On Repeat

I feel like I’ve written a version of this blog post so many times before. It’s the post that goes something like this: okay there’s a big pile of lemons but it’s time to make lemonade and I can’t sit around waiting for something to change, if I want progress and to be whole again, I have to be the change, I have to be the one inspiring me.

Yep, I’ve written very similar words many times before. All those times before I was in the thick of racing my cyclocross bike and had big goals I was aiming for. Back then I was bound and determined that I wouldn’t let little barriers like chronic illness stop me. In fact, at the time, this was just the extra fuel I needed to convince myself that anything is possible.

Now, it’s a bit different. I’m not that same bike rider anymore. I’m not that same person anymore. Now, the bike for me is something that I ride for fun. I want to ride and long and hard. I want to ride my ‘cross/road bike, my mountain bike, and my fat bike. I want it to be fun.

This is the time to put a new record on the record player. No more repeating the same old words about lemons. Now, here at the age of 46 with a huge dose of perspective and life experience, the training, the riding, and the racing mean something different for me.

I want to ride. I want to get stronger. I want to lift weights. I want whole body fitness. I want to be outside. I want to enjoy what I’m doing. I want to do it because it feels good that day. I want to be comfortable in my skin and spandex on the bike.

Yeah, I think this is a pretty good place to be. Tomorrow is a brand new start. I start with heaving some dumbbells around in the basement. I get going with some structured bike riding. I commit to my yoga practice. I do some new stuff like walking in the woods and slowing myself down. I get myself ready for a great winter of long fat bike rides. In between all of this I remember that there is a huge life away from sport that includes things like pottery class, drawing, movies, books, delicious food, traveling, and exploring this city fully.

It’s kind of exciting. I’ve got to admit it. I think this time around, it just took me some extra time to find myself again. And now, I’m keen to see what’s next – gravel riding, more technical mountain biking, riding up big mountains and eating croissants, bunnyhopping curbs, and maybe a few drawings about bikes – really whatever I want.

 

Lingering

I’ve had this gnawing pull to write a blog post for a few days now. The only problem is, there’s simply not much to say.

I’ve been riding a bit – not as much as I’d like. I’ve signed up for another pottery class. I’m doing the local cyclocross series around Ottawa on Sunday mornings. I’m slowly teaching myself to draw thanks to a very well-written and illustrated book. I had a silly fall on my mountain bike last weekend and sprained my thumb. That’s really about it.

I kind of feel like I’m just lingering. Waiting for things to happen or even turn around. The lack of control that comes with the long-term status quo of lingering can be tiresome and unnerving. The not knowing and the weariness of wondering if it will ever end can be a lot to manage.

When it gets to this point – the point where I am now, I get fed up. I feel the need for action and for something to happen. Normally, I would tell myself “right then get up and do it then”. But I can’t do this. I’ve got something new keeping me at a standstill – fear.

Fear of not knowing what could happen. I’m used to riding and training. I’m used to feeling alive through my ability to sweat and suffer. But this is coming with a heavy price right now. So what is a person supposed to do? I’m about ready to say “to heck with it – let’s get back on the two-wheeled horse and start moving forward”.

If not for my physical health, but for my mental health. This waiting for results and waiting for phone calls about doctor’s appointments in the distant future is no way to get through the day. Yes, there are days when I’m so tired that I can’t walk up the stairs without being winded and needing a little sit down. But then there are the days when I feel like I could ride for hours and hours.

It’s time for compromise. Time to live fully on the days when I can and time to take the extra nap on the days when I need it.

And no, I can’t find other ways to live fully. A full life for me means I ride my bike. This might not make sense to you. Well, think about that thing that you do that gives you a full life. Now, take it away. How do you feel? Exactly. Now you understand why this lingering cannot continue.

 

 

 

Learning To See

It’s been six months since my panproctocolectomy completion surgery. Geez, that is a mouthful isn’t it?

When I saw my surgeon in May at about the half-way point of the first critical phase of healing, he told me it would take “a good six months until you are fully healed and feel normal”.

Well, I’m ready for it. I’m ready for feeling normal. Any day now, I guess.

I was feeling really great physically – riding a lot, starting to find some strength and endurance, and generally starting to feel like myself.

