Rolling Along

It’s funny, I’m not really sure to write about in this space right now. I’m kind of cyclo-cross limbo right now. My season is over. I can’t start training for next year until I’m 100 % healthy. All I can do really right now is go out for easy rides – slowly trying to build up the strength I’ve lost. Sadly I don’t have any race reports or details of epic training rides to tell you about. Really, a strange place to be as an athlete.

The good thing through all of this is I’m not battling any mental demons right now. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you will know that I’ve had my fair share of battles with my brain. There was a point when I first began to get sick in December when I thought I might be “done”. I think this was simply the fatigue and frustration of having to battle my body once again.

It was when I was in the hospital watching the Azencross cyclo-cross race that I realized I’m far from done. I was watching Sven pick up his bike and how smooth he is. I watched the top guys, paying attention to the lines they were taking and how smooth and composed they are in the mud. Before I knew it, I had my iPad out and I was brainstorming different drills that I want to incorporate into my cyclo-cross training this spring, summer and fall. I even went so far as to “plan out” where I could best work on specific skills. I’ve got plans of how and where to work on my sand riding, how to really conquer the explosiveness needed to get up and over steep climbs, drills specifically designed to prevent the loss of precious sections when shouldering the bike, and skills that will help me with my mud riding. So yeah, I’m back in the game. Never really left the game – just a small blip.

To say I’m stoked for the upcoming season would be an understatement. I’m far from where I need to be right now. But this is okay. I’ve got some good months ahead of me of recovery, training, learning and racing. I’ve got my big goal set for the 2011-2012 season and soon enough I’ll have to set some smaller mid-season goals.

This has been a trying season. Not the season I had planned on. But if anything it has taught me how much I do love racing my bike and that my desire to get better and achieve my goals is still burning strong. Sometimes the best lessons are the ones that come via the toughest and most challenging route.

Fighting

Just wanted to let you all know that I’m still here. I’ve taken a few days away from this site because I’ve been pretty focused on resting and recovering. And to tell the truth, I really don’t have a lot to say right now. I haven’t ridden my bike in over a week and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to ride it again. I really wish I could tell you about my latest training rides and preparation for upcoming races – but unfortunately this is not where I am right now.

Nope, instead I’m focused on getting healthy. 100 per cent healthy. This is different from the level of “health” I was in at the start of this cyclo-cross season. I now realize that I wasn’t healthy. I wanted to be healthy. I told myself I was healthy. But I wasn’t. I was fighting my body each and every time I got on the bike. Finally and ultimately, my body won. So now here I am sitting, resting, sleeping, waiting, hoping that I will get better.

So what am I doing to get better? Well I’m not riding. I’m not racing. I’ve switched to a gluten and dairy free diet. I’m taking some new medications. I’m trying to eat – this is hard because I really don’t have an appetite and food often makes me feel worse. I’m researching and reading – currently learning about veganism and Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Diet. I’m working hard to stay in a positive mental head space. I’m sleeping as much as my body wants.

Is it working? Hard to know. This type of healing takes time and patience. So this is what I’ll focus on – giving my body all the time it needs to heal and be ready for next season. I’m working hard at being patient with my body – it is very hard to not be frustrated with what I see as a “faulty” body – but it is the only one I have so I must do my best to give it time to heal. Time and patience.

I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back next season ripping it up on the cyclo-cross bike zipping around the course in my red,white and black kit. Next year is going to be a good one. I can’t wait to get back out training with the “kids”, with Mr. Timbo Schleck Austen and to hold more cyclo-cross practice sessions (these benefit me as much as you). Until then – I wait and I get better.

As I write this I’m listening to the 2010 cyclo-cross season warm-up playlist that I created at the start of this season. I listen to this before and after every cyclo-cross race. Right now it is reminding me of how much I miss being out there with you guys racing my bike.

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

Doubling Up and Resting

Sorry for not posting on Wednesday. Frankly, I was wiped out. So very tired. I had a good hard training day and I found I just didn’t have the brain cells or energy left to write anything intelligent. Sometimes it is best to err on the side of caution and not put the fingers on the keyboard – I never know what will come out!

I kicked off Wednesday with a 90 minute road ride. The work-out was innocent enough with two 10 minute tempo intervals. Have to say, I felt like dynamite during these intervals, found myself having to pull back a bit. Nice feeling to find that spark in my legs. Had a good roll around some of my favorite training routes and then it was back to the house for a bit of recovery.

