Finding the Why

I’ve been doing this bike riding thing for a while now. For me, it has always been about the racing. Until now.

Now, it’s about something else. Something softer and more enticing. It’s about being out on my bike with friends. Riding with people I would never had the opportunity to ride with. Doing events/races/rides because they sound appealing.

And this has changed how I approach my training. For so many years, my rides were laser-focused. Each time I got on the bike I had a training or racing goal. I was so invested in prioritizing my rides and making sure I hit the wattage numbers for each workout.

I craved the structure. The calendar that told me what to do on each day. The software that told me and my coach if I was progressing at the rate we wanted.

And now here I am. I’m not that same bike rider anymore. I’m not a racer. I’m a rider. I’m a person who rides for enjoyment. But yet, I still want to do well in the events I sign up for – like the Gravel Guys series, Rooted Vermont, and the local cyclocross series.

It’s a strange place to be. One that I’m slowly getting used to. A couple of weeks ago I had a very structured workout to do. One that had me doing VO2max efforts, anaerobic capacity intervals, and microbursts. The exact workout that I craved and always wanted to do more of – the really hard workouts that had me wrestling every ounce of power out of my legs and soul.

Only thing was this time, just a few weeks ago, I found myself bored with the workout. I couldn’t understand why I was doing it. I was confused about why I was making myself hurt so much. I did the workout – but I had zero enthusiasm for it. I didn’t get the usual rush from seeing the numbers on my Garmin or feeling the ache in my legs. I couldn’t see the point in this kind of riding anymore.

And then this past weekend happened. Saturday was the Lanark-Liege Gravel Guys 75 km race and Sunday was the 120 km Ride of the Damned. A big weekend.

The course on Saturday was the opposite of what I like – hills, very steep hills, punchy climbs, and practically no flat roads. A course that had me at one point close to tears as I pulled myself over one climb and had me off and walking up three other climbs.

I went to some dark places during this ride – my brain trying to convince me to let the other women ride away and thinking some negative thoughts about bikes, gravel, and hills.

It was in the car on the way home that it all clicked. Even with the suffering – I had fun. I was proud of what I had done. I was thrilled to be able to ride with the women that I did.

This is why I need to keep doing the hard workouts. So I can go out and do these kind of events. To have the ability to get up the next day and do another long hard ride. To know that I can keep doing this when I’m 65 or 75.

Saturday gave me an entirely new perspective of what it is to be a bike rider. I’m not at the front anymore – not even close. This is okay. I’m at a different place.

But I’m still the same person – that person who strives to do her best and always wants more.

P.S. A huge thank you to the super women who invited me to do the Ride of the Damned with them. It was a fun day – even though the rain and cold got the better of us. Thank you Blanche, Lucie, Jenn, and Lisa for the day and the ride. We made the best of it and I think we all came out of it smiling.

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Post-hot chocolates in Wakefield trying to think warm thoughts. 

 

 

I Guess This Is Normal?

The other day I was walking to Starbucks and I walked passed the Gamma-Dynacare blood lab. It struck me that it had been a really long time since my last visit to do bloodwork.

Now, for all of you normal healthy people, doing bloodwork is a rare occurrence. Not for me. Depending on where I was in my health roller coaster, I had to visit every few weeks, monthly, and every three months.

This just became part of my routine. I would check-in at the lab, go to Starbucks, get a tea or chai latte, chill out for a bit, and then back to the lab for my turn giving blood. Then a couple days later, I would login to the Dynacare website so I could look at my blood results.

I don’t do this anymore. Now I just walk to Starbucks, buy a drink, and chill out. I guess this is what normal is all about.

It’s strange actually. Someone asked me the other day how my health was. And I realized I hadn’t really given my health much thought. I feel good.

My intestine is happy. My joints aren’t aching. My eye is still funky but that’s no big deal. My stoma is doing its thing. My energy levels are back. My skin is healthy. My hair isn’t falling out anymore. My liver isn’t giving me any problems.

I even gained a few pounds. Normally this would freak me out. I haven’t changed my eating and I’m exercising more than I have in a long-time. What this slight weight gain tells me is that my body is finally healed. This is a massive relief.

You know, I like this feeling of being normal. I don’t think of myself as a sick person anymore. I’m totally comfortable with Reset, my stoma and life with an ileostomy. There is really nothing holding me back from normal people life.

To celebrate this, I’m going hiking! Yes, hiking. I’ve never really hiked before. But this summer I’m doing it. Not an easy hike either. A hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on one of the most rugged sections of the Appalachian Trail. Pretty cool eh?

Don’t worry I’m not doing this alone. I’m going with my super pal and we’re part of a women’s only hiking weekend organized by the Appalachian Mountain Club. On Saturday we’ll hike to the Madison Spring Hut, sleep there and then hike back to the trailhead where we’ll be picked up in a van.

This is something I never ever could have done before. The stress of being away from a bathroom, the concern over getting tired, worrying about what might happen if I ended up in a bad flare, or if my joints acted up – all of these plus simple outright fear about what my body might do or not do stopped me from living a lot of life.

