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Week Two

After my first week of hard work, I took Monday off to recover a bit. My motivation was high going into week two, and with sunny days in the forecast I was looking forward to riding.

Sydney Velo cycling club hosts a 17.5 km time trial every Tuesday evening in the summer. I decided to give it a shot last week, so I hopped on a time trial bike for the first time since last July. It was my first time ever riding my team-provided bike.

Pre tt shot to mark the occasion.  

Pre tt shot to mark the occasion.  

 I rode to the race, trying to get comfortable with the faintly-familiar aero position. I stopped several times to adjust the saddle height, and was pleasantly surprised by how good the bike felt. Perhaps I felt a bit relieved as well. I was still stressed on the way there though, anxious about the tt. I hadn’t pushed myself in a time trial for ages, and I’ve not been fond of them since returning to racing after my concussion in 2015. My mind always wanders during the effort, and I’m invariably disappointed by my time.

I made an effort to start the race with a positive mindset. The last thing I need to do is psyche myself out. There was no pressure on me, and physically I felt good. I told myself to forget about any of my past time trials. I’m starting over with cycling, so this would be my first tt. You can’t express negative thoughts toward an experience you’ve never had, right?

I wasn’t sure what to aim for, but figured 25 minutes would be a decent goal, keeping in mind that I’m not yet fit. I paced it quite well, with a first lap of just under 12 minutes. As I crossed the start/finish, I decided I should have been aiming for a time of 23 minutes. I tried to pick it up a little, but ended up with 23:40, which was good enough for fourth, 30 seconds off the winning time set by Jay Lamareaux. I was pleased, and rode up Mt. Doug on the way home.

On Wednesday I rode (hammered) with the Victoria Wheelers team to get to the Caleb Pike VCL. Caleb Pike is another 2.7ish km circuit race, which we ride around 18 times. I spent the day on and off the front, safe from crashes and prepared to bridge to attempted attacks. I didn’t spend a single full lap in the pack, but was unsuccessful in all of my attempts to stay away. With Caleb Pike being the final stage of the Broad Street Omnium, teams in contention for the overall were never happy having anyone up the road. My main motive was to get a hard ride in though, and that I did.

Coming into the finish I was in a decent position on Isaac Leblanc’s wheel, but a rider with more momentum came from behind and took my line, forcing me to brake. Lots of guys got around me and that was that. After the race, I rode the long way home with some Wheelers.

I took Thursday off, and on Friday I did the 6 am Tripleshot Hammer Fest again. This time, I felt strong, and made it further than the 20th minute, which marked my fate the previous week. I was leading the group over the little kickers on the route, and held out for a photo finish with my old team mate Raph in final sprint. I continued on for another two hours of endurance, on a beautifully sunny morning. I finished with 105 km by 9:15. It was a really, really good day for my morale.

Third wheel at Caleb Pike VCL. Photo taken by Maxim Ellison

Third wheel at Caleb Pike VCL. Photo taken by Maxim Ellison

I then spent several hours hiking and swimming at Sooke Potholes. I definitely spent a little too much time in the sun.

The Oak Bay ride on Saturday was a little more of a challenge. I was tired and woke up feeling a bit cold-like. Perhaps so many hours in the sun the previous day had taken a bit of a toll. It was another gorgeous day though, and it was the first ride of the year that I set out with only a short-sleeved jersey and shorts, no arm-warmers or vest. We had a massive turnout. I was able to stay with the lead group and finished third or fourth in the sprint, but I definitely wasn’t as strong as I would have liked.

I was happy to discover the freshly baked brownies at Oak Bay Bicycles on my way home. That was definitely the highlight of the ride.

I had no one to ride with on Sunday, so I tried out a group ride that I had just learned about. We met for the Tripleshot ‘gentlemen’s’ ride at 7:30; a friendly group made-up mostly of masters. It rolls at a steady 30-35 kph for two hours, with a couple of little sprints and rest breaks along the way. At first I was concerned with how slow we were going, thinking that I needed to be riding harder and pushing myself. After a while, I managed to relax, telling myself to remember not to sink into old habits; not to remove the fun.

