New Sponsor: Lolë

I am very excited and pleased to announce Lolë as a new sponsor for the 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season. To say that I’m stoked to be sponsored by such an outstanding and forward-thinking clothing company would be an understatement. Lolë is all about getting women active and inspiring them to live healthy and fulfilling lives – this fits perfectly with me and with what I’m all about.

For those of you not familiar with Lolë – think designed to fit women’s bodies – for women of all shapes and sizes. Clothes that look good, travel well, and make you (and me) feel good. Can’t ask for much more out a shirt or a pair of pants!

I’ll be blogging over at the Lolë blog and holding some Lolë-sponsored cyclo-cross clinics. I’m really looking forward to my being part of the robust community of inspiring women that Lolë has created. The blogs really are worth visiting – interesting posts from women all-over the world involved in all sorts of  cool things.

Thanks Lolë for the opportunity to be part of the team. Live Out Loud Everyday!

Stay tuned for news about the upcoming cyclo-cross clinics and other Lolë events.

P.S. be sure to follow Lolë on Twitter and Facebook

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…

Reflections on a Cyclo-Cross Season

For a cyclo-cross racer, this is kind of an odd time to be writing about my cyclo-cross season. But as you know, my season was cut short in December… I’ve had some time to think about this 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season and I thought I’d let you in on these thoughts….

In a nutshell, this was a very disappointing cyclo-cross season. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted or planned. The goals I set weren’t achieved. And quite frankly I didn’t race the way I can or wanted. This was not for want of trying. In fact sometimes I wonder if I “tried” to hard. I wonder what my season would have been like if when I first got sick again last May, I’d backed off on the training and let my body heal. But hindsight is 20/20. I felt good on the bike and everything was pointing towards the training benefits paying off into the cyclo-cross race season. But this didn’t happen. I fought my body each and every time I got on the bike to race this year. Is this an excuse for why my season didn’t live up to my expectations? I’m not sure – it is what it is.

I worked hard in the off-season on my technical skills. But still I have much more room to improve in this area. In fact more than my struggles with the ulcerative colitis this season, I wonder if my technical skills held me back more than my health struggles? I pushed myself technically this spring/summer/fall, but I still believe I can push myself more. There are skills that I simply need to “get”. Being smooth in my transitions. Really understanding gearing and how it applies to different terrain: sand, mud, steep climbs, off-cambers, etc. Technically I’ve come along way, but this season has shown me that I still have further to go. By making improvements technically, I think I can really improve my cyclo-cross racing.

Really there are no results to write about here. After a few weeks into the season it became pretty clear that the results I had attained last season were going to be pretty darn hard to achieve. Instead I had to look at each races as an opportunity to test myself technically and to simply just focus on getting around for 40 minutes. Not really what goes through the mind of an elite cyclo-cross racer on the start line. But it is what it is. I did have some races that I was happy/content with – my ride at Niel was decent for my first muddy slog of a Belgian race, I had a blast at Aspere Gavere and was stoked to be able to ride the crazy descent, Hasselt was fun as usual, and I really felt like I had a decent ride at Koksijde. Sand is still very challenging for me, but I felt like I rode better at Koksijde this year than I did last. Actually, even the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals were okay for me – I was 16th – not the result I wanted or expected… But through it all, I didn’t quit, I stayed positive and just focused on leaving it out there. It just so happens that this year it was 16th (rather than 7th the previous two seasons…). If anything this cyclo-cross season has taught me more than ever to focus on performance rather than outcome. It would have been so easy to quit and crack if I had been only looking at my name on the results sheet.