This recovery was short-lived though as a couple hours later Karl and I loaded up the Peugeot and hit the open road bound for Floreal Lichtaart. At Floreal Lichtaart there is a network of 38 kilometers of mountain bike trails and included in this trail system is a designated cyclo-cross training course. The course is signed with black route markers and has everything you want/need in a training loop. Fast descents. Tight corners. Two sandy run-ups. One sandy ride-up. Open wide road for really opening up the legs. Steep sharp climbs. Swooping corners. Plenty of ruts, berms, grooves and terrain changes. All in all a pretty ideal place to train.

Wednesdays are a traditional cyclo-cross training day here. Kids don’t have school on Wednesday afternoons, so often you’ll find various teams and clubs out training at Floreal Lichtaart. This past Wednesday was no different – there were about 15 “kids” out training – age ranging from 8 to 18. There were also a variety of adults out training as well. Karl and I started riding together and then I quickly sent him on his way and he spent his time riding with various other people. We hooked up towards the end to work on a trick corner that leads into this sandy climb:

While Karl was out ripping it up with the young and old guns, I was working my way around the course. I would ride to a section and practice it three or four times and then continue along to the next section that had features I wanted to practice. I had a pretty darn good training session. I set up a little mini-loop that involved two sandy run-ups and two fast descents – all things I need to work on. I really felt the fatigue starting to set in by the end of the ride – first time I can say I’ve had my legs buckle under me when hopping off the bike to run. Yep, a good work-out.

We had a surprise visit from Tim last night. So this was great to catch-up with him and chat about everything has been going on. He gave Karl and I some more training tips – which are always appreciated. Looking forward to getting him out on some rides this year.

Here are a couple photos of the route maps posted at Floreal Lichtaart:

Today thankfully was a recovery ride. I really needed it. Normally I’m tempted to go hard on my recovery rides or to go ride in the woods. But not today. Today I just let my pedals flow nice and easy and rolled around on some fantastic twisty roads. I even took the time to snap a few pictures for you!

This is a route marker for cycling routes. Basically you simply ride along following the numbered routes. Great way to put together a training loop and mostly avoid getting lost…

This is similar but for walking. Today I saw three different groups out walking along the road and in the forest. Pretty refreshing to see people out enjoying the fresh air and getting some exercise.

One of the roads I found myself pedaling down.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my Wednesday and Thursday. This afternoon I’m off to Westerlo for a bit of walking around and to enjoy the fine Cafe Libro. Then it is off to Herentals for a doctor’s appointment – hoping to get an iron infusion today or at the very least get one scheduled. The doctor I’m seeing is the team doctor for Vacansoleil, so he is familiar with cyclists and what we need our bodies to do.

Double-header this weekend – Hasselt on Saturday and Aspere Gavere on Sunday. I’m looking forward to both races. Last year Aspere Gavere was a shock to my system in every possible manner, but this year I know what to expect so I’m looking forward to it. My focus will be to “keep pedaling”, “stay off the brake”, “eyes forward”, “keep smiling”, and “go faster”.

One week until Marc arrives! Yay!

Recovery Day

Recovery day today on the bike. With the crazy rain this meant one thing – time for an on-road/off-road ride. I rolled out and down the road to the Averbode Forest. Had a great zoom around there on the boggy, muddy trails then off down the bicycle path to my favorite training grounds. There is a most excellent Wandelpark that has trails for walkers, cyclists and horseback riding. So I rolled around in there for a bit – being careful not to get lost. Then I hit up the Averbode Forest one more time for good measure. A perfect ride. Wet but not cold.

Spent a good amount of time cleaning my bikes and getting them sparkling. Now they’re all fresh and ready to get muddy again tomorrow! The crazy thing here right now is the rain. I’ve really never experienced rain like this. But it is still better than snow and the cold. So I’ll take it.

Tomorrow is not a recovery day. V02max and sprint day on Sunday. I’m actually looking forward to a good hard day. Karl is racing in Hamme Zogge on Sunday so I’m looking forward to hearing all about his first race in Belgium this season.

Life here is in full swing now. Pretty good routine down. Next week there is the group ride on Tuesday and then on Wednesday off to Kasterlee for some training on the cyclo-cross training course. Maybe Leuven on Thursday afternoon for a wander around. Then it is the double-header weekend with Hasselt and Aspere Gavere. Oh and Alex arrives on Saturday. Marc is coming on Nov. 25th and then we’ll have a full house here of Canadians. Very lucky and happy to have this living arrangement this year.

