Good-Bye 2017

It’s just a bit after 12:00 p.m on December 31, 2017. I sit here patiently waiting for time to pass. Calvin is stretched out on the table (yes, a cat on the table). We’re waiting for a very special arrival today.

Not only is it the end of a not-partitcularly-fantastic year, it’s also the best day of the year – Marc comes home today from Belgium. As happy as I am for him to spend six weeks or more in Belgium racing and training – I do relish his return.

2017 was not fantastic. It wasn’t utterly horrible. But it really wasn’t great. Yes, there were many special days and moments, but these were overshadowed by persistent challenges.

The undercurrents to our year were my ongoing battles with health and Marc’s recovery from a concussion suffered on January 3, 2017. These two constants were with us everywhere we went. We’re very fortunate, Marc is 99% recovered from his concussion (we are lucky) – but the post-concussion symptoms will always be there.

More days than not, I was awash in a feeling of  “life sucks and then you die”. My commitment is to push this pessimism (some may call realism) to the far corners of my brain. We are lucky. So very lucky. No one is bombing us. The fridge is full. We are safe. We are loved.

I’m happy to welcome 2018 and put the losses, sadness, doubt, and fear behind us. Marc will be home in a couple of hours. Can’t hardly wait.

Broken Body

I’m not writing this for empathy or sympathy. I need to write because this is my therapy. The longer I keep these thoughts inside, the harder it gets. This might not make sense to you, but this is the way it is. If you’re tired of reading about my broken body and health struggles, then stop reading now. This will not be uplifting or have a positive message at the end. It is what it is.

I look great these days. I look fit. I know this because my friends have been telling me how great I look. This is nice and I really appreciate it. The truth is, I don’t feel great. What you see on the outside is lie.

I feel the opposite of great. With each passing day, my body feels more and more broken. The joint pain that started in early November has not dissipated. I’ve had about five pain-free days since the onset. Yes, five. This is not an exaggeration.

The pain just happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowing, windy, or freezing cold outside. It doesn’t matter if I’ve ridden my bike for one hour easy, three hours hard, or taken a rest day. It doesn’t matter if I’ve done yoga or not. It doesn’t matter if I eat super healthy or indulge in my favorites of ice cream, peanut butter, and chocolate.

It simply doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do. The pain is going to make itself known. Sometimes I wake up pain free and the pain builds gradually through-out the day. It might come in my knees, left elbow, fingers on my right hand, right hip, feet, or wrists. Other times I wake up in the middle of the night realizing I can’t bend my knees or use my fingers without searing pain. And other times the pain arrives and simply doesn’t go away.

It’s ever present. A reminder that you can never get too comfortable or take anything for granted.

Even on the days that I’ve been spared the pain, the threat is there. Lingering. Sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear of an inevitable return. And no manner of positive thought will keep this devil at bay.

So what can I do? What haven’t I done? I’ve been to two doctors. I’m waiting for referrals to specialists and clinics. I’m eating Tylenol like it is Halloween candy. I’m trying not to let it get me down. I’m doing everything I can think of. I wait and trust my doctors that they’ll figure this out. I wonder if it’s something really horribly bad. But then I tell myself to push these fears away.

Of course to add an extra layer of salt to the situation, there is the flare and the bleeding. This is still ongoing. This part of my body has become a science experiment. Try one medication – it fails – try this one – it fails – and keep on trying. Until there is nothing left. Surgery – yes this what I need. But the waiting list is long. Two years I was told on Monday. So I wait. I hope that my ass doesn’t explode in a bloody mess when I’m out in public. No I’m not exaggerating. This is my reality.

This is it. Sometimes I ask myself how and why I was chosen for this. How was I picked to carry this burden. I didn’t ask for this. I’d like to know why.

I do everything I’m told to do – and this is my reward.

 

Back in Belgium

Oh geez, it feels so good to be back in Belgium. I missed this place. There is something so special about this country. It’s hard to put my finger on one thing that makes Belgium so special – suffice it to say I really enjoy it here.

I have to extend many many thanks to Nick and Romina for letting me stay at their place. It is super awesome how they have opened their home to Marc for these past two years and now have let me stay as well. We really do appreciate it.

