Rebuilding

Got some more good news from the doctor yesterday – green light to get back into training. What excellent news. I kind of anticipated this so I’ve been taking a very leisurely week with regards to the bike. If I felt like riding and it was nice out, I went for a ride. If I wasn’t feeling it, well I simply didn’t ride. I did this because I know next week once I’m home in Ottawa I’ll be spending quality time with my bike on the trainer in the basement.

I have to say this week has been rather nice. I just rode when I wanted. Did whatever type of ride I felt like. So it is Friday and I last rode on Thursday. It was an excellent off-road ride in the woods of Tesenderlo. I rode steady letting my legs churn at whatever effort they wanted. This meant I did sprint up some steep inclines. This meant I did work on a high cadence and not getting bogged down in the mud. This meant I cruised the bicycle path. Really, this meant I just rode and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We are heading home on Monday so my riding is over for this trip. I kind of would like to ride on Sunday (assuming the weather is decent) but I sold one of my bikes today and the other one has a broken shifter. So I won’t ride. No biggie. I got in way more riding in the first month of 2011 than I had expected after my health problems. (I initially didn’t expect to be riding until March…) So I’m happy and content with the miles and time I was able to get in.

These rides I got in probably taught me more about myself than any other rides I’ve done. They reminded me that I love riding my bike. They showed me that it takes time and patience to rebuild and feel whole again. They highlighted how much I really wanted to be racing in St. Wendel, Germany. They gave me the chance to really look at myself as a bike racer and think about what I want and how I’m going to get it. Really can’t ask for much more than that from a month of riding. Those rides I did in January were a gift.

Now I’m looking ahead a little bit. Thinking about and talking with my coach about the upcoming block of training. How are we going to approach it? What kind of spring and early summer do I want? Lots of good ideas and thoughts swirling around. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the trainer… It is a sign that I’m on my way back. I’m rebuilding and I’m getting ready for an excellent season.

Recovery

Got some excellent news yesterday from my Belgian gastro doctor: my recent blood sample shows no signs of inflammation. This means that I’m on my way to full recovery from this recent ulcerative colitis flare. The other piece of good news is that my body is responding well to the Imuran. Definitely the news I’ve been waiting to hear!

I had four days of excellent riding in a row and ended up taking a much needed rest day yesterday. It is so easy to forget during my recovery process that I don’t have nearly the same fitness, strength or reserves that I had in the past. It is amazing to me how much I’ve lost in such a short time.

I think what did me in yesterday was the three hour ride on Tuesday. In retrospect, this was probably a much too ambitious ride to do considering that four weeks ago I was in the hospital hooked up to an intravenous line and eating only chicken broth and dry toast… But it is this ambition that has got me where I am…

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my recovery process for me has been my mental state. If you’re a regular reader of this web site, you’ll be familiar with my mental battles. All too frequently I would battle my “crazy brain” and lack self-confidence. Well, I’m proud to say that mentally, I’m feeling 100 per cent. It would be easy to get frustrated about my current lack of fitness and strength – but I know this will come back. How I’m riding and recovery right now will not be permanent. If anything this rotten 2010-2011 season has reinforced my mental resolve and strength – I know I didn’t ride and race like I can – so I’m super stoked to get out there and really race the way I know I can.

This period of recovery has also emphasized to me how important it is to get back to the basics.  Basics of cyclo-cross like: smooth transitions and pedaling and focus and aggression on the bike. You might find the word “aggression” a strange on my website. But it is going to be a keyword for my 2011-2012 season. Last night over dinner, Marc pointed out that I’m not aggressive on my bike during cyclo-cross races – instead of fighting for positions at the start, I slip into a complacent mode of being “at the back” – the opposite of how I used to approach my cyclo-cross racing. This we determined is because “I got used to being in the back”. Well this is changing for the new season. I don’t want to be at the back nor am I going to be at the back.

One of the best parts of my recovery process has been the freedom to let my legs and mind wander. While out on the bike I can ride as hard and for as long as I want. My mind is free to simply relax and enjoy the moment. I’m not focusing on wattage numbers, cadence, the next interval, etc. If I am thinking it is typically about the drills and skills I need to focus on when I get home to make me a better racer.

Would I prefer to be in St. Wendel, Germany right now getting ready to race in the World Cyclo-Cross Championships on Sunday? Yes! This was my season goal after all. But everything happens for a reason and I can’t dwell on what didn’t happen. I know that really this season was out of my control. My body took over and I simply couldn’t race my bike.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in this recovery phase. I think the next phase will be the re-building stage where with expert guidance from coach Steve Weller, I’ll start getting my fitness and strength back. In a twisted sort of way, I’m looking forward to riding the trainer in my basement in Ottawa – this will be a sure sign that I’m on my way to a bigger and better 2011-2012 season.