Mentally, this has been my strongest season ever. There was a point at the start of the season when I didn’t know about the ridiculous anemia and the effects the ulcerative colitis was having on my ability to perform that I did worry that my “head had fallen off”. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t race the way I believed I should be. Immediately I started to worry that I just didn’t want it badly enough. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t the case. Honestly it was a relief to find out I was fighting my body and not my brain. I’ve come a long way mentally in this bike racing game. It hasn’t been easy. But I think I’ve found my groove. I’m confident. I believe in myself. And I’ve learned to ignore the idiots out there – yes, in our little Ottawa cyclo-cross community there are people who were (and probably still are) talking “trash” behind my back and to others about how “Vicki sucks”. Well, I let this get to me for a bit but then I realized that I just simply don’t care about those idiots. I don’t have time to let them get in my brain. I suppose the hardest part with this has been wondering why people bother saying “crap” about others – what is the point in being outright mean to another person? Sometimes I’m tempted to say something face-to-face to these people – but what is the point – idiots just don’t get it. So thanks to my strengthened mental resolve and confidence, I was able to come out of this negative aspect of the season on top. I’m a good bike racer. I’m a strong bike racer. Those who know me, know this. As for the others – I just don’t care.

So where does this leave me for 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season? Well, I’m eager to start training again. But I’m not rushing things. I have to get healthy before I can do this. I have been out on my bike for the last three days and the riding has been slow but enjoyable. I find the riding now is not “effortless” like it was. But I know the strength and form will come back. I’ve got some goals set for the upcoming cyclo-cross season and I’m hoping to get out to do some road racing this summer as well. I’ll be out on all three bikes this spring and summer: mountain, road and cyclo-cross – plugging away and enjoying every minute of it.

One aspect to this cyclo-cross season that can’t be overlooked is of course my sponsors. I’m a very lucky bike racers. I’ve got amazing sponsors who support me for who I am and what I represent. They are not hung up on my results or podiums – they’re about getting the brand out there with a positive image. For this I’m very fortunate. It was very hard for me to contact my sponsors in December and let them know about the end of my cyclo-cross season. I have such a solid connection with all of my sponsors that I really felt like I was letting them down. The response I received from each and everyone of them was overwhelming. In a nutshell: get better don’t worry about the racing. Yep, pretty darn lucky. So a big thanks to:

And many many thanks to the sponsor behind all of these fine companies: Marc. Marc has once again made this cyclo-cross season a reality. His faith and belief in me really keeps me going. It would have been easy to pack it in this season and change my plans and goals. But Marc wouldn’t let me do this. He was there to keep me steady and to remind me of what is important to me. Right now, I’m getting so much satisfaction from seeing Marc race so well. He is having an awesome cyclo-cross season and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Hopefully his success and experience will trickle down to me.

So there you have it. My thoughts and ruminations on my 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season. It wasn’t what I expected or planned. But it happened and I made the best of it. Do I wish my season was still happening and that I was getting ready to racing in St. Wendel, Germany – damn straight I do! In the end I was 5 UCI point short of making the qualification standards. Pretty darn good, all things considered. This time next year, I plan to be writing a blog post about my thoughts on the upcoming World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Koksijde, Belgium – my thoughts on what I want out of the race. That’s right – I’m going to be there on that start line on January 29, 2012.

Christmas Gift Ideas

Wow – have you looked at the date on the calendar? It is Dec. 14… Only 11 more days until Christmas. Not a lot of time to get those Christmas gifts sorted out. Well, as luck would have it, I’ve got a few ideas for you – particularly if you’re shopping for a cyclist or an otherwise active person.

These gift ideas all come thanks to my sponsors and I think would make anyone happy to find these under the tree or in the Christmas stocking on Christmas morning.

The Cyclery: chances are it is the off-season for your cyclist, so this is the perfect chance to give your cyclist a cross-country ski package that will help burn off the restless energy from not riding and help with Vitamin D absorption. Perhaps your cyclist’s wardrobe is a bit lacking? No problem check out the selection of Icebreaker Merino Wool at The Cyclery – guaranteed to have your cyclist looking good and staying warm.

KingsBridge Disaster Recovery: as a small or medium-sized business owner, now is your chance to get your business protected in the event of a disaster or threat. KingsBridge has just released their latest mobile application – Phoenix Mobile Enterprise. This application runs on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and is a seamless way to ensure your business is protected. Get your business prepared for the upcoming busy season. Not only is this the leading product in the mobile disaster recovery software space, but the KingsBridge guys are avid cyclists and if you talk to Skip and Steve nicely they might even join you for a mountain bike ride!