I enjoyed the friendly chats and encouragement, and before I knew it, I only had two hours left of my four hour ride. I rode with a friend for an hour, then went to William Head Correctional Institution and got yelled at by an invisible man for hanging out in the parking lot for too long. So I rode home.

 I’ve never done a ride like the gentlemen’s’ before, and I quite enjoyed it. I’ll be doing it again for sure.

Another week done and another 17 hours and 500+ km on Training Peaks.  I’ve got a long, long way to go, but I’m happy with how far I’ve come thus far. No wins in the foreseeable future, but hopefully I’ll be helping out the H&R boys soon enough!

Climbing next to Maryvine Falls after the ride on Friday. 

Climbing next to Maryvine Falls after the ride on Friday. 

A Revelation

I believe that I was one of the fastest junior road cyclists in Canada last year. For a couple of years before that, I believed that I one day could be Canada’s fastest junior. But, I didn’t believe in myself beyond that. I didn’t even really think of any ‘beyond that’.

Many of my ambitions and goals have always had a ‘best by’ date. I haven’t been fully aware of this until now-I had essentially set every goal of mine to be achieved before I turned 18. With nationals taking place this weekend, many thoughts are racing through my head. I am realizing that every goal of mine has, up until now, had a best-by date.

My first experience with road nationals was as a second year cadet racing a year up with the junior men. The course was hilly which suited me quite well, and I finished 16th. That wasn’t too bad for my age, I’d like to think.

In 2015, I sat nationals out due to a concussion. This was tough as I was coming into great form at the beginning of June right before my crash. The national’s course was hilly again, and the World’s course was also hilly that year, which I potentially could have qualified for. None of this, of course, is a given, as anything could have happened, but I’m well aware that my best chance at a result in the nationals road race was in 2015.

That year, as we approached nationals, I became very depressed. I had spent a week alone in a dark room, followed by two weeks in a mostly dark basement, permitted only to walk for a couple of minutes a day. I had to follow along with the race on twitter, in a basement, alone, and unfit. That was the first time I somewhat addressed my depression internally, and decided to try and do something about it. I moved home to be with my girlfriend and have a bit of a ‘normal’ summer. We went to the beach a lot and had late nights. Something I’d never really done as I was always busy racing or training.

All the while though, in the back of my head was the unshakeable notion that I had missed an opportunity to perhaps be Canada’s fastest junior.

I entered the 2016 season with the idea that this would be my last chance. Again, I found the best form I’ve ever had. I was riding really strong and went into nationals confident that I would be a contender. Unfortunately, the course was pan flat, and that didn’t suit me at all. I raced my heart out and had a ton of fun. But my result was not impressive. My final chance at getting that maple leaf jersey had come and gone, and I was left empty handed.

Break away at 2016 Junior Road Nationals in Ottawa.

Break away at 2016 Junior Road Nationals in Ottawa.

As I rode on my own this past Friday morning, I thought a lot about past nationals, and this year’s races which would begin the following day. I was reminded of my failed attempts, and ultimately my unachieved goal. I started to feel a little down about it as well. I was disappointed. But I told myself to move on. I’m no longer a junior, so I mustn’t dwell on the past. I can’t let it bring me down. I missed my chance, so now I had to move on. Then, I had a thought. I asked myself why I had never even considered trying to podium in the U23 race.

I was so focussed for so long on what seemed to be long-term goals. But I was oblivious to the bigger picture, and, somehow, of the fact that I could be competitive after being a junior. I think that I’ve always seen U23 and elite races as light-years above my capabilities. To set a goal for a race of that caliber would be silly. Impossible to achieve.

As a cadet, I may have believed that I could be the fastest junior one day. But as a junior, I never believed that I could one day be among the fastest U23’s. I’m not saying that I think I will be. However, I have to build a new mindset, with new goals and consider new possibilities to U23 and beyond.

