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.

Recovery

Got some excellent news yesterday from my Belgian gastro doctor: my recent blood sample shows no signs of inflammation. This means that I’m on my way to full recovery from this recent ulcerative colitis flare. The other piece of good news is that my body is responding well to the Imuran. Definitely the news I’ve been waiting to hear!

I had four days of excellent riding in a row and ended up taking a much needed rest day yesterday. It is so easy to forget during my recovery process that I don’t have nearly the same fitness, strength or reserves that I had in the past. It is amazing to me how much I’ve lost in such a short time.

I think what did me in yesterday was the three hour ride on Tuesday. In retrospect, this was probably a much too ambitious ride to do considering that four weeks ago I was in the hospital hooked up to an intravenous line and eating only chicken broth and dry toast… But it is this ambition that has got me where I am…

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my recovery process for me has been my mental state. If you’re a regular reader of this web site, you’ll be familiar with my mental battles. All too frequently I would battle my “crazy brain” and lack self-confidence. Well, I’m proud to say that mentally, I’m feeling 100 per cent. It would be easy to get frustrated about my current lack of fitness and strength – but I know this will come back. How I’m riding and recovery right now will not be permanent. If anything this rotten 2010-2011 season has reinforced my mental resolve and strength – I know I didn’t ride and race like I can – so I’m super stoked to get out there and really race the way I know I can.

This period of recovery has also emphasized to me how important it is to get back to the basics.  Basics of cyclo-cross like: smooth transitions and pedaling and focus and aggression on the bike. You might find the word “aggression” a strange on my website. But it is going to be a keyword for my 2011-2012 season. Last night over dinner, Marc pointed out that I’m not aggressive on my bike during cyclo-cross races – instead of fighting for positions at the start, I slip into a complacent mode of being “at the back” – the opposite of how I used to approach my cyclo-cross racing. This we determined is because “I got used to being in the back”. Well this is changing for the new season. I don’t want to be at the back nor am I going to be at the back.

One of the best parts of my recovery process has been the freedom to let my legs and mind wander. While out on the bike I can ride as hard and for as long as I want. My mind is free to simply relax and enjoy the moment. I’m not focusing on wattage numbers, cadence, the next interval, etc. If I am thinking it is typically about the drills and skills I need to focus on when I get home to make me a better racer.

Would I prefer to be in St. Wendel, Germany right now getting ready to race in the World Cyclo-Cross Championships on Sunday? Yes! This was my season goal after all. But everything happens for a reason and I can’t dwell on what didn’t happen. I know that really this season was out of my control. My body took over and I simply couldn’t race my bike.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in this recovery phase. I think the next phase will be the re-building stage where with expert guidance from coach Steve Weller, I’ll start getting my fitness and strength back. In a twisted sort of way, I’m looking forward to riding the trainer in my basement in Ottawa – this will be a sure sign that I’m on my way to a bigger and better 2011-2012 season.

Blauberg Forest

Ah, today I hit up the Blauberg Forest. Can’t believe I’ve lived here for four cyclo-cross seasons and this is the first time I’ve hit up the Blauberg Forest. Yesterday Marc rode the green route in the Blauberg Forest so I thought I’d check it out today.

Literally three minutes from my place I hooked up with a green triangle marker posted on cement post and followed these markers for around 26 kilometers. The “green route” is a mix of heavy muddy fire roads, singletrack in the woods, some pavement, and some serious mud bog riding. A perfect ride to do on a cyclo-cross bike.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect of my fitness or technical skills. I haven’t done a cyclo-cross ride since my last race which was the Koksijde World Cup. Well, lets just say I was a bit rusty at first but as things got rolling I got into the off-road groove. I did my first lap in around an hour and then decided to do a second lap of the green route. I completed this second lap in 40 minutes or so – so a definite improvement on the first lap. I didn’t kill myself – just tried to keep things steady.

This ride reinforced my main issue on the cyclo-cross and road bikes: when there is resistance (i.e. mud, a steep incline, hill) I drop my cadence – I switch into the slow pedaling power type of cadence. This does not work for cyclo-cross – it is much easier and faster to get through the mud and sand with a high cadence and smooth pedaling rhythm. I struggle with steep inclines – always seeming to stall out just at the top of the incline – again where the resistance is the greatest. As for climbing on the road – lets just say that 55 rpm is not the best cadence out there….

This ride also highlighted another area I need to work on: turning my front wheel. It seems that I always want to “carve” corners rather than turning my wheel sharply or even continuing to complete the “turn”. Oh and another thing I noticed is that I really need to get comfortable at cornering with speed.

So, I consider this to have been a great training ride. I got to play in the woods, trees, and mud – the sun was shining and I was smiling as well! To top it off, I’ve got some great learning points that I can take away from this ride and store in my brain.

I think that what I really need to think about at all times is “keep the pedals turning”. This is easy to do on the road when I have my SRM showing my cadence but when I’m on my ‘cross bike training or racing, I don’t have this. The only solution is to make this a natural part of my riding style. I’m not sure of the best way of teaching myself this skill – the only thing I can think of is to simply “drill” this into myself – I think the best way to do this is to simply get out and ride sand, mud and steep inclines purely focusing on keeping my cadence high and smooth. Guess this means you’ll see me out riding in muddy fields this spring in Ottawa….

If you’re curious about my route today, check out this PDF of the riding routes in the Blauberg Forest:

Blauberg Forest Mountain Bike Routes

Twisty Roads

I rolled out of the house this morning at around 10:30 for a ride. To be honest, I really didn’t feel much like riding. I wanted to ride but I just really felt kind of lost on the bike. It is strange to be riding with no fixed goal or reason for the ride. I know I’m riding right now to rebuild the lost fitness and strength. But I’m used to having a goal for each work-out – specific power goals, intervals, etc. Right now I’m really just riding. Don’t get me wrong I love doing it, but somedays it is hard to get out there.

So this was how I was feeling at the start of my ride this morning. Directionless. I pointed myself to my favorite twisty roads and decided to ride for as long as I felt. Gradually the sun started to come out and with it my spirits began to lift. I found myself in Veerle and decided to keep on going – typically I turn off and head back to Blauberg via Averbode. Not today. Today I found myself on more twisty roads and on my way to Eindhout.

I ended up having a great ride. I let me bike take me where it wanted. I had some excellent podcasts loaded up on my iPod and really relaxed into the ride. Those twisty roads seemed to give me some excellent therapy. My legs opened up and began to find their rhythm. My heart and soul relaxed and I was able to enjoy the ride for the sake of the ride. In the end, I’m super happy I went out.

I’m guessing that part of the reason I’m feeling a bit directionless right now is because we’re in the big build up to the Hoogerheide World Cup and the World Cyclo-Cross Championships next weekend in St. Wendel, Germany. Well, I’m not in the build up for these races… But pretty much all of my friends are. I’m super stoked for them, but I’m also sitting here wishing I was part of the big show this year. Hoogerheide is one of my favorite World Cups and well, what can you say about the World Cyclo-Cross Championships – simply the ultimate race. I know that I’ll be there next season but next season feels very far away right now….

Tomorrow I’ll get out for another ride. This one will be a longer one, I’m thinking close to three hours of riding on the twisty roads and a few climbs. Just what my legs, heart and soul need right now. I’ll simply let the twisty roads guide me – this seems to be working so far.