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Check back once a year to see MAYBE one additional blog post. Some topics may include, racing, training, and women's cycling in general. 

Report for Women's Cycling Ireland

An Update from Belgium

I decided to come to Belgium with two objectives in mind, race my bike against the best in the world and get back some race legs before Nationals. I have always wanted to race my bike in Belgium ever since I started following cyclocross and the Kerstperiode, cyclocross’s holy week, is known around the world for it’s large fields and fearsome competition. Although technically I arrived after the Kerstperiode had ended there were still a lot of international racers around and stellar courses to race. Work and family commitments prevented me from doing the entire week of racing, but after discussing it with my coach (Jen Sharp of ALP Cycles) two races in seemed like the perfect compromise and would be the best preparation for Nationals.

12 Hours Late - My Bikes Arrive

12 Hours Late - My Bikes Arrive

Thursday - Arrival

I arrived on Thursday in Brussels airport with my husband and mechanic Kyle is tow, tired from a restless night and without any bikes. Not an ideal start to the week. My Colnago Prestiges had not followed us on to our connecting flight and were stuck temporarily in Dublin of all places, it’s almost like they knew they were almost home and decided to stay put. Denis Dhondt of Cyclocross Custom, met us at the airport and he assured me that we could cobble together a race fleet from what he had if worst came to worst. Definitely not an ideal situation as riding an unfamiliar bike on challenging courses would be tough to adapt to, but it was reassuring to have Denis and team ready to help me if I needed.  We decided to leave the airport and settle in to our AirBnB and try and get some rest. Thankfully the bikes arrived on the next flight, 12 hours and a nap later, and after a long back and forth (they had been misplaced again upon arrival) with the Brussels airport staff they handed over the bikes and we were on our way.

Friday - Recovery Ride

The next day and after some assembly I got out for a ride with American Corey Coogan-Sisek (Amy D Foundation) and she showed me the sights around Oudenaarde including the famous Koppenberg climb. I was delighted to get an opportunity to ride up it, and less delighted when I got some dirt on my tire about half way up, found my tire to be slipping out and then had to run a section part of it. Honestly it seemed to me that running might be faster!

The Sun - An Unexpected Appearance

It was great to see a friendly face and to get the lowdown on what to expect from racing this weekend. This is Corey’s second year racing in Belgium and she will be staying until the end of February. You can follow her travels on CxMagazine where she’s been writing extensively about her experiences as a foreigner racing in Europe. One of the reasons I picked up a little dutch before coming here was based on Corey’s articles. Knowing the word for ‘fiets’ and ‘dames elite’ goes a long way here and is well worth the time it takes to learn a few words.

Saturday - Race Day: Gullegem

Gullegem was the perfect race for me to start off with. It was a relatively simple course, quite flat, very few death defying features, and a high but not insane level of competition. The ground was a damp, slippery but not very muddy. There were only a couple of spots where I felt out of my depth and for the most part I was riding sections similarly to the Dutch and Belgians around me. I rolled up to the line and was ready to race, I felt confident that I could get around the course and that I might have a decent day if my legs were ready.


Thankfully the course was relatively straight forward

The start was fast, down a main street in Gullegem, and in classic Belgian style, with an abrupt right turn down an alley and into a field. After avoiding the first corner pile up and staying upright after being bumped on both sides in the start chute the race was on. I felt decent but not amazing. My legs were sluggish, and I couldn’t find the next gear to hang onto the larger group in front of me once the race had settle down a bit. I tried to be positive and keep pushing forward, knowing the the purpose of this trip was to find my legs, not have them already. I had a couple of missteps. Specifically I tripped comically on the barriers when hitting them at full speed. I escaped unharmed and dusted myself off, uttering a loud ‘WHOOPS’ to the delight of the crowd standing by, they laughed with me (I think) and I continued on. I had to drop my bike at the pit as I quickly realized my shifter was twisted in, but with Kyle and the Cyclocross Custom crew waiting for me I didn’t loose any time. I had another minor slip up at a small kicker over a ditch, I reached out to grab a post to save myself, missed it and fell down the hill and let out an expletive. This time the laughter was most definitely not with me but it wasn’t too harsh either, so I got up unharmed and was on my way again. The rest of the race was pretty uneventful and I was happy to make the lead lap with Loes Sels, Annemarie Worst and Nikki Brammeier on the podium I knew I had done well on my first day out in Belgium.

