Sandra’s Stories – Canadian MTB Team Camp Days 10 & 11

Day 10
Even though it felt like only a short time since I’d had a recovery day, I was definitely ready for Thursday’s. In a normal week, my recovery days are Mondays and Fridays, but because this weekend’s race falls on a Saturday, everything is shifted over a little. My routine is to have a recovery day two days out from the race and then do my race prep on course the day before.

After breakfast, we congregated at the front of the hotel for Cycling Canada’s official team photo with the fancy Lexus.

img_20170303_171510Rainy day on Bear Mountain.

It was a good day for recovery not just because I was feeling tired, but also because it was rainy. I opted for an indoor spin bike at the gym instead of suiting up in rain gear and coasting down the hill. My home in Coquitlam is also located at the top of a 10ish-minute climb, just like Bear Mountain, and I often choose to do my recovery spins on the trainer, just for the sake of convenience and to make sure it really is super easy active recovery. While I’m spinning, I usually just plug into a TV show and spin, spin, spin away.

My afternoon was on the busy side, as I had an appointment with Mental Performance Consultant Sharleen and I’d also made plans to ride a lap of the course with BC junior ripper Julia, followed by a pre-dinner tactical talk by wiley vet Geoff Kabush. My meeting with Sharleen went really well, as I’m feeling pretty positive and motivated these days, so it was just a good, affirming chat. It was raining pretty hard out and I was feeling a little ‘meh’ about braving the weather, but I knew Julia was counting on me, and I also knew that once I was out there, it would be totally fun. It was warm out as well, so just a classic day for riding on BC’s wet coast.

Julia rode super well. She asked me to lead her, although I’m sure she would have had some good lines for me to follow, since Team BC did a camp out here a couple of weekends ago. We rode the climbs pretty chill and just tried to be smooth and feel the flow on the downhills. Julia was glued to my wheel the entire time. So rad! Things were obviously a little slick out there with the precipitation and lots of traffic from other racers, but when the two of us rode, we had the course to ourselves! It was a great time to catch up with Julia, as I hadn’t seen her over the winter, and I’d been partnered with her as a mentor for the 2016 Ride Like a Girl program.

After our excellent ride, I hosed all the mud off my bike and myself, and then went back to my room to scrub all the mud out of my kit, as per usual. I also took some time just to chill before heading down to see how Trotter was doing with my wheels. He’d done some work on them, but showed me how to continue the tensioning process, which was pretty cool. Then it was time for Kabush’s tactics lesson. It’s pretty cool to learn how differently from me he thinks in a race situation… he’s definitely an engineer and I’m definitely an artist. But good to practice thinking more analytically in future for sure.

Oh, and one of the best parts of my day was a treatment with Tara, which included my pre-race leg flush massage. So good! So lucky!

Day 11
Another rainy day, which is going to make the course super interesting leading up to tomorrow’s race! After breakfast and our daily athlete education session, I kitted up for my pre-race prep. I made sure to set up my bike with everything I was planning to run in the race: tires, wheels, light seatpost with race-only carbon railed saddle, race shoes, kit, etc. Pre-race prep is pretty much a dry run and you want to make sure all of your equipment is working properly. It’s also important to check tire and suspension pressures and adjust as needed to changing course conditions.

mountain-bike-canada-feb-28-2017-kevinlightphoto_evl6094I ride, no matter what the conditions. Photo: Kevin Light

I warmed up on the road for about 15 minutes, then rolled down the Flow Trail (which is not in this year’s course, but it’s still super fun) to the start/finish area below. I like to ride my first lap at pretty low intensity and just focus on being smooth and dialing in my lines. Even though I’d already ridden the track several times during the course of our two-week camp, many riders have also been on the loop recently. Factor in the wet weather and things had really changed. I had gone over a course video with technical coach Mike last night, and he’d shown me some new lines I wanted to try. I think it was the second alternate line I attempted that got me. All of a sudden I was on the ground and I’d landed hard. It was one of those crashes that comes out of nowhere. I ripped my leg warmer and cut my knee and got myself really muddy. Annoyed, I got up and tried to see what had happened. I attempted the same line again, slower, and noticed that the ground was just incredibly soft and my rear wheel had simply slid out from under me. Hmm. Maybe not a good line choice any longer!

The rest of the lap went by incident-free. I definitely felt more on edge and things felt super slick. Was it just because I was on my race tires now instead of the super grippy Minions, or had the conditions actually become trickier? Having a crash like that at the beginning is tough on the confidence and it sure affected how I rode that lap. I rode more cautiously, but that’s okay for the first one in tough conditions. I re-rode a couple of sections, just to cement the lines.

img_20170303_171727First race number plate of the season!

When I got back to the start/finish, I saw Team BC Coach Mike Charuk under the start arch. I lined up beside him and gave him a nod that said: “You wanna race?” He then instructed all of his young BC Team guys to line up with me and he counted down the start. I definitely didn’t win it, but I didn’t lose it either! They continued on their way and I went back and did another couple of short starts, just to ensure I liked my gear choice. Plus, I tried starting from different sides to see how that changed things, because being fourth call-up, I may not get my first choice of where to line up. Then it was time to do my quick lap. This is by no means a max effort lap. I try to aim for just below race pace (taking into account that a race is 1.5 hours long, not one lap). I’m not trying to beat up my body, I’m just trying to activate it and prepare it for race day without forcing it to recover from a big effort. Plus, riding the course at speed sometimes changes line choices and timing for corners, etc. It’s definitely an important thing to factor in.

I’m glad to say, my second lap was infinitely better than the first! I was feeling more confident and that extra momentum helped me find my flow. Plus, having experienced the changed conditions and seen new line options on the previous lap helped.

After the quick lap, I stopped and briefly chatted with some friends, but didn’t hang out too long, because it was still rainy and cold. I stuck it in my easiest gear and rode back up the climb with Alberta junior Sidney.

One of the best parts of racing is the people. I have so many friends and I feel integrated into the mountain bike racing community. It’s a place where I can be myself, because I share this huge part of my life with everyone else who is there. They all get it. It’s a nice, safe place to be.

sandra-walter-at-canada-cup-1-photo-credit-paul-craigSandra Walter’s first time competing for Canada was in 1998 as a junior at the World XC Mountain Bike Championships. She has since flown the maple leaf at eight more World’s. Her competitive career spans two decades & is fueled simply by a love of the sport. She aspires to achieve new sporting heights, while inspiring women & girls to discover the joys of mountain biking.

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