Stevens Bikes: ah nothing quite like a shiny new bike for Christmas. Can’t be a much easier gift to buy for your cyclist – guaranteed your cyclist will be thrilled with a new bike. Check out the new range of 2011 bikes from Stevens Bikes – are you looking for a road bike, mountain bike, cyclo-cross bike, time trial bike, or maybe a city cruiser? Stevens Bikes has got you covered. Hint – The Cyclery is one of the premier retailers of Stevens Bikes so if you’re not sure which bike to choose, stop in and talk to Vince or one of his knowledgeable staff – they’ll help you and make sure your cyclist has a big smile on Christmas morning.

Bell Lap Coaching: are you shopping for the cyclist who has it all – a new bike, shiny shoes, and fancy race kit? Well, what about coaching? This is something that a lot of cyclists overlook – thinking they can just go out and hammer day in and day out. Well, I suggest gifting a few months of training and coaching with Bell Lap Coaching. Coach Steve Weller is a dedicated and knowledgeable coach who can take your cyclist from back-of-the-pack to the front-of-the-pack in no time. Visit the Bell Lap Coaching website to check out the options for your cyclist. If you’ve got questions, don’t be shy drop Steve an email.

Clif Bar: on the bike and off the bike, one thing all cyclists need is reliable training, racing and recovery food. This food has to taste good, hit all the nutritional markers, and be easy to digest. Look no further than Clif Bar. Clif Bar is known for using organic and natural ingredients and has a complete line of food to suit your cyclist’s needs. Personal favorites include the Clif Shot Bloks (orange flavor), Chocolate Mint Clif Bars, Clif Kid ZBars, Clif C bars and on the Luna side, the Vanilla Almond and Caramel Nut Brownie bars are winners. Order a few bars or even a case – your cyclist will appreciate it. Heck, while you’re at it, order something for yourself – it is the holidays after all and we all need some healthy snacks to tide us over to the next Christmas party!

Champion Systems Canada: now is the perfect time to start thinking about what your cyclist will be wearing next year while zipping around the roads. You want your cyclist to look good, so the best option for you is custom cycling apparel from Champion Systems Canada. Very reasonably priced, durable, long-lasting, and excellent customer service are the hallmarks of the Champion Systems Canada line. You’re not limited to placing a big clothing order – you can order cycling kit for just your cyclist if you want!

Outdoor Gear Canada: wheels, shoes, helmets, sunglasses, group sets – you name it Outdoor Gear Canada has got you covered. With Outdoor Gear Canada you can get the latest gear from top brands including Giro and Mavic. A shiny new Giro Atmos helmet or a swank pair of yellow Mavic Fury shoes would look pretty darn nice under the tree.

Oakley: nothing says style and speed like Oakley. Your cyclist really really wants a new pair of Oakley glasses. If you buy only one gift for your cyclist this Christmas, go big and wrap up a swank pair of Oakley sunglasses. There won’t be any complaints coming on Christmas morning. But don’t blame me if your cyclist insists on wearing the new sunglasses indoors all day!

So there you have it – a complete Christmas list for your cyclist. No excuses to not “know what to buy” – you can choose from bikes, skis, clothing, software, food, custom cycling clothing, helmets, shoes, wheels, sunglasses and coaching services. Lucky for you my sponsors have got your back and will help you take care of your Christmas shopping.

What are you waiting for? Time to get busy and get that shopping done. Remember there are only 11 days until Christmas….

Tough News

As you know, I’m all about being honest on this site… So I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m sick. Really sick this time. Sick with the ulcerative colitis to the point where I can’t even think about my bike let alone get out and ride it. This flare came out of the blue last Thursday and initially it wasn’t too bad – I was able to ride and to eat fairly well. This is not the case anymore.

I had a couple of good rides on Monday and Tuesday – though I was pretty much wiped out for the rest of the day, but it still felt good to get out and ride. As for Wednesday and Thursday – there wasn’t any riding. Really all I did was lie on the couch.

