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.
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.