100 things I learned in my first year of racing

As this road season comes to a close for me, I’ve had some time to reflect on everything I’ve learned. And for my first real go at a full racing season, it’s been quite the ride! So many highs and lows, but nothing I would change. I can honestly say that for all the illness, injury, crashes, pain, loneliness, fear, depression, and pure exhaustion, none of it outweighs how much I love racing my bike. Period. So to show my great love for the sport, and cap off a pretty eventful season, I compiled a list of the top 100 things I learned… can you believe it’s condensed too?!

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1. Only bike racers really understand bike racers.
2. Good bike handling skills earn respect, so brush up!
3. Your car will become your home.
4. You would much rather die than DNF.
5. Tan lines are inevitable.
6. You’ll start driving like you’re in a criterium.
7. You can’t be a bike racer and not drink espresso.
8. Everyone drinks beet juice, it’s no secret!
9. You’re not a real bike racer until you’re willing to travel to a bike race alone.
10. If you don’t wash your water bottles soon after use, they will get mouldy.
11. There are dues to be paid, and you don’t get to decide whether you’ve paid them or not.
12. Spandex becomes your second skin.
13. If you’re scared of crashing, you should probably change sports.
14. Suffering will become your middle name.
15. Resourcefulness takes you a long way, but being cheap isn’t necessarily best.
16. All of your money will go to food and race entry fees.
17. You’ll stay in dozens of people’s homes you don’t know.
18. You’ll realize there are many other athletes just as determined as you.
19. You’ll go through hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in bike parts.
20. You’ll be called “junior” hundreds of times until you learn how to handle your chain without being covered in grease.
21. You’re likely to feel the urge to throw up when you line up with pros for the first time.
22. Your Garmin is a great training tool, but isn’t what you should be staring at during a race!
23. You’ll develop an innate need for speed – especially bombing down mountain passages.
24. The cycling community is small, so be nice!
25. Male cyclists know a surprising amount about hair removal.
26. Coffee in a styrofoam cup from a race venue will never replace espresso.
27. Gluten is the devil!
28. Shammy time is not training time, it’s rash time.
29. Racing pros doesn’t mean you’re pro.
30. Never show up to Tour of the Gila feeling less than 100%
31. If you don’t have the luxury of a bus or van, changing and applying shammy butter in the middle of a parking lot is what you’re left with.
32. Believe in yourself.
33. Nail art, earrings and hairstyles become the way women express their femininity on the bike.
34. Male cyclists talk more about their weight than female cyclists.
35. Cycling isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.
36. You’ll make some amazing friends.
37. Compression wear is a great recovery tool, just don’t be caught racing or training in it, you’ll be subject to much mockery.
38. Almost all road cyclists are slightly OCD.
39. Quality over quantity.
40. Road racing is like chess. Final smart move wins.
41. Winning a race can feel like an elusive feat.
42. You’ll push your body past what you thought was your maximum.
43. Every race is a learning experience regardless of outcome.
44. You’ll never stop learning.
45. Everyone’s journey is different, so don’t compare!
46. Racing without a team is like racing with your brakes rubbing – always at a slight disadvantage.
47. You’ll meet some of the coolest like minded people.
48. You’ll live with dozens of new people, and quickly learn how to work around their ritualistic behaviour.
49. You’ll end up watching a lot of crap TV, not necessarily by choice.
51. It never gets easier, you just get faster.
52. Good host families are like gold, so treat them as such!
53. Always show respect.
54. Downhillers party the hardest, and will hit on you the hardest.
55. Getting sucked into the race bubble is akin to a black hole.
56. Listen to the veterans. There’s a reason they’re fast.
57. At the end of the day, results do matter.
58. Don’t size up your competition at the start line – appearances can be deceiving!
59. The love of bike racing has to out weigh the sacrifices.
60. Race brain results in many “shit where are my keys!” moments.
61. You’ve got to be able to adapt and go with the flow.
62. You’ll plan, and plan, and plan, with maybe a fraction of your plan going accordingly. But at least you planned!
63. You’ll hear “if only I was a kg or two lighter…” uttered from every cyclist’s mouth, everyday.
64. Never comment on the muscularity of a cyclist’s upper body.
65. Check your fear at the door.
66. Equipment matters.
67. Loneliness is inevitable.
68. Ice in a sports bra is a genius idea.
69. You’ll need someone other than yourself to believe in you for those days you want to crawl into a hole.
70. Always congratulate. Jealousy gets you nowhere.
71. Boulder, Colorado is a cyclist’s heaven.
72. There are no free rides in cycling, all hard work.
73. Strength training doesn’t mean body building.
74. Recovery is your best friend.
75. Inequality between genders in cycling is very real.
76. You have to accept your vulnerability.
77. You’ll hear the phrase “Well, that’s bike racing!” Thousands of times.
78. Only get someone you know and trust to glue your tubulars.
79. Long hair stuffed into the back of your skin suit is more aero, but short hair is lighter and easier.
80. You’ll start to view all of your non-bike related things as potential income to purchase more bike related things.
81. You’ll become a master packer.
82. Yelling is a tactic, don’t be fooled.
83. Always take care of your shit.
84. Not all cyclists are alike, we come in different breeds.
85. Tucson Bicycle Classic has the most ungodly start times.
86. Always close safety pins!
87. Progress takes longer than you want. There are no shortcuts in cycling!
88. You can’t be a rock star at everything.
89. Always remember the bigger picture.
90. Eat and drink! The worst time to realize you didn’t fuel is 3hrs into a race with a massive climb left to tackle before the finish.
91. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your own results. It’s a waste of energy playing the blame game.
92. Don’t forget to have fun!
93. Good training partners are hard to come by.
94. Don’t let anyone deter you from tossing all your eggs in the cycling basket. You never know until you give it a serious try.
95. You can’t stay in top form year round.
96. Train with people who are faster than you.
97. Know when to be serious, and when to have a laugh.
98. Patience, young Jedi.
99. Beer is the way to any mechanic’s heart
100. You might feel like by the time you’ve learned how to do everything right, you’ll be too old to be fast anymore!

