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Week One

After a weekend of races in Seattle, I took the following Monday off. The two races, despite being short, took a pretty big toll on me. I hadn’t raced back- to- back since July of last year.

On Tuesday I started my first proper week of training.

I signed up for the WTNC. For most cyclists in BC, the World Tuesday Night Championships in Vancouver are all too familiar. A weekly criterium that produces 40 minutes of aggressive, fast, elbows out racing, with a prize at the end of the season for whoever placed the highest consistently. Throughout the season though, the only reward is showing up the following week, possibly as defending champ.

Having only heard tales of this epic weekly affair, I was a little worried about whether or not I’d be able to hold on. I rode to the race with Amiel, and a new found friend named Von. The course is at UBC, and features a fast decent followed by a climb. I was told that the win always comes from a break, so I rode near the front, covering moves and attacking a couple of times to try my luck. Everyone was racing that day though, unwilling to let a move go up the road if they weren’t in it, so any move was quickly brought back and then countered. I found myself a little bit surprised when the bell was wrung, indicating the final lap, and struggled to move up before the finishing climb. My power, again, wasn’t there to keep up with the final acceleration, and I finished low down in the pack.

But I was pleased that I had managed to stay in.

I did not miss the taste of gels.

I did not miss the taste of gels.

On Wednesday I spoke to Mark on the phone about my emerging plan. He was keen to hear that I’m back on the bike, but wanted to ensure that I am in a good space, with goals, and a sufficient support network and contingency plans in place. He let me know that without the intention of putting pressure on me, there are some upcoming races that he’d potentially want me in. Personally, I don’t see that as putting pressure on me. I see that he has faith in me, despite me being less than I had agreed to be. It has given me confidence and motivation.

Upon getting back from Vancouver’s race, I hopped on the bike and rode to an evening race at Newton Heights. Noted for the its unrelenting hill repeats, I knew I was in for a hard hour of racing. I did my best to stay at the front to accommodate the ground that I would inevitably lose when the pace ramped up on the climb. I ‘sag’ climbed, so that if people were overtaking me, I would still be in the pack and have a draft, instead of getting dropped once we crested the hill. Fortunately, I exceeded my own expectations, and managed to finish seventh. Granted, the field wasn’t very big, but the attrition rate was high and I was proud to make it to the end.

Thursday’s ride was more of a swim than anything else. I woke up to pouring rain, but had been warned by The Weather Network the day before, so it came as no surprise. I initiated the Oli Rain Ride 2.0 plan, and pulled out the cross bike with obnoxious fenders. They’re custom, full wrap around with plastic flaps that drag if I go over the smallest of bumps. I threw on an appropriate amount of clothing, and put my rain shell in my pocket. Usually, riding my cross bike with fenders is the last thing I want to do, as I can go faster, farther, and more efficiently on my light road bike without the added weight and wind resistance. However, comfort is key. The less wet I am, the less miserable I will be and the longer I’ll be able to ride. Also, the fenders keep the bike relatively clean, and the hassle of having to meticulously clean and maintain a race bike adds time to every ride. On rainy days, I generally just want to get it done, and don’t want to freeze. My move to accommodate my mental comfort first, and physical comfort second (sometimes, yes, physical comfort will be what affects my mental comfort) allowed me to  have solid morale out in the rain. I actually quite enjoyed myself.

That's Von on the front at the WTNC. I'm third wheel. 

That's Von on the front at the WTNC. I'm third wheel. 

On Friday, I tried to do the Tripleshort ride. Every Friday at 6 am, a bunch of fast dudes hammer for just over an hour, racing over every hill for 40 km, finishing with 5 laps around Beacon Hill Park before the final sprint. I lasted 20 minutes, opening gaps between me and the wheel from which I was drafting. I realized that I was going to get dropped, so I went straight when they turned back for town and did my own three hour endurance ride. The early morning sun and the view from some roads I’d never explored before turned it into a good day.

