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.

Thank-You Young The Giant

On Tuesday, Marc sent me an email with the MP3 file for Young The Giant’s song My Body. He also excerpted the following lyrics into the email:

My Body tells me no, but I won’t quit
Cause I want more, cause I want more
My Body tells me no, but I won’t quit
Cause I want more, cause I want more

Marc knew I would see this before hopping on my bike for an early morning tempo ride and then rushing off to the hospital for my weekly iron infusion. Some days this guy of mine is just so smart. The song and lyrics couldn’t have come at a better time. I got through the work-out but let me tell you 200 watts didn’t feel as friendly as it did this time last year. But I did it and got through it.

At the hospital I learned that the new medicine I’m taking is working and the measurable inflammatory responses in my body have dropped significantly and I also learned that I’m still severely anemic. Progress but with still one big barrier to feeling 100 per cent again. As I walked to my car, my eyes started to tear up. I was just so happy that the medicine is working because the alternatives to this medicine would have ended my bike racing career forever…

When I turned on the car, what song was playing on the radio? Yes, you got it My Body by Young The Giant. Funny how things work sometimes. I’m listening to the song now and you can click  here to listen as well.

My Body tells me no, but I won’t quit
Cause I want more, cause I want more
My Body tells me no, but I won’t quit
Cause I want more, cause I want more

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…

Recovery

Got some excellent news yesterday from my Belgian gastro doctor: my recent blood sample shows no signs of inflammation. This means that I’m on my way to full recovery from this recent ulcerative colitis flare. The other piece of good news is that my body is responding well to the Imuran. Definitely the news I’ve been waiting to hear!

I had four days of excellent riding in a row and ended up taking a much needed rest day yesterday. It is so easy to forget during my recovery process that I don’t have nearly the same fitness, strength or reserves that I had in the past. It is amazing to me how much I’ve lost in such a short time.

I think what did me in yesterday was the three hour ride on Tuesday. In retrospect, this was probably a much too ambitious ride to do considering that four weeks ago I was in the hospital hooked up to an intravenous line and eating only chicken broth and dry toast… But it is this ambition that has got me where I am…

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my recovery process for me has been my mental state. If you’re a regular reader of this web site, you’ll be familiar with my mental battles. All too frequently I would battle my “crazy brain” and lack self-confidence. Well, I’m proud to say that mentally, I’m feeling 100 per cent. It would be easy to get frustrated about my current lack of fitness and strength – but I know this will come back. How I’m riding and recovery right now will not be permanent. If anything this rotten 2010-2011 season has reinforced my mental resolve and strength – I know I didn’t ride and race like I can – so I’m super stoked to get out there and really race the way I know I can.

This period of recovery has also emphasized to me how important it is to get back to the basics.  Basics of cyclo-cross like: smooth transitions and pedaling and focus and aggression on the bike. You might find the word “aggression” a strange on my website. But it is going to be a keyword for my 2011-2012 season. Last night over dinner, Marc pointed out that I’m not aggressive on my bike during cyclo-cross races – instead of fighting for positions at the start, I slip into a complacent mode of being “at the back” – the opposite of how I used to approach my cyclo-cross racing. This we determined is because “I got used to being in the back”. Well this is changing for the new season. I don’t want to be at the back nor am I going to be at the back.

One of the best parts of my recovery process has been the freedom to let my legs and mind wander. While out on the bike I can ride as hard and for as long as I want. My mind is free to simply relax and enjoy the moment. I’m not focusing on wattage numbers, cadence, the next interval, etc. If I am thinking it is typically about the drills and skills I need to focus on when I get home to make me a better racer.

Would I prefer to be in St. Wendel, Germany right now getting ready to race in the World Cyclo-Cross Championships on Sunday? Yes! This was my season goal after all. But everything happens for a reason and I can’t dwell on what didn’t happen. I know that really this season was out of my control. My body took over and I simply couldn’t race my bike.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in this recovery phase. I think the next phase will be the re-building stage where with expert guidance from coach Steve Weller, I’ll start getting my fitness and strength back. In a twisted sort of way, I’m looking forward to riding the trainer in my basement in Ottawa – this will be a sure sign that I’m on my way to a bigger and better 2011-2012 season.

Blauberg Forest

Ah, today I hit up the Blauberg Forest. Can’t believe I’ve lived here for four cyclo-cross seasons and this is the first time I’ve hit up the Blauberg Forest. Yesterday Marc rode the green route in the Blauberg Forest so I thought I’d check it out today.

Literally three minutes from my place I hooked up with a green triangle marker posted on cement post and followed these markers for around 26 kilometers. The “green route” is a mix of heavy muddy fire roads, singletrack in the woods, some pavement, and some serious mud bog riding. A perfect ride to do on a cyclo-cross bike.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect of my fitness or technical skills. I haven’t done a cyclo-cross ride since my last race which was the Koksijde World Cup. Well, lets just say I was a bit rusty at first but as things got rolling I got into the off-road groove. I did my first lap in around an hour and then decided to do a second lap of the green route. I completed this second lap in 40 minutes or so – so a definite improvement on the first lap. I didn’t kill myself – just tried to keep things steady.

This ride reinforced my main issue on the cyclo-cross and road bikes: when there is resistance (i.e. mud, a steep incline, hill) I drop my cadence – I switch into the slow pedaling power type of cadence. This does not work for cyclo-cross – it is much easier and faster to get through the mud and sand with a high cadence and smooth pedaling rhythm. I struggle with steep inclines – always seeming to stall out just at the top of the incline – again where the resistance is the greatest. As for climbing on the road – lets just say that 55 rpm is not the best cadence out there….

This ride also highlighted another area I need to work on: turning my front wheel. It seems that I always want to “carve” corners rather than turning my wheel sharply or even continuing to complete the “turn”. Oh and another thing I noticed is that I really need to get comfortable at cornering with speed.

So, I consider this to have been a great training ride. I got to play in the woods, trees, and mud – the sun was shining and I was smiling as well! To top it off, I’ve got some great learning points that I can take away from this ride and store in my brain.

I think that what I really need to think about at all times is “keep the pedals turning”. This is easy to do on the road when I have my SRM showing my cadence but when I’m on my ‘cross bike training or racing, I don’t have this. The only solution is to make this a natural part of my riding style. I’m not sure of the best way of teaching myself this skill – the only thing I can think of is to simply “drill” this into myself – I think the best way to do this is to simply get out and ride sand, mud and steep inclines purely focusing on keeping my cadence high and smooth. Guess this means you’ll see me out riding in muddy fields this spring in Ottawa….

If you’re curious about my route today, check out this PDF of the riding routes in the Blauberg Forest:

Blauberg Forest Mountain Bike Routes