Holiday Wishlist

It is that time of year – people are making lists, dashing off to the shops and fretting over what to buy loved ones and friends. Well, if you’ve got a cyclist or active person on your list, I’ve got some great suggestions for you that will make your shopping that much easier (you can thank me later)…

The Cyclery: every cyclist lives and dies by the chamois… Some chamois are friendly and very friendly – while others need a bit of assistance. Well thanks to The Cyclery, you can buy the cyclist or triathlete on your list some very helpful and soothing Assos Chamois Cream – and don’t forget an espresso mug to go with it. Chamois cream and a new coffee cup – can’t go wrong with this gift choice!

Clif Bar: there is nothing worse than getting hungry while out and about. Even worse for a runner, cyclist, triathlete or other active person is feeling underfueled while out training. Whether your athlete needs extra carbs, more protein, has a sweet tooth, is gluten-free, or is just a picky eater – Clif Bar has you covered with a range of products. I’ve sampled most of them and I can definitely attest for the Mint Chocolate Chip Luna Protein bar (gluten-free) and the Peanut Butter Pretzel Clif Mojo bar (great for tossing in your bag when you’re out shopping till you drop).

Lolë: chances are you’ve got a fashion-forward and active woman on your shopping list (or maybe you want a gift for yourself) – well this Canadian clothing company has you covered (literally). With good-looking, well-fiting clothes made for real women who want to look good, there is a wide range of clothes to choose from. Yoga wear, winter jackets, stylish pants, travel clothes, a snazzy new hat and scarf – there is something for every style and budget. I’ve got a range of Lolë clothing and I can tell you that the Travel Pants really are the ideal pants for traveling and that the Masella Jacket is ideal for cold blustery days.

Stevens Bikes: believe me any cyclist, triathlete, urban commuter or casual cyclist would really really like you to buy them something from Stevens Bikes this year. Remember when you were a little kid and you ran out to the garage or back yard to see that brand new bike with pink streamers on it? Well, give your favorite person that same six-year old feeling of excitement again this holiday season with a new bike – how about the Stevens Ventoux for the road cyclist on your list or the Stevens Velocita for your urban hipster?

Champion Systems Canada: everyone wants to look good and your cyclist, runner, triathlete, soccer player or nordic skier is no different. With a range of clothing and accessories to choose from you can give your athlete customized clothing that is both durable and good looking. After all, you don’t want your athlete running, riding, skiing, and swimming around town in sub-par spandex… Take a look at the Champion Systems Canada site for some great deals on good clothing – the casual clothing is also pretty darn sweet.

OGC: this Canadian company is the distributor for a range of solid companies, including Giro, Mavic, Opus, GoPro, and Thule. Let me tell you, that there isn’t an active person out there or on your list who wouldn’t want something from one or all of the OGC companies. Be it new shoes, a new helmet, a helmet camera, a roof rack, a new bike, or new tires – your athlete will be a happy camper.

Bell Lap Coaching: your athlete likely lives and breathes by a program. This program tells him or her how to train and why to train. Well, take things to the next level with top-notch coaching from a coach who has been there and knows what it is like to win races, lose races, come back from injury, and coach athletes to national teams, national titles and personal bests. Coach Steve Weller is the guy your athlete is looking for.

So hopefully this list will help you with your shopping and list making. Keep things simple and visit these fine companies to make your day easier and to ensure that your athlete is happy this holiday season. Of course when all else fails, a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a big bowl of ice cream does the trick (either to ease your shopping headaches or to put a big smile on your athlete’s face – who can say no to chocolate?).

Tabor World Cup Pre-Ride

I just got back from pre-riding the Tabor World Cup cyclcocross course. It is similar to the course I raced on in 2010 but there are also some big changes. Changes that I think have made the course even more challenging. The start is flat and fast and quickly we enter a series of steep ups and flowing corners. Then it is up a draggy climb and a fast run up some very big stairs. The course continues to climb after the stairs and we then descend down the hill with a series of straight stretches combined with a bunch of corners. A quick zip by the pit and then onto the steep uphill barriers. This is where the real climbing begins and then after a climb that seems to last forever we hit a quick section and a short steep descent, a fast little ridge (in the world champs we descended this and then ran up the hill – second set of stairs) and then it is a big descent leading into some tricky corners and by the pit for the second time.

