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.

Expectations vs. Goals

As people we have expectations and we have goals. Things we believe we can do and want to do. Things we really want to accomplish and achieve. But what is the line between expectation and goal. What happens when the expectations take over and the goals get lost. This is when we tend to reframe our expectations as goals. We may even get caught up in the “tyranny of shoulds”.

This happened to me. I didn’t realize this until I had an excellent and challenging conversation with mental coach last night. This guy really just can cut to the meat of what I’m saying and dig out the key statements. There is no hiding behind words. Sometimes, like last night these conversations are darn hard. I literally feel my brain and heart squeezing as I dig deep to really be honest with myself about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. The brain is an amazing thing – it allows us to trick ourselves into believing we are doing okay – really it is our ultimate protection mechanism.

But thanks to people like Marvin, I’m able with some prodding to get past this protective barrier and come clean with myself. I’ve struggled with the mental game pretty much every race season. But this year I really want things to be different. And I admit after the race in Plzen I was feeling pretty darn low. I had one of those races where I fought the voices in my head for the entire race. Yes, this really only does make things harder.

Now though, things are going to be different. I’ve got a different perspective on this racing gig and what I want to do. I put expectations ahead of goals. The goals got lost with what I believed “I should” be able to achieve. I forgot that the goals are what got me are. The goals are what have made a stronger person. The expectations really for me, only serve to break me down. So know more “shoulds”. Now it is all about “going and doing”.

I just want to go out and ride my bike. Find the fun in it again. Not get wrapped up in outcomes, results, and consequences. I have season goals that I really want to accomplish. But I’ll never get close to these goals if I don’t accomplish the smaller goals – to go out and be completely in race mode and to have fun doing it. When I do this, I’ll be riding my bike the way I know I can and the way I want to (yes this is an expectation…). This won’t happen over night. Nor will I be able to completely break myself of the crazy brain and the expectation vs. goals pressure that I impose on myself. So I’ll approach this the same way that got me from a back-of-the-packer to where I am now – slow and steady.

Focus. Determination. Heart. Soul. Drive. Dedication. This is the stuff of dreams and goals.

Back At It

Well, I’m back home in Ottawa. Definitely was awesome to travel and race in the first two World Cups of the season but it is also pretty special to be home. The 12 day trip was pretty darn good with every day really being a separate adventure. Where would I ride? What would I see and discover? What would we see while driving and touring around? What would the race courses be like? How many friends would I bump into and catch up with? Each and every day was filled with such experiences. Pretty darn good for 12 days.

But I must say it was nice to wake up in my own bed this morning, albeit rather early (4:30 – thanks jet lag). It was also refreshing to simply hop on my bike for my ride and not worry about getting lost and trying to memorize the streets signs and all the left and right turns…. I’m always one for adventure but sometimes the training goes more smoothly when I know that I won’t get lost or end up on a fast moving highway in Germany.

I had a great talk with my coach Steve Weller of Bell Lap Coaching. We talked about the past 12 days of travel, training and racing. Going into these World Cups I knew I wasn’t on top form but somehow I managed to forget this and expect a top form performance from myself. Luckily Steve knows me very well and understands what I’m going through right now. I’ve got a great training plan thanks to Steve that will take me into just after the Koksijde World Cup on Nov. 27. I’m looking forward to getting out on my bike and doing some intensity and long rides again – I’ve really missed this.

Today my ride was just what I needed. I got out on my ‘cross bike for an on-road/off-road ride. I hit up some bicycle paths, rolled along some bumpy grass trails, more bicycle paths and finally made it to a fairly underused local park. I rolled along the gravel path taking a few side trails along the way that emptied into a quarry. So far so good. Then I spied a very small opening in the grass…. An undiscovered trail – cool. Well, what a cool trail it is – twists, turns, up, down, rocks, roots, leaves, pine needles – it has it all. Maybe my Fangos pumped up to 50 psi were a bit much for the trail but I still made it through – besides it helps to get used to the rear wheel slip sliding all over the place. A great ride. I had Pearl Jam blasting on my iPod and the sun was shining – and luckily no sign of “jet legs”.

Tomorrow the action starts with some intense intervals. As nice as it is outside, I’ll be doing this ride in the basement on the Computrainer. I’d love to do it outside but I don’t have my SRM on my bike yet so I’ll be in the basement. No biggie really – I want to make sure these intervals are as high quality as possible and often this is better achieved on a trainer. I’ll be sure to get outside for the recovery portion of my ride.

Looking forward to this Saturday when we’re hooking up with local young and fast guns for a cyclo-cross ride. Should be a good one. I do have to go for a run beforehand – but the run will only make the ride that much sweeter. (Still amazes me that I ran a marathon once… Now a 20 minute run feels like work!)

Can you believe that in two weeks I’ll be back in Belgium? Hard to wrap my head around it. I’m really only home for 10 days and then I’m gone. And next weekend I’ll be away in Toronto racing at the Canadian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. Pretty fast and whirlwind but this is what keeps me looking and feeling young!

I’ve moved up on the UCI points ranking – I’m now in 55th spot. Not bad. But I’d like to get into the top 50 again and keep my spot there. I’ve got 47 UCI points – I need 75 to get into the selection pool for the Canadian Team that will race at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. I’m not stressing about this points chase race. Nope, I’m sticking to my commitment to go out and have fun on my bike – I’ll line up with a smile on my face, I’ll stay relaxed, no crazy nerves or stressing about points. Nope – time to just go out and appreciate being able to do this.

Alright, my tea is getting cold and it is time to catch up with dirty little television show addiction – Top Chef Just Desserts….