Sunday - Race Day: DVV Brussels

Sunday’s course couldn’t have been more different. It was the first time they hosted a race at the University in Brussels and they certainly found all the most challenging terrain they could on the grounds. There was a drop off of death, a flyover of unforeseen steepness, two trips up and down a grassy amphitheater as well as a host of other tricky off-camber spots and about 1000 curbs and roots to puncture on. I was not feeling very confident after my preride. I had attempted the drop off 3 times, and bailed each time, escaping unharmed but not feeling like I had it in the bag. I had also fallen down the flyover once, and came close to crashing down it another time. The top was so short you could not easily clip back in before heading down the ramp, and the ground was soft at the landing so it was very easy to dig your front wheel into the ground and buck yourself off.

Running - The Name of the Game in Brussels

I normally have enough skill to get around a course without feeling like I will be in tears by the end, but this was next level. There is also very little time to get familiar with the features here with only two small pre-ride windows. Usually in the US you have Friday to preride, then there is a race both days so there is plenty of time to ride the features multiple times and in different orders. I heard someone once say;

‘In the US you have course features, in Belgium, you just have the course.’

4 (ish) laps before the start would have to be enough and then it was into the deep.

Overall the race went better than expected considering I was talking myself off a literal ledge just an hour before. The course made more sense when ridden at higher speed, and I had made a resolution with myself before the race started to just run the scariest parts and avoid putting myself at risk of serious injury. I had too much at stake to try to push beyond my limits this weekend, I have a very important race coming up and it wasn’t worth it to break myself or my bike with a week to go to Nationals. My running worked out for the most part, despite loosing momentum in critical spots (un-avoidable if I couldn’t stay on my bike) I was not making huge mistakes, I was at least moving forward and cleanly, just not as fast as the others. I had one run in with the dreaded flyover after not getting clipped in before dropping off, I slipping my pedal at the bottom and landed all my weight on my bike, resulting in a saddle 3 inches below where it had started and cocked to the left. Luckily I could pit soon after that and was on my way again.

It was not a complete surprise to me when I was pulled after three laps, it was not what I  wanted, but I knew that I was loosing valuable time to the leaders due to my inexperience. In fact I was not the only on loosing time, the top ten was extremely spread out with minutes between the riders. Overall I was not disappointed in my performance, only disappointed that some sections of the course had bested me and I wouldn’t get another chance to master them. My goal this weekend was not to focus on results, instead I wanted to focus on gaining experience and see what it’s like to race in the homeland of cyclocross. I did the best I could and considering the level of skill and competition here in Belgium, it’s not half bad for my first time racing here.

Monday - Sleeping In and Exploring

As is normal the morning after a weekend of racing cyclocross I felt like I had been hit by a train. Normally I have to go back to work on Monday morning and have to suffer through my ‘cyclocross hangover’ aka extreme dehydration and mystery bruises. That is not the case this week as I’m living it up like a pro. I slept in till almost ten and feeling somewhat refreshed we headed into to Ghent to explore and see the sights. Ghent is a beautiful town, with cobbled streets, castles, trams, and bicycle riding Belgians everywhere. It was the perfect recovery recipe, and with plenty of water, and a Trappist beer I was feeling like myself again. The weather has been unseasonably dry here, so I am sure it helped that we were seeing Belgium in the best light possible, and not through a haze of rain and fog.

