Photo by BOWW resident cycling photographer, Jenna.
This is most likely a premature move to put out the report this "early". But unseasonable cooler weather in August and relentless "#CXISCOMING" war cries are desperately signalling that it's la fin de saison, you guys. I'm calling it. As for "Phase II" as some people are dubbing it, I'm still going to be on the sidelines and cowbelling my heart out as cyclocross race season comes into full swing. I may even get rad myself and do some [non-competitive] cross rides since that's sort of a thing for me now (explained further down below). And I find that fall road cycling is so lax that I don't tend to count any-- *crossfit prick voice*-- "gains" during it, as well as finding my competitive streak cooling down in likeness by this point. From September onward, I think it's just good ol' social fun (...I think).
Off the bat, I need to say that I personally think that this season was fucking shoddy. Mother Nature was especially cruel this summer by raining out too many rides, which really, FRUSTRATINGLY, cramped my training flow. I couldn't stay consistent...
And the soaring highs with disappointing lows were very much indicative of that...
Anxiety and Cycling
Cycling is both the cause of and solution to my anxiety. As soon as I get spinning, I can immediately see straight again. But cycling is also a mental monster that crashes on my couch and won't fucking leave already, rendering me blind with worry and losing my grip on reality. Matt's had to endlessly soothe me and endure so many of my plaguing "I'm just not good enough" sobfest meltdowns this year. It's been the dominating subject in therapy, always right at the top of most sessions (I'm scared my therapist is about to fire me for constantly having to put out these non-fires)...
And I don't even race. So I can't even begin to explain why I take it too goddamn seriously. But it's my one and only sport du passion. I love it with obsession, it beats in my heart, it lives deep in my marrow. I'll always feel this deficit inside me, for the child who grew up in the city and could never have a bike, and only wanted one for every last Christmas and birthday. I'm damn proud of being a cyclist now and I only want to be a decent one. If I'm not, what's left is someone who's good at talking about bikes, but never actually riding them (sorry not sorry ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
It seemed that the ONLY way to combat the anxiety was to just. fucking. do it. Do the hard ride. Do the fast ride. Do the ends-of-the-earth crazy distance ride. Do the 7km of 2,000m of elevation ride. It's more frightening to teeter on the edge and stare down into the abyss than to actually leap and be in the free fall. All you're doing while standing on that edge is just continuing to blow up the monster bigger than it is. As my dad would say, albeit it's a fucking irritating oversimplification: "Don't think. Just do."
I finally reached the point where my brain and body were sick and tired of being scared, I wanted out of the prison already. So I said to myself, "Be resigned to the fact that you will get dropped."
Fixating on the possibility of getting dropped chokes me, paralyzes me. But when I heard that someone whom I used to ride with got shat out the back on their first fast ride (and they're very strong, I absolutely look up to this person), relief washed over me. The fastest and strongest of riders even are not immune. And that's what made me finally accept getting dropped. I can't tell you how liberating this moment was for me.
So after putting it off for two seasons and having experienced relentless peer goading, rooting and cheering from the BOWW stands, psyching myself out, chickening out, even some discouragement by non-believers (oh this was crushing alright), I finally took the leap of faith and went on a BOW Wednesday ride and surprizingly held on the entire time. Being on the other side of this accomplishment immediately shot my level of confidence through the fucking roof.
Spin It To Win It... but not really...
So I'm sorry to say that being on the saddle all the time isn't enough to improve. If you want those extra percentage points: weights and HIIT that goes absolutely beyond threshold are some of the only ways to get 'em. Unless you're doping, there are no easy outs, it's all hard work, and I'm living proof of that. Period, the end.
I'm tortured and crushed by my overall mileage for this year. At this point, I won't be hitting my goal of 5,000k.... which, to me, is peanuts. This has been hard for me to swallow (and yes, more anxiety attacks triggered by this). But with the wonky weather, an unanticipated destructively busy summer schedule, and not participating in as many Toronto cycling club rides, and (I feel like) the BOWW group still trying to find its footing, yeah, maybe it was an ambitious number to hit.
I rode the longest distance I'd ever rode on a single ride and did it with Matt when we did our mini tour in July (Owen Sound -> Burlington -> Niagara on the Lake -> Burlington = 430km overall over 3.5 days). Our longest leg was this:
I know, I know, I was short 10k of hitting a double metric century. If I fixate on this, I will start crying. So it's best to just take this as an achievement in and of itself still (on a loaded bike no less!)
So now I have a taste for touring. If I was of the 1%, I'd divorce myself from society and tour for the rest of my life, straight up.
Groads Like These...
With Ally away touring, I got to baby-sit her gravel bike for the summer. Never did I think that I would get so goddamn giddy like this rolling over rough terrain... because it feels like nothing underneath me when running 38mm tires and feeling drunk with invincibility. Ally's deVinci Hatchet has been a dream to ride (maybe even too good for me to ride, hellooooo hydraulic disc brakes and carbon Ultegra), rolling through places that make me feel like I've been transported to another planet where it's lush, untainted, undiscovered (seriously undiscovered... I mean, I rode through Strava segments where it was just me and one other person on the leaderboard). So hopefully this might happen for me once I have to give the deVinci back?