The course is definitely more technical than the course we raced on last weekend in Plzen. The corners are very crucial and maintaining speed and flow between them and the straight draggy sections will be important. The steep descent is pretty harmless though there are some big ruts already – but the section is wide so there is lots of room to choose a line that you’re comfortable with.

Overall, it is a fun and challenging course. It is all big ring except the section after the stairs and the barriers. Today during the pre-ride the current World Champion Zdnek Stybar was out pre-riding – we waited at the barriers to see if he would bunny-hop them but we couldn’t convince him to do it! It is very cool to see someone so smooth on his bike – he makes everything look effortless.

I’m feeling pretty good about the course. The key for me is to really let the bike go in the corners – this is something I struggle with, but if I can stay confident and calm I should be fine. It is interesting – Nancy said to me today “I think you pre-rode better today than you raced last Sunday”. This is an interesting comment since often during the pre-ride and day of warm-up I’m able to go easy on the brakes but during the race, I tend to over brake. Not sure what this is all about….

I must admit I’m feeling a bit stressed about the course. You see, I like the course – it is good for someone like me with a lot of power – but the flip side is that there are a lot of girls with lots of power as well. But all I can do is all I can do. I’ll go out and give it my all. I know where to really bury myself and I feel comfortable with all sections of the course. I just will go out and ride as hard as I can. Maybe stressed is the wrong word – but I guess I’m just feeling the typical day before nerves.

One thing that does help today is having Ignace here. He has done so much for me – it is amazing. The parking at the race is not the best so he has left his mobile home (camper) at the course so we’ll have a good spot for tomorrow. Complete with a tent, power washer, and a fridge full of Coke and Red Bull!

Tonight rather than going out I’ll connect with Nancy who has brought a portable burner and hotplate with her – this way I can make some of my own food and not have to find some good pre-race food. I find it is a bit challenging when I need to avoid gluten and dairy. Tonight I’ll have some rice with a bunch of veggies and also cook up some rice to eat before the race. A big thanks to Nancy and Andy for all of their help, support and friendship. Looks like I’ll be brining some extra maple syrup and Canada hoodies back with me to Belgium!

Alright, I’m going to watch some episodes of Modern Family and maybe the UFC from a few weeks ago. Thanks for the support, cheering, comments, emails and the belief. I really couldn’t do this without you guys backing me. Some days I wonder what I’m doing – but then I remember how low and sick I was last year and I’m super grateful to have this second chance.

If you see Marc this weekend – give him a big hug and kiss for me. Can’t wait to see him on Tuesday.

Eastern Ontario Series – Renfrew

Really this blog post should be titled “Fun On Bikes” because that’s what today was. Lots and lots of fun. The course was interesting and challenging. The other racers all seemed to be enjoying racing and out soaking up the fine weather. The fans were cheering loudly and ringing cow bells.

Yep, it was a fun day for all out at the Renfrew Fair Grounds. Of course all this fun wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of Bob and Cheryl Woods, Rosemarie, Ian Austen, the Tall Trees Cycle crew and the rest of the volunteers who helped build the course and tear it down after the racing. A big thank you to everyone who keeps one of the best cyclocross series that I’ve ever raced in going.

So today was a really good day. Early start to the morning and it would have been even earlier if I had actually paid attention to the race website…. I thought the race started at 9:30 but it started at 9:00. I didn’t find this out until just before 9:00 – this was a good thing because I didn’t end up getting a bit stressed about my rather late arrival time (8:20…). It all worked out – got the numbers, pinned up my skin suit, did two laps of the course and lined up for the race.

This year we have a separate women’s start. I like this. A lot. It gives the women a chance to do a bit of self-select ion and I think it makes it easier for the guys who are passing folks. I’m not sure how long the men started behind us, but it felt like 2 or 2.5 laps before anyone came up to us. I ended up starting in the back of about 30 women – so I had to be aggressive at the start and really focus on passing as many people as possible. I managed to catch and pass everyone except Mel. She had a great ride! At times I thought I could close on her and then she would hit hard or I would make a mistake. It was a good battle. As groups of guys came up to me I’d work on riding with them for a bit – I found it wasn’t so hard on the flats and open sections but I would lose them on the accelerations out of corners. All in all a great race.