The way I’m looking at things now, I have three more years to try and get that jersey as a U23. I’m taking things one step at a time, and have other goals that I’m working towards right now, most importantly getting strong enough to race properly again, but I’ve come to the realization that I do have other opportunities, if I choose to take them.

I don’t have to believe that I peaked as a junior. If I continue with that notion, I may as well stop riding now. Without ambitions, there’s no hope for me in cycling. I need to set goals, and believe that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible. As I focus on the next two months, I’m making an effort to reinvent my cycling future, in order to create new opportunities.

Maybe I’ll have another shot at that jersey after all. Maybe.

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.

The Canada Games Game

Four years ago during the 2013 edition of Bikes on Broadway in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I finished the 8.3 km time trial faster than anyone on team Manitoba.  I was 14.

This three stage race in May was a selection race for Manitoba’s Canada Games Team. A number of racers on Team Manitoba were trying out to make the five person male and female teams. You had to be a category 2 level racer in order to qualify for selection, and I was in category three. This meant that I couldn’t qualify. It came as a surprise to everyone, including myself, that I managed such a quick time. If I remember correctly, it put me within the top five of the cat 2 race, ahead of the other Manitoban racers trying out.

Frustratingly, despite my performance in the time trial, I was not allowed to try out for Games. According to my coach, I was too young. He was absolutely right, but ignorant little Oli didn’t think so at the time. According to my logic, I was clearly fast enough, so I should be permitted to qualify. I thought that I should be given the opportunity to prove myself with the other candidates in the following two stages. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to, so I swore that I wouldn’t miss another opportunity to do Games in my future.

Fast forward four years, and Games is in my hometown in a couple of months. I haven’t trained since the first week of March, and I haven’t even raced since July.  Despite these facts, I, along with several other Manitoban riders, am an automatic to race for Manitoba, on account of the level at which I would usually race. I’ve got a lot going through my head as the Games approach.

Throughout each day I spend at least a total of two hours weighing it out. Should I do Games? Do I want to? Would it be fair? Can I do it? And my answer to each of these questions changes minute to minute, second to second.

I’ve medalled at the lowest level of Games during the Manitoba Power Smart Summer Games many years ago. I also medalled at the Western Canada Summer Games in 2015. I’ve wanted to medal at Canada Games ever since that fateful day at Bikes on Broadway four years ago. With my current capabilities, the reality now is that I wouldn’t be racing for a personal medal. I would be making an effort to help a Manitoban secure one for himself. That’s all fine and dandy, I’d love to help a friend, it’s simply a different approach to a race, and I wonder how fit I could be in order to provide proper assistance.

Funnily enough, my podiums at both Westerns and Manitoba games were for MTB races.

Funnily enough, my podiums at both Westerns and Manitoba games were for MTB races.

 If I were to keep my spot, how would I get fit enough? I don’t want to train alone, and I’m in no position to race to fitness right now. Work could also hinder my training ability.  Would it be worth the $800 price tag for Games clothing, plus airfare, if I suck and can’t even finish the race?

Going to a race and having my ass handed to me is something I can usually handle, if I know I did my best. That being said, I’m worried that people will beat me, people who I’ve beaten many times before, all the while knowing that I can be and have been better than them. Although, just getting to race would be accomplishing a long time goal of mine. I’d also get to be with friends and family, and could potentially have a lot of fun. There could be no pressure on me to perform, which would make it really fun. I’m all about finding fun on my bike again.

I also continue to question whether or not it would be fair for me to go. I know that I’ve worked towards this for years. I’ve wanted it for ages and I’ve put in the work. But would it be fair to take away the opportunity of a younger athlete who has been racing and training all season? Just because I have a spot, doesn’t mean I have to claim it. Morally, I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I don’t want any special treatment because of the shit I’m dealing with. As hard as it is to swallow, I have to admit the possibility that a younger Team Manitoba Athlete may be better suited in terms of fitness to race in my place. I don’t want to take an opportunity away from a more deserving, younger rider. It’s hard enough to simply admit that there might be a more deserving, younger rider.

