Catamount Weekend Verge New England Series

I’m a bit late in writing about the second day of racing at the Verge New England Series in Williston, Vermont – but as the saying goes “better late than never”.

We closed off Saturday with a good and somewhat entertaining supper with the Ottawa young guns of cyclocross and my parents. It was a great way to chill out and relax after a long day at the races. And before we knew it, Sunday had arrived and it was time to load up the super Sequoia (thanks Ken) and make our way back out to the race course.

Marc was up first at 11:30 so we got there early so he could get in some warm-up laps and have time to relax before racing. This works well for me because it gives me a chance to pre-ride without the frenzy of the elite warm-up and I can also ride with the elite Masters men during their warm-up and see their lines. Marc had an awesome race and finished 5th! Super proud of him – he was so happy afterwards – very nice to see.

I raced at 2:00 so there was lots of time to relax and get ready. Last minute thoughts about tire selection and pressure and before I knew it I was off to the call-up. I’ve got my warm-up nailed now so this makes the day so much easier – I know what time I want to get on the trainer, what I’m going to do and it seems to be working out fairly well. I’ve written a race report for the second day of racing here.

But for those of you who want to know the details on this very webpage, here you go:
– terrible start – missed my pedal and floundered
– got busy passing and chasing
– duked it out with two other riders for a while
– attacked at the uphill barriers and kept the momentum going
– finished in 11th

Positives from this race:
– my technical skills are coming along
– I took a lot of risks with speed in the corners
– I did a good job of gearing
– found places to recover
– paid attention to the others in my group and noticed where I would be able to take control
– drilled myself really deep

Lessons to take from this race:
– need to get my start sorted out – messing up these starts is causing me to miss out on crucial selections and causing me to waste energy
– continue to take risks on descents, corners, and technical sections
– always sprint out of everything – no matter how tired you “think” you are, you can stand and sprint

Overall sensations:
– my form is coming along
– my confidence is returning
– I felt like a bike racer again

Yes, so a good day and weekend of racing. I won’t lie – I’m disappointed to have missed out on getting a top 10 on both days. But this will come. If I look back to a year ago, this weekend was night and day.

Apart from the racing it was so great to connect with lots of our good cyclocross friends, to hear words of encouragement from so many people and to hang out with cool folks out having fun on bikes. I have to say that seeing Marc smile and hear him be so super positive about my races makes me feel like a winner (yes, cheesy but it’s true).

I’ve still got a long way to go to get where I want. I have to remind myself that I’ve only been training for a couple of months so I will continue to get stronger. The key now is learning how to use this strength correctly…

My dad took a bunch of photos of both myself and Marc this weekend. Here are a couple of photos from the first day of racing:


(Poor barrier remounting technique caught on digital media…)

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.

Today I Rode My Bike

Yes, that’s right. Today,  I rode my bike. It felt good. One week ago on New Year’s Eve I left the hospital after a one week stay due to my ulcerative colitis. If you had told me that one week later I’d have the energy and desire to ride my bike, I would have laughed out loud. What a difference a week makes. Granted I’m still quite sick. But I have more energy. I’m getting more sleep (about five hours a night now). I’m able to eat more foods – just added in vegetables, fruit and oatmeal today! So all in all, things are progressing along really well.

I still have to visit my doctor every week so he can monitor my health and ensure the medicine is doing its job. But this is nothing compared to being trapped in a hospital….

So my ride…. Well, this morning Alex, Marc and I hopped in the trusty Peugeout and zipped off to Boom (suburb of Antwerp) to hit up Decathlon, Saturn and Ikea. We had a good browse around – I picked up some awesome thermal tights. As we drove home, the roads were drying up and I proclaimed that if it wasn’t raining in Blauberg, I was going to go for a ride. I think there were a few raised eyebrows, but Marc and Alex know best not to argue…

Within 15 minutes of getting back to Blauberg, I was kitted up and ready to ride. I was way overdressed but the thinking amongst the guys (Karl, Alex, and Marc) was that I should overdress and most of all go very very slowly. This time I listened…. I pulled on my new thermal tights. Put on my brand new winter weight cycling gloves. And wrapped my feet in my brand new shoe covers. Top this off with my Belgian team jacket, super red hat, Oakleys, and Giro Atmos helmet and I was off. Oh boy, that bike felt so good underneath me.

