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.

Reflections on a Cyclo-Cross Season

For a cyclo-cross racer, this is kind of an odd time to be writing about my cyclo-cross season. But as you know, my season was cut short in December… I’ve had some time to think about this 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season and I thought I’d let you in on these thoughts….

In a nutshell, this was a very disappointing cyclo-cross season. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted or planned. The goals I set weren’t achieved. And quite frankly I didn’t race the way I can or wanted. This was not for want of trying. In fact sometimes I wonder if I “tried” to hard. I wonder what my season would have been like if when I first got sick again last May, I’d backed off on the training and let my body heal. But hindsight is 20/20. I felt good on the bike and everything was pointing towards the training benefits paying off into the cyclo-cross race season. But this didn’t happen. I fought my body each and every time I got on the bike to race this year. Is this an excuse for why my season didn’t live up to my expectations? I’m not sure – it is what it is.

I worked hard in the off-season on my technical skills. But still I have much more room to improve in this area. In fact more than my struggles with the ulcerative colitis this season, I wonder if my technical skills held me back more than my health struggles? I pushed myself technically this spring/summer/fall, but I still believe I can push myself more. There are skills that I simply need to “get”. Being smooth in my transitions. Really understanding gearing and how it applies to different terrain: sand, mud, steep climbs, off-cambers, etc. Technically I’ve come along way, but this season has shown me that I still have further to go. By making improvements technically, I think I can really improve my cyclo-cross racing.

Really there are no results to write about here. After a few weeks into the season it became pretty clear that the results I had attained last season were going to be pretty darn hard to achieve. Instead I had to look at each races as an opportunity to test myself technically and to simply just focus on getting around for 40 minutes. Not really what goes through the mind of an elite cyclo-cross racer on the start line. But it is what it is. I did have some races that I was happy/content with – my ride at Niel was decent for my first muddy slog of a Belgian race, I had a blast at Aspere Gavere and was stoked to be able to ride the crazy descent, Hasselt was fun as usual, and I really felt like I had a decent ride at Koksijde. Sand is still very challenging for me, but I felt like I rode better at Koksijde this year than I did last. Actually, even the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals were okay for me – I was 16th – not the result I wanted or expected… But through it all, I didn’t quit, I stayed positive and just focused on leaving it out there. It just so happens that this year it was 16th (rather than 7th the previous two seasons…). If anything this cyclo-cross season has taught me more than ever to focus on performance rather than outcome. It would have been so easy to quit and crack if I had been only looking at my name on the results sheet.

Mentally, this has been my strongest season ever. There was a point at the start of the season when I didn’t know about the ridiculous anemia and the effects the ulcerative colitis was having on my ability to perform that I did worry that my “head had fallen off”. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t race the way I believed I should be. Immediately I started to worry that I just didn’t want it badly enough. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t the case. Honestly it was a relief to find out I was fighting my body and not my brain. I’ve come a long way mentally in this bike racing game. It hasn’t been easy. But I think I’ve found my groove. I’m confident. I believe in myself. And I’ve learned to ignore the idiots out there – yes, in our little Ottawa cyclo-cross community there are people who were (and probably still are) talking “trash” behind my back and to others about how “Vicki sucks”. Well, I let this get to me for a bit but then I realized that I just simply don’t care about those idiots. I don’t have time to let them get in my brain. I suppose the hardest part with this has been wondering why people bother saying “crap” about others – what is the point in being outright mean to another person? Sometimes I’m tempted to say something face-to-face to these people – but what is the point – idiots just don’t get it. So thanks to my strengthened mental resolve and confidence, I was able to come out of this negative aspect of the season on top. I’m a good bike racer. I’m a strong bike racer. Those who know me, know this. As for the others – I just don’t care.

So where does this leave me for 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season? Well, I’m eager to start training again. But I’m not rushing things. I have to get healthy before I can do this. I have been out on my bike for the last three days and the riding has been slow but enjoyable. I find the riding now is not “effortless” like it was. But I know the strength and form will come back. I’ve got some goals set for the upcoming cyclo-cross season and I’m hoping to get out to do some road racing this summer as well. I’ll be out on all three bikes this spring and summer: mountain, road and cyclo-cross – plugging away and enjoying every minute of it.