I rode the Oak Bay Ride on Saturday like a race. I knew that I would be tired, so I made an effort to ride conservatively to make it to the end. My two goals were to be first over the Panorama climb, and to try my hand at the finishing sprint. I pulled a bit here and there, and attacked twice. I didn’t go with the lead group that attacked on Panorama, but rode steadily and caught them just before the end as it leveled out before the final little hump. I accelerated past the group and managed to get around Dylan Cunningham just before the top. I was also fifth in the final sprint. It’s just a group ride, so none of this is impressive, but having the legs to participate was nice. It was fun.

It was wet and cold on Sunday, so I took out the old, fendered cross bike once again. I posted on Facebook to find some company, and, fortunately, three cool guys were able to join me. I was super tired on the ride, and well in need of a rest day when I got home.

So that’s week one. Just over 500 km, and just under 18 hours. It wasn’t easy. Physically I tired quickly. Mentally, however, I am feeling fit. I’m motivated. I’m happy to be on the bike. I’m enjoying it. And I’m accommodating and aware of my mind. I know what I need to do in order to keep myself going. I realize that perhaps my focus on my mental may not appear to be the most efficient way of becoming physically fit, but as I am learning, mental fitness is the most important part. I might be a little slow to come back to a high level, but I’m focussed on enjoying the process, and following a path to a sustainable level. I do NOT want to overdo it.

The most difficult part this week, mentally, has been dealing with how unfit I am. I know I’m not fit, and I understand that I can’t expect to be right away. But getting dropped on climbs, or not being able to hold on to a group ride is never a reality you want to accept. As I’ve said before, it’s in my nature to remember myself at my best. I will always strive to match and surpass my past achievements. Knowing you have been better than you are currently can be infuriating. However, knowing that I have been better, reminds me that I can be better.

And I am getting better.

Another shot from the WTNC.

Another shot from the WTNC.

When in Seattle

Unlike my regular meticulous and advanced planning, but not unlike many of the decisions I’ve made in the past little while, the decision to go to Seattle was quite last minute.

After the provincial criterium on Sunday, I left at 4 am on Monday to get to school. For the whole drive I was thinking to myself that I HAD to race again, and soon. I hammered through the next three days of school, spending eight hours on Tuesday and Wednesday chain sawing trees and carving stumps into seats and lumps, in the heat, on the beach. I convinced our supervisor to allow us to start at 7 am on Wednesday so that we could get out early and I’d make it to a local criterium.

After eight hours of chain saws, I hopped in the van and drove three hours to the Westin Speedway in Langford where we slammed out a quick 50 or so minute crit. I spent most of the race chasing down attacks or launching my own. I was focussed on getting the hardest ride possible in to make the most out of it in terms of training. I drove home afterward and upon finally sitting down at around 10 pm, I saw that I had a message from Graham Lock of Team MB inviting me to join him in Seattle that weekend.

I decided on Thursday after three hours of riding in the rain that I would indeed go to Seattle. I packed my stuff up and made a plan, and left the following afternoon. A weekend in Seattle would offer a great opportunity to see where my fitness is at, as well as the chance to exercise some new approaches to racing abroad.

A double-decker freeway? 

A double-decker freeway? 

To start, I solemnly swore that I would not spend the days sitting in a hotel room killing time watching garbage telly and scrolling through twitter in an effort to save my legs before the evening races. Hotel rooms are depressing. A wasted day is a wasted day. I’ve been to far too many places and seen little more than the four walls of a hotel room and the four corners in a crit. Graham was also down to make the most of our trip. After all, we were in Seattle.

On Saturday we drove into the city and searched for the cheapest on street parking possible (which wasn’t very cheap) and proceeded to walk around and explore the Pioneer Square area. After a failed attempt at sneaking into an underground tour, we purchased tickets to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, which I highly recommend. It was quite interesting, and a lot of fun to walk below the city streets, at what was once street level. We walked around Pike Place Market, and had incredible paninis and falafels at a cute little Mediterranean place called Cafe Polamar. Check it out if you’re ever in the area!