And then I wasn’t. It kind of snuck up on me, but seemingly overnight I couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded, I couldn’t do back-to-back bike rides, or go for a long steady mountain bike ride.

I was tired. All of the time. I still am.

So now I’m riding when I feel like it and when the conditions are pleasant. This is hard. I feel guilty for not being out on my bike right now on this unseasonably warm October day. But, I can’t – I’m tired.

Or am I? Yes, I’m starting to wonder if this is all in my head… Marc assures me that it’s not in my head. But sometimes it’s hard to know. I keep thinking that tomorrow I’ll wake up and feel like myself again.

It has after all been six months.

I did see my gastro doctor today. I’ve done more blood work and he’s put in a referral to a liver specialist for that pesky liver disease that is lurking in my chaotic body. Until I hear back, I wait – status quo.

Keep riding when I can. Keep lining up at ‘cross races. Keep trying my hardest. Keep my eyes open and looking forward.

Seeing the possibility rather than getting frustrated with what isn’t possible. It’s not easy. I’m not that great at it. But, there is no other option.

 

The Tides of Perspective

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This evening while walking home from a Vinyasa yoga class, I flashed back to a few months ago when I could barely walk 500 meters. I thought about how much had changed in just four months – how much stronger and fitter I’d become.

And then I thought back to a year ago, just a few days after the opening weekend of the 2017 – 2018 cyclocross season. We had been in Rochester, N.Y. for the weekend where I had placed fourth on day one (with a call-up of 21 out of 22 riders) and the next day placed mid-pack due to some tight and anxious riding. All in all, a successful comeback weekend after the 2016 – 2017 season when I was recovering from surgery.

I remembered how stressed I had been leading into that first 2017 race weekend. A bundle of anxiety, hope, and fear. I managed to work myself up into my traditional pre-race ball of stress, but got through it with real hope for the rest of the season. I chased this weekend with a good race in Rigaud, PQ and some very good races in the local Ottawa series. I had high hopes of getting close to or on the podium at cyclocross nationals and then racing well in Mol, Belgium.

Well, these last two didn’t happen. I wasn’t technically prepared for the course in Sherbrooke, PQ and my body slowly but surely fought back with a hard and painful reminder that even without a colon, ulcerative colitis would aways be with me.

But the past is the past.  So why write about this now? Well, I think it’s the perfect time to write and think about perspective since I just finished racing in the opening weekend of the 2018 – 2019 cyclocross season in Rochester, N.Y. This past weekend there were over 40 women racing in the 1/2/3/4/5 category  – this is awesome.

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The run-up from the river. Thank goodness for sturdy course tape.

Thanks to my decent season last year, I had a second row call-up on both Saturday and Sunday. However, I knew going in that the virtues of this second row call-up would be very short lived.

Sure, it’s been four months since my recent surgery – but it takes a long time to rebuild and heal. This second go-round has been much harder. My body is pushing back hard and is not giving my any breaks. It seems like I take two steps back for every one step forward.

All this to say, I did not have any high hopes for the 2018 Rochester cyclocross race weekend. On Saturday I was last. On Sunday I was second last. I didn’t have any mechanicals, crashes, or other incidents on course that I can point to that contributed to these results.

I’m simply not where I was last year, two years ago, or even three years ago.

Is this hard to take? Heck yes, it’s really hard to take. The negative pre-race talk from fellow racers and the brutal heckling on the stairs (one guy told me to go faster next lap), doesn’t help but whatever, people sometimes aren’t their best selves on race day.

It’s hard to race at the very back of the race. It’s hard on the ego. It’s hard because I know what I was capable of. It’s hard because I don’t know if  I’ll ever get back to where I was. It’s hard because I just don’t know what my body can do anymore.

But, through it all, I’m so happy I raced. When I crossed that finish line on Saturday I was crying. I was crying tears of relief, joy, and success. I did it. I raced – I didn’t think I’d ever race again. And I did it.

On Sunday, I wasn’t convinced I could line up again on the second row and have a repeat of Saturday. But Marc reminded me that Sunday could be my last race of the season and that I needed to remember how emotional I was on Saturday after racing.