One aspect to this cyclo-cross season that can’t be overlooked is of course my sponsors. I’m a very lucky bike racers. I’ve got amazing sponsors who support me for who I am and what I represent. They are not hung up on my results or podiums – they’re about getting the brand out there with a positive image. For this I’m very fortunate. It was very hard for me to contact my sponsors in December and let them know about the end of my cyclo-cross season. I have such a solid connection with all of my sponsors that I really felt like I was letting them down. The response I received from each and everyone of them was overwhelming. In a nutshell: get better don’t worry about the racing. Yep, pretty darn lucky. So a big thanks to:

And many many thanks to the sponsor behind all of these fine companies: Marc. Marc has once again made this cyclo-cross season a reality. His faith and belief in me really keeps me going. It would have been easy to pack it in this season and change my plans and goals. But Marc wouldn’t let me do this. He was there to keep me steady and to remind me of what is important to me. Right now, I’m getting so much satisfaction from seeing Marc race so well. He is having an awesome cyclo-cross season and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Hopefully his success and experience will trickle down to me.

So there you have it. My thoughts and ruminations on my 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season. It wasn’t what I expected or planned. But it happened and I made the best of it. Do I wish my season was still happening and that I was getting ready to racing in St. Wendel, Germany – damn straight I do! In the end I was 5 UCI point short of making the qualification standards. Pretty darn good, all things considered. This time next year, I plan to be writing a blog post about my thoughts on the upcoming World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Koksijde, Belgium – my thoughts on what I want out of the race. That’s right – I’m going to be there on that start line on January 29, 2012.

Christmas Gift Ideas

Wow – have you looked at the date on the calendar? It is Dec. 14… Only 11 more days until Christmas. Not a lot of time to get those Christmas gifts sorted out. Well, as luck would have it, I’ve got a few ideas for you – particularly if you’re shopping for a cyclist or an otherwise active person.

These gift ideas all come thanks to my sponsors and I think would make anyone happy to find these under the tree or in the Christmas stocking on Christmas morning.

The Cyclery: chances are it is the off-season for your cyclist, so this is the perfect chance to give your cyclist a cross-country ski package that will help burn off the restless energy from not riding and help with Vitamin D absorption. Perhaps your cyclist’s wardrobe is a bit lacking? No problem check out the selection of Icebreaker Merino Wool at The Cyclery – guaranteed to have your cyclist looking good and staying warm.

KingsBridge Disaster Recovery: as a small or medium-sized business owner, now is your chance to get your business protected in the event of a disaster or threat. KingsBridge has just released their latest mobile application – Phoenix Mobile Enterprise. This application runs on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and is a seamless way to ensure your business is protected. Get your business prepared for the upcoming busy season. Not only is this the leading product in the mobile disaster recovery software space, but the KingsBridge guys are avid cyclists and if you talk to Skip and Steve nicely they might even join you for a mountain bike ride!

Stevens Bikes: ah nothing quite like a shiny new bike for Christmas. Can’t be a much easier gift to buy for your cyclist – guaranteed your cyclist will be thrilled with a new bike. Check out the new range of 2011 bikes from Stevens Bikes – are you looking for a road bike, mountain bike, cyclo-cross bike, time trial bike, or maybe a city cruiser? Stevens Bikes has got you covered. Hint – The Cyclery is one of the premier retailers of Stevens Bikes so if you’re not sure which bike to choose, stop in and talk to Vince or one of his knowledgeable staff – they’ll help you and make sure your cyclist has a big smile on Christmas morning.

Bell Lap Coaching: are you shopping for the cyclist who has it all – a new bike, shiny shoes, and fancy race kit? Well, what about coaching? This is something that a lot of cyclists overlook – thinking they can just go out and hammer day in and day out. Well, I suggest gifting a few months of training and coaching with Bell Lap Coaching. Coach Steve Weller is a dedicated and knowledgeable coach who can take your cyclist from back-of-the-pack to the front-of-the-pack in no time. Visit the Bell Lap Coaching website to check out the options for your cyclist. If you’ve got questions, don’t be shy drop Steve an email.