In case you're hungry... here's the gum wall at Pike Place Market.

In case you're hungry... here's the gum wall at Pike Place Market.

The first crit was the Ballard criterium. The course was a very short 800 metre rectangle. Each corner had an obstacle, including: raised manhole covers, large lips created by the transition of asphalt to concrete, and the blindingly bright setting sun. We rode in circles for 70 minutes, and my legs simply weren’t there. I set two goals on the start line, with a prime in mind and a top ten finish. 

As weak as I felt, I made an effort to ride conservatively. I stayed within the top ten for much of the race. Early on as I struggled to hold on, I told myself just to finish. You can do this, buddy. You can do this, buddy. You can do this, buddy played through my mind like a broken record. I saw an opportunity around mid-way through the race as the pack slowed, and used my momentum on the backside of the course to establish a small gap before the third corner. Nigel Kinney of Langlois Brown was on the front of the pack and yelled to me to go for it, and that was enough for me to grab my prime. It was the first prime I went for in three years, and I got it. Barely... but I got it. I tried again later on in a similar fashion, but had nothing in the legs.

I was third wheel as we entered the second corner on the third last lap, and I hit the lip where the road transitioned from asphalt to concrete. Due to my forward position on the nose of my saddle, the force created when I hit the bump tilted my saddle nearly straight down. I tried to continue, but at speed it was way too sketchy, as I couldn’t sit. I pulled the plug with two to go a little frustrated, but humbly pleased with how I rode. My third and final goal of the night was to find a burrito.

Warming up for the Ballard crit.

Warming up for the Ballard crit.

Upon asking, a local racer suggested that I check out El Borracho for a killer post race burrito. I’ll never be the same after such a blissful experience. Cyclists like their burritos, so a group of BC racers joined Graham and me for a post race burrito and chat. It was the best burrito and chat I’ve ever had. I will return, even if it means driving to Ballard just for a burrito.

Saturday was a really, really good day.

On Sunday Graham and I went to the Klondike Gold Rush museum and learned more about Seattle’s history before heading over to Volunteer Park for another criterium in Capitol Hill. The neighbourhood is gorgeous, which I quickly discovered on my solo ride, navigating through mansions to find the best locally recommended vegan sandwich. Honeyhole did not disappoint.

The race was an hour long with two-thirds of the course going uphill, and the other third being a fast, curvy descent. Again, my body hurt. By the second lap I felt sick to my stomach with the effort of the climb. I wanted a top five, but quickly changed my focus to just making it through the race. I tried to break away a few times, and even found myself in a huge move of ten or so guys with every team represented by two or more riders. Desperate for an increased chance to finish in the top ten, I rode on the front and tried to get the others to roll through. I couldn’t believe it when no one worked and we were soon caught. It was ridiculous. There was no reason to waste such an opportunity.

I was in the top five as we neared the final corner, but as the hill dragged on to the finish, I didn’t have the strength to push the extra ten or so percent that everyone else could. I was passed by many guys before I sat up.

After the race I was exhausted and near tears. It’s so frustrating to watch a race from the peloton, unable to properly contribute to the race itself for no reason other than a lack of fitness. The course would have suited me had I been fit, and knowing that a younger me would have done better is never easy to swallow. I felt pretty defeated.

Another shot from Ballard by Graham.

Another shot from Ballard by Graham.

There are going to be tough realities which I’ll need to accept as I make my return to riding. I’ll let myself mope about and consider each one for a little while. I’m not going to hide my emotions, but I won’t let a bad race bring me down for too long. I’m not going to jump into a race after three months off the bike and win. There’s no way. But a part of me is still disheartened when I lose. I look at the dishearted(ness) as something to appreciate though, as it means no matter what, I’m going to race my bike hard. I’m not surprised by my showings of emotions anymore. For me, emotions will just be a part of being a cyclist that I will work with now.

