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…

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

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.

Fighting

Just wanted to let you all know that I’m still here. I’ve taken a few days away from this site because I’ve been pretty focused on resting and recovering. And to tell the truth, I really don’t have a lot to say right now. I haven’t ridden my bike in over a week and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to ride it again. I really wish I could tell you about my latest training rides and preparation for upcoming races – but unfortunately this is not where I am right now.

Nope, instead I’m focused on getting healthy. 100 per cent healthy. This is different from the level of “health” I was in at the start of this cyclo-cross season. I now realize that I wasn’t healthy. I wanted to be healthy. I told myself I was healthy. But I wasn’t. I was fighting my body each and every time I got on the bike. Finally and ultimately, my body won. So now here I am sitting, resting, sleeping, waiting, hoping that I will get better.

So what am I doing to get better? Well I’m not riding. I’m not racing. I’ve switched to a gluten and dairy free diet. I’m taking some new medications. I’m trying to eat – this is hard because I really don’t have an appetite and food often makes me feel worse. I’m researching and reading – currently learning about veganism and Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Diet. I’m working hard to stay in a positive mental head space. I’m sleeping as much as my body wants.

Is it working? Hard to know. This type of healing takes time and patience. So this is what I’ll focus on – giving my body all the time it needs to heal and be ready for next season. I’m working hard at being patient with my body – it is very hard to not be frustrated with what I see as a “faulty” body – but it is the only one I have so I must do my best to give it time to heal. Time and patience.

I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back next season ripping it up on the cyclo-cross bike zipping around the course in my red,white and black kit. Next year is going to be a good one. I can’t wait to get back out training with the “kids”, with Mr. Timbo Schleck Austen and to hold more cyclo-cross practice sessions (these benefit me as much as you). Until then – I wait and I get better.

As I write this I’m listening to the 2010 cyclo-cross season warm-up playlist that I created at the start of this season. I listen to this before and after every cyclo-cross race. Right now it is reminding me of how much I miss being out there with you guys racing my bike.

Doubling Up and Resting

Sorry for not posting on Wednesday. Frankly, I was wiped out. So very tired. I had a good hard training day and I found I just didn’t have the brain cells or energy left to write anything intelligent. Sometimes it is best to err on the side of caution and not put the fingers on the keyboard – I never know what will come out!

I kicked off Wednesday with a 90 minute road ride. The work-out was innocent enough with two 10 minute tempo intervals. Have to say, I felt like dynamite during these intervals, found myself having to pull back a bit. Nice feeling to find that spark in my legs. Had a good roll around some of my favorite training routes and then it was back to the house for a bit of recovery.

This recovery was short-lived though as a couple hours later Karl and I loaded up the Peugeot and hit the open road bound for Floreal Lichtaart. At Floreal Lichtaart there is a network of 38 kilometers of mountain bike trails and included in this trail system is a designated cyclo-cross training course. The course is signed with black route markers and has everything you want/need in a training loop. Fast descents. Tight corners. Two sandy run-ups. One sandy ride-up. Open wide road for really opening up the legs. Steep sharp climbs. Swooping corners. Plenty of ruts, berms, grooves and terrain changes. All in all a pretty ideal place to train.

Wednesdays are a traditional cyclo-cross training day here. Kids don’t have school on Wednesday afternoons, so often you’ll find various teams and clubs out training at Floreal Lichtaart. This past Wednesday was no different – there were about 15 “kids” out training – age ranging from 8 to 18. There were also a variety of adults out training as well. Karl and I started riding together and then I quickly sent him on his way and he spent his time riding with various other people. We hooked up towards the end to work on a trick corner that leads into this sandy climb:

While Karl was out ripping it up with the young and old guns, I was working my way around the course. I would ride to a section and practice it three or four times and then continue along to the next section that had features I wanted to practice. I had a pretty darn good training session. I set up a little mini-loop that involved two sandy run-ups and two fast descents – all things I need to work on. I really felt the fatigue starting to set in by the end of the ride – first time I can say I’ve had my legs buckle under me when hopping off the bike to run. Yep, a good work-out.

