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.

Two More Sleeps

It is the Thursday before the Canadian Cyclo-Cross National Championships. In years past I’ve been a bit stressed out at this point. Perhaps even basket case is the appropriate terminology. But not this year. Nope, I’ve grown a lot as a bike racer – both physically and mentally. I’ve got a new approach to racing now. I’ve learned the hard way that the crazy stress, nerves and anxiety doesn’t do anything to help me on race day. If anything, it hurts me.

So instead I’m sitting here looking out into our backyard and feeling a sense of inner calm. This might sound cheesy but it is the truth. I just got in from a great on-road/off-road ride. I hit up some of my new favorite trails by Cedarview Estates. Zipped along some tight and twisty trails, rode around the quarry where I discovered a police car, ambulance and police diving team (I don’t know what was going on), followed the bicycle path through Barrhaven and eventually made it home. A great ride with a light rain and a bit of the fall chill in the air.

I didn’t think about the race or how I wanted the race to play out. I just thought about pedaling, looking ahead and on going faster. This is what I’ll think about on Saturday as well. Pedal. Look up. Go Faster. This is all I can do. I’ve learned that there is no point in worrying about things I can’t control. This is why I try not to look at start lists. I don’t look at long-range weather forecasts. I just deal with it on the day. Train. Rest. Recover. Relax. And everything else will fall into place.

Health-wise I’m still stuck. I’m thankful to be in an ulcerative colitis remission (knock on wood) but now I’m dealing with the side effects of ulcerative colitis. For me, this is a malabsorption issue. My body just can’t absorb vitamins and minerals like someone with a normal digestion system can. This means that my ferritin (iron) and most vitamin/mineral levels are very low. It also means my white blood cell count is high and my red blood cell count is low. Not good for anyone. Really not good for an athlete. All I can do though is work hard at getting better. I’m taking a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals, I’ve had four iron infusions and will get more as soon as I can. I’m focusing on rest and quality training. I’m paying attention to my diet and trying to eat as many high iron foods as possible (whole baby clams are super high in iron). Most of all, I’m not letting this get me down. I could be worse off – I could be in the hospital or also dealing with a full blown ulcerative colitis flare again. So for now, I’ll take what I’ve been handed and make the best of it.

There really is no other choice. I’m not canceling my plans. I’m not stopping training and racing. (Yes, I’ve talked to my coach and doctors – the training and racing is not making it harder for my body to heal.) I’ve got to keep chasing my goals and dreams. Slow and steady just may be the theme for this year.

Alright, enough of this deep talk. For a change of pace, I suggest you click on over to the Race Reports page and read about Timothy Austen’s race experience at the Kanata Ottawa Bicycle Club race on Sunday. Timothy is the future of our sport – fast, young, eager and always full of questions about how to become a better racer. He’s got some great genes to back him up (not to mention some super long legs) and a great support network. Thanks Timothy for the race report.

Weekend Training

Well, this is my last weekend here at home for quite a while, so my aim was to make the most of it. I’m happy to say that I did this on all accounts. Great training rides and runs were done. Hanging out with friends was enjoyed. Relaxation at home with Marc and Murphy was greatly appreciated. All in all, a most excellent weekend of bikes, friends, people and cats!

On Friday I had a nice chill recovery ride. Boy did I need it. My legs were tight and sore after the interval work-out on Thursday. (Perfect just what we wanted.) Great ride in the woods on the singletrack and a bit of bicycle path riding as well. This set me up to be well rested for a double training day on Saturday (well, triple if you include the yoga…).

Kicked Saturday off with the infamous “light jog”. Funny I actually really enjoyed my 20 minute run. I felt like a running rockstar out there…. Also I think I got my run in during the nicest part of the day. It wasn’t raining, sleeting or snowing at that time. By the time we kitted up and drove out to the Kanata Rec Center to meet up with the EMD Serono boys the rain was coming fast and hard. Ah well, perfect cyclo-cross training weather right?

Karl, Evan and Conor took Marc and I around and showed us the course they had worked out with Ian for the OBC race on Sunday (today). A really fun and challenging course. Lots of twists and turns and just a good course overall. We rode the course once and then we got down to business – working on specific skills. I have to say that session was some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike. These guys are super good at helping me learn skills and in helping me identify my stumbling blocks. But they do this by keeping things light and fun. There was as much laughing as there was hard pedaling. I can see why these three young guys have progressed so much – they know how to train hard, how to help one another improve and most of all – to keep things fun. So thanks Karl, Evan, Conor, and Marc for being some super training partners. I’ll miss you guys when I’m in Belgium (well Karl and I will still get to train together but I’m sure he’ll be too fast for me pretty quickly!).

