Monday, July 18, 2016

Sitting Out to Step it Up

 On any given day there are at least 5 women that could take the win at a World Cup and many more that are vying for the other podium positions.  This season is a racer’s gift. I constantly have others challenging me, pushing me to find more.  But I can also see that no one’s season goes perfectly according to plan.  We have all gotten sick, had injuries, made mistakes. It leaves the door always open for the rider with the most perseverance and legs on the day to see the front and know it is possible to get there.
 Living in western Canada offers huge advantages as a rider like a plethora of amazing singletrack and temperate climate.  When it comes to a European biased race calendar it is also not without its challenges.  Travel days to Europe for me are typically 17+hrs and a 9hr time zone change. To get to Eastern Canada, a 9+hr airport day and 3hr time change.  In many ways I think this has contributed to my consistency as a racer.  By necessity I have to plan in a lot of rest days around races and so enter fresh and capable of giving my best.  This amount of travel also means that if I am not conscientious, it would be easy for my fitness to take a gradual decline in-season.  It took years to figure out how to be as fast in September as I could be in July.

I rarely sit out important races, unless forced to by injury.  This year however, I did by choice sit out Nationals.  It sucked.  It’s hard watching the social media roll out and not being a part of it.  It sucks to not fight for the right to wear the National Champion’s jersey which would no doubt have been a nail biter of a race.  But it also feels good to commit to an Olympic preparation plan that is optimal for me.  In order to rebuild my form between Worlds and Rio I need some time on the same time zone and preferably in one place.  Racing nationals, 4500 km from my home, would have meant either being on the road since I left for Worlds in June until I returned from Rio and finding an eastern home base or compromising training by adding in a quick trip back to BC before the World cup in Mont Sainte Anne.  Either could have worked, but as an athlete entering their 3rd Olympics and an athlete that favours the home environment over training camps and altitude, coming home to my trails, my bed, the interval climbs I know intimately, well it was just the right call.  

Sitting out a race is tough, but it also makes me more fired up to step it up for the next one. But please bring the next one soon!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Where did the winter go?

Last update in October…sheesh.  Must have been that school thing taking up some time.  With the Olympics looming and entering my 9th year as a professional bike racer, it was great to ensure some mental and physical variety in the program this winter with the addition of an anatomy course and staying home to log lots of ski miles. For me focus tends to lead to focus and I always feel like I perform well when I am engaged in learning on multiple fronts.

Bike racing and travelling is back in full focus and swing now though.  The World cup opener in Australia went fairly smoothly despite surgery on my thumb 2 weeks prior.  A bone break in late February wouldn’t unionize so pins were inserted to stabilize the break.  My thumb is still ridiculously fat looking but grip strength was not impacted and riding carried on pretty much as normal thanks to Di2 shifting enabling a left hand set up. The only way my thumb held me back was by limiting the skills work and bike play I did in my world cup preparation leaving me feeling a little off form on features but strong in general as I raced to 4th position.

Back home after Australia I felt like I got my first good mtb training block in in a while. Getting out on dirt everyday on my home trails without feeling protective of an injury had me feeling sharp.  Joining my teammate Maghalie for some skills training with Shaums March (March North West) had me feeling progression again.  Training with Shaums was one of those “what if?” experiences.  What if I had been doing skills work with him 5 years ago…where could my riding be now?  How can I best incorporate his feedback into rapid progression this summer?
Every time you work with a good coach you feel like you get some great nuggets of info that help you progress, it is consistently working with those pieces and checking back in on your progress that leads to big improvements.  I have been super fortunate with the coaches I have had to work with in my career.  My coach Dan always creating sound and challenging programs and my husband Keith being the second set of eyes helping in the daily training environment and skill progression. Adding Shaums’ Gravity racing background to the mix was the perfect addition.