Keepin’ it raw & real

Sometimes there are so many things to say – that it seems nearly impossible to articulate – and therefore nothing comes out – because it proves to be futile to even attempt a starting point. Well, you could say these past 7 weeks have been like that. It’s been a whirlwind. A very eye opening, humbling, and difficult whirlwind. Which quite frankly is only the first 100m of this marathon I’m in (yeah, I like cheesy metaphors, get used to it)!

I’ve been thinking about how I want to present my point of view, and realized that a play by play of every single race is just not my style. I want to give a more raw look into my experience. I mean, I could delve into the details of every weekends’ race, but frankly that isn’t as stimulating a read as a broader look into parts of the experience.

Anyways, back to the whirlwind. I started this year on a path perfectly planned out – moderate and sensible. Nothing too crazy, stay in Cat 3 until further notice, start racing in Arizona to get my feet wet, and then relocate to NYC where racing is plentiful. Totally reasonable, considering I’ve only been taking this competitive athlete and cycling thing seriously since end of May 2013. Well, as the season unfolded, it seemed “until further notice” presented itself as “right now”. So I made the leap to Cat 2 after my second race of the year – and quickly found myself racing with the “big girls” – with literally only weeks in between upgrading to then racing my first NRC race (Redlands).

I don’t know what it is about me – but when things happen in my life, they happen 310%. Seriously, full throttle. Based on this, I’m expecting to die young – because life is always full speed ahead – I’ll run out of things to do by the time I’m 50!

Jumping off the deep end is both exhilarating and scary. I’ve been stretched pretty thin at times, and overwhelmed with so much joy and excitement I probably peed a little. But I’m quickly learning this is the typical graph of a cyclist (or any athlete, or high achieving person on a mission for “greatness”). It’s just plain tough, yo-yoing back and forth. But there’s not much else in the world I would dance back and fourth for. Cycling has breathed incredible life into me – and made me realize things about myself I never thought possible. Or maybe I’m just getting older, and the wiser. Although I beg to differ – as I’m still referred to as a “junior”. And rightfully so. I’m a young grasshopper in the cycling world.

Learning is a never ending, and inevitable function of life. But can also provoke anger, frustration and humility. To really learn, one has to immerse themselves and become vulnerable. The process is unique to the individual, but at the core of it has to be a willingness, or desire. I’ve never felt so compelled to drive this hard for something. Sure, there have definitely been things that I’ve thrown myself into. But not like this -I literally dropped everything on a whim to immerse myself in cycling – something I really didn’t know much about, all because I felt a burning desire. I guess my impulsive side has some virtue to it!