As fit as they may be, the question of whether my knowledge and experience trumps their fitness also looms over me. I believe that I have a capacity as a team leader, and can provide solid, positive atmosphere and encouragement for my team. My knowledge of racing compared to the younger riders could also be more valuable in terms of carrying out team tactics.

I have no way of predicting how I will respond to not going, if that’s what I choose. Will I regret it? I worry that I’ll see the younger Manitoban racing in my place because I didn’t want to take away their opportunity, only to realize that I could have done more than them, and in turn took away an opportunity of my own. I don’t want to feel left out. I don’t want to continue throwing away opportunities. Either way I go, there is a long list of cons. I have no idea what effect my decision will have on my mental health, and which would be worse. I’ve planned to be in Manitoba during Games anyways. Sitting on the sidelines could be pretty damaging.

I need to make a decision soon. Whatever decision I make will have an effect on several people. I have no way of knowing what will be the best for me. I know exactly what my fourteen year old self would be telling me to do right now, but he would understand my current position even less than I do.

Something New

So...bit of a crazy past week. 

Every morning for the past month I’ve woken up and immediately grabbed my phone to check for an e-mail or alerts from Indeed’s job board. I would scroll through automated e-mails informing me of job opportunities nearby, looking for something that might pique my interest.

There were many advertised vacancies, but I didn’t want to go back to retail or customer service. I wanted to do something new, something fun and engaging that I could become passionate about. I had stopped riding to allow myself to explore other interests. I refused to fill this newfound time on something that’s meaningless to me. The lack of inspiring opportunities fed my apathy .

Finally, on the morning of May 3rd, I saw on Indeed a Wildfire Fire Fighting position. I sent in my resume and a cover letter that conformed to their 7 question cover letter format. Later that day 'Fire First Recruitment' approved my application and I was then allowed to apply to Strategic Wildfire, the company that had the openings. Three days later, I was invited to their recruitment day which would take place in Campbell River the following Saturday, May 13th.

The invitation included a small description of the fitness test candidates would have to pass. The first portion was a 4.8 km walk to be done in less than 45 minutes with a 45 pound pack on your back. The second part was a relay consisting of: a 100 metre carry of a 50 pound pump followed by a 300 metre run with the 45 pound pack and a 200 metre drag of a charged hose. The second and third legs were to be completed in a combined time under four minutes and ten seconds.

The fitness test had me nervous, as I know I’m nowhere near as fit as I have been for the past few years. I decided to see if I could do the walk, and mapped out a 5.2 km route down to the ocean and then back up. I filled a pack with a 10 kg bag of flour, my cast iron skillet, and my Dutch oven. The pack was ~50 pounds. I wanted to go a little further to ensure that the test day would be easier. I managed the walk in 40:05.

Once I knew that I could do the walk, I grew nervous for the second part. I can’t carry much weight at my best. After giving myself two days to recover from the walk (my legs, glutes and shoulders were killing me) I decided to run it. My theory was that if I could smash the walk, it would be okay if I lagged behind a little in the second portion of the test. I ran it in 28:40 with the pack, and was pretty content. I assumed that unlike my route, the test wouldn’t have 2 km of climbing, which would make it a lot easier.

Recruitment day went well. I was up at 4 am and on the road by 4:45 to arrive early for the 8:30 start. The staff all seemed like great people to work with/for, and the other recruits were all really nice and easy to get along with. I was disappointed to learn that you had to walk the walk (go figure) as it was to imitate an evacuation. It’s much easier to run. However, I was still the fastest finisher for both parts of the test.

At the end of the day I was told about a course at North Island College in Campbell River that I would be eligible for. The course started on Monday, the 15th- in just two days’ time.

I drove home and arrived around six in the evening, and informed Bryanna and Dad about the course at NIC that I wanted to take part in. I e-mailed the person in charge to see if there was space. Late Sunday morning I was accepted, and then only had a few hours to get my shit together, and try and find a place to stay.