But now, I’m good. I can do the things that normal people do.

I truly feel so lucky to be in such good health. I know there are no guarantees with ulcerative colitis and that I have to be ready for anything.

But right now, here today – I don’t feel like a sick person. I don’t look like a sick person. I’m just like you.

What a feeling! How lucky am I?

Almonte-Roubaix 2019

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Thanks to Parham for taking this photo after Almonte-Roubaix

On Sunday May 5, 2019 I did something that in 1995 I vowed to never do again. I started and finished Almonte-Roubaix.

To write that May 5, 2019 in Almonte was a special day would be an understatement. This day and this ride has so much meaning and specialness wrapped up in its 80 kilometres that frankly I’m at a loss for words.

I was nervous to do this race/ride. I know that it can be fast, aggressive, hard on the spirit, and downright soul-sucking (that crazy uphill s-bend).

Since 1995 I’ve said that I don’t ride Almonte-Roubaix. I attempted it in 1995. Let’s just leave that ride experience like this: snow in April, no GPS navigation, got lost, chased by dogs, crying, and a roadside rescue by Ian Austen and Bob Simpson (for which I am forever grateful). So yeah, not a great experience and not one I wanted to repeat.

The only way I’ve come close to Almonte-Roubaix in recent years was riding to Almonte to  greet Marc at the finish and to hear the stories of epic riding, crazy mud, and exhilaration. Deep down, even though I had long promised never to do this ride, I kind of wanted to be part of it.

And this year I was. It was awesome. My legs hurt a lot. At one point I didn’t think I’d make it up that last climb on Darling Road. The forest sections got my blood pumping in a good way. The camaraderie was like nothing else.

What really made my day were the other riders. Before the event started, it felt like every 5 minutes someone was giving me a hug, asking about my health, or telling me how great it was I was out riding.

And then during the ride, so many people commented on how great it was to see me out riding and asked how I was feeling.

Just thinking about these interactions and conversations, makes my eyes rather blurry. I felt so welcomed by so many people.

This event has huge physical challenges. Gravel roads. Steep hills. Soft sand. Challenging forest sections. Wind that seems to come from every direction. But none of these mattered during that 80 kilometre ride.

Even though I was well into the red and my legs were shouting rather loudly at me, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was doing it. I was riding Almonte-Roubaix. Just a little over a year after my latest surgery, I was out there being a bike racer (sort of) again.

I was with people who get why it’s fun to ride bikes and push their bodies. I was with people who inspire me to get up and do things that scare and challenge me. If they (you) can do it – so can I.

A real treat of this 2019 edition was riding the last 20 kilometres or so with Marc. Unfortunately luck was not on his side and by the time we connected, Marc had fixed three flat tires.

This misfortune meant that Marc helped myself and bunch of other very happy cyclists finish the ride with a higher level of comfort than anticipated. (Marc did end up with one more flat tire after the final forest section – turns out I’m not always a good luck charm.)

This truly was a memorable day for me. I got to spend a large part of the ride with a good friend. I got to make new friends and talk to others who I haven’t seen in a long while.

I got to feel part of it all over again. It’s so valuable to me to be back.

Somehow this ride has made up for years of not being able to do what I wanted. For me, Almonte-Roubaix 2019 was more than just a ride.

(Many thanks to Peter for organizing the ride and for putting in many hours of time so we could all go out and ride bikes with friends.)

 

Happy Anniversary

Today, April 30, 2019 is a special day for me. It is the one-year anniversary of my barbie butt (panproctocolectomy completion) surgery.

It has been quite the year since April 30, 2018. A year that didn’t exactly turn out how I wanted. But even with the ups and downs – it was still a good  year.

The surgery I had on this day last year, set me on the path to finally getting my health and happiness back. Sure, it took longer than anyone expected to fully recover from the impacts of two big surgeries in less than 18 months. And yes there was an unexpected hospitalization and that niggling bout of shingles and uveitis.

But, as I said just one month ago at SWEET:

I’m here. I’m so proud of me for being here. 

11 months ago I would never ever believed that I would be physically and mentally strong enough to stand up here and talk to you. 

And now here I am. One year after the amazing team of colorectal surgeons at the Ottawa Hospital gave me my life back.

So what do I do with this gift?

I keep looking forward. I keep hitting the reset button. I keep setting big goals. I keep filling up my bucket list. I keep doing new things. I keep challenging myself.

I do not forget how lucky I am. I appreciate the value of perspective. I speak openly about how I’m feeling mentally and physically. I value every day. I remember what it felt like when I was too sick to live my life.

I remember that everyone has something. I offer to help whenever I can. I acknowledge that not every day is packed with rainbows and unicorns. I take time to live my days.

Learning To Say I Can’t

“I can’t do my workouts today.”

This is the text I just sent to my coach Steve Weller.