Ghent is a pleasant place


A Flanders Weekend

I would highly encourage anyone who is thinking about coming over to race in Belgium to just give it a go. The courses are the best you can find, the competition is high and the people are friendly. Come prepared, invest in a good Airbnb, make sure your bikes are in full working order and be ready to try something that firmly pushes you outside of your comfort zone.

I am incredibly lucky to be able to take the time to race here. I couldn’t do this without the support of my husband Kyle, my coach Jen Sharp and my sponsors. I also have to thank my friends and family who are constantly encouraging me to continue to follow this journey. I’d also like to thank Cyclocross Custom for their support. They provided washers, trainers, start and finish line support, and if I had needed it, a whole bike to race. If you want to get the full race experience over here I recommend using their service, it makes life a whole lot easier to have someone showing up to the course at 9am, setting up a tent and then being able to speak the right language in the pit.

Tomorrow we pack up the bikes and head home to Mayo. I’ll be taking everything I gained this weekend and putting it towards one last race of the season on Sunday. So far this has been a fantastic trip, and something I would definitely do again. Maybe next year I can squeeze a few more days in before Christmas and get to really experience the Kerstperiode in full. I’ve had a taste for Belgian racing now, and I have to say, I liked it.

Kerstperiode Racing - Gullegem & DVV Brussels

Why did I come here?

I wanted to get a chance to do some racing in the home of cyclocross. The courses, the conditions, the crowds, the competition. I wanted to see what the fuss was about and bank some experience in the toughest place to race bikes. I also traditional find it tough to keep my fitness going strong after a month off racing between early December and nationals. I do spend a lot of time on the trainer and riding in this period but with holidays and no racing it’s difficult to know how my legs will feel when I get to the start line in Ireland. I also wanted more time to adjust to the time change and get as far from the plane journey as possible. Rolling up to the line just 3 to 4 days after over 12 hours of travel has always taken a lot out of me and the year I gave more time to adjust I perform better.

Goals of the trip

  • Adjust to the time zone

  • Get back some racing legs

  • Practice handling in some tough compeitions

  • Try some Belgian Frites and Beers

  • Achieve a life long (cycling) goal to race in the home of cyclocross

Things of Note
- Arriving in Belgium, no bikes. Fail #1. Eventually got them back 10 hours later. Thankfully Denis was there in case of emergency and assured me we would get some bikes together if worst came to worst.

-Day I race - Thankfully mostly dry course, but slippery enough that I needed my mud tires. I brought Challenge Limus on two wheel sets and I was expecting mud everywhere. But it has been unseasonably dry here and in Ireland.

First time I’ve had the option of the same tire on two bikes - LUXURY

Course:

Slippery conditions, mostly flat but with some tricky transitions from one field to a lower damper area. There was also a tricky feature which I am referring to as the pyramid. A vertical ditch which you approached from and angle and which came to a point at the top. A two story flyover, the tallest I’ve ever ridden. Two weird step ramps in a row. Smoking crowd of ever increasing hoard of Belgians.

Results:

31st and made the lead lap with Loes Sels and Annemarie Worst and a lot of really great women. The course worked in my favour as it was not a death defying feat of bravery to just get around it. That didn’t stop me making some comical errors, probably symptomatic of my rusty cyclocross skills which haven’t really been tested in the last few weeks. I tripped on the barriers and landed 4’ from my bike, to which I could only say ‘Whoops’ to the delight of some belgians looking on, and grab my bike and continue.

What is different;

The start. Aggressive, I haven’t been bumped like that on a start shoot in a long time, maybe ever. Felt like a crit, and not the good type.

Crowds, they are huge, they smoke, the music is terrible. I found it hard to breathe on lap II because I was inhaling cigarette smoke at every turn.

The course - twisty and turn-y, not many places to put out huge amounts of power, or at least when you could it was short. Constant hoping on and off of your bike, hard on concentration levels.