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.

Rolling Along

It’s funny, I’m not really sure to write about in this space right now. I’m kind of cyclo-cross limbo right now. My season is over. I can’t start training for next year until I’m 100 % healthy. All I can do really right now is go out for easy rides – slowly trying to build up the strength I’ve lost. Sadly I don’t have any race reports or details of epic training rides to tell you about. Really, a strange place to be as an athlete.

The good thing through all of this is I’m not battling any mental demons right now. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you will know that I’ve had my fair share of battles with my brain. There was a point when I first began to get sick in December when I thought I might be “done”. I think this was simply the fatigue and frustration of having to battle my body once again.

It was when I was in the hospital watching the Azencross cyclo-cross race that I realized I’m far from done. I was watching Sven pick up his bike and how smooth he is. I watched the top guys, paying attention to the lines they were taking and how smooth and composed they are in the mud. Before I knew it, I had my iPad out and I was brainstorming different drills that I want to incorporate into my cyclo-cross training this spring, summer and fall. I even went so far as to “plan out” where I could best work on specific skills. I’ve got plans of how and where to work on my sand riding, how to really conquer the explosiveness needed to get up and over steep climbs, drills specifically designed to prevent the loss of precious sections when shouldering the bike, and skills that will help me with my mud riding. So yeah, I’m back in the game. Never really left the game – just a small blip.

To say I’m stoked for the upcoming season would be an understatement. I’m far from where I need to be right now. But this is okay. I’ve got some good months ahead of me of recovery, training, learning and racing. I’ve got my big goal set for the 2011-2012 season and soon enough I’ll have to set some smaller mid-season goals.

This has been a trying season. Not the season I had planned on. But if anything it has taught me how much I do love racing my bike and that my desire to get better and achieve my goals is still burning strong. Sometimes the best lessons are the ones that come via the toughest and most challenging route.

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Saturday was all about bikes. Cyclo-cross bikes. Track bikes. A very good day indeed.

I tagged along with Marc to Affligem to cheer him on during his cyclo-cross race. I had a great time (rain and wind aside). I hadn’t watched Marc race since Drongen in late November. On top of the bonus of getting to watch Marc race, I had a great time hanging out with Luc before, during and after the race. After the race we chilled out in the cafe and I got to catch up with a bunch of our cyclo-cross friends. Definitely a good way to spend the first part of the day. Marc had a good ride and finished in fourth place.

We zipped back to Blauberg, quick unpack of the car, change into dry clothes and then we were off again. The four of us (Marc, Karl, Alex and I) went to Rotterdam last night to catch a night of track racing. The Six Days of Rotterdam is a very cool and special track racing event. I don’t know much about track racing but it is a pretty fun night out and the atmosphere at the Ahoy! arena is pretty special. The track racing night really is a spectacle. The riders are all introduced with a great deal of fanfare and special song. Through-out the night the announcer keeps things lively and gets the crowd excited. To top it off the music played is over the top – ranging from 80s techno to current day hits, the music really keeps people smiling and cheering. Clearly the crowd favorites last night was the team of Schep and Bos. These guys were pretty darn fast. As was the sprint World Champion Bauge. The speeds that these guys ripped around the track was amazing. As was the size of their legs!

I think we all had a fun time. We had awesome seats – two rows up from the track so we could really feel the speed of the racers as they flew by. Around the arena there were many displays of different bikes, manufacturers, and books. The Right To Play organization was there as well – Marc gifted me a very cool Right to Play zip-up jacket. Right to Play is a special organization and is doing excellent work in the developing world to foster a healthy and safe environment for children.

The track racing went on until after midnight but we were all a bit weary and only managed to stay until just after 11. All in all, a good night was had. To top it off it was Alex’s birthday so when we got back here at about 12:30 we all had a bit of super tasty birthday cake before hitting the sack. Have to say there is nothing quite like the chocolate cake from the Blauberg bakery…

As for today? Well, it is a beautiful day. So riding is in order. Jos and Ed are coming by and we’re setting out on an easy paced ride. Marc and Karl have got specific work-outs to do – so we’ll let the speed demons do their own thing! Then this afternoon it is all about the Belgian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. Truth be told, I’m more interested in the women’s race and how my friends will make out than the men’s race… I think one of the most interesting championship races happening today will be the Dutch Women’s National Cyclo-Cross Championships – it will be interesting to see who comes out on top: Vos, Van De Brand or Van Passen.