Oh, and did you see this?

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Yes – it is a brand new shiny red disc-braked cyclocross bike. I took it out on the Lichtaart course today – wow – what a difference. I was riding corners faster than normal. I didn’t touch my front brake once. It feels super agile. Many thanks to Nick for setting me up with this sweet ride.

The only disappointing aspect of this trip to Belgium is – no racing for me. I haven’t been able to get rid of my joint pain. I can manage riding but any running, sprinting, or standing to accelerate is a problem. This is disappointing since I had been planning to race at Mol at the Masters World Cyclocross Championships – but this is not going to happen.

The good news is the races aren’t going anywhere. The extra good news is I’ll be able to come back next year stronger than I am this year. So a couple of silver linings.

It would have been very easy to get down about the joint pain and flare (and believe me I did for a few days). However, I’ve got a lot of experience with chronic illness and I’ve gone through worse and I know that’s important to keep everything in perspective. There were many months when I couldn’t ride or travel at all – so I’ll take what I can get.

I’m feeling pretty fortunate to be here in Belgium for three weeks. A huge shout out to KNOW Agency for supporting this trip. It really is quite special to work for people who trust that I’ll get my work done and will let me work from where I want on my own hours.

Here are a few more pics from my first few days in Belgium:

 

 

Beat the Indoor Riding Boredom

Or – what to watch when riding the trainer in the basement/garage/spare room.

Now, I can’t take credit for the idea for this post… It came from my friend Stephenk.

So here goes, in my opinion – what to watch when riding the trainer in the basement. Just a note – my setup is a two-screen setup – one for Zwift and one for Netflix.

One Hour or So – Just Riding Along

These are the hardest rides to do indoors. All you have to do is get on and pedal at recovery or endurance pace. Time feels like it slows down. Even Zwift is a bit lacklustre in helping to pass the time since you’re not supposed to be “racing”. This calls for action on the Netflix front.

  • Line of Duty
  • Wallander
  • Broadchurch
  • Happy Valley
  • Hinterland
  • The Killing
  • The Big Family Cooking Showdown (not a police drama)
  • Ozarks
  • Dicte
  • Trapped (so damn good)
  • Nobel

These are all excellent police/crime dramas. Good writing. Interesting stories. Not too scary. As with any Netflix watching, the subtitles must be on.

Longer than an Hour with Intervals

Intervals just seem to make the ride time fly by. This is when you want to watch something interesting but not something that takes supreme concentration. Remember, subtitles are on.

  • Fittest on Earth (both episodes)
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • The Crown
  • Froning
  • The Barkley Marathons
  • Finding Traction
  • Last Tango in Halifax
  • One Chance

These programs are highly motivating. I’m not a crossfit person but the three documentaries about this sport are fascinating. The Crown does take some attention so you might want to save it for another time. The Barkely Marathons and Finding Traction, are more than running documentaries – they’re about humans and the pursuit of something higher.

Hitting the Two Hour Ride Magic

This is the sweet spot trainer ride. Two hours on the trainer is purely satisfying and can have a good mix of intervals, just pedaling, and cruising. This might be the perfect length of ride for a group ride or race – in that case, you’ll need to adjust your viewing choices.

  • Any of the series in the above two lists. Binge-watching on the trainer is totally acceptable.
  • Arrival
  • Birdman
  • One in a Billion
  • The King’s Speech
  • 20 Feet from Stardom
  • The Queen
  • Amy
  • The Impossible
  • Losing Sight of Shore
  • Hunt for the WilderPeople
  • Eddie the Eagle

Some of these are a bit shy of the two hour mark – but just tack on one of the series from above. Or ride and watch nothing (yeah whatever).

Two Hours and Beyond

Now things are getting a bit intense. I really need to be engaged for these rides. Often I’ll try to watch some live cyclocross races for the first hour and a bit and then choose from a selection of movies or favorite series. Choose any of the movies/series from above. I’ve got a bunch of movies saved to watch for these epic rides.