And now I sit at a coffee shop in Germany killing a recovery day, waiting for World Cup #2 in Albstadt Germany this Sunday.  Having met Canada’s automatic selection Criteria for Rio already, and with Canada looking secure for 2 positions for our women, I get to enter the final selection event this weekend feeling relaxed but still anxious to go out there and give it my best.  With 89 ambitious women lining up and dreams on the line you are sure to see some epic battles! I feel like the women’s field is stronger than it has ever been. Wishing everyone the best of luck as I take a moment to appreciate this awesome journey we are all on. The opportunity to fight for an Olympic spot, to race to be the best in the world at what we do, what we love, is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Testing Rio

Twenty-four hours after boarding my first plane in Kamloops BC I stepped off of another into the gathering heat of a spring morning in Brazil.  Five members of Team Canada connected in Houston, Texas for the final 10hr flight into Rio De Janeiro, the host city of next year’s summer Olympics.

This was my third Olympic test event and each has been an incredible experience. Test events exude the excitement, magic and adventure of preparing for an Olympic Games without the actual pressure of Olympic performance. They are the one high-level event where athletes are encouraged to be tourists, soak it all up, familiarize yourself with the city, the course the venue.  To train as long and as hard as you want on course to get to know it, without needing to ensure the appropriate rest to perform on race day. As long as you’re learning what you need to improve for next year, then mission accomplished. 

Test events are also incredible collaboration opportunities between athletes, coaches, mechanics, sport scientists and officials.  Everyone there wants to create an event and a team that will be absolutely world class. The relaxed collaborative environment is energizing, making you feel excited about what you are doing in that moment, about the journey that lies ahead and about the community that will share that journey.
We arrived on a Wednesday, but the course was not available to view until Friday so rather than getting right down to business we were forced to be tourist with ocean swims and body surfing in Ipanema and urban rides along Rio’s vast beach fronts like Copacabana hopping on and off of the extensive Bike Rio path infrastructure, dodging streams of beach goers, vendors, share-bikes and the occasional discarded coconut.  Rio’s poverty confronts you with every glance at a dilapidated building or human curled up on a makeshift bed of cardboard. There is so much Graffiti, some of it really amazing, that you feel the city and it’s citizens have given up on trying to clean it and instead embraced its character. Rio’s homeless rate is as soberingly real as its landscape is intoxicatingly surreal.

Dre really immersed himself in the experience
Cable car up Sugar Loaf mtn to some amazing sunset vistas

Christ the Redeemer looks down on you from almost every angle and once you’ve climbed to the top, as of course we did; running into the French, Kiwi, Slovenian and Chinese teams, you are rewarded with a spectacular panorama.
Once training opened our Brazilian hosts transported us from Rio de Janeiro out to Deodoro park, a military compound converted into the BMX, white water Kayak and mtb venue.  The venue is flanked by lush green hills and even in spring reached a humid 40 degrees each day.  
Whitewater kayak venue
The venue and event were spectacular.  Recruiting Paul Davis, London’s 2012 technical operations manager, and South African course designer Nick Floros, we were presented with a high quality ready-to-race course.  Does it look totally man made?  Yes, and I know this visually looks wrong to many of us.  Where are the trees?  The natural terrain? I would love to show the world that mountain biking is the beautiful singletrack I wind through at home, but that’s the issue, it is incredibly tough to film and share racing through dense forest.  85% of this track is visible from one viewpoint. It is highly accessible for spectators to run from section to section, it’s fun and it provides all of the essential elements of mountain bike racing, a technically, tactically, and physically challenging course, yet it can also be filmed, shared with the world, and stand up to whatever weather conditions mother nature throws at us race morning ensuring a quality event.  Yes, Rio’s got it dialled. 
Emily checks out line options @pedrocuryphoto
The women’s and men’s test races went smoothly.  Some riders succumbed to the heat, flat tires and off-season fitness while others left with some sweet bruises after getting into fights with the rock gardens, but on the whole I think everyone left excited with the track and motivated to come back and crush it next August.
The Start/Finish Randy Ferguson image

Monday, September 21, 2015

A little rant on dopers…

It was with disappointment, but not necessarily shock, that I read about a fellow competitor, Blaza Klemencic, testing positive for EPO.  (With improved testing, a sample from 2012 was retested)

Blaza was the kind of person that would try to start a race with two feet clipped in and holding onto the start rail (both rule violations) when everyone else started with one foot down and both hands on their handle bars.  After warnings from officials she would do it again the following week.  Some people will cheat to get ahead, but most respect the rules of the game.