The less virtuous side of my impulsiveness lies in the fact that I can tend to run around with blinders on – always looking ahead, and often forgetting the past as soon as a new opportunity arises. I rise to the occasion, or maybe just fly by the seat of my pants. Either way, I roll with it, and keep moving forward. I’m seriously having the time of my life -but sheesh it’s exhausting at times. Especially when I’m on survival mode roaming around like a lone ranger with any amount of these thoughts running through my mind at a given time:
Where on earth am I going to sleep? How am I going to afford this? Should I go here, or here, or here?
I have to drive X amount of hours to get to X race (most likely alone).
I’m lonely.
I’m not sick, I just feel sick.
I’d rather die than quit.
Am I really too friendly? (Apparently that’s a thing in cycling? Maybe I’m wayyy too excited, or have too much energy for cycling, or networking, or something?)

Living alone out of your car for any extended amount of time is an experience unto itself. One worth having, no doubt. But the life of the solo travelling athlete – not to mention one who is doing everything for the first time – is tough cookies. Mostly the solo part, and the first time part. Navigating – literally and figuratively – into the unknown is a huge driving force of motivation. Wildly freeing, and terribly scary at times. As someone who struggles with mental illness, embarking on a journey like this can have it’s added struggles as I sort out the inner demons and rally forward into more uncharted territories. In the long run, the push and pull is well worth the fight, but there are days, even weeks, when it can feel like a losing battle. This is when I’m enormously thankful for all of the supportive people I’ve met along the way. I’ve met some of the most genuine, driven, inspiring, friendly and funny people the past months. These people are really what have kept me feeling inspired and eager to keep persevering, and who have helped guide me through some rocky times.

But in all seriousness, at the end of the day, there really is nothing else I’d rather be doing than riding and racing my bike. So to me, every aspect of the journey is seen as essential to growth – and I’m learning to roll with it.

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Last days of Cali

I recognize this post has been a long time coming. It’s been a bit of a whirl wind the past month and I haven’t found a time where I’ve been in the right head space to blog…

I left California early last week, and am now staying with a fellow teammate and her boyfriend in Tucson, Arizona – this will be my home base for the next 6-8 weeks. Luckily I don’t have to travel too much until the end of March since there are some big races happening here – Old Pueblo Grand Prix, Tucson Bicycle classic, to name a few…

Anyways, back to California. The last couple weeks there were spent racking up some serious miles part of the Team Manitoba training camp. We banked somewhere in the ballpark of 1200km & 11,000m of climbing – over 8 days of riding. It was tiring, but mostly a lot of fun.

The things I enjoyed most about Cali are as follows:

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The beach.

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Karlee.

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The huge garage.

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The tops of epic climbs (and subsequently epic descents).

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Copious amounts of trips to Trader Joe’s & Ralph’s, followed by delicious meals such as this…

But I think what struck me the most over the last 2 months there was realizing how important enjoying the process is. Embracing all the small things along the journey makes life so much more enjoyable. That, and also the people I’ve been able to connect with along the way… The cycling community is filled with such interesting people – all completely head over heals in love with riding our bikes!

An Epic Climb & Vintage Beetle

Some days can really only be summed up as a fantastical debacle. Yes – fantastical – since some, although catastrophic, are quite hilarious as well. A day such as this happened last week when I set out to ride to Santa Barbara and climb Gibraltar – a popular climb in the area with an average of 8% over 6.5miles.

The day started off reasonably, although it was chilly enough that I had to employ my knee and arm warmers. I contemplated light gloves, but reasoned it would probably warm up and therefore wouldn’t really need them… Unfortunately for me, it didn’t warm up, but instead began to rain just as I hit the base of the climb. That being said, rain is often welcomed on a hard climb – keeps from overheating!

As the climb went on, the rain persisted, and so did a heavy low fog – I could barely see 10ft in front of me. Gibraltar also has few guard rails, signage and lines on the road – all adding to the sheer epic-ness of the ascent. I also might ad that I had no idea of the grade or length of the climb. It didn’t take long and my sense of time and space was completely warped. As far as my cycling adventures go – I’ve never experienced anything like it. I also think that being solo added to the rush of the unknown and “danger” factor.

Anyways, after 50 minutes of climbing I finally reached the top, where I quickly realized just how cold it was and deeply regretted my decision to leave my gloves at home. I wish I could say the descent was epic ‘good’, but in all honesty I was scared shitless. I was so cold I could barely use my hands to shift or brake. And my inability to see the sharp corners sans guard rails was a major stomach turner – but I sucked it up and embraced the fear. Once I had eased into the sensation of the perilous descent, I got a flat. Being so freakishly cold, with solid ice blocks for hands, I got off my bike to start jumping around and blow into my palms so I might warm up enough that I could attempt to change the tube. This is when a couple in a valiant looking VW Beetle stopped to see if I was okay. I assured them that I definitely was not – seeing how I had been jumping around for a solid 10 minutes and was only getting colder.