This is not a normal text for me to send. I’m that person who gets up at 4:45 to do a weight workout before going to physio at 6:45 and then comes home to ride for 90 minutes or so and then does a full day of writing work at home.

But today, I just can’t do it all. A very good but busy weekend followed by two days of lots of writing work and life finally caught up with me today.

So today, I’m taking my own advice and forgetting about the training plan. To be honest this in itself is stressing me a bit. I sit here asking myself how I let this happen and wondering why I can’t just keep on plowing forward.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting to a new point in my bike riding life. I don’t consider myself a racer anymore. I’m a person who used to race bikes and now loves riding a bike. So on a day like today when there are so many balls in the air and a few on the floor – I have to say no.

It’s hard to not ride when I’ve conditioned myself to always be riding or getting ready to ride. It’s so hard to let go of the mindset that helped me achieve some big goals and reframe it to mesh with what I want now.

To accept that it’s okay not to ride some days. To let myself not worry about that Easter chocolate I ate. To remind myself that I’m not trying to qualify for anything or that race weight is something to think about anymore.

I still want to be fit and strong. But it’s for different reasons now. Now it’s so I can easily ride with my friends and enjoy being on the bike. It’s so I can go on a three-hour mountain bike ride and not be wrecked for two days. It’s so I can do a gravel race and the next day still have the desire and energy to go for a ride and to yoga.

So this is where I’m at right now today. I’m pretty confident that on Thursday I’ll be out riding. But today, the bike stays in the garage and the weights in the basement won’t be picked up and put down.

Instead I’ll do what my physio told me to do – to focus on breathing.

 

Hitting that Button

It’s amazing how easy it is to go from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows. This happened to me last week.

The middle of last week I was still riding the endorphins from SWEET night when I started to feel not-so-awesome. My pesky left eye was irritated and I was very low on energy.

Sure enough, the uveitis was back. I spent a few days laid out on the couch – super low on  energy, motivation, and courage. I was frustrated that this autoimmune condition was back and that it was interrupting all of my plans.

While everyone I knew was outside riding their bikes and having fun at the first Gravel Guys race, I was putting drops in my eye and trying to pretend that I was okay. I wasn’t okay, I managed to put myself in a deep hole of sadness.

Fortunately I have experience with this. On Sunday morning I woke up and resolved that the day would be better. I made plans, I went out, I walked in the fresh air, I did some retail therapy, I drank indulgent coffee shop drinks, I sketched, and I just enjoyed the day.

My eye is still a problem. But my mood and emotions are not. For this I have my support system and that trusty reset button to thank.

And now here I am. It’s Thursday, April 11. And it’s a good day.

I got to ride my bike outside. It was glorious. I can’t wear contacts right now so I rigged up a pair of sunglasses overtop of my old eyeglasses – not the most comfortable but it worked.

I’ve got an appointment next week with an ophthalmologist who specializes in uveitis. I really am looking forward to this appointment. Time to get some answers and find out if it’s time to take a different approach to this eye problem.

…..

And now, for some non-sick person stuff. Here’s a snapshot at everything else that makes up this life of mine:

  • Read: just finished reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. An excellent book – I think it’s even better than Little Fires Everywhere.
  • Reading: I just started reading Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. These guys are terrific thinkers and writers. I recommend their first book Peak Performance to practically everyone. As well, their newsletter is a must-subscribe and read.
  • Listening: I work from home so I spend most of my day listening to CBC Radio. But when I can’t take anymore conversations about SNC-Lavelin or climate change, I listen to music. Right now, my go-to is Imogen Heap. Her soundtrack for the Harry Potter Cursed Child play is stunning. Marc and I saw the play in NYC – amazing. This is the kind of music you can put on and just enjoy. Highly recommend.
  • Creating: I’m currently doing #The100DayProject. This is the perfect project for me –  it gets me sketching daily and there is zero pressure. I decided to sketch flowers for this project. I’m very much a new sketcher so this is a great way for me to improve my skills.
  • Learning: I’m auditing a course offered by the University of Newcastle Australia. The course is titled: Drawing, Nature, Science, and Culture: Natural History Illustration 101. So far it’s been really good. I learned about it from a person in the Urban Sketchers Ottawa FB group. I’m very much a beginner so this course is ideal for me. We have one week to watch/read the materials and submit the assignments.
  • Riding: it looks like the spring weather is finally here. So now I’ve got my eyes set on doing a bunch of events that I’ve never done before. I plan to do all of the Gravel Guys events, Ride of the Damned, Almonte-Roubaix, and Rooted Vermont. I’ve never been much of a gravel rider but I’m easily convinced by the stories my friends tell me of quiet roads and epic adventures.

Well, that’s about it. Life is good. The eye is pesky but I’m confident it will be resolved. The sun is shining.

In a few weeks I’ll hit the one-year anniversary of my Barbie Butt surgery – I haven’t quite figured out how to celebrate this day. I think it will likely involve a bike ride, peanut butter, chocolate, and baked goods.