So, I did it again. I lined up on Sunday and I raced. I had a strategy this time. Go as hard as I could on the open power sections and ride the technical sections calmly and in control. I focused on looking forward, clean barriers, using the entire width of the course, and on keeping constant pedal pressure. So this is what I did. I stayed positive the entire race and was very happy to not be lapped by the race leader.

I did what I could with what I had on the weekend. This is all any of us can do on any day of the week when faced with whatever challenge we have in front of us. To quote a smart person I know, “All you can do is all you can do”.

Believe me, I really wish I didn’t have so many lessons in perspective and making the best of my situation. But I do. So it’s up to me to take these doses of perspective and use them to my advantage.

One day in the future I’ll look back on the September 8/9 weekend of 2018 and realize how far I’ve come.

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I think this was just before entering the wooded technical section. 

A huge thanks to Josée, Marc, Steve, Ian, Matt, Todd, and everyone else who cheered me on. It’s amazing what a lift it is to hear your name being called when out on course doing the racing thing. A big thanks to Josée for the photos and for handing me my bottle on Saturday when I managed to mangle my bottle cage on a wooden stake. 

It was a great weekend. Catching-up with long-time cyclocross friends, being outside all day, cheering on the other racers, and most importantly seeing friends have great successes on their bikes on race day. A big shout-out to Marc for his third place on Sunday and to Steve for his double second places.

 

This, That, and The Other Thing

It’s been a while. To be honest, I’ve written a lot of blog posts in my head while out riding or just puttering around the house – but none of these made it to the big screen. Sometimes, the words sound so much better and make so much more sense in my head and when I get ready to write, well, I lose my nerve or decide to keep things to myself.

This is normal I suppose for any creative person. Yes, I consider myself to be a creative person. I don’t create anything that you can hold, wear, or put on your mantel (well, there is the odd pottery project – new class starting next week). However, I do take the 26 letters of the alphabet and spend my days putting them together in unique formats.

This

It’s interesting to think about what I do all day and how this is or isn’t attached to my identity. I’m pretty lucky to revolve in circles where what I do all day doesn’t really impact how people judge me. I’m one of the lucky ones. Most of you don’t have it so easy. When people do ask me what I do, I say “I’m a writer“. This is a vague answer that let’s people make whatever judgement they want about my professional life.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this place. I guess this is what happens with age or simply just fatigue. I realized that most people are so self-consumed that they really don’t care what I do or don’t do all day. As for me, sure, your career is interesting but I know that for most of you – you’d rather be doing something else – so why bother spending much time weighing the value or not of your profession. (And for the record, every profession, job, career is valuable.)

Instead, I care about you as a person. What you do before and after work. What you’re thinking about when you’re at work. How you kick back and live life.

That

August is over. This doesn’t mean the end of summer. Just because Starbucks has rolled out it’s dreadful Pumpkin Spice Latte much too early, the Halloween stuff is in the stores, and the shops are peddling sweaters and mittens – doesn’t mean that summer is over.

The last time I checked, we’re living in a progressively warmer climate. I try not to worry about climate change too much – but frankly it’s impossible to recognize that we humans are making some big errors right now – today – that are having huge ramifications.

I urge you to read this incredible article from the NY Times about climate change. You can also listen to a podcast about climate change – if you don’t have time to read (gosh, I do hope you have time to read…). Hopefully it will make you stop and think about your world and how you live in it.

Sorry, I went off-course here with the climate change thing. So yeah, summer isn’t over. Keep doing the fun summer stuff as long as possible. In the summer, people are happier – we smile more, we’re outside more, we’re just generally a little bit closer to being our best selves. So why not keep these good people vibes going for as long as possible?

The Other Thing

So, it’s been around four months since my surgery. Somewhere along the way, I stopped counting the weeks since April 30. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but one day I realized I had no idea where I was in my post-op calendar.

This past month has probably been the first time since I’ve felt pretty normal and healed. There are still lots of lingering internal issues from the surgery. But I’m working with an osteopath and with Sarah Zahab at Continuum Fitness to fix all the tightness, muscle loss, and internal scarring.

I’ve been doing a lot of riding. I’m still not back to formal structured training. Instead I’m just riding at whatever pace on whichever bike for however long I want. This has been a real change for me. For so long I’ve been in a structured training program. There are times when I miss the structure but I also relish the freedom of being able to do what I want on the bike.

