Training Days

The middle of February… This can be a tough time in what seems like a long month for pretty much anyone. We are still stuck in the dead of winter and the days really don’t feel much longer. If you’re in Ottawa, you’re surrounded by snow and is very cold (at least today). This can make for some long days.

Well, I’ve found a way to beat the winter malaise. (And yes, I know. I’ve only been back in Ottawa for a week now so I shouldn’t be moaning about the cold and snow..) My solution to these days that really aren’t that friendly to us bike racers? Ride the rollers… Yep, never will 45 minutes or an hour go by so quickly as it does as you’re slip sliding around the rollers on your two-wheeler. Trust me, I know.

I just finished my first roller ride of the season. Wow, hard to believe that way back in the ’90s I used to only train on the rollers. Let me tell you it wasn’t a pretty down there in the basement. I was wobbly. I definitely didn’t ride in a straight line. My shoulders were in my ears. I gripped the bars a bit too tight. My knees were sticking out. I even fell off once. But I got through it.

45 minutes of roller riding is done. The time went by so quickly. Much more quickly than when riding the trainer. I guess because I was too busy focusing on staying upright that I didn’t have time or the energy to think about the slowly ticking clock. I’m not ready to watch television and ride the rollers yet. So I listened to a podcast on my iPod and tried to ignore the sweat puddles forming on my body. Thing is, with the trainer I can towel off and wipe my glasses whenever I want – on the roller this just isn’t happening.

It’s tempting to take the easy route and ride the trainer. Much less risk involved. I can watch television, drink water, and wipe away the sweat. But riding the rollers will pay off in the racing season with a more fluid pedaling stroke and an effortless high cadence (at least this is what I’m telling myself). Besides time flies on the rollers.

Tomorrow I’ll break out and get outside for another trail run followed by some trainer riding time to flush out my legs. I’m fully back in the groove of training now. My body is feeling good. I really missed this structured training. So far the fatigue levels haven’t been that severe and luckily I’m not experiencing much muscle soreness. I’ve reacquainted myself with my foam roller and my stretching routine to help keep my muscles loose and limber.

So there you have it. Almost one week into training for the 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season. It feels good to be coming back!

On another note, I have written a book. It is called: An Unlikely Elite. This is my story of reaching my goal of racing at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. You can download it in epub format or in pdf. If you like what you read, it would be great if you made a donation to my fundraising efforts for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada. You can use the PayPal button on the An Unlikely Elite web site. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read my book and for making a donation.

 

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.

Stoked

Dudes, I’m super stoked right now. I’ve got a fire in my belly and really I just need to get out and ride my bike. What has caused this urgent need to pedal, pedal, and pedal some more? The UCI cyclo-cross calendar for 2011-2012 is out… Oh boy, it is going to be a great season.

I’m pumped that the first two World Cups are in the Czech Republic. I really enjoy racing in the Czech Republic and there is nothing quite like racing in Tabor (where I raced my first World Cyclo-Cross Championships). The UCI calendar looks really good. I’m pleased that are a lot more opportunities for women to race in UCI races in Belgium/Holland. To name a few new races for us gals: Overijse and Baal. I race Overijse in 2008 – what an experience – one of the hardest courses I’ve ever done – can’t wait to race it again.

The only disappointing factor in the UCI calendar is the lack of double-header races in the U.S. For someone like me who has to drive typically eight hours to get to a race in the U.S. – this is a long way to go for one race. But it is what is so I can’t complain – just need to get on my bike and ride.

Yep, so feeling pretty jazzed right now. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to rebuild my fitness, build new fitness and to really get my technical skills where they need to be. No issues here – this is just the kind of challenge I thrive on.

Yesterday I was talking with Marc about the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in St. Wendel, Germany… The first year I tried to make the Canadian team, the World Cyclo-Cross Championships were in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands – I didn’t qualify for the team and really didn’t have an emotional connection to the weekend of racing. In 2010 I was honored to be chosen to the team and to race in Tabor, Czech Republic. This year, I did not make the team and really I found this past weekend very hard. I so badly wanted to be there and was thinking about the races all weekend. I guess this is because I now know how special it is to race at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. I want to have this feeling again.

So, I suppose the next logical step is for me to step away from the computer, to put on my kit and go out for a ride! This is going to be a good season – I can feel it.

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.

Almost Time

Yesterday Karl and his family packed up their camper and hit the open road bound for St. Wendel, Germany. On Saturday Karl will race in his first World Cyclo-Cross Championships. What a lucky guy to be racing at the top level of his sport. Definitely a well-earned honor. When Karl left, I told him “try not to cry on the start line like I did”.

Yes, that race – the World Cyclo-Cross Championships has a powerful effect on me. There is nothing quite like lining up in your country’s national colors and racing with the best in the world. This is huge. It is an honor but it also represents sacrifice, dedication, risk and accomplishment.

I wish I was racing this weekend in St. Wendel, Germany. Plain and simply – I’m not.

So to the Canadians who will be out their ripping it up in their red and white skinsuits (Karl, Benjamin, Yohan, Natasha, Derrick and Craig), remember this:

– you deserve this honor

– you worked hard for it

– have fun and soak it all in

– smile when people cheer for you

– whatever happens¬† out there on the race course – remember that we’re all supporting you and are super proud of you

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a shout out to Nikki, Gabby, Helen, Katie, Amy, and Sue. Have a great race and enjoy every minute of it.

I’ll be out there pedaling with you – cheering you on and sending you all the speedy vibes I can.

It’s the World Cyclo-Cross Championships! A great time to be a cyclo-cross racer. Looking forward to hearing all about the race and how it played out.

Twisty Roads

I rolled out of the house this morning at around 10:30 for a ride. To be honest, I really didn’t feel much like riding. I wanted to ride but I just really felt kind of lost on the bike. It is strange to be riding with no fixed goal or reason for the ride. I know I’m riding right now to rebuild the lost fitness and strength. But I’m used to having a goal for each work-out – specific power goals, intervals, etc. Right now I’m really just riding. Don’t get me wrong I love doing it, but somedays it is hard to get out there.

So this was how I was feeling at the start of my ride this morning. Directionless. I pointed myself to my favorite twisty roads and decided to ride for as long as I felt. Gradually the sun started to come out and with it my spirits began to lift. I found myself in Veerle and decided to keep on going – typically I turn off and head back to Blauberg via Averbode. Not today. Today I found myself on more twisty roads and on my way to Eindhout.

I ended up having a great ride. I let me bike take me where it wanted. I had some excellent podcasts loaded up on my iPod and really relaxed into the ride. Those twisty roads seemed to give me some excellent therapy. My legs opened up and began to find their rhythm. My heart and soul relaxed and I was able to enjoy the ride for the sake of the ride. In the end, I’m super happy I went out.

I’m guessing that part of the reason I’m feeling a bit directionless right now is because we’re in the big build up to the Hoogerheide World Cup and the World Cyclo-Cross Championships next weekend in St. Wendel, Germany. Well, I’m not in the build up for these races… But pretty much all of my friends are. I’m super stoked for them, but I’m also sitting here wishing I was part of the big show this year. Hoogerheide is one of my favorite World Cups and well, what can you say about the World Cyclo-Cross Championships – simply the ultimate race. I know that I’ll be there next season but next season feels very far away right now….

Tomorrow I’ll get out for another ride. This one will be a longer one, I’m thinking close to three hours of riding on the twisty roads and a few climbs. Just what my legs, heart and soul need right now. I’ll simply let the twisty roads guide me – this seems to be working so far.

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.