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.

Fun on Cyclo-Cross Bikes

Yesterday was simply a solid and fun day on the bike. Marc and I stayed home this weekend and raced in our local cyclo-cross series: the Ottawa Bicycle Club Cyclo-Cross Series. This is a fantastic series that offers a welcoming environment, challenging courses, excellent organization, friendly faces, good hard racing and some exuberant fans. Can’t ask for much more out of a cyclo-cross race. I don’t get to race at home much (in fact, I think this might be my only race at home this season), so it was a real treat to get out and race with my local “cyclo-cross community”.

I first started racing cyclo-cross way back in 1994 in this very series. Back then we were a small but dedicated group of racers and it is just awesome to see how this local series has grown to have over 200 racers of all ages and abilities. The one thing the Ottawa Bicycle Club Cyclo-Cross Series has is a true sense of community. This is what really made my day yesterday. I really enjoyed watching the first race and cheering on so many of my friends and then racing in the last race and being cheered on as well. It sure helps a lot when you’re “running” up that darn hill at Laurier Park to hear people cheering you on and giving encouragement. (Thanks so much for the cheering – that hill seemed to get longer and steeper each lap!)

As for the race? Well, I wasn’t sure how I would feel given the health hoops I’ve been through all summer and of late. But I’m happy to say that I felt pretty much okay. I didn’t kill myself out there since I still have to be careful with my energy levels and health. But the legs were turning over fairly well and I felt like I was riding smoothly in the technical department. My goals for this race were pretty simple – good dismounts/mounts, sprint out of the saddle after the remount, no front brake, always pedaling and to look up. I think I did a pretty good job on these goals. My dismounts still aren’t as smooth as I would like – seems to be a timing issue, I’m either getting off too close or too early – but this will come with more training and more racing. I’m very happy with how I was able to stay off my front brake and to remember to keep pedaling while braking. As for looking ahead – this was another checkmark. So all in all, pretty good. But of course there were other things that I noticed that I can improve on – I struggled with maintaining momentum on the uphill barrier dismount – I felt like I was coming to a complete stop, making the run up the hill very challenging. And admittedly, my running was probably the weakest part of my game yesterday – need to think about high knees and fast feet.

Post-race my biggest concern was my fatigue levels. Well, pretty happy to tell you that I wasn’t completely wiped out and even managed to stay awake until 11 p.m! A definitely refreshing change from the past weekends when I was completely wiped out after 40 minutes of racing. It was also really nice to be out there for over an hour riding my cyclo-cross bike. Have to say that grass was pretty soggy in parts! A great day indeed. Many thanks to Bob and Cheryl for giving up their morning once again to setup and manage the race and not to mention the post-race score tallying to figure out how we all did. Also thanks to Bob for being so accommodating and allowing me to race the last race of the day. Thanks to the guys for letting me race with them – hope I didn’t get in your way when you went flying by!

I said to Marc in the car after the race, “I haven’t been this happy and smiling this much in a long time after a race.” What a feeling. Thanksgiving indeed.

(To get an idea of the race, check out this video made by Karl Hoppner. Looking forward to more fun on cyclo-cross bikes with these young guns this afternoon. I can definitely say training with Karl, Conor, Marc and Evan has helped me so much this year. Thanks guys for the help, advice, and encouragement.)

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.)

Roller Coaster

I feel like I’m in the middle of roller coaster season rather than cyclo-cross season. Roller coaster basically sums up how things have been going so far. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time and clicking over to read my race reports, you can most likely understand why. But just like any respectable roller coaster, my cyclo-cross season is having some solid moments of ups with its downs.

Seems though that these ups are happening when I’m not racing. The ups are happening when I’m cheering on Marc, watching my friends race hard and succeed, and when I’m helping people learn new cyclo-cross skills. Such was the scene this evening. Tonight I helped out the OBC and held a session for a small group of kids/teenagers. In total we had five kids/teenagers all with a range of racing and cyclo-cross experience. A good little bunch of kiddos eager to learn and definitely willing to attempt to rip my legs off. Thanks to Marc and Conor for demonstrating skills and for providing their expert opinions, we had a really good session. Things were kept pretty basic with the focus being on the “dismount – mount” sequence. By the end of the 90 minutes all of these young racers were getting off and on their bikes very smoothly. We played some follow the leader at the end and I was impressed with the creativity the kiddos demonstrated with the route! All in all, a great night of helping out the future of the sport and seeing people thrive. Definitely an up on this roller coaster.

Training wise, well really I haven’t been able to do anything this week. Monday was consumed with preparing for the endoscopy and colonoscopy and then Tuesday was quite literally swallowed and sucked up with these two procedures. My 11 a.m. appointment ended up being at 2:30 – so I was at the hospital from 10 until 4:30… Not like I had the energy or desire to get on a bike when I got home. The only thing I really wanted to do was eat! I hadn’t eaten any solid food since Sunday night and really jello and popsicles don’t count as food…. I took it easy today as well – my body basically had no food left in it so I really just needed to rest and eat. The eating part I don’t mind, but resting is hard. Good news is that we’ve already got some results back. So tomorrow I’m back to the hospital for some additional procedures that will hopefully make a difference. By next week we’ll know even more and keeping my fingers crossed we find out what to do to put this ulcerative colitis to rest (at least until Feb. 1…). So another up on the roller coaster.

Of course the biggest up on the roller coaster is yet to come… It is of course: Gloucester! There is no place quite like Gloucester. Great race course. Solid fans. Excellent organization. Beautiful location. Just a great spot for some cyclo-cross racing. My focus is on having this weekend be full of ups as well. Positive mindset – anything can happen and in my visions, only good things are going to happen. Looking forward to racing, hanging out with our super hosts Mike and Cathy, cheering on Marc, Steve, Conor, Karl, Evan and the rest of the Ottawa crew who is making the drive down, hopefully catching up with Erik B., and just generally enjoying be out on my bicycle.

As the new favorite shirt says:
Do What You Like. Like What You Do.