Reality Check

I’m sitting here at home on my back deck listening to the sounds of my neighbourhood. There are kids playing outside. Someone is watering their lawn. Dogs are barking. A plane is flying by. Birds are chirping. All familiar sounds that remind me of how good life is.

We returned home from our vacation last Saturday. To say that we had a great vacation would be an understatement. Every day was a good day. The riding was like no other riding I’d ever experienced. I tested myself physically and mentally in so many different ways. The scenery, the food, the pace of life were all simply spot on for what we needed. All in all, it was truly a gift of a vacation.

I remember during one of my rides thinking to myself “I would never have been able to do this two years ago”. And it’s true – two years ago I was still recovering from a hospitalization and trying to get myself back. I felt so good during our vacation, I felt like a “normal healthy” person. I was riding well and could feel myself getting stronger. These are such amazing feelings to have – I felt free and able to do anything I wanted.

(And now comes the hard part…)

I’m sick again. My ulcerative colitis remission ended on the day we flew home. Just typing this is so hard because I can’t deny reality anymore. The reality is I had a really good streak with my remission (almost 2.5 years) and now I’m in an ulcerative colitis flare again.

No, I don’t think it was the vacation that caused this. My rudimentary understanding of the human body tells me that it takes much longer than two weeks for the immune system to overreact. I don’t know what caused this – but of course, not even the experts studying ulcerative colitis know what causes it…

I was sad for a couple of days. But now I’m just plain old frustrated. Frustrated that I won’t be racing next week as I had planned. Frustrated that this damn disease is taking over again. Frustrated with what it is doing to Marc. Frustrated because I was doing everything “right” and it still didn’t matter. Frustrated that I might not get to do the things I enjoy. Frustrated that I’m letting a lot of people down. Frustrated because I really have no control over this.

All I can do is hope that my Remicade infusion on Monday will help turn things around. I’ve got lots of questions and no answers. Perhaps this is the worst part – not knowing what to do and what not to do.

Head Games

There is something about endurance sports that really can play games with your head. In fact, the more I ride, the more I’m starting to understand and appreciate that it really is 80% mental, 10% physical and 10% smarts/luck. Today was one of those days for me…

We’re still on holidays here in France and have moved to a new location – we’re based out of Malaucene at essentially the foot of Mont Ventoux. We’ve had a couple days of excellent riding here, including a big day on Saturday when I rode up Mont Ventoux. Let’s just say that was challenging and I honestly thought I might cry during the last three kilometres – yep, I went through every emotion possible during that 21 kilometre climb. (Marc has since ridden up Mont Ventoux three times – he’s done each route once… I have not even considered this…)

Anyway, back to today’s ride. Well, actually, I need to back up to Sunday’s ride. Sunday’s ride was excellent and magical. It was my first longish day since we’ve been here and it had everything I wanted – a decent amount of climbing, some “flat”, beautiful scenery, interesting little roads, a chunk of descending, and everything in between. I truly enjoyed this ride and apart from running low on water at one point, I generally felt pretty good the entire time.

And now back to today (Monday)… When I got on the bike this morning, my legs felt like blocks of wood. Turning the pedals was happening ever so slowly. But I told myself to give my legs time and that they would wake up – indeed they did after 30 minutes or so. In fact they woke up so much that I felt like I was “flying” up the hills – I was channeling Mike Woods and actually climbing instead of dragging and slogging up and over the hills. I felt like this for a solid 90 minutes and was so inspired that I decided to ride “up” to a town I could see perched on the side of a hill. The ride up was great and I felt like I was riding without a chain on my bike. I chatted with a super friendly guy at the top and then made my way down and back the way I came. And then it happened…

My legs fell off… I couldn’t turn the pedals. I was barely moving and the road felt “flat”. I even stopped to see if somehow my rear brake had seized and was closed against my rim. I checked to see if I had a flat. Nope – neither of these things. It was just me, the pavement, the amazing scenery and a feeling of despair. I told myself to just keep on pedaling and that things would come around. I ate some Clif Shot Bloks and chugged my drink. I thought of the racers I know who put themselves through so much. I thought of all the racing I’ve done. And I just kept on pedaling.

I believed it would get better. Heck, it couldn’t get much worse… And you know what, with some positive talking (yes, out loud talking), I managed to wake up my legs and push back the negative mental demons. While I wasn’t flying up the hills like I was on the way out, I was riding better and managed to wake up enough to appreciate what I was doing.

I was riding my bike in France. I was pedaling my bike around amazing countryside.

