Racing in Cornwall

I’ll start this post by simply saying this: I had a blast yesterday racing in Cornwall. This race was part of the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series and it was well worth the early wake-up and early morning chill in the air. It is not often that I get to race at home in Ottawa, and I have to say thank you to the organizers, fans, photographers, other racers for making it such a great experience.

Some might think there are big differences between racing in our local Ottawa series and in Belgium… Well, yes there are some big differences: mobile homes, World Champions, 15 000 fans, frittes and beer stands, television cameras. But this is really just all details. What isn’t different is the spirit and the community. In fact I’d have to say that the spirit and sense of community is so much stronger and powerful in our local Ottawa series.

It was one of those days where I got to talk with so many people, to hear how their seasons are going, to tell them about my season and really just a chance to catch up with new and old friends. I think I was smiling all day! It took me forever to get changed after my race (and I missed a big part of Marc’s race) because I was talking with folks in the parking lot.

Highlights of the day include catching up with young Lois (a superstar young athlete and a fantastic kid), hearing the cheers during the race, duking it out with Mel (getting “oh so close” but not close enough), seeing Marc push through a race that just didn’t go his way (crash, destroyed rear derailleur, rolled clincher, five bike changes), chatting with the young guns and pretending I couldn’t see their moustaches/mullets, seeing young Timothy take notes from the tips and advice Marc gave him during our pre-ride (another one to watch out for), and really just being out there having fun on bikes.

So, you likely want to know a bit about the race. Well, the women started first – we had a five minute lead on the men starting behind us. Mel took off hard and fast from the line and my legs immediately felt like cement blocks. Basically it was a chasing game. I would close and even catch and pass Mel once during the race only to give up space and time in other parts of the course. I could see Mel standing up and sprint and this would force me to do the same. It was a good battle. I admit I wasn’t pleased with my effort – I felt like I could have dug a bit deeper and could have closed the gap – I had some mental battles and some issues with the cold (not excuses just reasons for not getting the job done). There were some really good moments in the race and it helped so much to have Marc there to encourage me an to give me pointers during the race. It was great to see so many women out racing and giving it their best – also fantastic to see so many kids out racing on a challenging course.

A big thanks to the organizers who were up and out at Cornwall very early to get the course set-up. Definitely a challenging course that made use of the terrain and gave us all a chance to practice our skills and get a few thrills as well!

Unfortunately, this is my last race here at home. This weekend I’m racing at the Cyclocross Nationals in Toronto and then I’m off to Belgium for the season. I’ll miss racing in the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series but I’ll have the lessons that this series has taught me and the smiling faces and friendly words with me as I chase my season goals. Many may not know that when I returned to cyclocross racing in 2006 I was definitely at the “back-of-the-pack” – I’m proof positive that you can set a goal and achieve it – don’t ever get discouraged by your results (I know I should listen to my own advice…) – just remember where you were and where you want to get to. And most of all – have fun doing it!

Gloucester!

We’re heading out on Friday for the drive down to Gloucester, Mass. I’m really looking forward to this weekend of racing. It has been three years since I’ve raced at Gloucester – and back then I raced in the women’s 3/4 category. I remember watching the elite women race and wishing I could race with them – and now I am!

Gloucester is one of those race venues and weekends that really just encapsulates what cyclocross is about: top-notch venue, good crowds, lots and lots of racers, even more fans – there is a real sense of community and coming together at Gloucester. It is hard to explain but it really does capture all the really good aspects of our sport.

Not only is it fun to race at Gloucester but it is also fun to watch and cheer on the others racing. This weekend I’ll be cheering on Marc in the Masters race then getting sorted for my race. After that I’ll be able to watch the elite guys hit the course and I’ll be cheering super loudly for Conor and Evan as they duke it out. And if Ted King is racing – you can be sure I’ll be cheering for him!

This is our fourth weekend of travel in a row. For a bike racer or a cyclocross racer this really isn’t that big of a deal – but it I do have to say the travel is getting a bit tiresome. Soon enough I’ll be in Belgium where the longest drive I’ll have to do is 2 or maybe 3 hours – much friendlier than the eight hours on Friday and eight hours on Sunday.

