Preparing For It

I just took a very deep breath. This is after I looked at the calendar… Wow, hard to believe that cyclo-cross season really is so very close. Soon enough I’ll be in our trusty Matrix loaded up with Stevens cyclo-cross bikes making the drive down to Pennsylvania for the first race of the season.

What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was sick but I wouldn’t admit it. I tried to get through work-outs and to put in extra time in the woods working on skills. But it seemed with each pedal stroke I was putting myself in a deep hole. Unfortunately it took the first few races with sub-par performances and riding gasping for air that I realized something really was wrong. To be blunt – last season was not fun. But the one thing it did give me was perspective and awareness.

I have a real appreciation for my body and how I need to listen to it. This summer was a real example of this – when I wasn’t able to start formal training until July 1. Yes, July 1! I tried to train earlier but I just couldn’t do it. Now I sit here very thankful that I had the season I did last year – or I very likely wouldn’t have listened to my body, Marc and coach Steve who told me I needed to take a break and get healthy again.

And now today? Today I feel awesome! I’ve had some really top-notch months of training. I’m more focused and driven than I’ve ever been. I’m seeing numbers I haven’t seen before. I feel good. Now I know that numbers on a power meter and training are not the same as racing – but at this time – I’ll take these as indicators of how I’m feeling.

I’ll tell you this – I’m damn nervous. And a touch scared. What if I can’t race like I have before? What if my SRM is miscalibrated and the numbers I’m seeing aren’t real? What if I start racing again and I get sick? What if…? But I suppose it is these questions that get me out there on the start line – I need answers. I need to know. Deep down I know the truth – I’m good. I feel good. But sometimes you just really don’t know until the gun goes off and you hear the bell for the final lap.

All I and you can do is prepare the best we can. Do the work. Have fun. Listen to your body. Line up with an ache to do better than last time. After all, this is why we race isn’t it?

New Kit!!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook have likely already seen this, but if you don’t follow me on these social media channels (addictions) then have I got a good photo for you.

On Thursday the friendly FedEx man arrived with a cardboard box. And in this box was my brand new cyclo-cross kit for the 2011-2012 season. Boy oh boy does it look hot! The purple is awesome (my favourite colour). I’m super stoked with the clothing. This year I ordered a super duper warm winter jacket – this is the ultimate jacket. It is neoprene with fleece inside – yes, I think it will keep me darn toasty for the season.

Before I post a picture of the new skin suit, I need to send out a big thank-you to Sean at Champion Systems Canada for the amazing support and patience. I also need to send a big shout out to Allison for the great design – if you’re looking for a designer – she is the one you need.

Alright here is a picture of the new short sleeve skin suit (yes I need to post the back of the skin suit as well as show you a picture of the long sleeve skin suit – I’m slow with the connecting the camera to the computer step…)

Top Moment

Well, it is that time of the year – time to put together a new playlist for the season. Each season I like to create a new playlist that I’ll listen to when riding my cyclo-cross bike, warming up and cooling down for races. This playlist is essentially a collection of my favourite songs of the moment. I’m currently “testing” the playlist out – basically trying to get the songs in the order I want and listening to it – to see if it is what I want.

Yesterday, I snuck in a second ride. It was such a beautiful day and I really wanted to get out on my cyclo-cross bike for a spin in the woods. Besides, I needed to test my 2011 playlist! So I rolled over to my local riding grounds – listening to music and letting my legs spin at whatever pace they wanted. I’d have to say, it was one of my best rides in the woods of late – no agenda, no plan – just ride and listen (to the music and my body).

Perhaps one of the top moments I’ve had on my bike happened rather dramatically yesterday…. Just as I entered the single track and was surrounded by towering trees, green grass and the quietness of the woods, k.d. lang’s version of Hallelujah started playing on my iPod. Wow – it was a perfect moment. I slowed right down and really just took it all in – the stirring sounds of k.d. lang’s voice combined with the stillness and peace of the woods was really quite dramatic. This moment ended up setting the tone for my ride.

I just rode within myself and had pure out and out fun on my bike. Perfect really. I’m super happy that I decided to squeeze in a second ride.

I thought you might be curious to know what some of the songs are on my 2011 Playlist, so here goes (hopefully I don’t embarrass or age myself too much with this selection of artists and songs!):
ABBA – Dancing Queen
AC/DC – Shook Me All Night Long
Alive and Kicking – Simple Minds
All I Need – LoudLove
Danger Zone – Top Gun Soundtrack
Fully Completely – The Tragically Hip
Hallelujah – k.d. lang
Good Mother – Jann Arden
Kick – INXS
Comedown – Bush
My Body – Young The Giant
Not Ready To Make Nice – Dixie Chicks
The Power of One – Teddy Pendergrass
Rolling In The Deep – Adele
Rumor Has It – Adele
Footloose – Footloose Sound Track
She Drives Me Crazy – Fine Young Cannibals
You Get What You Give – New Radicals

Admittedly this playlist is a bit long right now with 58 songs – so I need to create a second one that works for warms up and cool downs.