On Monday I was up at 4 again and on the road by 4:40. I arrived 45 minutes before class, and had no idea what my schedule looked like, what class I was taking, what classroom I would be in, and how many days each class was. Or even where I might be staying. I registered for the course 5 minutes before class started.

This course will give me multiple levels of first aid certifications, power saw certifications, and many other firefighting certifications. I found out on Tuesday that I got the job, and in a month’s time when the course ends, I’ll expect to be called-up for deployment. After the NIC course, I’ll be doing basic training before I’m ready to work.

I explored a little around Campbell River and found Elk Falls.

I explored a little around Campbell River and found Elk Falls.

The past several days have been very stressful and only now am I beginning to feel settled and less anxious. Having so much happening so suddenly, after a period of inactivity, with so many unknowns is not usually how I function. I’m a very organized and forward planning person- I tend to leave little to chance. In this new adventure, I didn’t have time to do revert to past habits where I equivocate and feel ambivalent- going back and forth between wanting to do something and then fearing doing it and the associated commitment. In this instance, I was forced to make a decision very quickly, and although I questioned it, I told myself to just do what I want for once. So here I am.

Being a firefighter is the only thing other than cycling that I’ve thought about doing. I want to use my physical ability for something good. I want to be able to help and protect people, and have an adventurous job that demands fitness. In the time that I take off the bike, I’ll now be able to explore another interest. It feels pretty good.

Although I already feel lonely in Campbell River, and still quite uneasy, I’m glad that I’m doing this. I need to push my boundaries and do something. I can’t punish myself for taking time off the bike. I need to reward myself and take advantage of the opportunity that I’ve been given. Although this is tough, I’m trying not to question whether I SHOULD be doing this, because I know that right now, I WANT to do this. I’m not bound by the bike.

 

There were a couple hundred of these on the trail to the falls.

There were a couple hundred of these on the trail to the falls.

Getting Ahead of Myself

I’ve spoken a bit about things I would do differently if I started racing again in other posts. Below are some other things I’ve thought about in my time off, that would change how I approach any racing in my future.

For years I’ve wanted to be pro. I spent three years with a multi-part plan and in my last year as a junior (2016), it was my final year to see that plan through. First I had to win junior nationals, then go to worlds, and then get onto a continental team. I didn’t win nationals and I didn’t go to worlds (I was invited though). Not completing those parts of my plan hurt me more later on than they did at the time.

Part three of my plan, getting onto a continental or pro team, was all that remained.

Manitoban Chris Prendergast rode for H&R when I was a cadet, and I had met a few other riders over the years. My best friend Danick was also on the team. Going into 2016, my goal was to get onto H&R for 2017. For a long time I had wanted to get on that team.

My season started out brilliantly, and as I started to see that I was faster than I expected, I started to set my sights on other teams that I hadn’t properly considered before. These teams aren’t necessarily better, but they got into bigger races such as the Tour of California and/or Utah, held training camps, and sometimes paid their riders, which are all attractive elements. At road nationals at the end of June, Mark approached me and told me that he was prepared to sign me for H&R for the following season.

Having this sort of interest in me from the team that I had been looking at for years gave me an incredible sense of (false) confidence. I suddenly thought that I must be better than I actually was. In my mind, since I hadn’t had to apply to H&R-   they had approached me- perhaps I might have a shot at better resourced teams that until then had seemed like long shots. I was used to having to persuade people and sort of sell myself to a team, so I figured that this interest from H&R was a good sign.

I applied to teams such as Silber and Axeon Hagens Berman. My hopes were high and I was expecting a positive response. I sold myself as a long-term investment, stating that as a first year U23 in 2017, I could develop under their leadership into an ideal and strong rider after a couple of years. I didn’t hear back from Axeon, and I was told by Silber that I was too young. I felt I had let myself down. I was brought back down to earth by the many rejections I received from teams. Danick informed me around that time that he would be riding for Silber. H&R had until relatively recently been a dream, and now it seemed like the acceptance of my defeat. Eventually, I got over it (or so I thought).