Luckily this weekend we’re staying with friends – this takes a lot of the travel issues out of the picture. We’re super lucky to have friends who like bikes just as much as we do and are willing to let us invade their home for the weekend.

Alright, with this, I’m going to sign off and get some sleep. I’ve got some writing work to do in the morning, a ride to get in and then we’re piling into our van (we swapped cars with our neighbour) and hitting the open road. See you in Gloucester – I’ll be the one in purple!

New Kit!!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook have likely already seen this, but if you don’t follow me on these social media channels (addictions) then have I got a good photo for you.

On Thursday the friendly FedEx man arrived with a cardboard box. And in this box was my brand new cyclo-cross kit for the 2011-2012 season. Boy oh boy does it look hot! The purple is awesome (my favourite colour). I’m super stoked with the clothing. This year I ordered a super duper warm winter jacket – this is the ultimate jacket. It is neoprene with fleece inside – yes, I think it will keep me darn toasty for the season.

Before I post a picture of the new skin suit, I need to send out a big thank-you to Sean at Champion Systems Canada for the amazing support and patience. I also need to send a big shout out to Allison for the great design – if you’re looking for a designer – she is the one you need.

Alright here is a picture of the new short sleeve skin suit (yes I need to post the back of the skin suit as well as show you a picture of the long sleeve skin suit – I’m slow with the connecting the camera to the computer step…)

Double Trouble

Wednesdays are days that I look forward to and kind of dread at the same time…. This is my standard double training day. This day is all about running and cyclo-cross riding. Now I love getting out on my cyclo-cross bike (obviously!) and ripping around the trails and local parks but the running part is not the most fun. I used to be a runner – a very very slow runner – in fact I even ran a marathon back in the day.

These days my running is reserved for crack-of-dawn Wednesday morning 30 minute sessions with the focus on running up hills and running in the sand. I typically start slowly but by the end, I feel like I’m flying – of course this is all relative since I’m a cyclist first and a runner a distant second. I do have to say that over the last few weeks I have noticed that my running strength and hill running recovery has improved a great deal. For most cyclo-cross racers, running is not a favoured component of training but if you’re racing a lot and particularly in Europe – you need a running game. The rumour is that Bart Wellens used to run with his bike on his shoulder as part of his training – and if you’ve seen Bart run – wow this guy can fly!

As for the on bike training – Wednesdays are all about skill training. Now it is lots of fun to get out and practice the stuff you’re good at – the trick to cyclo-cross training is really focusing on weaknesses or “need to improve areas”. So what did I do today? Well, my starts aren’t the strongest part of my cyclo-cross racing game and I also struggle with steep uphill climbs. In my mind these two skills/aspects are related – both require fast punchy power and explosiveness. Today I sought out some steep climbs and worked on starting and accelerating up and over these climbs. I played around with gearing. I worked on distance as well – how close can I get to the hill and start from a stopped position? I learned a bunch today about gearing and where I start to bog down on the climbs. I also really focused on using my entire body to get over the last little bit of these climbs – my arms, shoulders, lower back and abs were all firing along with my legs.

Another thing I decided to work on today was descending. Some of the descents in Belgium really scare the “you-know-what” out of me. So my goal today was to find some tricky, technical, bumpy and longish descents. Luckily I found an area where some new roads are being built and there are a couple of massive hills made out of gravel, dirt and who knows what – this worked out really well. I was able to use these hills to work on my technical climbing skills and then turn around and focus on the descending – I played around with braking, not braking, feet clipped in, body position. The other thing I did to day was think about “always be pedaling”, this meant that my feet had to be turning over at all times. I find that when my brain starts working, my feet stop turning….

So this is how my double Wednesday played out. Needless to say, I’m a bit wiped now! But this is okay because Thursday is the almighty rest day – all I’ve got on the schedule is a hot power yoga class.

As challenging as Wednesdays can be – I really do look forward to them. I’m able to work on real cyclo-cross skills and get immediate feedback on how I’m progressing with my technical and running skills. I’m curious to know how you’re training your cyclo-cross technical skills….

Cyclo-Cross Life

Ah, can you smell it? Or maybe you can feel it in the air? The mornings a tad more crisp. The sun is setting that touch earlier. Yes, cyclo-cross season is just around the corner. Really can’t beat the feelings of anticipation when it comes to a new cyclo-cross season. Lots of questions about fitness, technical skills, tire choices, new kit arriving and travel and race plans being finalized. It really is kind of like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled into one!

