Racing in Cornwall

I’ll start this post by simply saying this: I had a blast yesterday racing in Cornwall. This race was part of the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series and it was well worth the early wake-up and early morning chill in the air. It is not often that I get to race at home in Ottawa, and I have to say thank you to the organizers, fans, photographers, other racers for making it such a great experience.

Some might think there are big differences between racing in our local Ottawa series and in Belgium… Well, yes there are some big differences: mobile homes, World Champions, 15 000 fans, frittes and beer stands, television cameras. But this is really just all details. What isn’t different is the spirit and the community. In fact I’d have to say that the spirit and sense of community is so much stronger and powerful in our local Ottawa series.

It was one of those days where I got to talk with so many people, to hear how their seasons are going, to tell them about my season and really just a chance to catch up with new and old friends. I think I was smiling all day! It took me forever to get changed after my race (and I missed a big part of Marc’s race) because I was talking with folks in the parking lot.

Highlights of the day include catching up with young Lois (a superstar young athlete and a fantastic kid), hearing the cheers during the race, duking it out with Mel (getting “oh so close” but not close enough), seeing Marc push through a race that just didn’t go his way (crash, destroyed rear derailleur, rolled clincher, five bike changes), chatting with the young guns and pretending I couldn’t see their moustaches/mullets, seeing young Timothy take notes from the tips and advice Marc gave him during our pre-ride (another one to watch out for), and really just being out there having fun on bikes.

So, you likely want to know a bit about the race. Well, the women started first – we had a five minute lead on the men starting behind us. Mel took off hard and fast from the line and my legs immediately felt like cement blocks. Basically it was a chasing game. I would close and even catch and pass Mel once during the race only to give up space and time in other parts of the course. I could see Mel standing up and sprint and this would force me to do the same. It was a good battle. I admit I wasn’t pleased with my effort – I felt like I could have dug a bit deeper and could have closed the gap – I had some mental battles and some issues with the cold (not excuses just reasons for not getting the job done). There were some really good moments in the race and it helped so much to have Marc there to encourage me an to give me pointers during the race. It was great to see so many women out racing and giving it their best – also fantastic to see so many kids out racing on a challenging course.

A big thanks to the organizers who were up and out at Cornwall very early to get the course set-up. Definitely a challenging course that made use of the terrain and gave us all a chance to practice our skills and get a few thrills as well!

Unfortunately, this is my last race here at home. This weekend I’m racing at the Cyclocross Nationals in Toronto and then I’m off to Belgium for the season. I’ll miss racing in the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series but I’ll have the lessons that this series has taught me and the smiling faces and friendly words with me as I chase my season goals. Many may not know that when I returned to cyclocross racing in 2006 I was definitely at the “back-of-the-pack” – I’m proof positive that you can set a goal and achieve it – don’t ever get discouraged by your results (I know I should listen to my own advice…) – just remember where you were and where you want to get to. And most of all – have fun doing it!

Blue Skies

Got out for a pretty good ride on Monday. It was a gift to see the blue sky again and to see the green grass. Thanks to a solid bucket of rain on Sunday and slightly warmer temperatures, the bulk of the snow is gone. No complaints here considering it is December. Time will only tell how long this respite from the snow and the negative temperatures last….

Though, even with the rain and warmer temperatures, many of my favorite roads were not rideable. A thin layer of ice and in some cases some pretty narly ice ruts made the roads less than welcoming. I was forced to stick to the main roads for the most part but still managed to put together a decent ride. Basically did the tour of all the towns around Blauberg: Averobde, Zichem, Scherpenheuvel, Rillar, Aarschott, Wolfsdonk, Testelt, Averbode and back to Blauberg.

You have probably noticed that I haven’t posted any race reports from the weekend… This is because I did not race. I had full intentions of racing but I simply couldn’t. So I’m sick again. Yep, my ulcerative colitis has shown its ugly face again and I’m in a full-on flare. I have no idea what has caused this flare. All I know is that I’m frustrated and disappointed with my body. I eat properly. I get lots of exercise. I rest a lot. I’m not in a stressful situation. I’m taking my medicine. And still I get sick. I was simply way too wiped out and in too much pain this weekend to go out and race my bike. I was really looking forward to racing at Averbode as well as returning to Rijkervorsel to have a better ride there than I did last year. Instead I spent the bulk of both days in bed. Not fun.

On a plus from the weekend – Marc had a great ride on Sunday and finished 6th in the Averbode race. He also had a great race on Saturday but was held up by some annoying chain suck issues and had to settle for 12th on the day. I wish I could have been there to cheer him on. Super proud of how well Marc is riding right now – he really is coming into his own here and the hardwork and determination is paying off with some excellent rides. Definitely inspiring.

I was pretty wiped out after my ride on Monday but I think I will get out again today. The riding gives me a bit of a break from my ulcerative colitis symptoms. Only problem is not being able to eat much – makes it hard to prevent the “floating black spots” from appearing… Not sure where my bike will take me but I know it will be to a happy place.

(P.S. congrats to all the award winners at Sunday night’s Ottawa Bicycle Club Cyclo-Cross Awards night. Massive shout out to the youngsters out there who come out every weekend to haul their heavy bikes around the course and just keep giving it their all. We should all ride our bike with such enthusiasm!)

What Cyclo-Cross Is

As you may know, the cyclo-cross series where I got my first taste of racing – the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-Cross Series (locally known as the OBC ‘cross series) has essentially been thwarted and derailed by the city of Ottawa. City officials have determined that the sport is too demanding on the grass of our city’s public parks and therefore, it can no longer allow this over 20 year long series to continue. The city claims that the we cyclo-cross racers are damaging the grass to the point where it will not regenerate and grow by the following spring.

Sigh. As a cyclo-cross racer/fan yourself, you know that this simply is not the case. How many cyclo-cross races have you been to in North America and Europe – how many people have you heard complaining about the grass. Exactly – zero. Rather people are doing the opposite of complaining. They’re smiling. They’re cheering. They’re racing their bikes. They’re making new friends. They’re having good days out there.

This letter to the Ottawa Citizen thanks to the Beteridge family sums up cyclo-cross very nicely. I know this family and have found great inspiration from watching young Lois and Miles race around the ‘cross course. It is disappointing that such opportunities, particularly for kids to fall in love with a sport and to get out and be active might be taken away, all due to some city officials who have really forgotten what makes a public park “public”.

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….)