I’m a lover of good food and adventure. My favourite part of travelling is to walk around in the sunshine and take in the sights, and find quality, local food. My frugality and belief that the only priorities when on a race trip are to race, eat as much and as cheaply as I possibly can, and rest, has denied me these other pleasures on many trips in the past. I decided in Seattle that from now on, I would enjoy more than just racing. I would find balance. And I think that was a healthy decision, as the memories and feelings of accomplishment go beyond the outcome of my races.

Past Oli would have spent 2 hours and 10 minutes racing his bike, and the other 45 hours and 50 minutes focussed on the races. One bad race could have spoiled the entire weekend. I achieved more this weekend, and left Seattle feeling pretty good.

There is more to life than racing a bike. And there is more to racing a bike than racing a bike. Racing evermore requires balance on and off two wheels. By enjoying the other aspects of my life, I’ll become a better racer than I ever have been. I’m sure of this.

Just a pretty building I found.

Just a pretty building I found.

Crit Provincials

My apologies for a lack of updates in the past little while. When things start to feel better, or there are fewer issues on the surface at a certain point in time, I have less motivation to write. It’s as if there is less to write about, or less to reflect on. Writing has become therapy for me, and sometimes I don’t it.

Some of you likely know that I started racing again. After 11 months without a race, and three months without training, I decided to race the Elite BC Crit Provincials. Amiel, a good friend and ex-team mate of mine, went for a short spin with me before the start of the race and I told him exactly how I was planning to tackle it.

“I have no business trying to win this race. I’m not fit, and haven’t raced or trained in ages. But that’s not going to stop me from riding aggressively. I’m going to try and win. I’ll ride hard and I’ll have fun. Whether I last five minutes or make it to the end, I’ll finish knowing that I gave it my all.”

Following regular criterium protocol, as the pro women made their way through the final laps of their race, the men crowded around the small openings in the barriers lining the course. Like cattle, we waited for the gates to open in an effort to secure a spot in the front row for the start of the race. I stood in the herd, talking to Bryanna and fellow racers, as the familiar pre-race jitters that I hadn’t felt in a while overcame me. Adrenaline and nerves flowed through my body. I welcomed the familiar feeling.

Jon Watkin, who managed Russ Hay’s Elite Racing puts the Robert Cameron Law Cycling Series on, so it was pretty special when I received a call-up. I lined up on the front row next to race leader and Tour of California stage placer, Adam De Vos of Rally Cycling.

When the whistle went off to mark the start of an hour of pain, I missed my pedal and shot backwards into ~15th place. This came as no surprise, as even at my best I haven’t mastered clipping in. I clipped in before the first corner and the five point connection between bike and man was complete; we would be one for the next sixty minutes. The excitement of being in the action that I’ve been missing for months took over, and I attacked before corner two.

Little breakaway.

Little breakaway.

For maybe 30 seconds I was off the front alone. I was ‘winning’ the race. Soon two riders bridged up to me and we spent two or three laps in the first break of the race. As soon as we were caught, I was dying. I thought to myself I’m about to get dropped. I struggled near the front of the pack, and tuned in to the sounds all around me. A handful of people around the course were yelling my name. People were cheering me on. If I lost contact with the wheel in front of me and started to open a gap, a couple guys in the race would either push me from behind, or get in front of me and say “You’ve got this buddy. Just grab my wheel!”

People wanted to see me finish the race. It wasn’t just me. And I was there to do more than finish. I was there to race hard. I spent a short amount of time off the front in little moves, and rode near the front of the pack until the final few laps. By the end I was totally spent, and rolled in with the back end of the pack. I was prouder than ever, and so happy. I sat up and high-fived the crowd leading into the finish line.

I suffered. I rode harder than I knew I was capable of. My result was lame, but I had finished and I was proud. I was reminded of my first bike race ever.