Clif Bar: on the bike and off the bike, one thing all cyclists need is reliable training, racing and recovery food. This food has to taste good, hit all the nutritional markers, and be easy to digest. Look no further than Clif Bar. Clif Bar is known for using organic and natural ingredients and has a complete line of food to suit your cyclist’s needs. Personal favorites include the Clif Shot Bloks (orange flavor), Chocolate Mint Clif Bars, Clif Kid ZBars, Clif C bars and on the Luna side, the Vanilla Almond and Caramel Nut Brownie bars are winners. Order a few bars or even a case – your cyclist will appreciate it. Heck, while you’re at it, order something for yourself – it is the holidays after all and we all need some healthy snacks to tide us over to the next Christmas party!

Champion Systems Canada: now is the perfect time to start thinking about what your cyclist will be wearing next year while zipping around the roads. You want your cyclist to look good, so the best option for you is custom cycling apparel from Champion Systems Canada. Very reasonably priced, durable, long-lasting, and excellent customer service are the hallmarks of the Champion Systems Canada line. You’re not limited to placing a big clothing order – you can order cycling kit for just your cyclist if you want!

Outdoor Gear Canada: wheels, shoes, helmets, sunglasses, group sets – you name it Outdoor Gear Canada has got you covered. With Outdoor Gear Canada you can get the latest gear from top brands including Giro and Mavic. A shiny new Giro Atmos helmet or a swank pair of yellow Mavic Fury shoes would look pretty darn nice under the tree.

Oakley: nothing says style and speed like Oakley. Your cyclist really really wants a new pair of Oakley glasses. If you buy only one gift for your cyclist this Christmas, go big and wrap up a swank pair of Oakley sunglasses. There won’t be any complaints coming on Christmas morning. But don’t blame me if your cyclist insists on wearing the new sunglasses indoors all day!

So there you have it – a complete Christmas list for your cyclist. No excuses to not “know what to buy” – you can choose from bikes, skis, clothing, software, food, custom cycling clothing, helmets, shoes, wheels, sunglasses and coaching services. Lucky for you my sponsors have got your back and will help you take care of your Christmas shopping.

What are you waiting for? Time to get busy and get that shopping done. Remember there are only 11 days until Christmas….

Tough News

As you know, I’m all about being honest on this site… So I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m sick. Really sick this time. Sick with the ulcerative colitis to the point where I can’t even think about my bike let alone get out and ride it. This flare came out of the blue last Thursday and initially it wasn’t too bad – I was able to ride and to eat fairly well. This is not the case anymore.

I had a couple of good rides on Monday and Tuesday – though I was pretty much wiped out for the rest of the day, but it still felt good to get out and ride. As for Wednesday and Thursday – there wasn’t any riding. Really all I did was lie on the couch.

Until yesterday I still did think that I could keep racing and that I’d be lining up at next weekend’s double-header of Scheldecross and the Kalmthout World Cup. But it is just not going to happen. I can’t eat or drink much right now. All I want to do is sleep. So racing is out of the question.

This is hard. Really damn hard. I’m so frustrated with my body. Some days it would be easier to understand why this is happening to me if I was a person who lives an unhealthy life. But I don’t – I do everything I can to be healthy and still this ulcerative colitis shows up and puts a stop to my dream and goals.

The only thing I can do now is focus on getting better. Since I’m not racing I have the chance to take some medicine that normally I wouldn’t be able to take. I’m hoping this will help and then I can get myself back on track for next season. (I’m still secretly hoping I can be well enough to race at the Hoogerheide World Cup at the end of January…)

I know that I’ve got a big engine inside of me and lots more kick left in these legs of mine. I’ll be back next year ready to race the season I had planned to have this year.

Many many thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement of my racing and training. I really do appreciate the amazing comments and emails that you send. Each time I race I know that I’ve got your support with me while I’m racing through the mud, sand, grass and crazy descents. Please know that I’m trying to do the same for you – if you listen closely during the race you can hear me shouting “Keep Pedaling”, “Good Job”, “Awesome Ride”, “You’re Doing Great”.

Have a great Friday and get out and spin some miles for me. To all of my American friends who are racing this weekend in the U.S. National Cyclo-Cross Championships – best of luck. The course in Bend, Oregon looks pretty darn narly – looking forward to seeing how all of you do.

A big shout out to my sponsors for the overwhelming support I’ve received this season. These companies have made it possible for me to chase my dreams and goals:

KingsBridge Disaster Recovery

The Cyclery

Stevens Bikes Canada

Champion Systems Canada

Bell Lap Coaching

Clif Bar

OGC

Oakley