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.

Taking My Own Advice

It’s time I started paying attention to my own advice… remembering that it’s okay to not feel 100% confident and together.

The other day at cyclocross practice we worked on some new skills. Skills that tested everyone physically and mentally. The level of confidence that I saw coming through these women as we practiced was something else.

The looks on their faces when they rode tricky corners, sandy descents, and floated through the sand – it was motivating and inspiring.

At the end of the session, I said something similar to:

Remember everyone feels freaked out and afraid. When you see people looking calm and collected – they weren’t always like this. That descent or crazy mud used to rattle them – it still might – they’re just not showing it.

I am human. You are human. We get scared, nervous, stressed, bothered, and worried. Don’t ever forget that this happens to everyone.

My advice to myself is this:

Relax and have fun racing. A couple of weeks ago you wrote that you were just happy to be racing again. So be happy. Don’t get caught up in “where you think you should be” or “what you believe others think about your racing”. It’s bike racing. Your result doesn’t change who you are as a person. Have fun and race your bike. 

If you see me at a race – feel free to remind me of this. Don’t be shy about it. I need to get better at listening to my own advice and I could use some extra help.

Breaking Through

This past weekend was the kick-off to the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series. This series is where I discovered cyclo-cross, way back in 1994. I was racing on Specialized Rockhopper with running shoes and toe clips. I think there were about 20 people in the race (in total) and three of us were women.

It’s amazing how things have changed with our local series. Now we have over 300 people registered and last Sunday we had 58 women racing. This is simply amazing. It’s a true testament to the organizers who have stayed true to the roots of the series. It’s also a huge indicator of how important it is to have a local affordable racing series that appeals to everyone.

Last Sunday was my fourth race of the 2017 season. It was also a very special one. It was my break-through race. The result itself is not outstanding. But the ride was a good one.

The morning of the race, the pre-ride, the start, the flat tire and wheel change, and then getting back into the race – it all went really well. I feel like all the lessons I’ve absorbed over so many years of racing finally clicked.

I was nervous but calm. I was excited but not stressed. I learned more about areas to improve on. I felt my confidence increase during the race.

One new thing for me on Sunday was riding with a group. So often I’ve raced cyclo-cross alone – people in front and people behind but no one super close to resemble a group. This group riding accentuated some of my areas of weakness.

This is exactly what I want. There is always room to improve: physically, technically, and mentally. After so many years racing, training, and riding, it’s a relief to know that I still have more room to improve.

Yes, a break-through. I know it’s early days but I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m proud of my 2017 cyclo-cross season. Never would I have imagined I could be riding like this again.

It’s a special feeling to be confident.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out a couple of very important people who have got me here: Marc who has always encouraged me and been there to pick me up when I let the stress get the better of me and Steve Weller my long-time coach who has the extra hard job of coaching someone with complicated health problems. Thank you. 

Good To Be Back

The weekend in Rochester, NY was a good one. The racing was good. Some high moments and some low moments – but this is what happens over the duration of a weekend of racing.

Saturday was a good day on the race course. I briefly held onto a podium spot but slipped back into fourth. Some fatigue-induced errors in the last lap solidified this finish position. I was happy with how I rode and felt like I really did leave it out there.

Sunday I was stressed to the max. This was not good. I raced tight and lacked the pop I had on Saturday. I don’t even know how I finished and I don’t need to know. I put myself in a bad spot and then had to claw my way out of it. I pushed hard and even laid down some of my fastest lap times of the weekend, but when the front of the race is gone – it’s gone.

I’m glad this happened. I needed this to happen. Anxiety is a real thing for me. Learning to manage it is a daily effort. Throw a cyclocross race or two into the mix and well the anxiety level gets a bit out of control. And this is exactly what happened last weekend in Rochester.

The anxiety started gathering steam on Saturday afternoon and by Sunday morning it was a freight train out of control. I knew it was happening and really couldn’t get it to stop. On the start line I wanted to vomit. Yes, it was bad.