As you likely know (if you’re a regular reader) – my training is going super well. I’m hitting numbers that quite frankly – I’ve never seen before. Efforts are getting harder, going deeper and the recovery is really improving. I’m super happy to be feeling as well as I am on the bike. I daresay that I haven’t felt this good on the bike in a very long time – in fact as far back as 2010 when I did have one of my better seasons. It is amazing what being healthy, feeling confident and having some solid training can do!

I’ve pretty much got my travel plans for the first two World Cups of the season sorted out. I’m going to fly into Prague on Oct. 12 and drive to Plzen. Got a good rate on the super Hotel Ibis and I’ll stay there until the following Thursday. Then it is off to Tabor and I’ll bunk down at the Hotel Kapitol until Monday morning. I’m super fortunate to have my good friend and mechanic Ignace traveling to the two World Cups this year. This takes a lot of pressure off of me and it really helps to have someone there in the event that something goes wrong with my bikes. Thanks Ignace – you can expect some tasty Canadian maple syrup to be making the trip with me! The only piece of the puzzle I’ve got left for this trip is the car rental… I’m leaning towards a Volkswagen Golf (or similar) – most people say that the bike boxes will fit. I think they will – and the price is right for this size of car. It is amazing how expensive car rentals are!

Logistics aside, I’m really looking forward to returning to the Czech Republic. I had a great time in Plzen last year – my dad and I took in the city and just had a super trip. I’m already thinking about the delicious hot chocolate I had at a wonderful little cafe in Plzen. I’ll definitely be having one after racing on Oct. 16. I really like the course at Plzen – I didn’t have a very good ride there last year – but this is a new year and I’m in much better shape physically and mentally this ¬†year. I’m also looking forward to racing in Tabor – it will be interesting to see what the course is like now that it is not covered in snow and ice! The other highlight of this trip is connecting with all my cyclo-cross pals again – it is amazing the friendships that have developed over the years.

As for the Belgian end of the season? Well, I was just looking at flights and there are some excellent prices right now. (If Marc were here to consult with, I’d likely have booked by now!) Looks like I’ll fly to Belgium on Nov. 8 – this gives me a couple of days to catch my breath after racing at Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals on Nov. 5 in Toronto. Then it will be full-steam ahead while in Belgium!

I just find feel that even though the season hasn’t started yet and I haven’t raced yet, that this is going to be a great year. I feel good. Things are falling into place. I’ve got some fantastic sponsors again this year. I really just can’t wait to get started.

I think what really helps this year is that life away from the bike is really going well. I’ve got a new job with Blue Volcano Media that I’m really enjoying, I’ve got some excellent freelance clients that I’m working for as well – so this really helps me balance the demands of training and racing. It is nice to not be working – but I find that for me, I get really absorbed with bikes, bike racing and performance. If I have something else to balance out my life and my focus, I don’t get as crazy…

So, really, things are good. The cyclo-cross life is treating me well and I’ve got no complaints! Life is good. Each day I realize how lucky I am to do what I do and it is even better to connect with people who have goals and dreams – this helps me keep digging that extra little bit when I’m out training and to buckle down when I’ve got deadlines coming up.

To sum things up in a few words: Dudes – I’m stoked!

What’s Up?

I have to admit that it can be hard to come up with something to write on a cycling-focused web site in February. Like most of you, I’m busy with training and looking forward to warm days. Really not much else is going on. There are no spring or late-winter training camps or trips “down south” in my horizons.

I guess I should start looking at race calendars and get myself organized for some spring and summer racing. Last season I didn’t do any racing, I realized that I missed the racing. Besides the fun that comes with racing it has a pretty good training effect (I think). Yes, I know that racing doesn’t build fitness but you can often go deeper in a race than you can do alone out on a quiet road with only your power meeter as your measuring stick. There are also all the intangibles that come with the racing experience: pack riding skills, learning your limits, forcing your limits, taking risks, and simply having a good time. For these reasons, I’ll be out racing on the road this year.