I choose to believe that mountain biking is 99% clean, although this revelation shook me a little. I have been fortunate to win a lot and to know that when I haven’t won, it was because I wasn’t at my best.  It wasn’t that others were impossibly fast, they were just better riders on the day. I made mistakes technically, tactically or just didn’t have my best legs.  I have the confidence of knowing personally that you can be the best in the World riding clean. I have faith in others I have seen rise to that top step on the podium, like my Canadian and Luna teammates.  I feel surrounded by good honest people. If there are dishonest racers out there, I do not feel you do yourself any favours turning yourself into a victim. If every time someone passed you in a race you thought you hadn’t a chance because they’re a doper, you would just deflate and give up.  Racing is already tough enough without starting a race feeling defeated.

How did Blaza’s actions affect me?  Well, If the ban from 2012 was still in effect I may have finished 3rd not 4th overall on the World Cup this year without her finishing ahead of me twice, so on paper and financially she had an impact.  But honestly, I don’t really care about that.   What I care about is how she casts doubt on our sport, Olympians and World Class athletes in general. There is already enough skepticism of athletes out there.

When a top 15 rider dopes to get results many people willingly jump to the conclusion that you can’t be faster than that without help, rather than concluding that SHE couldn’t or wasn't patient or hard working enough to find out.  There is skepticism of what is physiologically possible, often thrown out there by people with limited knowledge of physiology or elite performance.  People that are “good athletes” or have read a few articles or texts, or coached a talented rider and have difficulty believing that someone else could actually be significantly faster than themselves (ego doping) or their athletes.  I don’t know many people that would look at a nuclear physicist and assume that to have their intellect they must have somehow cheated, but that is the attitude elite athletes must contend with.  

Let’s be honest, to be truly world class you are different.  You likely have an excellent VO2 max, a high ability to transport and utilize oxygen, the ability to maintain lean body mass while producing high power, a good immune system, an ability to handle time zone changes, an excellent work ethic, a strong mind, tactical awareness, confidence, passion, technical skill … there is a lot that goes into being a World Class athlete and not everyone has it, but some do and by thinking people are doping because they are incredible athletes is such a heart break, and that is the atmosphere dopers create.  

It is sad that some athletes prematurely give up on their own abilities or are so intent on winning at all costs that they cheat.  For those in the sport system I think we can do a lot for future generations by promoting a well-rounded approach that emphasizes success in life, not just in sport.  I imagine people resort to cheating when they feel sport is all they have or their performance is their only value. 

Encourage athletes to go to university or trade school, to have something outside of sport where they are successful - so that winning isn’t everything.  Value them as people and for their contributions to a team. Value their effort, not just their performance.  Show them that when someone cheats, they lose what they value most; the respect and acceptance of their peers and the pride in having worked hard for something.

There are a lot of harmful ideas out there, one of the most appalling is that, “You should just let all athletes dope”.  These people obviously don’t have family members in high level sport.  You would never wish potential long term medical problems on a family member. You do not want to see high school kids doping if they ever want to have a hope of reaching the NFL or NHL. You do not want to see great athletes decide to quit sports because they feel they have no chance of success unless they dope.

In the end, what makes dopers losers, is not a limitation of physiology, but a limitation of integrity. They owe every clean elite athlete an apology, their nations an apology and every person that has ever looked up to them an apology.