  • Hidden Figures
  • While We’re Young
  • Love Actually (I watch this one all the time…)
  • Snowden
  • Patriots Day
  • 300 (not sure if it’s on Netflix but a trainer classic)
  • The Whole Truth
  • Woman in Gold
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Impossible Dreamers
  • Miss Sharon Jones

As you can see – not much in the way of thriller/sci-fi here…Whatever you decide to watch for these long rides – make it interesting. Definitely don’t watch any food-related documentaries – not good for the long rides or for after the ride…

So there you have it – my suggestion for what to watch when riding the bike in the basement/garage/spare room.

I’m Sick Again

I’m sick again.

It started last December with some bleeding. This bleeding was off-and-on – sometimes extremely painful and other times it wasn’t a big deal. Yes, I saw my doctor. I have medication. It was helping – sometimes.

Over the last couple of months, the bleeding has gotten progressively worse. I’ve got new medication. I’ve also got a sort-of-diagnosis – I have to wait until December 18 for a couple of scopes to confirm this diagnosis. The sort of diagnosis is for a disease called: diversion colitis.

Turns out the rectum needs triglycerides to keep it healthy. My rectum is not connected to anything (the colon is removed and there are a bunch of staples keeping it closed off). Normally the rectum gets these triglycerides from food we eat – the colon does it’s job and delivers these to the rectum.

Without a colon, this is not happening for me. The result is the growth of bacteria which causes bleeding ulcers… So yes, kind of back at square one. Once I have the scopes in December, hopefully my doctor will be able to make a diagnosis – and then I’ll likely get some new medication that deliver triglycerides to my rectum.

The real solution is to have my rectum removed – but I’m on a waiting list for this surgery.

This is all the good news. This is the good part of being sick. Since Sunday, things have gotten worse. Now I have new symptoms.

Extreme joint pain. It started with my right foot. For a couple of nights in a row, my foot would ache through-out the night to the point where I could barely put weight on it. Then on Wednesday, I woke up with a sore left knee. During the same day, my right knee became extremely painful. Walking was not easy. Then late in the afternoon, the pain hit my right wrist. My wrist was so sore that I had to use my left hand to eat.

Wednesday night saw me sitting in a chair crying. I could barely walk. I couldn’t use my right hand. I was in extreme pain.

Today, things aren’t much better. The pain in my right wrist is mostly gone. But my knees are still ridiculously sore. I did have some reprieve from the left knee pain on Thursday but it came back overnight. And now I have a new pain on the outside of my right foot.

None of this has to do with what I’m eating or doing. It’s my body. It’s called auto-immune disease. It’s called ulcerative colitis. This is what can happen. A lot of people with ulcerative colitis also have arthritis. I don’t think this is arthritis because there is no swelling or redness – there is another condition called arthralgia.

I called my doctor on Thursday morning. I didn’t hear back and his office is closed today. So, I’ll wait until Monday.

In the meantime, I’m taking Advil and using heating pads to help alleviate the pain.

I’m not telling you this because I want pity or for people to feel sorry for me. I’m telling you this because this the reality of living with an auto-immune disease like ulcerative colitis. I look great from the outside. I’m super fit right now. But my body is broken.

It is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month and I think it’s important for people to really be aware of what one of these diseases can look like. It looks like me.

It’s funny how this body that let me race last weekend at the Canadian Cyclocross Championships has now crumpled. If I could fix this I would. But this is beyond my control.

I thought that after eight years of this, I’d be used to it. But I’m not. I kind of thought I’d cleared a corner and was on my way to a life that didn’t involve thinking of disease everyday.

I guess this is the way it is.

It might sound strange to read this: the bleeding and the pain and cramps that come with it – I can handle this. But the joint pain is on another level. This joint pain means I can’t use my body. In the past, I could always (most times) get out for a ride and feel better. Not now.

So, yeah, I’m sick again. This is life with ulcerative colitis.

 

All the Good Stuff

This past weekend in Sherbrooke, PQ was a special one. It was my first Canadian Cyclocross Nationals in six years. Wow, what a difference in the size and caliber of all the fields that raced on Saturday.

It is super inspiring to see the growth in numbers and depth in all the fields –  particularly in the women’s fields. I raced in the master women’s race and it was packed with some very strong women who know how ride and drive their bikes. The elite women’s race was equally impressive.