Day II - DVV Brussels University

Big field and a brand new course. To be honest this race course pushed me to my limits. There were critical sections where I could not ride due to fear and lack of technical skill. I consider myself a good technical rider, but this was next level, racing over here exposes your weaknesses and it isn’t pretty. There was a death defying drop off, a steep flyover with soft squishy ground at the bottom which could and did cause people to flip over the handlebars if you failed to clip in. There were several sections which required both on bike and off bikes skills.

My main issue was that I have other plans this trip, and risking my bike and my body to prove myself up to the Belgian standard was not worth it. Instead I committed to running sections, which meant I had a relatively smooth race. It was vastly different to the preride, as is often the case with crazy courses, they make more sense at speed. The tougher sections are linked together in a different way, instead of disjointed, sometimes stopping and re-riding, often at speeds that never happen while racing.

Overall I loved this trip and racing in Belgium allowed me to achieve some of my lifetime goals. I’ll be back dammit.

Beyoncé Wasn't Built in a Day: 5 Ways to Beat the Early Season Blues

A blog post for Podiumwear Custom Apparel 

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It's been a few weeks since road season kicked off, and I've already been on a rollercoaster of emotions. I was honored to be selected for the Irish World's team this past February, and while that experience was one of the most special of my life, it meant that my prep for road racing in 2018 was bumped back about three weeks. The delay left me with a lot of feelings and thoughts about how my 2018 season was going to go. I think every racer goes through a similar emotional state every year--and somehow, we still manage to forget that this isn’t a unique or new mental challenge when the next season rolls around. Maybe writing it down now will mean in 2019 I won’t freak out? Yeah, right.

This year, I thought I had really ruined it. Broken myself. Become a jello-brained, mush-legged, lazy racer who would never go hard ever again. So far, some of my thoughts on this season have included:

“Oh shit, I’m out of shape, everyone is flying right now.”

“Huh, I actually feel decent, but maybe I’m just confused.”

“OUCH THIS HURTS.”

“Will I ever enjoy visiting the pain cave ever again?”

“Oh thank god, it was just the collegiate racer/juniors/track racers/roadies/people who are in better shape than me.”

This year’s ‘spring’ in the Midwest didn’t help matters. As glad as I was to have my warm Podiumwear Arrowhead winter jacket to pull on, I did not appreciate needing it well into early May. Even the delivery of my fresh new Cuttin' Crew kit couldn’t shake me of the dread of the upcoming season. Yet, when I headed up Whitnall Park, Wisconsin, for the first crit of the year, almost everyone was experiencing the same early-season lull: hating the trainer, and just desperately wanting to ride with bare legs, no gloves and maybe a light vest. I wasn’t the only one suffering--and maybe I had been in this place before. After a successful day of racing, a thought popped into my head as I walked back to the car.

“YOU KNOW WHAT?,” I yelled. “BEYONCÉ WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY.”

My teammates laughed, and I promptly checked Twitter to find that I definitely wasn’t the first person to have the same epiphany. But original or not, it gave me a reason to reassess my perspective and how I approach the challenges of the early season. We’re creatures of habit, and those habits aren’t always good. Here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful.

1) Talk to your fellow racers, and find a training partner.

Most riders are dealing with a lot of the same things you are. You can commiserate, share ride tips and routes, and maybe get a better perspective on your season when you find a good racing confidant, even from another team or area. A lot of the time we train on our own because we have specific goals for our rides, but a new riding partner can help that time fly by and mix up your routine a bit.

2) Check in with your Doctor.

It’s a good idea to get an annual physical with your doctor. There can be real medical reasons that you’re not feeling so hot early in the season. Perhaps you are lacking in Iron or Vitamin D and that can lead to feeling sluggish and unmotivated. Keeping tabs on your body’s wellbeing can help prevent larger issues in the long run. We put our bodies through a lot of stress over the course of a season, and making sure you’re in top physical health is a great way to prolong your cycling career!

3) Focus on one small area of your training where you can do better.