Until yesterday I still did think that I could keep racing and that I’d be lining up at next weekend’s double-header of Scheldecross and the Kalmthout World Cup. But it is just not going to happen. I can’t eat or drink much right now. All I want to do is sleep. So racing is out of the question.

This is hard. Really damn hard. I’m so frustrated with my body. Some days it would be easier to understand why this is happening to me if I was a person who lives an unhealthy life. But I don’t – I do everything I can to be healthy and still this ulcerative colitis shows up and puts a stop to my dream and goals.

The only thing I can do now is focus on getting better. Since I’m not racing I have the chance to take some medicine that normally I wouldn’t be able to take. I’m hoping this will help and then I can get myself back on track for next season. (I’m still secretly hoping I can be well enough to race at the Hoogerheide World Cup at the end of January…)

I know that I’ve got a big engine inside of me and lots more kick left in these legs of mine. I’ll be back next year ready to race the season I had planned to have this year.

Many many thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement of my racing and training. I really do appreciate the amazing comments and emails that you send. Each time I race I know that I’ve got your support with me while I’m racing through the mud, sand, grass and crazy descents. Please know that I’m trying to do the same for you – if you listen closely during the race you can hear me shouting “Keep Pedaling”, “Good Job”, “Awesome Ride”, “You’re Doing Great”.

Have a great Friday and get out and spin some miles for me. To all of my American friends who are racing this weekend in the U.S. National Cyclo-Cross Championships – best of luck. The course in Bend, Oregon looks pretty darn narly – looking forward to seeing how all of you do.

A big shout out to my sponsors for the overwhelming support I’ve received this season. These companies have made it possible for me to chase my dreams and goals:

KingsBridge Disaster Recovery

The Cyclery

Stevens Bikes Canada

Champion Systems Canada

Bell Lap Coaching

Clif Bar

OGC

Oakley

Like a Kid?

Yesterday was just a great day to be a cyclist in Ottawa. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was shining, there was a bit of wind and most importantly – no rain. I seized the day and the weather for another easy ride. The plan was a 45 minute ride… This plan didn’t hold together all that well – I ended up riding for 90 minutes or so. But it was an excellent 90 minutes.

I set out with a loose plan – essentially ride on as many bicycle paths and patches of grass as possible – all in my Ottawa suburb. So this is what I did. I explored a new bicycle path, followed a worn trail in the grass, zipped along busier bicycle paths, hit up some trails by the 416. Really just like a kid who takes off for a “bike ride” I simply followed my eyes, ears and heart. If the right turn looked more interesting, I went right. Big puddle on the left, okay ride right through as fast as I could. I’m pretty darn sure I was smiling the entire time – this is based on all the smiles I received from those I saw out enjoying the fresh fall air.

So you can easily understand how this 45 minutes turned into 90… Can’t blame me really. Great ride. Good sensations in my legs and body. I didn’t push the pace, rather I rode so I could get a feel for my legs. All in all, a most excellent ride.

I closed off the day with a photo shoot with Marc L. Many thanks to Marc for coming out to snap literally hundreds of photos of me rolling along on my trusty Stevens Carbon Team DA and wearing my long-sleeve skinsuit (thanks Champion Systems Canada). The photos are for my rider cards. Yes, I’m finally getting rider cards! Pretty stoked about this. Rider cards are sought after at all the races in Europe – people collect them just like hockey cards here. For the past three years, I’ve had to say “Sorry, I don’t have rider cards”. But not this year! Thanks Marc for the photos and for the work behind-the-scenes with the lay-out. Definitely appreciated.

I realized that in my blog post on Monday, I neglected to tell you about Marc’s weekend racing. Well, it was a weekend of ups and downs. Saturday was a challenging day thanks to an early race collision that resulted in a bent derailleur hangar and this was followed with a flat… But through it all, Marc dug deep and kept on going – I was very inspired by his doggedness. Sunday was a much better day for Marc – he rode very strong and even a late race crash didn’t set him back. It was great to watch him race, cheer him on and then hear all about the races afterwards. Another excellent weekend at the cyclo-cross races.