And for me is what it’s all about. I told myself not to worry about the watts, the cadence, the kilojoules, the average watts, the distance, etc (sometimes there is just too much data) – and to simply ride my bike. This I know how to do.

I wanted to get back to these feelings from Sunday:

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I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but today was a special one.

Vacay Time

Vacations are good. In fact vacations are awesome.

(Never ever should anyone “not take” their “vacation days”.)

Suffice it to say, we’re having a super awesome time here in France.

This trip is all about the bicycle. We’re riding. We’re eating. And we’re doing it every single day. Couldn’t be much better.

For the first week we’ve got a great little Air BnB place in Sechiliennes, France. Our place is at the very top of a tight and twisty road. We saw some guys trying to ride up our road this morning and let’s just say, it looked intense…

The riding has been great – we did a loop yesterday that involved riding up Alpe d’Huez – this was pretty special. I’ve watched the pros race up this climb and after doing this climb, it really puts a lot into perspective. I had no idea what to expect as this was my first time riding in the mountains, but Marc did a great job of getting me prepared for the climb. I saw him in the village at the top and he rode with me to the “official Tour de France” finish. Super day that was made special with a cool descent and ride through Villard-Reculas. I got to practice descending a mountain in the rain! (Yes, I still have brake pads left!)

Today was epic. (No, not exaggerating.) We rode for about 30 minutes before hitting the start of the Croix de Fer climb. This one is a humdinger… I climbed steady for a little over two hours – apart from a much-appreciated flat section and fun descent in the middle it was all about the uphill for 120+ minutes. This ride definitely had me experiencing a range of emotions and I found the last 2.5 km of the climb to the very top to be very challenging. Luckily Marc was there to ride with me and provide encouragement. Thoughts of the hot chocolate in the cafe at the top helped get me through the last bit of the climb. The descent down was fun though the small amount of climbing on the way back really had my legs feeling like lead! All in all, a great day – just shy of four hours of riding with a good mix of flat, up and down.

Really the rest of the time has been spent hanging out, eating, and doing a little bit of browsing (shopping for me) in a couple of souvenir shops and at Decathlon (big sports store).

Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow but I think it involves a cable car ride (with our bikes) and the Col d’Ornon.

So, if you’ve got some vacation days lingering – take them! Do something fun. Life is short and vacation days should be used. Work and deadlines can wait!

Raining

As I sit here in Wilmington, NY, it’s raining and coldish. I don’t like to use the word cold since the temperature is above 0 and isn’t anywhere close to -40 but you know what I mean…

My training schedule says I’m supposed to go out for a 2.5 – 3 hour hilly ride…. Hmm. I’ve packed all the gear – rain jacket, booties, gloves, hat, thermal long-sleeve, and leg warmers. But as you can tell, I’m not riding. I’m sitting inside listening to the rain.

I feel slightly conflicted about this. I’m trying to build myself into a racer again so shouldn’t I be out training – regardless of the conditions? The “old” me of the 2007 – 2011 era would be out there right now. Heck, I’d be an hour into my 3 hour ride… And here I sit.

I think this is okay. Yes, I want to be a racer again. But I’m more about the fun of it now. I have some goals I’d like to achieve, but I’ve said from the beginning of this process that if I don’t think I’m ready or I don’t feel ready when the time comes, then this is okay. The journey and the process has been worth it.

Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking “nice excuse for not achieving what you want” or “cop out”. Oh well, that’s your opinion. And I guess if you have this opinion, then you don’t know me or haven’t been down the same roads as I have.

So if I’m not trying to justify my reasons for not riding, why the post? I guess because if I learned anything from my post about self-doubt, it’s that I’m not alone here. Maybe if more of us started being more honest with ourselves and with one another, we’d all be a little bit happier and a heck of a lot more content with the amazing gifts we do have. Or maybe I am just trying to justify my not riding…  Who really knows? Besides, this time next week, I’ll have ridden up Alpe d’Huez so I think a rest day is a-okay today.

(Alright, I’m going back to my colouring. Yes, colouring – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.)

On Self-Doubt

It seems to happen ever so slowly. Sneaking up very quietly. When you’re not watching. All of a sudden it’s in your head and you can’t shake it. You talk to yourself about it. You think about it. You know it’s not rational. But still you can’t shake it. It eats at you. It starts to consume you. It percolates into everything you do. Suddenly you’re stuck. You can’t move. You feel like you’ve lost it. You’re scrambling. You don’t know what to do.

Guess what? You’re human. This happens to everyone. (Why do you think I’m writing about it? Why do you think it’s been so long since my last blog post?)

