up (and many of whom who stayed for tear-down as well).

Cyclo-Cross is Groovy

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris.

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris.

I can’t believe it is almost race day and I haven’t written about last weekend’s race in Cornwall. I guess it has been one of those busy weeks when I was out and about more than I have been sitting in front of my computer. (I think this is a good thing!)

The race last weekend in Cornwall was a classic. I’ve always like the Cornwall course, though I do at times curse the darn sharp steep uphills and the uphill barriers… These two features really highlight skills and explosive power.

I had a strategy going into last weekend’s race: don’t explode three laps in. In the previous races, I managed to race too hard early on and then did a slow but steady slide backwards through the field. So Sunday was all about race management and flow – racing hard in the sections that I knew I could make gains, find places where I could get a bit of recovery and make sure that I rode all technical sections as cleanly as possible. This strategy did work for the most part, but when I managed to drop my chain at the bottom of the lap finish climb, I did get tossed around mentally. I had to stop at the bottom of the hill and I did what I felt was the slowest chain fixing job ever and it took me a bit to decide whether to ride up the hill or run up the hill. By the time I got to the top, the lady I was chasing and had hoped to pass on that very lap was long gone…

Time to switch to  plan B – race as hard as I could with a goal of making up my lost time and throw caution to the wind. Well, this did work – but I simply ran out of steam in the last half of the last lap and didn’t have that extra edge to get by the lady I had been chasing. I have to say it was heaps of fun to be in a small race battle with another person – I was particularly impressed with this lady’s ability to accelerate up the steep hills and to dig really deep. Lots of fun.

I also learned some good lessons on Sunday. The major lesson being that I need to get out and practice my uphill barriers. This is an area that I really didn’t spend a lot of time honing when I was racing seriously. I suppose it was because in Belgium, Holland, and in other areas, uphill barriers aren’t used often. There the course designers let the terrain force a run or ride – I suppose this is due to the high probability of extreme mud and other natural factors such as deep sandy climbs and the overall skill level of the racers. I spent a lot of time practicing my flat barriers, my ability to quickly shoulder (still a bit clumsy) my bike and run up a hill, and learning how to “trust the rut” – but when it comes to picking up my bike and running over a barrier, I get rather clunky and slow down.

On Thursday night I met up with a great group of women for our weekly cyclo-cross clinic. The focus was on uphill barriers… (surprise!) Well, it was a great session. We did some crazy drills that to an observer would have looked pointless but in my experience, the best way to learn a skill is to break it down into its little pieces, get these right and then put it all together. So this is what we did last night. Well, I’m super impressed with how well these women progressed through the evening – for an hour of practice they definitely excelled. By the end of the night they were flying over the uphill barrier and were remounting with extreme confidence. There is nothing better than seeing people understand  a skill and make progress – particularly when everyone is smiling and having fun.

I get asked a lot lately about how I’m enjoying being back on the bike and racing cyclo-cross. Well, I can honestly and happily say that I’m having more fun this year than I’ve had in many years. I look forward to lining up on Sunday morning and racing my bike. After the race I l enjoy hanging out with the other women and talking about how the race unfolded. I’m really loving the weekly cyclo-cross sessions – these are a real highlight of my week. It’s different not having the fitness I used to have, but what really matters is that I’m out there and enjoying it. I’ve learned over the years that really no one is paying attention to your results except yourself – so it doesn’t really matter if you win or get lapped – what matters is the doing and enjoying doing it.