A Racer Again?

For a long time I identified myself as a bike racer. I rode my bike to get strong and powerful for bike racing. If there was a road race, criterium or cyclo-cross race I was there. I lined up a lot and race a lot. I liked it. I loved it. This racing fuelled me. I saw the world thanks to bike racing and I met so many fantastic people thanks to bike racing. I did things I never imagined I would ever do.

Last year, I decided to quit bike racing. It had been a rocky few years with this darn ulcerative colitis and a scary injury to my back and then getting sick again last May. That was it – I was done. I needed to get healthy and just ride my bike for fun. No more racing. No more training plans. No more race stress. No more self-imposed expectations. I would ride if I wanted and if not well, I wouldn’t ride. I felt content about this decision. Then September rolled around – the local cyclo-cross season was starting and thanks to modern medicine, I found myself in a remission.

Hmm, why not race? It will be fun and get me out riding. Oh man, I was freaked out and nervous. I wasn’t even sure I could get around the course – zero fitness and little to no energy. But I went. I lined up. I pedaled. I smiled. I had fun. In fact the most fun I’d had in a very long time at a bike race. I was simply riding and doing what I could. I didn’t worry about who was ahead of me or behind me. I just rode. I had nothing to lose but so much to gain. Admittedly it was hard to not be at the front duking it out with fast Ottawa girls. But I learned so much more about myself from racing with the very limited tools I had. But what made it so much more than I could have ever expected were the people – people cheering me on, the other women who I raced against hugging me after the race, the encouragement from others, seeing the young teenage girls learning and thriving, and just being so welcomed into such a community of people. In years past, I would never have experienced this – doing a serious pre-race warm-up, racing and then quickly changing and zipping off for a long cool down ride.

And now here I sit. Last week was a rough week. I was tired. Really tired. For the first time ever, I didn’t do my planned work-outs. In fact I didn’t even feel like riding my bike. On Wednesday I tried really hard to convince Marc that I was ready to quit. That I didn’t want to race anymore. That I hated the scheduling and programming of my life around work-outs. That I was missing out on so many other things. Luckily Marc is a very strong and steady voice of reason and calm…

On Friday I did feel a bit better and after a good talk with my coach, I felt even better. Plain and simple – I was tired. It had been a big training block and it was natural to feel so tired. We’d continue with the planned work-outs and take a rest week this week. Perfect. The riding this weekend went really well. And there was proof positive that I’m learning – on Sunday I started to get quite tired at around the four hour mark of my planned five hour ride. My legs felt heavy. I was starting to feel a bit cold (some kind of weird temperature shift happened). My work-out plan was four to five hours – so in an uncharacteristic move, I elected to cut the ride short and ride for 4.5 hours. I recognized that I was tired and that forcing out the extra 30 minutes wouldn’t really give me anything.

And now I’m thinking about racing. I registered for the eQuinelle Grand Prix – a criterium that promises to have some very fast ladies lining up. I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t raced my road bike in a very long time. I used to love racing my road bike. I used to really love racing criteriums. So I’ll go and see what happens. So am I a racer again? Yes, yes I am a racer again. But I’m not the same racer I was. Instead of being compelled to race every race possible and to chase UCI points and results – I simply want to race. To line up and have some fun. Take some chances, attack, recover, finish upright and at the end of it all – be satisfied with the day. Last year I couldn’t do this and I would never have imagined that I’d be able to do it again.

Often it takes a big moment to make you really understand why you do that thing you do. Experiencing this big moment is a good thing and I’m glad I’ve gone through it.

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