(Best of luck to my favorite guy racing in Ottawa today. Also shouts out to Conor and Evan – rip it up and make us Canadians in Belgium proud. What are the bets again? Anyone going for the white hat?)

In The Groove

Fully into the groove here in Belgium. The first few days of craziness have settled. I always forget how much there is to do the first few days here. But now all the little jobs and errands are taken care of. The race in Niel was a great way to kick off my race season in 2010-2011.

Today was a pretty chilled out day. Karl and I hit out in the windy blustery (but dry) day for an adventure on bicycles. I was relieved to see that Karl was riding with ‘cross tires – this way I would be able to keep up with him on the road! I took Karl all over the place, showing him some excellent training parks and roads. We did a solid two hours together and then I set out for my last hour of riding. I must say that the last hour really nearly cracked me – the wind was wicked (but it was dry).

The afternoon was spent visiting the local bicycle stores and grocery stores. An action-packed day. Now it is time to relax and just catch my breath. Tomorrow is all about recovery. My plan is to go and ride the trails at Averbode. I’ll be riding with my “backwards” Grifos… Turns out I put the tires on backwards.. Sigh – learn something new everyday!

No racing for me this weekend. It is just about training and finding my groove. I’ve got a double-header next weekend and a couple of double training days as well. I’m really happy to be here and to be back in my training groove. Next week I’m hoping to see a doctor who can get me back on the iron infusions as well as add in B12 injections. The more I read about this anemia and iron-deficiency, the more depressing it is. It takes along time to recover from this – 6-8 weeks and the training makes it harder to recover. But I know this and I’ll deal with it. For now I’m focused on improving technically, getting my body back to feeling like itself and most importantly having fun.

Send your positive race vibes Karl’s way on Sunday – he is racing at Hamme-Zogge at 11:15. This will be his first European race of the 2010-2011 season. It is going to be a good one.

Go Time

It is time. Time to get to the airport, get checked in and get on the plane. I’ve been anticipating this day for a while now. But now that it is here, I kind of wish I could delay it for a few days. Everything seems a bit rushed right now. I know I’ll be okay once I get on the plane. But I wish I had a few more days with Marc. A few more days here at home to think and to just be. Don’t get me wrong – I want to go. It is just harder this year to go alone without Marc. (He’ll be getting to Belgium on Nov. 25 and believe me, I’m already counting down the days.)

I caved and ended up bringing a suitcase with me this time. No luck getting everything into two bike boxes and a carry-on. Really the items that took up the most space aren’t my clothing – it is all the Clif Bar product and my ulcerative colitis medicine! Can’t leave this valuable stuff at home. I’ve got my iPad loaded up with a couple of television shows, one of my favorite movies (Up), my favorite pro rider (George Hincapie), and some yoga to stretch the muscles, mind and soul.

Tuesday is going to be a busy day. Build bikes. Get out for a two hour ride – try out both bikes. Get unpacked. Get some food. Beat the jetlag and get sorted out for the first race in Niel, Belgium. Karl and Denise arrive on Thursday – I’m looking forward to showing Karl my favorite training routes and helping them to get oriented with Blauberg, Herselt, Averbode, and the area.

I’m racing on Thursday in Niel and then I’ve got a solid week and a bit of training until the next set of races – Hasselt on the 20th and Apere Gavere on the 21st. I really liked the Hasselt race last year. Asper Gavere? Well, I got through it! This year I’m looking forward to riding better technically at Aspere Gavere – the mud is my friend and so are steep muddy descents!

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Nationals on Saturday. What a day. It was one where so many of us had goals that we wanted to tick off. But just as in life, this doesn’t always happen. I’m taking all the good I can from that day. The good on and off the bike. I got to meet some new people, reinforce friendships, cheer on my good friends, and race my bike. Many thanks to the “kids” for their overwhelming support this season – training with these young guys has just been awesome. Between them and Marc I’ve learned so much already. Thanks to Natasha for the email today about my health issues – it really does help to have some advice from someone else who has been down the same rocky and uncertain road. Things will get better. Soon enough I’ll feel like myself again. I can’t wait to see what I can put together on and off the bike when this comes to fruition.

Alright, I best be off. The clock is ticking and we’ve got to now jam all my gear into the back of our trusty Matrix. If you see Marc out at the races – be sure to give him a hug and a kiss for me and cheer extra loudly for him. Can’t wait to see him on Nov. 25.