I need to break this and stop it now. Anxiety is not fun. Race anxiety when I’m trying to have fun and race my bike is not fun. I’ve raced in the “not fun” mode in the past and I don’t want to do it again.

Yes, I’m back racing. It’s great to be back. But I have to remember that I’m not chasing UCI points or lining up at the biggest races on the ‘cross calendar. I’m not even on the comeback path. Nope, I’m back racing for fun.

Yes, I train hard and I’m serious about my training. But you know how this is. This approach builds confidence and frankly makes it easier to achieve racing goals. And that’s all these are – race goals. They are not indicators of how I am as a person or a bike racer or an athlete – these goals are just goals and nothing more.

Lining up, racing hard, having some hard battles on the course, making small improvements during the race, and standing around talking about the race for at least 90 minutes afterwards is what it’s all about.

The real goal is in remembering this. I do this for fun. Not to make myself so nervous and wound up that I want to vomit. Done that, bought the t-shirt, and I know how it turns out.

So thanks Rochester. You were good to me. You were tough on me. Just what I needed.

Really the best parts of the weekend all came down to people. Seeing Marc race. Talking about the race course with our friends. Catching up with old cyclocross friends who we haven’t seen in a really long time. Watching the elite races and cheering on the racers. All of it was pretty darn special.

Yes, it’s good to be back.

 

And So It Begins

I’m sitting here eating 90% dark chocolate and trying to stay calm. My heart is beating a little bit faster than it should. My brain is going slightly crazy. And frankly, I’m feeling a little bit freaked out.

This can only mean one thing – I’m racing my cyclocross bike this weekend.

We’re off to Rochester, NY to kick off the cyclocross season.

I was calm. And now I’m not.

Not sure why I’m nervous and acting a bit crazy. I suppose it’s because I really care about how I do.

Of course, I’m telling myself things like “all you can do is all you do”, “just leave it all out there”, “focus on the performance not the results”, and “racing is the fun part”.

But really… do these pep talks really work? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

All I know is that I should never have checked the ranking system on crossresults.com. I checked this so I could see when I’d be called up. Well, now I know – I’ll be called up second last. Second last.

Geez. This is stressful. I was less stressed when I was called up first (way back when). But second last. Now I feel like I have to prove something to myself (and that damned database).

I know it will be okay. My fitness is much higher than it was last year. My technical skills are probably the best they’ve ever been. I’ll just go out there and give it a go.

This is the fun time after all. Breathe in. Breathe out. Eat some more dark chocolate.

New Beginnings

The new year is just around the corner. Yes, I’ve checked the calendar – January is kind of a long way off. I’m talking about September. I don’t know about you but for me, September signals the start of a new year.

I suppose it’s all the years of school and university that have imprinted September as the time to be ready for a fresh start and new beginnings. All summer I’d be busy doing summer stuff (riding bikes, working, and reading books) then it would be time for the school year. What would it be like? Would this be the year that I’d finally be part of the in crowd? Would this be the year I’d figure it all out and lose the feelings of dread that came with starting a new school year? Would I finally get it and be cool?

Yeah, September has got a lot of emotion tied up in it. I suppose if your high school years were filled with cool kid parties and less time in the library, then high school was a fun time for you…

But I digress, so all this to say – it’s finally here – the start of a new year. I’m never one to wish time away or to speed up the clock, but I’m happy September is right around the corner. It seems like the chances for a true fresh start could actually happen.

This past year has been challenging to say the least. But, thankfully these challenges were not deal-breakers and we all managed to come out whole.

And now, we’re here. The sun is shining. I’m going to ride my ‘cross bike in the woods. Marc is out riding with his pals. Calvin is sitting on the kitchen table catching some sun. Yeah, life is pretty good. Perfect time for fresh beginnings and a new start.

Instead of the school year and a stomach of dread – I’ve got a stomach packed with unicorns and rainbows. The possibilities feel endless and the adventure really has just started.