It might have been seven years ago now when I rolled up to the start line for the Pinawa mtb race. I would be racing U13, against the likes of Willem Boersma. I had never raced before, and I was ridiculously nervous. Once the whistle went off, the nerves disappeared and adrenaline fueled my journey. I pushed my bike over rocks and through hip deep puddles and mud. I crashed more times than I can count, and nearly lost my shoe in a puddle. I can’t remember where I finished, but I had no reason to celebrate. I was covered in mud and blood and was absolutely exhausted. But something about that race had me hooked. I had no business being there, and despite that, I raced my bike. I pushed harder than I knew I could, and discovered capabilities I hadn’t before been aware of. I was satisfied.

Just like that first race, I pushed myself at the crit last week. I was delighted and had satisfied a craving.

A huge reason why I managed to finish the crit was due to the support I felt I had. I think that my blog, or my openness about what I’ve been dealing with has showcased human qualities; qualities beyond those identified in the Oliver the athlete or competitor. And I may be totally off, but I think that some other racers who are aware of what I’m going through feel encouraged to see me as, and act around me as, a human as well, and not just as an opponent. I felt respected and understood. Ty Andrews and Brendan Armstrong of Trek Red Truck were two riders who really made me feel welcome. They encouraged me before and during the race, and sometimes helped me close a gap that I had opened up.

The race wasn’t easy. And participating with no preparation was a bit of a risk. If I crashed due to a lack of practice, or had my ass kicked and couldn’t handle it, that could have been really bad for my preparation for Games and just getting back on the bike in general. But it was the only way I wanted to start riding again. It went well. Two things were confirmed that day: My mind was stronger than my body for the first time in ages, which means I can push myself again, and I fucking love bike racing.

Trying to hold on to Mitch the Missile. Photo by tlbvelo.

Trying to hold on to Mitch the Missile. Photo by tlbvelo.

Time To Ride

After much contemplation, I’ve decided I want to compete in this year’s Canada Games.

I told you about last Thursday, when I broke down. That night I wrote two blog entries as something to do, and something to get all my thoughts out. The first one I wrote was about whether or not I should participate in Canada Games, and the second detailed how I was feeling that night. I posted the one about Games first. It was an experiment, and the next day I felt a lot better.

Have you ever flipped a coin for a decision that you couldn’t make and been dissatisfied with the outcome? As in, when it lands on heads for example, you’re disappointed with what the coin has decided for you. Well, that’s happened to me a lot and when I was younger, my dad used to say that if I didn’t like the outcome, then I should go with the other option, because I then knew which one I preferred. My Canada Games post was an experiment in that by asking readers to respond and either encourage me to compete or not, I was given a ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ outcome to which I could react. I wasn’t letting other people decide for me, I would decide for myself by reading the yeses or no’s and exploring how I felt about things myself.  

A yes made me smile, a no didn’t. By reading the comments on my post, I considered both outcomes of the ‘coin toss’ and realized what I really wanted. As it turns out, my 18 year old self wants the same thing as my 14 year old self would have. Seeing that I would have all this support was also a relief, and a massive motivator.

I’m fully aware that my decision to compete directly affects several people. Before I informed my coach of my wish to compete, I sent a message to the Team Manitoba boys who will be competing, as well as the boys who are trying out to possibly fill my position. I wanted to let them know that I want to compete, and provided a platform for an open discussion for anyone to voice their concerns. The general consensus was that I should race, as long as I commit to preparation, and am confident that it won’t be harmful to my mental health.

On Saturday night, two nights after having another glimpse of the bottom of the hole from which I’ve been ascending, I danced and sang on my own as I cooked myself dinner. I felt excitement and relief that I had made a decision which felt right. I continue to feel as if a corner has been turned. It took me hours to fall asleep as I struggled to contain my excitement for Games.

As I enter my last week and a half of school, I’m itching to get out ride. I don’t have a proper bike or kit here though, so I’ve been running a little bit and going for spins on the Bianchi. I’m heading home this weekend and I’ll be ‘racing’ elite crit provincials. The two month journey to Games will be a tough one. I have a long way to go in a short amount of time, and I anticipate ups and downs, setbacks and progress. I’m looking forward to a new approach to training. Or, perhaps, an old approach. A passion rather than an obligation.