I got to race for an hour and really push myself. I could hear Marc yelling (even though he wasn’t there) – he was saying “Now stand up and sprint. Shift down and accelerate!”. I tried my best to do this but there were a few times when I just didn’t do it. My barrier technique was okayish today – can always be a bit faster. I did crash hard on the uphill barrier – I must have landed on the one barrier on the top of my knee since it is now blue – but this is all part of the fun. My cornering was good at times and downright awful at other times – being cross-eyed and cornering doesn’t always work so well!

So it was good. I had a blast. Got to see so many friendly folks that I haven’t in so long. Even saw young Sabina racing in an Ottawa.cx jersey – this made my day! Great to talk with young Timothy – this guy is an up-and-comer. Really the enthusiasm and passion that the folks in the Eastern Ontario Series have for cyclocross is addictive. I’m looking forward to the next race I do at “home” on Oct. 30. (The city of Ottawa doesn’t know what it’s missing by pushing outside of Ottawa…)

Many thanks to the community of Renfrew for letting us invade their fair grounds for a great day of cyclocross racing! Very much appreciated. I think the grass even appreciated the attention.

So there you have it – a good fun, hard day on the bike. The racing was capped off with a good ride with Sophie and Mel – we found a good road and just chatted and pedaled – no complaints here! Thanks Sophie and Mel for coming out on the ride (next time I’ll look at a map!).

It is amazing to see how the Eastern Ontario Series has blossomed over the years – I remember when there two or three women out racing and we only had one race for the day. The participation levels particularly in the first race are very impressive and inspiring.

Okay, I could go on all afternoon about how much fun today was and how much I enjoyed racing in my “home” series – but I think I’ve typed enough for both you and me! Have a good one. I’ll try to post on Tuesday but likely the next time you hear from me I’ll be Plsen, Czech Republic!

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!

Pretty Good

Yesterday really was a top day. I did an easy 75 minutes on the road bike in the morning – I took it easy as prescribed by Coach Steve. I really am trying to take it easier on my easy rides. Funny it seems like it is harder to go easy than it is to go hard! Slowly but surely the benefit and value of these easy rides is sinking in…

Now what wasn’t on the schedule was a second ride for the day… (This will be our little secret – don’t tell Coach Steve…) Marc had an easy day yesterday so we decided to get out on the cyclo-cross bikes for some fun in the woods. You see yesterday was kind of a special day for us. Tomorrow (Sunday August 7) is our seven year anniversary of being married and marks 17 years of being together. But Marc is racing on Sunday so we decided to celebrate our anniversary on Friday.

What better way to celebrate than kit up and go out in the woods for a roll around on the trails. So this is what we did. And it was just some of the most fun I’ve had on the bike in a really long time. I was eager to show Marc all of my new skills and to get some more pointers from him on what I can work on. Well, it was a ton of fun. We rode around on a new training loop I put together and then worked on some specific skills – carrying more speed, always pedaling, learning how much speed is just enough to carry into and out of sections, flow, accelerating up steep climbs. Yes, it was an action-packed ride in the woods.

Perhaps the best thing to hear from Marc during the ride was “I just want you to know that I’m impressed. You’ve improved a lot over last season.” Uhm – wow – this is huge. Yep, feeling pretty stoked. But I know that with improvement comes more learning and more improvement. As Marc reminded me – “You can always improve.”

It was a truly enjoyable ride in the woods with my favourite guy. Riding our Stevens Carbon Teams and just enjoying nature. To end off our anniversary celebration we went to The Works for big burgers and then to Starbucks for an after dinner treat and just enjoyed sitting out taking in the evening. Couldn’t have asked for a better evening.

Thanks Marc for being here. You put up with a lot and I really do appreciate it. I’ve said it before but it needs to be said again: if it wasn’t for Marc this website and my cyclo-cross goals wouldn’t exist. Words can’t really describe this emotion.

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.