Despite everything that is going on with my health these days, most days really still do revolve around bikes. Riding bikes. Deciding where to ride bikes. Determining which bike to ride. Planning rides. Recovering from bike rides. Getting ready for the next bike ride.
Up until mid-June I was training rather seriously for the upcoming cyclocross season. I had set a goal of winning the Canadian National Masters (40 – 49) title. A big stretch goal considering where my fitness was when I started training in January with Coach Steve Weller, but I knew that so long as I did the training, I had a good chance at achieving my goal.
Once I started training again with Steve I realized how much I missed structured focussed training. It gave purpose to my rides and better yet, I could feel and see myself getting stronger and faster. My confidence was really quite high and I was starting to feel like a bike racer again. Capping this off with a super two weeks of riding in France, and well – I was crushing on the bike again.
So now I’m no longer training with Steve. This was a mutual decision. Steve has been through this ulcerative colitis roller coaster as long as I have – he was my coach when I was first diagnosed, when I raced at the World Cyclocross Championships, when I was hospitalized in Belgium, when I fractured my L3 vertebrae and when I got very sick again. He and I have worked together for so long that it was hard to pick up the phone and tell him the bad news about this ulcerative colitis flare. I know he was hoping as much as I was that somehow this would be a short flare and I’d be able to get back to training again.
But, it was not to be. We’ve trained through flares before – sometimes it’s worked out okay and other times it hasn’t been so great. This time, just like the last time, we both knew that training had to take a back seat.
Admittedly, I was super disappointed and floundered for a bit. I couldn’t see the point really in riding without a training plan and focus on my goals. Those initial rides after I realized that this wouldn’t be a “short” flare were not fun – “what’s the point?”, “I’m just going to lose my fitness anyway”, “why bother?”. But here’s the funny thing – I feel so much better when I’m riding a bike.
Sure there are days when I’m tired and I drag myself around. But more times than not, I feel great on my bike. It’s like I’m not sick at all. I don’t know if this the endorphins or if it has something to do with the brain/gut connection (more research about this all the time). But when I’m riding, my cranky colon settles down and I can ride without thinking about my disease (sure there are some crazy cramps, issues with heat management, extra concerns over dehydration, and lots of bonking happening) – but really I feel normal.
So, this is why you’ll see me lining up at the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series this year. I’m a bit nervous about it. When I’m healthy it can be a struggle to get to the start line with my nervous “race” stomach… So I’m not sure what will happen now that I’m in a flare. But, I won’t know if I don’t try. I really don’t know how I’ll feel out there on the race course. Up until I got sick I was doing lots of tempo intervals, long base rides and had started to get into the pointy-end of things with some threshold work – but I know that I don’t have a top end or the ability to recover from hard efforts repeatedly. So, I’ll just go out and race. I’ll try to race with my head and my technical skills – and hopefully my fitness can hang on for 50 minutes. It’s a risk of course to race – managing getting to the start line with this kind of disease is not easy – but I know if I don’t try, I’ll feel worse.
It’s not the racing that makes me want to get out there – it’s the people. There is something special about the cyclocross scene and there is something extra special about the Ottawa cyclocross scene. In the moment the racing is serious, but as soon as the race is over, it’s completely different. It’s hard to put into words, but everyone is so encouraging, supportive, helpful and really is happy to see someone improve. It’s hard to pass up this experience and sit on the sidelines watching.
So, with this being said, I should put some wheels on my trusty cyclocross bike and get out for some barrier practice… The other day I realized that if I hadn’t gotten sick, I would have been working on my technical skills for a month now. Now instead I ride where the roads and legs take me. Some days I do a long road ride. Other days all I do is bike the 22 km to work and back. Weekends see me out on my mountain bike exploring and testing my nerves. It’s different but the same. At the end of the day whether it’s V02Max intervals or a steady ride to the coffee shop – it’s still bicycle riding.