The big trade-off with this approach is fitness. I’m not about to go out and do intervals on my own. I’ve noticed that I lack the ability to recover from hard efforts or to go really deep. This is okay. 2018 is about getting back to feeling whole again. Then in 2019 I can decide what I want to do.

I’ve been spending much more time on my mountain bike than in previous years. I’m so loving it. I think I’m addicted to riding at Larose Forest. It’s the place I go when I need to clear my head, get back to nature, and just feel like a bike rider again. I’m riding my ‘cross bike on the road and I think riding the ‘cross gearing (42/38) has been useful in making it easier for me to do long rides.

The ‘cross season starts next week. I am going to race. I don’t know how it’s going to go. Well, I do know how it will go. I’ve got experience with racing a season after surgery. It’s going to be hard (but isn’t it always?) and it’s going to be fun. I have zero expectations or self-imposed pressure. I won’t do many double race weekends – just Rochester and the Camp Fortune races. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll race at the Canadian Cyclocross Nationals in Peterborough or at the Pan Am Masters Championships in Milton. These will be week of and even day of decisions. It all depends on how I’m feeling.

I’ve noticed that I get fatigued really quickly lately. Gone are the days of back-to-back long steady rides. If I want to do a long ride on Saturday and a moderate length ride on Sunday, I have to take it really easy on the Friday and Thursday before. It also takes me a solid day to recover from a good hard MTB ride. This is new for me. I used to be able to ride 6/7 of days and really not want to do a recovery ride on the seventh day.

It will come. I just have to give myself time. After all, like you, I’m only human. There is only so much I or you can do.

I stumbled on this quote today thanks to Austin Kleon’s newsletter and I think it’s a good way to end this post and get ready for the days ahead:

Finish every day and be done with it… You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.  Rapha Waldo Emerson

#crossiscoming

First off, I kinda sorta apologize for using a hash tag in my title. But, you have to admit, it’s a catchy title. It got you reading….

So #crossreallyiscoming – what are you going to do? With local ‘cross calendars getting updated and everyone planning weekend cyclocross get-aways, it seems like the Internet is abuzz with how to get ready for cyclocross season.

This getting ready for cyclocross season is an interesting concept. IMO, getting ready for cyclocross season means something different for every person.

Serious cyclocross racers have been thinking about and training for cyclocross well before August 1st. Serious road racers and mountain bikers are likely looking at cyclocross as great way to keep their motivation and fitness going for a while.

And then there’s the rest of us. The people who like to ride their bikes and enter in races and other bike events that sound fun. This doesn’t mean you’re not taking cyclocross seriously, but you’re not putting life on hold for cyclocross training and fretting over the exact tire/rim combination for one crazy muddy race or super sandy race (which unless you’re in Belgium likely isn’t on your radar).

This is where I’m at now. I think it’s a great place to be. It means that I have a race or two to look forward to every weekend from September to the end of November. It means that I get to hang out with my friends and do a bit of traveling now and then. It is a great way to bridge the summer riding season through to the winter fat biking (or skiing if that’s your thing) season.

So as I sit here today and think about the cyclocross season and I ask myself – “what should I be doing to get ready for cyclocross season?“, my answer is very simple – I need to ride my bike.

Yes, specific intervals might help. But likely since I haven’t done any formal training or focused cyclocross training all summer, intervals aren’t going to help me much now. I just need to get out and ride my bike.

I need to keep going for long rides, short rides, and in-between rides. I need to go a little bit harder sometimes or sprint up a short hill sometimes. I need to get out on my ‘cross bike in the woods and practice turning, descending, riding in a straight line, and other fun stuff. I need to practice barrier technique and bunny hopping. I need to practice shouldering and running with the bike. I need to do so much.

See what has happened here? By just thinking about the fun weekends ahead when I get to line up, race, tell stories after the race, and hang out with my friends, I’ve created a long list of all the things I need to do to have fun. Hmm, there is something wrong with this picture.

So, while you’re sitting here thinking about the local cyclocross season or about traveling to a race that you heard is pretty fun and has a cool vibe, don’t stress about your training, your cyclocross skills, or your tire/rim setup.

Instead put on your kit, get on your bike, and go for a ride. Suddenly, you’ll feel so much better about your cyclocross season because you’re doing what you need to do – you’re riding your bike.