It can be tempting to try to overhaul your entire routine in the search of those gains that everyone else seems to be making. I try to just do one thing better every year so I don’t get overwhelmed with starting anew every year. This year It’s been working on my core strength. I’ve taken up a regular yoga class with an instructor I like, and it helps me do something different that’s not just beating myself up on the trainer. I’ve been going once a week, and I’m seeing improvements in my riding and in my general well-being, too.

4) Get out to some practice crits.

If you’re lucky enough to live near practice races, they can be a great place to try things that you’re normally afraid to do in higher stakes environments. I’ve been attending the local practice crits every other week since they started in April, and jumping into the men's races has been a real confidence booster, being able to hang out in a fast paced race and even boss my way around the pack. It’s also an easy way to get some really good quality training in, including pack and handling skills! I’ve been able to go much deeper into the pain cave in those kinds of environments than on the trainer or rollers.

5) If you have a coach, talk to them about how you’re feeling.

I check in regularly with my coach, Jen Sharp of Alp Cycles Coaching, but it’s especially important to talk about what worked and what didn’t work at the end of a long season of racing. A good coach will be able to present you with a few areas of improvement, give you some perspective on the good and the bad, and inspire you to do better in the upcoming season! If you don’t have a coach, try talking to a more experienced racer on your team or in your area. It’s a really good idea to have a sounding board to give you some outside thoughts and perspectives on your own inner monologue.

And remember, most importantly, that Beyoncé wasn’t built in a day.

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2017 Thoughts

On Wednesday I signed up for the 2018 Nationals. It felt like as good a time as any to reflect on the changes I've gone through this year. I had scrolled back at the photos from the 2017 Nationals race and felt like I was looking at a very different rider to the one writing this blog post. 

Lessons Learned 2017

-My training and fitness this year is at a different level from last year. [Not looking to my PMC this week, as I have been off the bike and sick since the State Championships]. Racing and training with CWEC this year has given me a new perspective on how to suffer. I raced less road this year but did more quality racing. I moved from being shelled within 10 minutes in 2016 to making it through the P1/2 races, and for the most part being a active participant in the racing. Not to say that I am even comfortable at that level yet, but I made significant gains in pack riding and confidence level. That fitness has carried into my cyclocross season. 

-I embraced the need to go on hard rides. I have spent many years fearing hard rides, even though I always have trained hard, I have always dreaded getting dropped on hard rides. While I still am not the biggest fan of stem drooling, I understand that in order to improve they must be a consistent part of my training routine. This helped me more in the early season and preparing for racing the P1/2 races that would come. 

-I learned how to win races consistently when the opportunity presented itself. I built confidence in my abilities. I won almost every local race I entered at the Chicrosscup this year, excluding a 2nd place at the State Championships. I gained the ability to trust my body and skills and know that if I brought my A game that I could win.

-I know my body better than ever. I know when I am ready to crush, and when I'm feeling not so hot. I know I'm not a morning person. I know I need at least 8 hours of sleep to feel recovered each morning. I've made allowances for evening workouts and I have been more consistent due to accepting this fact. 

-I need a hard opener for Nationals. Having done many double race weekends this year, I have gone from being a strong Day I rider to a stronger Day II rider.

-I have made significant gains to my consistency in my prerace routine. CWEC made me understand what a stress free race day feels like. After learning the hard way (time and time and time again) I made changes to my organization and aimed to regain that stress free day. 

-I have made friends with my foam roller. We weren't even on speaking terms for a couple of years. 

- My cyclocross skills have continued to improve. I've exposed myself to tough courses on the US National levels. I have improved my running abilities due to the consistent running requirements at those races. I am also determined to learn how to bunnyhop properly and work on my weaker skills. I included more friends in my skills work outs. I added a 'dick about' practice which has helped me a lot, no pressure to do hot laps but instead learn how your bike feels no matter what you do with it.  

I'm using this list as a way to quantify improvements and gains and to help me get in the right mental space in order to be ready for Nationals. I will keep updating and thinking about this list but that's it for now.