I had not planned to race today. My coach and I discussed my putting together some solid training blocks. So today was all about VO2Max and sprint efforts. Perfect. Some might say I could have done this in the race. Yes and no. I wanted to have a quality work-out so I chose training over racing. I had planned to do this on the road and then end up at the race but the weather dictated that I ride the trainer instead. I had a couple of good films queued up and away I went. Have to say I had a really good hard work-out. One of those work-outs that gives you confidence in your fitness, your training and in your racing. Just what I needed. I also had “Big George” along for company – I watched A Ride With George Hincapie while riding. Then it was off to the race to cheer on people and just chill out.

What a great time! I got to chat with lots of people. Cheer on lots of people. And just really enjoy what it is that makes cyclo-cross so awesome. The positive energy was overflowing. And even though people were cold, muddy, and wet – they were still smiling. All thanks to cyclo-cross.

Capped the race experience with a great afternoon with some super people. Lots of laughs, some excellent food, some stories and just generally a very welcoming experience. Thanks so much for the t-shirt! I don’t know if I should wear Karl’s shirt and he should wear mine or if we should each wear our own? Maybe I’ll rent the shirt out to “superfans” in Belgium. (I received a red t-shirt that reads on the back in white letters: Supporter Vicki Thomas. And Karl has one that reads: Supporter Karl Hoppner.) Very very cool. Made my weekend. Thank-you.

After a quick stop at the Spray N’ Wash, Marc’s bikes are sparkly clean and his clothing got a good hosing as well. Note to self, when using the High Pressure Rinse, do not pull the trigger on the water gun – this is too much pressure for a flimsy spandex skinsuit….

And now it is time to head out again. Off for dinner with some friends. I’m sure there will be more laughs, some stories and just generally a great time.

A most excellent weekend. It is weekend’s like this that make it hard to leave. But they also make it so nice to come home – knowing that we’ve got some great friends here and we’ll always feel welcomed. (Gee, kind of like a cyclo-cross race….)

One Week

Really hard to believe that in one week I’ll be sitting in a hotel room in Toronto, ON getting ready for the Canadian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. Amazing how quickly the season comes. It seems as though we wait all spring and summer for cyclo-cross season and now that it’s here, it literally feels as though it is slipping through my fingers. This is a good thing.

I must admit it is nice to be racing Nationals in November rather than the traditional October Thanksgiving dates. But on the otherhand, if Nationals has been in October, I’d more than likely be writing this post from Belgium thinking about racing in Zondhoven and the Koppenberg Cross. Nonetheless in a week from Monday, I’ll be on a plane bound for Belgium. Gee I think I’ve been writing about this plane ride in pretty much every post this week – can you tell I’m excited?

So training is coming around again. I’m starting to get more energy so I’m now able to do some harder and longer work-outs. This is a refreshing change. On Thursday I had a long and rather torturish date with the trainer, the power meter, and my stop watch. Luckily I had Dragon’s Den (a CBC program) and the Ultimate Fighter reality show for company. Nothing quite like watching entrepreneurs sweat it out in front of deep pockets and watching guys step into the ring and literally get punched in the head – for some motivation. Push biking seems pretty easy after this!

To end the training day, I spent the majority of evening at the Queensway Carleton Hospital getting my third iron infusion. It was a long night (5 hours) but worth it. I have to say the staff at this hospital (particularly the nurses) are just excellent and are very patient with the interesting people that come into the emergency ward. Looks like I’ll have one more infusion before I leave. Hoping that these last two infusions do the trick and dig me out of this anemia hole. I am feeling better every day but now that I’ve started training hard again, I have to be careful to monitor my energy levels.

Bundled up for the coolish air and strong winds today for an excellent recovery ride. I hit up the trails I recently discovered for some fun and relaxing riding. These trails aren’t overly technical but the trail is very narrow and has a lot of twists and turns in it – so it is perfect for working on keeping the feet turning over and always looking ahead. Have to say it was nice to be in the woods out of the wind as well.

This weekend is looking good. Kicking off Saturday with a run and then ending it with some cyclo-cross riding with the EMD Serono young guns and Marc out in Kanata. Should be a good time – hopefully the guys take it easy on me! Sunday is race day. Well, not for me – I’m doing a rather intense training session on the bike instead. Two different sets of intervals and a long ride. But I’ll be out at the race on Sunday as well – plan is to end my ride at the Kanata Rec Center in time to catch the end of the first race, hop on the course for a lap or two and then watch the last race.

Since this is my last weekend at home for quite a while, I’m looking forward to getting some things done around the house, to relaxing a bit, catching up with some friends, spending quality time with Mr. Murphy and my favorite guy, and just generally enjoying life.

I’m wearing my Life is Good shirt right now and I’m pretty pleased that I can smile and say “yes I am Doing What I Like and Liking What I Do”. (The Life is Good slogan is: Do What You Like. Like What You Do.)