When you get back from your ride and see on Strava that someone has been out doing 20/30’s or 30/30’s or whatever/whatever’s – don’t stress. Remind yourself that you’ve just been out for a really great bike ride and you’re excited about ‘cross season.

Later when you check out Instagram and you see someone posting about their latest tubeless tires or the hot new tubulars, don’t stress because you’re on clinchers or because you don’t really know anything about tire pressure. Remember why you race cyclocross and think about that awesome ride you have planned for tomorrow.

When you’re wasting time on Facebook at work and see that someone is out running in the sand with a bike on their shoulder, don’t stress because you know you’re not racing at Mol, Belgium or Koksijde, Belgium or any other race that features considerable amounts of sand running. Instead think about the ride you have planned with your friends this weekend and the stories you’ll be able to tell afterwards.

Cause really, #crossiscoming is really just about getting outside in the fall and riding your bike around a course. All the bits in between are just picky little details. Enjoy the bike riding part and don’t stress about the details, it’s the details that tend to take the fun out of the bike riding part (trust me, I’m an expert on this part).

So yeah, #crossiscoming and it really is #somuchfun but don’t #besilly and #takethefunoutofcross with getting all #crazyserious. Ask yourself why you race cyclocross and then do what makes sense for you and your answer.

 

The Latest News

Long time no chat! Life has gotten busy and I suppose I thought I really didn’t have much of interest to tell you about. I’m still not sure if I’ve got any late breaking news or headline grabbing content, but you never know what will come out of my fingertips.

When I listen to podcasts with authors who say things like “the character just appeared to me” or the “the characters really spoke to me”, I often think, “what a load of bunk”. But, here I sit with no idea of what I’m going to write about and then the words just start flowing out of my fingers – so maybe these authors do know what they’re babbling about.

So, what is going on? Well, I’m back to regular good old life and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve been riding my bike pretty regularly now for a couple of weeks.

I have to admit the first week back was hard. Really hard. My legs didn’t want to pedal. My cadence was gone. My muscles couldn’t remember what to do. My triceps ached something fierce. I was panting on false flats. Yeah, I was kind of a hot mess on the bike.

I knew this would happen but deep down I secretly hoped that through some miracle, I could get back on the bike and just roll along where I left off on April 29th. Nope. The human body, at least a 46 year old human body that’s been stretched, pulled, cut open, and wrung out more times than I care to think about in the last nine years, doesn’t just bounce back.

This is okay. The good news is I’ve been here before so I know it’s all part of the process. I’ve had some awesome rides these last couple of weeks. It’s been great to ride with so many different people. I’ve barely looked at my power meter and just focused on the person next to me and trying to remember not to talk too much.

We’re in full summer mode here. Which, I suppose for us doesn’t really mean much is different except, I have to wear pants and hoodies indoors because of the air conditioning. Question: does anyone else get super cold after eating cold food or drinking a cold drink? I do and it can be super annoying – I have to bundle up before eating ice cream or having an ice cold pop.

Hmm, what else is going on? Well, I finally got to see Bryan Adams. I’ve wanted to see him since I was a wee young teenager. It was as great as I knew it would be. We also went to see The Dave Matthews Band. Wow, what a night. There is nothing better than seeing a band full of real musicians. Dave is a real character and he let his personality fly on  stage. It wasn’t an easy next day for Marc however, with some post-concussion symptoms rearing up. Fortunately, Marc is feeling much better and back to his regular self.

Let’s see what else is happening? Nothing really. Lots of reading, Tour de France and Giro Rosa watching, podcast listening, and general loafing around. It’s a pretty good life really.

My brain is slowly but surely drifting towards the sudden onset of cyclocross season. This time last year I’d already put in a few solid months of specific cyclocross drills and training sessions. Not so much this year. But, hopefully in the next couple of weeks I can get back out on the trails and do some dirt riding.

New and exciting for this week are: mountain biking on the weekend, planned first long ride of 2018, and a return to yoga classes that aren’t Yin yoga.

I’m nervous about all three.

But, the way I look at it is – I have to cross these hurdles sooner or later – so I might as well do it now. The problem with later is I never know when that will be and it might never come.