So Much Cheering!

Wow, that race in Renfrew on Sunday was pretty darn special. The course was a challenging one with two climbs that really sucked my legs right off and mangled my lungs. (But in a good way!) There were some cool technical features – the off-camber, some funky corners, the fun little ditch and gravel that all culminated in a fun course. Oh and we can’t forget the awesome section in the woods – this was a super section of pedaling and ripping through corners. So yeah, Sunday at Ma-Ta-Wey park was great.

But what put it over into the awesome spectrum was the cheering. Wow – there were people all over the course cheering for what felt like a very long race! Thanks so much for the cheers. It really does help so much when you feel like you’re going backwards to hear someone yell out your name or to yell something like “Vicki, keep pedaling” or “Vicki, where’s your game face?” or “Come on Vicki, catch her on the hill”. These words really do stand out when I’m racing and help so much.

So thanks heaps to everyone for the cheering. I’ll do my best to cheer for you next week in Cornwall.

The race itself on Sunday was a good hard one – as all ‘cross races are. I found the weather to be one of the most challenging aspects of the day. It was hot. Really hot. At points I was debating peeling my skin suit down for a bit or unzipping – but I gathered some self-control and resisted this option. For the last two laps besides having bad thoughts about the climb to the finish line, all I could think about was water.

I really do think we have some of the most supportive and enthusiastic racers out there. It’s so refreshing to see people hanging out before the race – pre-riding together and helping one another with lines. And then after the race, everyone is telling their race story and congratulating one another. There is nothing better (for me) than seeing women who have gradually gotten stronger and better at racing cyclo-cross – this is what racing and cyclo-cross is all about – encouraging people to improve and urging them forward.

A huge thanks to the folks who were out in Renfrew bright and early for set-up and a big thanks to everyone who helped out with tear-down (we got that course down pretty quickly). As always, huge thanks to Bob and Cheryl for their tireless volunteering.

Lost In The Woods

You never think it’s going to happen and when it does happen, well, it’s really not that awesome. I was out on my Saturday morning trail run and things went a little bit off course…. (Or I suppose I should rewrite that – I went a little off course.)

I started out from Stony Swamp P11 on Hunt Club Rd. with the intention of running over to P8 and then out to the Lime Kiln trails for some exploring and then back again. My watch was set to buzz at 40 minutes and I’d turn around. I did a very similar run last week so I was confident with the area.

All was going just great – beauty of a day, feet were ticking over nicely and I felt great. At about 36 minutes in, I followed a trail into a dark stand of fir trees. I ran along what I thought was a trail. And then I realized that I couldn’t really make out the trail. No worries, I’d just turn around and head back. Problem was when I turned around, I couldn’t decipher the trail from the natural terrain. I wandered around in that stand of trees for what felt like a really long time.

I looked for familiar markings. I took deep breaths. I wondered if I should call Marc. Finally I walked out into a bunch of tall grass and decided to call Marc. Luckily he was home. And thanks to the power of modern technology, I was able to get out of the mess I was in. But it wasn’t easy, I had to plow my own trail  through tall grass, a bog, trees, and bushes. At one point I came to another stand of trees and someone had built a sort-of lean-to in the trees – this was reassuring but also a bit odd.

Admittedly even with the compass and map on my iPhone, I did make a few wrong turns. After looking at the map when I got in, I realized that rather than tromping through the bush for close to 40 minutes, there was a trail very close to where I started (the trail I ran in on).

But all is well. Mega thanks to Marc for getting me out of there. I was doing my best not to panic, but geez, it’s really hard not to panic and start to make rash decisions.

In the end I came out on one of the main trails that I ran in on and then simply ran back to the car. Quite the adventure! My legs are a bit scratched up but otherwise, I’m completely fine.

If you’re curious about what I ended up doing, take a look at the Strava file. You’ll see on the map a bunch of squiggles – this is me walking around trying to find my way out (before calling Marc).

(I’ve decided the best way to spend the rest of Saturday is on the front step with my book, some soda water, a wee bit of chocolate and the old grey cat!)

Sunday Racing

Pedal your cyclo-cross bike super hard for one lap. Tag your partner. Stand around and cheer on racers. Get tagged by your partner. Go super hard for a lap. Tag your partner. Repeat for around one hour.

This is a madison cyclo-cross race. This is some of the most fun to be had during the cyclo-cross season. The atmosphere in the hand-off zone is one of constant chatter, cheering and race stories. After tagging your partner, there is some collapsing on the top tube of your bike (maybe that was just me) and then it’s time to chat with those around you about the previous lap – all the while cheering on the other racers. Yes, heaps of fun.

For the madison this year, my partner was a lady who I first met at cyclo-cross many years ago. I’m pretty sure it was way back in 1994 that we met and we’re both still riding today. We are evenly matched with fitness so we had a good little team that fought hard for each and every place. Lots of fun.

Those of us racing the first race were very fortunate with the weather. It was dry. Not a drop of rain. The rain started while we were standing around chatting about the race and catching up with friends. By the time the second race started, the conditions could be considered epic… a downpour of rain made the horse paddock and fairgrounds rather messy. Yes, pretty happy to have not been racing in that muck!

A huge thanks to the large crew of volunteers who made it out to Renfrew very early in the morning to set up the course and a massive thanks to those who did the tear down during the crazy rain. Many many thanks to our tireless volunteer organizers who had the tough task of collecting the team information and then tabulating the results (yes, this is done all manually with pen and paper – no chip timing here).

(The first part of my day on Sunday was full of pedaling, cheering, and hanging out with cool folks. The second half of my day – was a bit different.)

So, I was happy with my race but did beat myself up for some of the technical mistakes I made – over braking in corners and not adjusting my lines for the changing course conditions… And then when I got home and walked into the kitchen, I was quickly reminded of what was in store for me for the rest of the day.  I was back in inflammatory bowel disease mode. Yes, time to get myself prepped and ready for my Monday colonoscopy. Having a colonoscopy on a regular basis is a fact of life for those of us living with ulcerative colitis. (If you’ve never had a colonoscopy, then I’ll just let you know that you have to prepare the day before by completely emptying your colon… This means you have to drink some “evil” potions that enable this. You also can’t eat anything until after your colonoscopy. So in my case because I raced, my breakfast was at 6 a.m. and with my colonoscopy on Monday at 10:30 a.m., it was a long time without food.)

This afternoon/evening and Monday morning experience added up to give me something pretty vital: perspective. Maybe I didn’t race as “perfectly” as I would have liked, but heck, I was racing again. I got to line up and ride my bike really hard. Sure I blew some corners. Yes, I used my front brake (something I tell the women in my clinics to avoid doing). And sure I was tentative in that muddy greasy corner that everyone was talking about. But so what? I raced. This is huge. I was quickly reminded of all the things I can do now that I couldn’t for a very long time.

Oh, and the really good news – my ulcerative colitis and angry colon are responding well to my new medication. I was awake for the entire procedure and it was quite fascinating to talk with my doctor and understand what we were seeing on the screen. My colon is not 100 per cent yet but it’s getting a lot better. So really lots of great things came out of Sunday – awesome times racing and reassurance that my new medication is working.

(Of course in typical fashion I asked “so, since things are much better, can I go off my medication?”… the answer from my doctor “if you go off your medication you’ll get very sick and then when we put you back on the medication you won’t respond like you are now and you’ll end up being very sick. So no, you can’t go off of this medication ever.” Well, I’m glad I asked. Now I know. I’ll take an infusion every six weeks and a weekly injection in exchange for cyclo-cross racing, trail running, happy days with my favourite guy, and a more normal life.)

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.