They pulled to the side, offered me a blanket and little heater for my hands – the fellow even offered to change my tube. I insisted I could do it once my hands were warm – but he seemed almost insulted that I didn’t think he could do it, so I reluctantly let him go for it. He seemed to know what he was doing – until he attempted to put the CO2 cartridge on the valve, and instantly snapped it off my new tube. Well meaning, poorly executed. Now I was most definitely SOL.

I ended up calling Karlee (who I was supposed to meet in Santa Barbara for my ride home), to inform her of my plight. So she, her coach, and two friends had to detour to pick me up. Once they arrived I was able to un hand the heater and blanket for my dry clothes. But since the heater I was using ran off the Beetle’s old battery – the Beetle wouldn’t start! How comical – the rescuers needed rescuing! We attempted to boost them – no dice. Luckily the guy who owned (and built) the Beetle was able to successfully rewire his corroded battery – and we were able to successfully give it a boost!

A couple interesting facts about the fellow and his Beetle:
1) It’s a 1970’s model that he rebuilt himself
2) He’s a carpenter and woodworker
3) He used his woodworking skills to deck out the interior
4) Apparently there are hundreds of cars like his in California
5) He’s from Orange County

And some pics of the ordeal:

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I should also add, that these photos depict a much more beautiful looking day . Because by the time all this went down, it had cleared up and warmed slightly – leaving me a fool.

Lucky 13

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been in California for 13 days – time is flying by! Yes, I’m having fun – as one might assume by the swift passing of time, location and nature of my being here. But I’m also feeling a slight panic of “Oh gosh, race season is getting closer! So much work to do!” This being said, a little ‘panic’ is a necessary evil in the process to achieving a larger goal – and helps to maintain focus!

In these past 13 days, and namely this past week, I’ve been able to ease into a good training routine. And it feels amazing to finally find a rhythm that works for me. Possibly may have something to do with the gorgeous mountains, perfect climate and ocean breeze? Or just the very fact that being removed from all external distractions and stress is, well, not stressful. Either way, it’s been an exciting past week of crazy climbing (nearly 2000m on Saturday), crazy descending (Tuna Canyon Ya’ll!), and getting used to my new TT bike.

Here’s a capsule of photos from the past week. Enjoy!

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Farmer’s Market

Yesterday, being my recovery day, I decided to check out the local farmer’s market. I didn’t know what to expect – maybe a couple stands with local produce and some preserves. Instead it filled an entire parking lot near the harbour, and consisted of dozens of booths from produce, preserves, meats, cheeses and hard goods. I am a huge supporter of buying local and knowing your farmer – and I love the intimate experience market’s provide between the farmer/vendor and patron. So finding one here in Oxnard makes me feel a little more at home – except for the citrus fruit and avocado’s in January!

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First days in Cali

It’s been a couple days since I first arrived in California – with settling in, training, and feeling just plain exhausted from all the travel I only now felt inspired to write about my past few days.

It really is breath taking how beautiful it is out here along the southern coast of California. Large bodies of water have always given me a renewed sense of energy – so when I first laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean I was beside myself with excitement!

I am renting a house with Karlee Gendron in the city of Oxnard – we are only a block away from the Pacific coast and a yacht harbour. My first impressions of Oxnard are fairly positive – seems like a friendly town filled with beach bums, surfers and retired folk. And I can’t believe how friendly everyone is to cyclists – and how much room on the road is given to us! Winnipeg could really learn a thing or two.

The riding out here really is phenomenal – beautiful roads, paths along the coast, mountains – not much more I could ask for. It still feels a little surreal that I’ll be spending the next 6 weeks here – and yet some of my first feelings are of guilt – that I get to pursue this crazy career of becoming a full time cyclist. I know a lot of work is involved – but it hardly feels like work when I enjoy it so much. So should I really be feeling guilty? It’s probably the Mennonite part of me telling me to be practical and feel shame for doing something ‘frivolous’. It really is ingrained at birth! Either way, here I am, going against the flow, enjoying the sun’s GLOW (eep! I really have the worst humour!), in California..

Here are some photos from the past couple rides…

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