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.

Ride, Stretch, Eat, Yoga, Live

This basically sums up life right now: ride, stretch, eat, yoga, live. My days are spent with these four actions as my motivators and my mainstays. Not such a bad way to get through the day. I admit that “live” is a rather broad term. I use this to sum up all the parts of my day that make up the “stuff” of life – things like reading, lounging, hanging out with Marc, chilling with friends and simply just being.

The riding part is pretty simple. Check my program and get down to business. Of course it would be much more pleasant if I was able to ride outside. This time last year I was happily pedaling up, down and around the streets south of Barrhaven. Not so right now, nope stuck in the basement on the trainer and rollers. In a way, considering that I’m technically still in a recovery phase (though I don’t want to admit this), it is probably best that I’m riding in a stationary mode.

Stretching always start with earnest. I have a foam roller and a few favorite stretches to work out the kinks in my hamstrings, psoas, glutes and quads. But the problem for me is it is easy to build the foam rolling and stretching into my routine when I’m riding in the basement  – the foam roller is there and the cushioned flooring makes it a pleasant place to stretch. I know that as soon as I get outside this rolling and stretching routine will fall by the wayside. So my goal for this year is to continue my rolling/stretching routine. Maybe I’ll have to leave the foam roller and yoga mat in the garage and do a little bit of outdoor rolling and stretching.

I think I need to change things, eating really is the easiest part. Who doesn’t like to eat? I love to eat and I love to try out new recipes and foods. I’ve learned over the years the importance of food as fuel and also remembering to enjoy food and the pleasure of eating. I think for some athletes, the pleasure of food disappears when there is a focus on performance and often some obsession with weight-management. Now, I’m quite focused on my weight management but I’ve also learned what I like and what works for me. If I have a craving – I give in. This is because 90% of the time I’m eating a clean and natural diet. Throw in the complications of ulcerative colitis with learning to eat for performance and happiness and eating can be a bit complicated. Luckily I’ve found my groove with the food and everyday I look forward to the tasty eats in my kitchen.

Ah yoga – I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy yoga. I particularly enjoy hot power yoga. There is nothing quite like feeling your body lengthen and relax in a hot room. The heat is so soothing for my muscles and more importantly I’m sometimes lucky to have my mind go quiet and I can simply just be. I’ve recently started taking yin yoga – this is done in a neutral temperature room and the focus is on holding seated and on-the-ground poses for three to five minutes. It is so super useful for athletes who often end up with muscle imbalances and chronically tight areas – such as the hip flexors or hamstrings.

Now for the really fun stuff: live. I’m super lucky to live a rich life. I have a lot going on and I always seem to have a full plate of options in front of me. There are always more books and magazines to read. Lots of time to relax and hang out with Marc and my friends. I really feel like I can choose any road presented to me and I’ll end up happy and content. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. It seems like my “to do” and “to get around to” lists are always growing and interesting.

Ride. Stretch. Eat. Yoga. Live.

The best part is not knowing what is around the corner…

Friday Afternoon Inspiration

Each one of us needs some inspiration once-in-awhile. With large parts of Canada and the U.S. being blanketed with snow today and this weekend, it can be hard to keep up the motivation to hit up the trainer or the rollers. This is when a bit of inspiration is useful.

This article sent to me by Ken Hoppner is an example of such inspiration: Back In Racing Form After Dropping The Fork. This article tells of João Correia’s return to professional racing after many years of working an office job. It is an interesting story and one that reminds us that really anything is possible – it is all up to you.

Perhaps you’d like your inspiration to be more of the visual sort? Well, the classics season kicks off on Saturday with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Omloop Het Volk) race. Check out cyclingfans.com for the live feed of this race. And if you still need more, tune in on Sunday for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday. Watching these races will make your trainer/roller rides feel a little less bumpy and bone rattling.

If you’re still not inspired, there are lots of excellent cycling blogs to read or perhaps you’d like to read something longer like a book? First off we have a personal favorite of many cyclists: The Rider by Tim Krabbe – a short and easy ride about the clutches of a road race. And of course, there is always my book: An Unlikely Elite. I’ve received a few comments from readers who have said it is “motivating” and “an emotional roller coaster”. My book is available for free (though a donation to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada is deeply appreciated) and is in two formats: EPUB or PDF. Download the PDF here and the EPUB here.

As for me and my inspiration? Well, to be honest I don’t really need any inspiration these days. Having my 2010-2011 season end early due to sickness is all the inspiration and motivation I need. Not being able to ride, train or race showed me how much I value it. So I’ll be up with birds on Saturday morning for a 30 minute trail run followed by a 60 minute ride on the trainer.

Keep on keeping on – spring will be here soon…

Is It Spring Yet?

I’ve been home for two weeks now and I’d like it to be spring. Now. Not tomorrow or next week. Now. This white stuff is nice to look at but it makes riding outside hard. The trainer is okay but my brain is slowly turning to mush watching the television and pedaling to nowhere. Sure I have the rollers to keep me occupied and to give me something to work on. But still… I could skip all of the excitement the rollers bring and the guilt-free television watching for an early spring, dry roads, and an end to the snow.

It is times like this when I hear Tim’s voice in my head “But why do people live in such a cold place?”. Good question Tim. Wish I could answer it.

Complaining and moaning aside, I did get in a very good training session this morning. I waited until it was a balmy minus 11 (minus 18 with the windchill) and set out on a 30 minute run. This was my longest run of the season. Happy to say I ran farther than I expected and my legs and lungs felt pretty darn good. This slow and steady approach is paying off. When I got inside I did a quick change of the clothes and hopped on the trainer for 45 minutes of easy/moderate paced pedaling. Chased all this with some rolling out on the foam roller and some stretching.

Definitely a good training session. I’m nearing the end of my three-week training block of getting my body reacquainted with structured training. I’m looking forward to what is next. I’m expecting it will be a mix of more moderately paced rides/runs with some longer efforts combined with a bit more intensity. Whatever it is, I know that coach Steve has a good plan sorted out for me.

So my parents were here on the weekend and they saw the big box of Clif products we have in our kitchen… So of course, I let them sample the tasty goods. I think my dad is hooked on the Clif Kid ZBars (even though they’re made for kids, they make the perfect light snack) and my mom was intrigued by the idea of the Luna Caramel Nut Brownie bar (yes, mom a bar that tastes good and is good for you). All this to say, that I think we’ve got a couple more converts to eating natural and organic bars instead of the overly-processed stuff found in on the grocery store shelves. I couldn’t get them to try the Clif Shot Bloks or Clif Shot Energy Gels though… Next visit I guess… (I heard through the grapevine that Luna Protein bars will be gluten free in 2011 – yay!)

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. I think I’ll go look out the window to see if spring is here yet…