I did not have the result on paper that I was looking for on Saturday. However, I did have a race that was very very special. I truly enjoyed being out there. Hearing the cheering, seeing people on the course, and just taking it all in. It was also super nice to be back in the racing pack – talking and hanging out with other races.

I’ve had a few days now to think about the race. Would I have liked to have placed closer to the number one position – yes. Could I have raced a better technical race – yes. Am I disappointed with my race – not really. Am I focused on improving my technical skills – yes.

My technical skills have improved a lot this year but one area in which I’m particularly deficient is in confidence in cornering in slippery conditions. I’m normally not all over my front brake – but on Saturday it seemed like I couldn’t let go of it. Toss in a weakness in accelerating quickly and it was hard to ride my way out of my over-braking errors.

Oh well. This is the way it is. Now I have a couple of things to focus on as I enter the second part of my season. That’s right – my season is not over yet. I’ve got a few more local races left and then on November 21, I’m getting on a jet plane and flying to Belgium for three weeks of racing. I’ll do whatever races Marc tells me to do along with the Masters World Cyclocross Championships on December 1.

The cool thing is that I first raced the Masters Worlds in 2007. On that day, 10 years ago, I was fourth in my category (35 – 39). So it’s going to be another super special day, returning to where it all started for me. It was after that race that I decided to make a transition to elite racing and set my goals even higher.

This season really has been one of growth and acceptance. I’m getting more comfortable racing again and finding my way around the cyclocross course. Most importantly, I’m slowly but surely learning to let go and just have fun on my bike. This doesn’t mean I’m not racing hard – it means I’m learning to keep this weekend racing thing in perspective.

This, That, And The Other Thing

Just sitting here drinking a diet Dr. Pepper (I know, the horror of it all) and felt the urge to tap the keyboard. I just finished baking two loaves of dark chocolate bread. Geez does the house ever smell amazing. I think this bread will be ideal for a peanut butter and banana sandwich… someone doesn’t agree. Oh well, more for me.

So tough couple of weeks really. Some days I just don’t want to read any news or check the social accounts. Frankly, some days the social accounts feel more anti-social than social.

I can’t stop reading about the Harvey Weinstein situation. I was the same with the Jian Gomeshi revelations. And with the revelations coming out of Uber. I don’t know what the solution is. But I do know that I’ve worked at too many companies where it’s an anything goes environment when it comes to men commenting on women. I’ve heard things that I can’t forget. I wonder what would have happened if I’d said similar back or if a male colleague had walked by a group of women in the office and heard similar discussions about his appearance or rating.

Somehow change has to happen. I don’t know how. Perhaps we have to look to the young men and women who will be our future leaders for change? Really, there has to be something. As humans we have extreme capabilities to be horrible to one another.

Kindness goes a long way. Taking a moment to pause before saying what’s on the tongue. Thinking about how you would feel if you knew someone was talking about you they way you are of them. Remembering that people are just people. Everyone is trying to figure this life thing out. And if there is one thing that was hammered home this week is that life is freaking short.

Wednesday was tough. Thursday was as well. Last night we watched Long Time Running. Wow. What a band. These men really lost a true friend and an upstanding human being. Over the past few days I’ve read a lot about Gord Downie. I wish I’d met him in person. Just to say “Thank You”. The band, the sound, the lyrics were so different than anything else I’d heard. Up To Here was a game-changer for me. I didn’t know it then but it told me that it’s going to be okay. Do your thing. It gave me an idea that there was something else out there.

The other day on CBC Radio 2, Pete Morey, said of Gord Downie, “he lived more in the last two years of his life than some people will live in a lifetime”.

This struck a chord. So now what? Can we all do the same? Can we all grab onto something and make a difference? What does this even mean to make a difference? These are the questions that I’m not sure really have answers. I think the key, for me, at least is to know that at the end of each day, I tried. I tried to be a good human. Whatever that meant on that day – I tried to do it.

To end on something positive, I just finished reading a tremendous novel titled The Last Wave. It’s a must read. It hits all the notes. I can’t really summarize this book because it’s good. It’s up there with my favorites: The Poisonwood Bible, The Cellist of Sarajevo, and Olive Kitteridge.