This all took place from late July, August and early September, when I was really struggling to find motivation to ride. Part of me hoped that getting on a really big team would provide me with the motivation I was lacking.

Once I accepted that I wasn’t this prodigy cyclist that I had begun to think I was, I signed for H&R; full of pride. Finally, I could call myself a pro. I had been offered a position on the team at the age of 17, and signed when I was 18, fulfilling the final and biggest part of my three-part plan.

In late September after signing, as I searched for motivation, I learned that Silber had signed a kid my age. I thought I had accepted not being on the team, but now I was reminded of the disappointment. To add insult to injury, I had been rejected for being ‘too young’. Now I knew that my age wasn’t the problem. A month or so later, Silber released their official roster. I was again reminded of the young kid, who they described as something along the lines of: ‘So and so raced for Accent Inns/Russ Hay’s last season finding himself on the podium in many pro-1/2 races in the PNW as a junior...’ That wasn’t him they were talking about, that’s me. Now I’m sure it was just a mistake, but it made me wonder. It also hurt because I had imagined that exact release months before saying that exact thing, except it would have actually been about me.

I have heard about athletes who make it to the Olympics and fulfill their life-long dream of being an Olympian. They spend little more than a moment at the games living that dream. And then it’s over and the high fades and they fall into a depression. What do you do when you’ve reached the top? Where do you go? What is there to look forward to? These athletes discover that they spent so many years thinking about only one moment, and as soon as that short moment’s over, they’re lost.

After signing with H&R, I felt like I was stalled. I went into a depression. Going pro was my high point- a goal I had set myself. Reaching it lost me. I didn’t know where to go, or what to look forward to. This was as far as I had planned.

Now this isn’t to say that I hadn’t dreamed big. I’ve imagined winning Canada Games, going to the Olympics, wearing the rainbow jersey of a world champion, racing the Tour or my favourite race, the Tour of California, and riding for my absolute dream team, Orica Scott. Even now, those thoughts put butterflies in my stomach. But as far as setting goals go, I thought I had been ambitious in setting my three big ones, and I didn’t set higher ones. I had reached my final goal.

For the record, I have absolutely nothing against H&R. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have with them, and feel extremely fortunate to be a part of H&R. In the end, I am relieved to have signed with them. I can’t think of a better team. The manager, Mark, and the team are amazing. I don’t feel I would have had the courage to share what I’m sharing had I signed with a less understanding team. I believe this is a strength of H&R’s. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, which is why I haven’t spoken of this struggle before. I would have been in way over my head on any of those other teams. I doubt they would have been as accepting and accommodating of my current situation as well, and it probably would have been a really bad move for me to commit to a team with a lot of pressure this season. In no way do I think or did I ever think that I was too good for H&R, I just thought that maybe I was good enough for other teams as well.

With Silber, I continue to think they’re a fantastic team. It’s important to understand that this story is about what was going on in my head, and not what I believe to be true. At the risk of being misunderstood, I’m sharing this part of my journey. This is a lesson I think others can take something away from.

When you set goals, set crazy goals. Set many, and set different ones. Don’t make the same mistake I made of setting all of my goals to be fulfilled by 18. Set short-term and long-term, and always have something to look forward to. Set goals in your sport, and set goals in other aspects of your life. Don’t let your goals in sport be the only things that you strive toward. It’s extremely important to incorporate balance. If I find myself racing again, I will set many goals. I will also set goals in terms of schooling or the exploration of other walks of life off the bike. I’ll have a plan for after reaching each goal. I also will not set my goals or make plans alone.

There is a dean at the U of W collegiate who told me, when I applied, that the school was focussed on preparing students for what’s next. When I signed my contract, I had no next. Now I’m working on having many nexts.   

Cali with Chris Prendergast (middle) and team mate Jure.

Cali with Chris Prendergast (middle) and team mate Jure.