I’m not planning on doing a lot of races. Yes, I know, famous last words… Really I’m hoping to get in a few road races and some criteriums. I think the bulk of this racing will happen in the May – June/mid-July timeframe. Then I’ll have to change my focus and really get down to business fine-tuning my cyclo-cross fitness. Of course, as has become the norm for me, I’ll be getting out on my ‘cross bike regularly to work on my skills.

One event I’m definitely doing this year is the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. I had a blast last year and I’m looking forward to doing it again. Yep, even with the crazy rain on the second day, I still had a good time. So to get ready for this ride I’ll once again be putting in lots of long rides. Really, these are my favorite rides. I really enjoy getting out for four or five hours on the bike. I wonder how early I can get a ride to Merickville in this season? That peanut butter bar is so very tempting…

Today I hit a big milestone with my training… I rode the rollers for one hour! Yes, my second roller ride in over ten years and I lasted for an hour. It is not the effort that I have trouble with, it is the wobbly factor. I haven’t found that roller riding groove that allows me to move my head around, move my hands around, and generally relax. I know will soon enough since back in the day, (1995ish) I used to attend roller riding sessions in local area shopping malls with the Sportable cycling team. We’d set up the rollers in a busy spot, for example in front of Eaton’s in the Rideau Centre and put up a few signs and place some boxes out and then we’d ride the rollers all day – people would stare at us and sometimes give us money (portion of which went to CHEO). I remember once I was riding and a woman walked by and took my front wheel out with her shopping bags… Miraculously I stayed up. I don’t plan on doing any roller riding demos in malls anytime soon, but I would like to be able to take my hands off the bars soon.

Training this weekend should be pretty good. I’ve got the run and ride thing happening on Saturday. A little trail run followed by 30 minutes or so on the trainer. Sunday I’ve got another 2 hours of hiking planned with a some trainer time first. It is a nice change this winter to be able to get outside and really “enjoy” the weather. Of course on the days when it is super cold and I’m supposed to be training outside, I’ve done a bit of switcheroo with the training days…

Well, I best get off this computer and get myself outside for that run. Thanks for downloading and reading my book. I hope you’re enjoying it. Please send me any comments or feedback you have on it – I’d really like to find out what you think of it. And if you haven’t downloaded and read my book? Well, what are you waiting for? Go check it out over here: An Unlikely Elite. Or click to the link in the sidebar to download the PDF version.

Rebuilding

Got some more good news from the doctor yesterday – green light to get back into training. What excellent news. I kind of anticipated this so I’ve been taking a very leisurely week with regards to the bike. If I felt like riding and it was nice out, I went for a ride. If I wasn’t feeling it, well I simply didn’t ride. I did this because I know next week once I’m home in Ottawa I’ll be spending quality time with my bike on the trainer in the basement.

I have to say this week has been rather nice. I just rode when I wanted. Did whatever type of ride I felt like. So it is Friday and I last rode on Thursday. It was an excellent off-road ride in the woods of Tesenderlo. I rode steady letting my legs churn at whatever effort they wanted. This meant I did sprint up some steep inclines. This meant I did work on a high cadence and not getting bogged down in the mud. This meant I cruised the bicycle path. Really, this meant I just rode and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We are heading home on Monday so my riding is over for this trip. I kind of would like to ride on Sunday (assuming the weather is decent) but I sold one of my bikes today and the other one has a broken shifter. So I won’t ride. No biggie. I got in way more riding in the first month of 2011 than I had expected after my health problems. (I initially didn’t expect to be riding until March…) So I’m happy and content with the miles and time I was able to get in.

These rides I got in probably taught me more about myself than any other rides I’ve done. They reminded me that I love riding my bike. They showed me that it takes time and patience to rebuild and feel whole again. They highlighted how much I really wanted to be racing in St. Wendel, Germany. They gave me the chance to really look at myself as a bike racer and think about what I want and how I’m going to get it. Really can’t ask for much more than that from a month of riding. Those rides I did in January were a gift.

Now I’m looking ahead a little bit. Thinking about and talking with my coach about the upcoming block of training. How are we going to approach it? What kind of spring and early summer do I want? Lots of good ideas and thoughts swirling around. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the trainer… It is a sign that I’m on my way back. I’m rebuilding and I’m getting ready for an excellent season.