I've also discovered that hydraulic disc brakes are all they're cracked up to be. It's cancelled any inclination to upgrade my current road bike (that's running rim brakes). The next baby I own will most definitely be equipped with disc brakes.
Favourite Ride of the Season...
Could it have been this one? This one had nothing to do with speed or distance or crushing segments or grabbing QOMs, it was just a good ol' social ride with great friends that ended with great Brooklyn-style pizza and the sun still on our backs at 9pm. But most importantly, I got to ride alongside and got to know the founders and owners of VéloColour, whom I've been a drooly fangirl of before meeting in person. Even before that evening, they've been a part of my cycling circle for the past year (with Noah, the owner, having dragged my ass back one morning when I got dropped hard on one BOWednesday that was particularly spicy). But it was this ride that I had actual conversations with Noah and Suzanne and even discovered that they liked looking at my chocolate work (!) (VéloColour, by the way, is a big source of inspiration for me when it comes to working with chocolate). It's hammy as shit, but I really did feel honoured to be among them that evening, two people imbuing a fiery and recognized passion for making bikes look so pretty :)
A close second is this one:
Again, friendly and social with the best of my cycling kin. It was a long day, but just perfect.
Year of the Flat...
I felt like I did a fair bit of climbing last year, so this season, I felt it appropriate to make it the "Year of the Flat", which meant trying to get faster on flats. All I wanted was to, for once, hit a 28km/hr average speed on one single proper ride (no, running hot laps around High Park doesn't count, I feel like anyone can break 32km/hr going around in short circles like that) and break out of plateauing at 26km/hr that I've been sustaining for however long...
So one fast-ish morning, my Garmin clocked me at this...
With the following Wednesday clocking me in at this...
So I did it. I surpassed my goal. To my utter relief, I was able to hit 30km/hr without being fueled by raw fury coursing through me (initially, I mentally threw out the August 2nd ride and didn't count it as a personal win because I was feeling particularly, so extraordinarily pissed that morning).
But I look at these rides and others with pride and feel happy that I've earned a day in the proverbial green jersey. Better, faster, stronger :)
I still can't express enough my love for Bikes on Wheels Women. They've empowered and strengthened me to an unfathomable degree. I 100% mean this when I say that I've had conversations with Matt the night before our rides where I was riddled with trepidation and feeling so certain that I'll get dropped: "Some of the hardest morning rides I do are with this group. I don't know what it is because it's not fondo distance, it's not a rip-your-legs-off spicy pace, the hills are what I've done 100,000 times and I know all the contours and profiles... I don't know, some days I really am in oxygen debt and I feel legitimately gassed afterwards." It is true. But that whole group gets me through, I know they have my back and there's so much trust and safety there. I love the shit out of you guys, for real. Fuck... who's cutting onions up in here...
Some random thoughts and loose ends:
I changed my morning breakfast routine. I read some article that suggested that you only need to eat a piece of toast for a short-ish morning ride. But this is ill-advised for MY body type: my body type takes that piece of toast spread with thick-ass layers of PB and Nutella and kicks it into oblivion in not even the first half of a ride and I'm suddenly bonking. My ultra-endurance cyclist friend, Russell, says he needs a good meal before any ride. So before I go out in the early mornings, I have a mason jar of cold oats prepared the night before. Matt and I swear by this as good fuel. And it's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared!
"Mid-season burnout" - I felt this for the first time ever... or at least, it was noticeable to me this time. After coming back from mini-touring with Matt, I was so blown out that I had to take some time off the bike. But also, it was hard for me to get back on, feeling listless and unmotivated even. I'm not sure how I got my groove back, but I learned that cycling burnout is definitely more than just your body feeling wrung out.
Rounding back to the point of the strongest and fastest not being immune to getting dropped, I really did tune in to this to settle my nerves about it happening. Some of the fastest women I know (who are provincial racers) are still nervous about getting dropped on a fast ride when I know they can very well manage. It's such an unusual disconnect to see play out, but it tells me I'm not a unique case or singled out in my fear. And if/when it happens, I'm still not a unique case. Getting dropped happens to everyone.
I've "crashed" three times *tap wood* this season, all harmless and could barely be counted as "crashes". Otherwise, my only noted real "injury" this season was fucking saddle sores (ones that even took me off the saddle for a bit).
Buying Oakley's was a game changer
Try as I might, I still can't engage in bike banter. So if you've ridden beside me and I'm not speaking to you, it's because I can't. Talking while riding is the same as singing and dancing at the same time for me. I'm not talking to you not because you smell or something. Trust, I wanna shoot the shit with you! :)
I'm taking this last part for my boyfriend/lover/partner/teammate/super domestique, Matt, whom I need to apologize to for positioning him as an enemy before the season. He's only ever loved and cared for me and has assured that he's on my side. Holding him away from me stemmed from a number of things: fear of abandonment and male cycling culture that's all so rife with ego and pissing contests, etc. But I know he's with me and is supportive, present, utterly selfless, and boundlessly patient and I thank him one million times over for it. I love you so much it hurts.
So I think that about sums up what kind of season I've had. The only regret is not having ridden more or ride with people I've been meaning to ride with, but I only have so much control over that. I damn life for getting in the way.
I will see you on that trail or track... because #CXISCOMING, #TRACKISCOMING.