Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From BC to Italy in One Year

Ello Mate! I am one plane down, two to go, on my way from Vancouver to Sydney Australia. It's a long day of plane hopping, but I’m not complaining! The funny thing is that it was blue skies and sunny when I left Van this morning, and apparently it’s raining in Sydney now (and for the next week). That seems a bit backwards, but I guess that’s how they do things Down Under. It doesn’t really bother me too much though, because I am certain that the hot sun isn’t far behind the rain clouds, and a warm rain is much more comfortable than a freezing one!

This trip was a spontaneous one--I had more or less accepted the fact that it was going to be a dark, wet Vancouver winter for me, and had started writing several Blogs, most of them about riding in the rain. The off-season (for racing) has flown by. If I wasn’t working on sponsorship stuff (trying to sort out this coming race season), I was working, training, eating or sleeping. Weeks can disappear pretty fast that way! Then along came an opportunity for me to go to Australia to combine a bit of warm weather training/riding with visiting some friends, and I decided it was too good to pass up.

Now I have a bit more “me” time, I’d like to share a bit about my last couple years of racing because they kind of took me by surprise, because I enjoy talking about racing, and because I learned a couple of things along the way that others may find useful to know as well.

My first year of DH racing was 2007. I started riding bikes in 2001 and had worked through my share of broken bones and bruises, so by this time I had at least figured out how to stay upright more often than not--that in itself can be quite an accomplishment! I had always told myself I would never race. I just wanted to ride because it was my passion and not get caught up in the racing scene. I thought riding would become too serious then and all the fun would disappear. But after several years of riding I was curious… how would I do if I raced?

So, I entered my first race of the season, a fun little course on the Sunshine Coast of BC called the Rat Race. I had no expectations of myself and no idea of any racing technique or strategy (finding lines, learning the course, etc.). All I knew was that I had to pedal as hard as I could and try not to crash! I doubt I had any grace at all coming down the course but I gave it my all, finished first in my category (novice), and had a time that would’ve put me in 3rd place in the pro/elite category! I spent the rest of the day on cloud nine, while also coughing up a lung from overexerting myself. I was hooked.

That year I entered every single race I could--13 in total. It made for a very busy summer, but I was determined to get as much racing experience as I could. I highly recommend doing this, and also getting the support of a local shop if possible. Fortunately for me James, owner of Obsession Bikes in North Vancouver, took me on their team even though I’d never raced before. He even sat me down and gave me my first (of many) pep talks to get my brain in the game and start thinking about what my goals and expectations were for the season. I think it’s very important to develop a good working relationship with your bike shop. If you’re anything like me, bike maintenance requirements go way up as soon as you start racing! And remember, a clean bike = a happy bike (and happy bike mechanics).

I also talked to friends who had raced before and others who were still racing, and picked their brains about how learning courses, line choices, bike setup, proper riding stance, cornering, what to eat…. You think you know how to ride a bike, and then you start racing. It’s a completely different world of riding, but it’s fantastic! You start pushing yourself a little harder and actually thinking about your riding, like what you’re doing that you shouldn’t be and vice versa, and discovering what you’re actually capable of! It’s when you start to see changes in your riding that it gets really exciting. Suddenly you realize you’re doing that drop or gap jump that you used to think only crazy people did. Or maybe racing has brought out the crazy in me.

I managed to podium in almost every single race I entered in 2007. I walked away as the Provincial Points Champion in the Senior Women’s Category, and was allowed to enter the Pro/Elite category for 2008. I was actually quite nervous about that, and had no idea what to expect of myself in relation to all those other fast girls. It’s nice standing on the podium, but there’s nothing like some healthy competition to make you really push your limits. I don’t know if it was me trying to be realistic or me doubting myself, but I figured my days of winning were over for a couple of years until I worked my way up to podium status again. When you don’t know how you stack up in comparison to others, you need to focus on personal goals and steer clear of obsessing about results. My goals for 2008 were to get out there and have fun, keep my feet on my pedals, and try and learn something from every race. If I did that, I would be happy no matter where I placed.

I hadn’t really done any specific training over the winter leading up to the 2008 season (I tried, but with no real program or plan, my gym routine quickly got boring). But I had ridden a lot, and that was enough to get me a 2nd and a 1st place at my first two Canada Cups out in Quebec. I was blown away, and even more so when I found out that being the Points Leader in my category qualified me to be on the Canadian National Team and go to the World Championships in Italy! Now this is when I had to pinch myself--I was going to Italy to ride my bike! Whose life am I living anyway? Just look where riding a bike can take you!

Going from beginner to the World Champs in a year is a kind of a big step. I loved riding, and I loved racing, but I definitely felt a little out of place amongst the big names of the sport. At this point I still placed them on a pedestal, and that was a mistake. Everyone out there breathes the same air, rides the same course, and has the same chance at winning as the next person. I had to start thinking like I was a force to be reckoned with. I didn’t know what they could do, but I knew what I could do, and even more than that, I knew that I could do it with a bigger smile on my face than anyone.

As my friend and mental head-shaker James from Obsession keeps telling me, it’s not about what you can’t control, it’s about what you can. You need to turn as many of the unknowns as you can into "knowns," focus on them, and ignore the rest. The World Championship track was by far the hardest course I’d ever ridden, but I knew I could do it… even though I hadn’t had a single clean run during the entire week of practicing! I spent the entire morning of race day sitting in a corner visualizing myself cleaning the course… over and over and over. Race time came. I was calm and ready, and I cleaned it! I honestly didn’t care how I placed, I was so happy with my run!

The 2009 season is yet to start, and here I am again wondering what the year will bring. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this season, both in terms of seeking sponsor support and actual physical training. I highly suggest talking with a professional and getting a workout program written up. I’m training at a facility called Level 10 Fitness right now and it’s much more effective and efficient than doing it on my own. There are the usual unknowns going into this season, but instead of feeling nervous about them I’m excited. Whatever happens, I’m going to do my best to make the most of it! I have my goals set for this year, including the same ones I had 2 years ago: to have fun and to keep my tootsies on my pedals! I’ve also started a little racing journal where I jot down the important information I’ve learned and bike setup notes.

Racing has taught me many valuable life lessons, but in a nutshell I’d have to agree with a couple of little critters: although it’s not easy being green (sing it Kermit!), “when your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme” (Jiminy Cricket).

1 comment:

Alicia H. Jakomait said...

Thanks for sharing your journey and the mental aspects and how you overcame them! Wishing you a great season!