I simply pedaled super easy down the main road to Averbode. I took my time. I think I was grinning the entire time! No music or iPod – just me, the bike and the fresh air. Can’t really complain about riding in 8 celsius on January 7! I stuck to my 30 minutes – it felt good. I do admit that I was a bit tired – my legs felt a bit empty by the time I got back here. Best part was talking about my ride with the guys.

I won’t be riding on Saturday since we have an action-packed day – Marc is racing (really stoked to be going to watch and cheer him on) and then we’re zipping back to Blauberg and hitting the road to Rotterdam. We’re all heading to Rotterdam to take in the track racing at the Six Days of Rotterdam track racing festival. We’ve got plans for dinner in Rotterdam somewhere, track racing and just generally a good time.

I plan to go out again on Sunday. Probably another simple easy ride – I might push it to 45 minutes or an hour. But above all else, I’ll be sure to take it easy. Simply just enjoying be on the bike is good enough for me right now. I’ve also started doing yoga again. It feels good to get my body stretching and bending again.

I’m along way from being healthy. I’m along way from doing real training. For now I’m just trying to get my body moving again and give it the feelings it so very much craves. So far 2011 is only one week old, but boy oh boy do I have great feelings about this year.

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

World Cup Frenzy

This is how I feel, a tad frenzied. It is 9:30 and I’m not very close at all to packing. I’ve made a few piles of clothes and other stuff on the floor. But I’m not anywhere close to being ready to jam things into bike boxes and into my carry-on. Today has been a very good but busy day. I did get lots done and most importantly I connected with a very good friend for some coffee and a great chat.

As for the rest of the day? Well, I got in an excellent road ride. Felt so nice to be out on my familiar training roads and just enjoying the crisp fall air. I didn’t think about racing. I didn’t worry about the garbage from the weekend. Nope, I just focused on pedaling, smiling and taking it all in. I did do a little bit of “mental packing” – putting ideas and thoughts in little spots in my brain for future reference.

Oh, I suppose I did think a bit about racing since my mind wandered to the excellent training day I had yesterday. Marc and I zipped out to Karl’s to play in his front yard. Karl’s cyclo-cross course is great. Sand. Steep climbs. Fast descents. Mud. Ruts. Barriers. Grass. Can’t ask for much more. The atmosphere of the training session was bang-on with all of us constantly laughing at each other and also learning a bunch as well. I can’t thank the guys (Karl, Conor, Evan, and Marc) enough for their advice, patience and help on Monday. With their help, I conquered the steep climb and with their encouragement made it down the descent. All in all a good time on the bikes.

Now my bikes are clean and ready to be put in bike boxes. I’m hoping to get in a morning ride but considering that I don’t have much done in the way of packing or even collecting stuff to pack, the ride is looking like a distant memory. But you never know, I’ve been known to work miracles before!

Checked the start list for the Aigle World Cup – lots of fast girls on the list (myself included). Looking forward to connecting with my Belgian, Dutch, and Danish cycling friends. Amazing how time and distance are erased as soon as you get together with your cycling pals. I do have to say that I really can’t wait to get to Belgium permanently for the winter. It is a chance for me to put the ridiculous from the weekend behind me and to forget about the silly people. Most importantly, I can get settled into my racing, training and enjoying life in Belgium.

Right now even though things seem a little bit disorganized and crazy, I couldn’t be happier. This time tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Frankfurt and soon enough I’ll be pre-riding the World Cup race course. Life is good. The only thing that could make this trip better is to have Marc come along. Oh well, at least he’ll be there with me in Belgium very soon. I’m looking forward to spending time with my dad – wonder what he’ll think of his first World Cup experience? Perhaps I’ll see if I can get him to write a blog post on his impressions of World Cup racing?

Alright, my tea is getting cold and I really should do some packing….

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.