Well, here’s hoping you can have some top moments on your bike. Really makes you realize why you ride. As usual – with thanks to the bike.

Double Trouble

Wednesdays are days that I look forward to and kind of dread at the same time…. This is my standard double training day. This day is all about running and cyclo-cross riding. Now I love getting out on my cyclo-cross bike (obviously!) and ripping around the trails and local parks but the running part is not the most fun. I used to be a runner – a very very slow runner – in fact I even ran a marathon back in the day.

These days my running is reserved for crack-of-dawn Wednesday morning 30 minute sessions with the focus on running up hills and running in the sand. I typically start slowly but by the end, I feel like I’m flying – of course this is all relative since I’m a cyclist first and a runner a distant second. I do have to say that over the last few weeks I have noticed that my running strength and hill running recovery has improved a great deal. For most cyclo-cross racers, running is not a favoured component of training but if you’re racing a lot and particularly in Europe – you need a running game. The rumour is that Bart Wellens used to run with his bike on his shoulder as part of his training – and if you’ve seen Bart run – wow this guy can fly!

As for the on bike training – Wednesdays are all about skill training. Now it is lots of fun to get out and practice the stuff you’re good at – the trick to cyclo-cross training is really focusing on weaknesses or “need to improve areas”. So what did I do today? Well, my starts aren’t the strongest part of my cyclo-cross racing game and I also struggle with steep uphill climbs. In my mind these two skills/aspects are related – both require fast punchy power and explosiveness. Today I sought out some steep climbs and worked on starting and accelerating up and over these climbs. I played around with gearing. I worked on distance as well – how close can I get to the hill and start from a stopped position? I learned a bunch today about gearing and where I start to bog down on the climbs. I also really focused on using my entire body to get over the last little bit of these climbs – my arms, shoulders, lower back and abs were all firing along with my legs.

Another thing I decided to work on today was descending. Some of the descents in Belgium really scare the “you-know-what” out of me. So my goal today was to find some tricky, technical, bumpy and longish descents. Luckily I found an area where some new roads are being built and there are a couple of massive hills made out of gravel, dirt and who knows what – this worked out really well. I was able to use these hills to work on my technical climbing skills and then turn around and focus on the descending – I played around with braking, not braking, feet clipped in, body position. The other thing I did to day was think about “always be pedaling”, this meant that my feet had to be turning over at all times. I find that when my brain starts working, my feet stop turning….

So this is how my double Wednesday played out. Needless to say, I’m a bit wiped now! But this is okay because Thursday is the almighty rest day – all I’ve got on the schedule is a hot power yoga class.

As challenging as Wednesdays can be – I really do look forward to them. I’m able to work on real cyclo-cross skills and get immediate feedback on how I’m progressing with my technical and running skills. I’m curious to know how you’re training your cyclo-cross technical skills….

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!

An Empty Brain

Today all I had on the training calendar was a very easy 60 minutes. Completely flat roads and nothing crazy – just a nice easy spin for the legs to help get the junk out after a weekend of hitting it hard. Sounds simple enough. Normally when I ride (yes, even when I do intervals) I listen to talk radio – think NPR, CBC, ClifCasts, Outside Magazine, This American Life – etc. I find the talk radio helps me really zone in on what I’m doing and keeps my brain from wandering and going a bit bonkers.

Well, today I decided to listen to my 2010 Warm-Up playlist. This is a series of songs I put together last season that I would listen to before races and and often while out riding my cyclo-cross bike at Averbode or Floreal Lichtaart. For these settings, music works perfectly for me. Today I learned it doesn’t work so well when all I have to concentrate on is going easy… yes, you can guess where this is going.

Before I knew it, my brain was leap-frogging from my to do list, to my racing plans, to schedules, to hotel reservations, to flights, to car rentals, to qualification standards for the 2012 World Cyclo-Cross Championships. Not good. Finally I actually had to say out loud, “Vicki – cut it out. Relax and just ride. Getting stressed out is not going to help anything. Just line-up, race your bike and do your best. This is all you can control.”

So did it help – yes sort of. But then, a few hours after my ride I found myself sitting on my yoga mat at my local yoga studio and just as the centring started – my brain went crazy again… I focused in on my breath and on the first few downward dogs of the warm-up. Soon enough I was in a happy place where my brain was free of thought and worry.

Now, as I sit here thinking back on all of this, I honestly feel a bit silly that I let my brain get the better of me sometimes. I can do a really good job of working myself up into an unnecessary ball of stress – not good for anyone.

So, just like I gave up aspartame three weeks ago (I miss my Diet Coke) – I am now pledging to make a concerted effort to having an empty brain as much as possible. So if I seem a bit spaced-out or you catch me with an empty expression on my face – this is a good thing. This means I’m in a happy place and I’m just rolling with it.

I like to think I’m not the only person who battles their brain…. So now is your time to ‘fess up and tell others how you deal with it… Come on don’t be shy – we’re all friends here.

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.