I’m looking forward to having you Ride With Me to Games and to whatever comes next. I will need to think about that too. But not tonight.

Crit provincials last year. Photo taken by the one and only Courtney Molyneaux.

Crit provincials last year. Photo taken by the one and only Courtney Molyneaux.

A Broken Compass and a Folded Map

As I lay on the kitchen floor crying, I say out loud: “I hate this. I hate myself. Somebody help me. Somebody tell me what to do. Somebody please fucking help me.”

I continue to cry as I begin to write this.

I don’t know what I want them to help me with. There’s nothing anyone can do. That’s the fucking problem. I don’t know what to do, and neither does anyone else.

It’s my third day in Campbell River after going back to Victoria for the long weekend. I’m staying in the house of someone I met on Airbnb. He left this morning, so it’s only my first night alone. I knew this would happen – my reaction to being alone – but I didn’t know it would come so soon and so hard.

On Tuesday my wildfire course began. For now, we’ve only been doing theory for eight and a half hours a day. Tuesday was fine. But on Wednesday I was already starting to question things. At one point during class, I caught myself in the middle of a negative thought, breathing short, shallow, gaspy breaths.  I caught it, and calmed myself down.

Today, I started telling myself that I’m doing the wrong thing. This isn’t for me. I can’t be a wildfire fire fighter. I can’t drive three hours to Campbell River when I get called for work. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a cell phone. I can’t afford a car. I can’t even really afford the gas. I can’t go on deployment for two weeks at a time and live in a tent. I’ve never done that before. And worst of all, I’ll be lonely.

I’m telling myself what I can’t do. That’s all I’ve been doing for ages.

Sitting in a class room was nice last week when I was learning first aid. I was learning stuff I’ve always wanted to learn, plus it was cool outside. Now the weather has suddenly changed, and I want to be outside in the sun. I want to be going for group rides in the heat. I did the Oak Bay Ride on Saturday and got shit-kicked, but I loved it, because it was hot, fast, and fun. I loved hanging out with a bunch of cyclists.

Whatever it is I’m going through, I thought it was done. I thought I had found a solution. I would use my time off cycling to explore other interests, namely firefighting. But as I sit in class and have these doubts, and cry as I explain them later on to my girlfriend, I start to question whether I’m fit to work. I question whether I’m fit for anything. The more I hear about the job, the more nervous I get. It’s not the dangers that I’m afraid of though, it’s the making of the decision.

When it was cold and wet outside, I wanted nothing to do with the bike. I stayed inside most of the day. Now that I have a reason to be inside all day, it’s finally hot out and I want to ride. I don’t know if this desire is true, or if it’s simply a result of wanting what I can’t have; I’m losing trust in my own wants, as they seem to undermine whatever it is that I am doing. If it’s a busy fire season though, I won’t be able to ride. And, it won’t be ideal for preparing for Canada Games, if I go. I’m afraid that firefighting could take the option of going to games away from me. I wonder if this is something I want- the removal of my freedom to choose.

After class today, I called Bryanna and told her what was going on. I cried to her for the first time in a while, but then felt guilty for bringing her mood down with my own. I feel embarrassed by my absolute dependence on her. I’m also ashamed of how I’m feeling right now. I want nothing more than to feel capable and confident in what I’m doing. My plan was to go outside for a spin or a walk in the sunshine after our call, but instead I paced around the empty house with my hands pressed against my forehead. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. My stomach felt ill and I sort of wailed. I cried and fell to the floor and said what I said.

Almost three months after hanging up my bike, this chapter isn’t close to being over. I wish that it was. I’m trying to be at peace with the process, and try to remind myself that I am not depressed forever, it’s only temporary. I try to be open-minded and as relaxed as possible, giving into and exploring my desires. In school we’re learning to navigate with a compass and map, and it’s an unpleasant reminder that my compass is missing, and my map won’t unfold.

Bryanna took this. You don't always need a map and a compass to find something beautiful.

Bryanna took this. You don't always need a map and a compass to find something beautiful.