Goddamned self-doubt. No matter what I say or do, it’s there. Like a big black cloud, ready to erupt and soak through to the bone. I trust in the process. I know there’s a plan. But still. I’ve got it eating at me. My numbers. Oh the numbers. The damn numbers. I need more watts. I need less kilos. I need. I need.

Really? Do I really need this? Why not just be so thrilled to be pedaling? Why not be ecstatic about the freedom to ride? Why is this not enough? Because I’m human. I want. I want. I want more. I want to be the best I can be.

Am I doing enough? Should I do more yoga? Should I rest more? What if I eat less carbs? Maybe I need to read about fat adaptation? Maybe I should take some different supplements? Maybe my saddle is not in the exact right spot? How can I make my technique better and smoother? How? How?

Yes, that self-doubt is there. It’s around me. But all I can do is all I can do. (A smart guy keeps telling me this.) But sometimes it isn’t enough. I’m smart – I know this stuff. But still.

It’s tempting to pack it in. To modify the goals. To adjust my expectations. But then what? What have I got? What am I doing?

It’s silly yes. I know this. But I can’t help it. I wonder if everyone feels like this? Or maybe I’m the only one? Do other people line up and feel like they’re either going to barf or crap their shorts? Am I the only one questioning if I’m strong enough? If I’m fast enough? If I’m ever going to be thin enough? If these damned shorts make my legs look massive? If today will be the day when I just feel good out there?

Where does that confidence that the others have come from? What are they doing to get this confidence? I need. I want. Please?

Time Flies

12 days since my last post? Yeesh, remember when I used to post everyday? I guess either I have less to say or I’ve got more things on the go… oh well, I’m here now so that’s a good thing.

It was while I was driving into work this morning that I realized I hadn’t posted in a while. Isn’t it interesting how our minds drift while we’re driving? Zooming down the highway at 120 km/hour and our brains are doing a big old dance in side our heads bouncing around from thought-to-thought. Sometimes I realize too late that I didn’t even hear the lyrics to the song that was being played or I missed the news update entirely – because my brain was too busy chattering. Not good. Something I definitely need to work on – being fully in the present.

Speaking of the present, life is good these days. I finally feel that I’m at a point where my health is stable. Very stable. I often forget that technically I am still a sick person. When I think back to the roller coaster I’ve been on for too many years with this ulcerative colitis, I can honestly say that I didn’t ever really believe I could be in a stable remission for so long. I do know that this could all come crashing down any day, but I can’t worry about this. Take the day for what it gifts me and do my best with it – this is the only way I’ve figured out how to live with chronic disease.

I’ve been riding. Riding a lot again. I’m loving it. Slowly but surely my legs are starting to wake up. I’ve got a long way to go to get back to where I finally feel fit and strong again. But, there are steady improvements and this is very encouraging. When I started on this path of training with my old coach Steve Weller again after a long hiatus, I really didn’t know how my body would respond. Would I end up flaring again? Could my body tolerate the training load and stress? Could I handle it mentally? Well, so far so good. I crave riding and training right now. This is a great thing.

One thing I’ve stopped doing is running. My running days are long behind me. When I came back from Mexico in March I developed some intense foot pain in my right arch. It was so sharp that it hurt to just do nothing. After many physiotherapy treatments and discussions with my physiotherapist, I decided to hang up my trail running shoes. It’s interesting I don’t actually miss running… I miss being in nature. But that’s okay because very soon it will be mountain bike season and I’ve got a very sharp and swank Opus 29er in my garage that is begging to be ridden. (Taking it out Limerick tomorrow for a fun little recovery ride.) I noticed today that the nagging hamstring pain I couldn’t shake, the residual calf tightness, the slightly sore lower back and my foot pain have finally all subsided – all signals that stopping running was the smartest choice for me.

Life hasn’t been all about biking and not running… Nope, I’ve been busy with normal adult stuff like colouring. Yes, colouring. I’m hooked on the adult colouring craze. Honestly, it is so relaxing and meditative. I can colour for a good couple of hours and my mind is completely quiet. No chatter at all. I used to knit, and I enjoyed it but I never found it to be that relaxing – I’m slow at it and I could never just groove into it. But with colouring all I have to do is choose a colour and fill in the white space. Going over the lines is completely okay as well!

To feed my sense of wanderlust, I started reading Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn (thanks to Kim for the recommendation). In this memoir Carrot writes about her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. This book is a great read. Carrot’s website is very interesting as well.

Alright, this is getting a bit wordy (even for me). I hope you’re having a good one and making the best of the day.