Today I’m taking it easy. No riding for me. Truth be told, I’m tired. Plus my quads are a bit tight – must have been the running last night. I just got home from my second iron infusion. Crossing my fingers that these iron infusions help. Have to say that the staff at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital have been amazing – super friendly, super patient and just top-notch professionals. So today is all about rest. Maybe a bit of light yoga to stretch out my muscles but other than that, I predict the couch will be my training partner this afternoon!

But before my afternoon nap, I have to take off to do a few errands. Off to The Cyclery to pick up some supplies for next week’s trip to Aigle and Plzen for the season-opening World Cups. Then a break at Sbucks to catch-up with the KingsBridge head honcho.

(P.S. I’ve registered for the Brockville race. Looks like I’m racing the early race. So to all the little kids out there – be gentle when you pass me! Seriously, looking forward to racing at home and to soaking up the supportive vibes of the Ottawa Bicycle Club Cyclo-Cross Series. This is where it all started for me.)

(P.P.S don’t forget to pick up the latest issue of Canadian Cycling Magazine – I’ve got two articles in the issue. One about carbohydrates and training/racing and the other is about cyclo-cross training/skills. A couple of good reads if I do say so myself!)

(P.P.P.S make sure to pick issue 10 of Cyclocross Magazine… There is an article in this issue about mental training/coaching. I was interviewed for this article and I think it reads really well and includes some very useful information.)

New England Worlds – Kinda Sorta

I had really been looking forward to racing at “New England Worlds” aka “Gloucester” all season. But sadly it is not to be. Those tests I had done earlier in the week revealed some additional health issues that I need to sort out in order to be healthy. I’ve learned that I’m really just getting by thanks to my fitness and cycling-determination…. Once again a testament to how living a healthy and active lifestyle can keep you out of the hospital and living a full life. Problem is, that as a result of the ulcerative colitis flare, I’ve developed a pretty severe bout of anemia coupled with a too low hemoglobin/red blood cell count. This explains a lot. In a strange way it is a relief. This news explains why each race this year has been a struggle.

How am I feeling? Well, in a way, relieved – now we know what is going on. But in another way, I’m damn mad. I’m downright angry. Why does happen to me? Why do those people who eat poorly, don’t exercise and quite frankly treat their bodies like garbage disposals, manage to avoid the problems I’m having? Some days I feel like pulling up to the nearest golden arches and hunkering down to a Big Mac, large fries, and chocolate shake. But I don’t. And I won’t. Because that is not the attitude that got me here.

Got me here to this place where I’m surrounded by super friends and sponsors. Friends who cheer for me no matter how I’m riding. Friends who encourage me every step of the way. Friends who when I’ve cracked, have been quick to send emails and post comments reminding me to keep chasing the dream. Friends who know what it is like. Sponsors who were there in the beginning when I was transitioning into elite racing. Sponsors who believed in me to provide me with bikes, clothing, food, shoes, helmets, travel and living support. Sponsors who know that I’ve got lots of great races left in me. (Do yourself a favor and check out my sponsors – some top-notch products and people. Overwhelmed would be the appropriate word.)

I’ve had a few pity parties for myself this season. Wondering what is going on. Why can’t I ride like I did last year? I even asked myself if I still wanted it? And the answer: Yes I want it. Yes, I will be racing at the World Champs in St. Wendel, Germany. Yes, I know I can compete with the best. Yes, I know I’m stronger and smarter than this time last year. Yes. Yes. Yes.

So this weekend there will be no racing for me. I’ll be cheering on my favorite guy. Doing whatever he needs to ensure he has two excellent races. Gloucester is a special place for us. This is the first race we traveled to outside of Canada. This is the first time I stood in the pits. This is the first time I saw the elite women whiz by and wished I could be like them. Gloucester is the first time I stood on the podium. Gloucester is where we were bitten by the ‘cross bug. Can’t hardly wait to get there. If you see me in the pits or roaming around, stop me and say “hello”. Looking forward to a great weekend of racing, cheering, friends, and hanging out.