We had a surprise visit from Tim last night. So this was great to catch-up with him and chat about everything has been going on. He gave Karl and I some more training tips – which are always appreciated. Looking forward to getting him out on some rides this year.

Here are a couple photos of the route maps posted at Floreal Lichtaart:

Today thankfully was a recovery ride. I really needed it. Normally I’m tempted to go hard on my recovery rides or to go ride in the woods. But not today. Today I just let my pedals flow nice and easy and rolled around on some fantastic twisty roads. I even took the time to snap a few pictures for you!

This is a route marker for cycling routes. Basically you simply ride along following the numbered routes. Great way to put together a training loop and mostly avoid getting lost…

This is similar but for walking. Today I saw three different groups out walking along the road and in the forest. Pretty refreshing to see people out enjoying the fresh air and getting some exercise.

One of the roads I found myself pedaling down.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my Wednesday and Thursday. This afternoon I’m off to Westerlo for a bit of walking around and to enjoy the fine Cafe Libro. Then it is off to Herentals for a doctor’s appointment – hoping to get an iron infusion today or at the very least get one scheduled. The doctor I’m seeing is the team doctor for Vacansoleil, so he is familiar with cyclists and what we need our bodies to do.

Double-header this weekend – Hasselt on Saturday and Aspere Gavere on Sunday. I’m looking forward to both races. Last year Aspere Gavere was a shock to my system in every possible manner, but this year I know what to expect so I’m looking forward to it. My focus will be to “keep pedaling”, “stay off the brake”, “eyes forward”, “keep smiling”, and “go faster”.

One week until Marc arrives! Yay!

Go Time

It is time. Time to get to the airport, get checked in and get on the plane. I’ve been anticipating this day for a while now. But now that it is here, I kind of wish I could delay it for a few days. Everything seems a bit rushed right now. I know I’ll be okay once I get on the plane. But I wish I had a few more days with Marc. A few more days here at home to think and to just be. Don’t get me wrong – I want to go. It is just harder this year to go alone without Marc. (He’ll be getting to Belgium on Nov. 25 and believe me, I’m already counting down the days.)

I caved and ended up bringing a suitcase with me this time. No luck getting everything into two bike boxes and a carry-on. Really the items that took up the most space aren’t my clothing – it is all the Clif Bar product and my ulcerative colitis medicine! Can’t leave this valuable stuff at home. I’ve got my iPad loaded up with a couple of television shows, one of my favorite movies (Up), my favorite pro rider (George Hincapie), and some yoga to stretch the muscles, mind and soul.

Tuesday is going to be a busy day. Build bikes. Get out for a two hour ride – try out both bikes. Get unpacked. Get some food. Beat the jetlag and get sorted out for the first race in Niel, Belgium. Karl and Denise arrive on Thursday – I’m looking forward to showing Karl my favorite training routes and helping them to get oriented with Blauberg, Herselt, Averbode, and the area.

I’m racing on Thursday in Niel and then I’ve got a solid week and a bit of training until the next set of races – Hasselt on the 20th and Apere Gavere on the 21st. I really liked the Hasselt race last year. Asper Gavere? Well, I got through it! This year I’m looking forward to riding better technically at Aspere Gavere – the mud is my friend and so are steep muddy descents!

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Nationals on Saturday. What a day. It was one where so many of us had goals that we wanted to tick off. But just as in life, this doesn’t always happen. I’m taking all the good I can from that day. The good on and off the bike. I got to meet some new people, reinforce friendships, cheer on my good friends, and race my bike. Many thanks to the “kids” for their overwhelming support this season – training with these young guys has just been awesome. Between them and Marc I’ve learned so much already. Thanks to Natasha for the email today about my health issues – it really does help to have some advice from someone else who has been down the same rocky and uncertain road. Things will get better. Soon enough I’ll feel like myself again. I can’t wait to see what I can put together on and off the bike when this comes to fruition.

Alright, I best be off. The clock is ticking and we’ve got to now jam all my gear into the back of our trusty Matrix. If you see Marc out at the races – be sure to give him a hug and a kiss for me and cheer extra loudly for him. Can’t wait to see him on Nov. 25.

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.