Thursday, December 3, 2015

Prepare for Nothing: a user manual.

"Always be prepared" - Girl Scouts of America

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. At least when it comes to living an active gutless life and keeping my sanity, I take the absolutely opposite approach.

Have you read a million forum posts and words of wisdom from various self appointed authorities, ostomy nurses, and medical suppliers about how you should always carry backup supplies with you everywhere you go? Have you made a supply kit for every bag you own, your locker, your office desk, and maybe even one to go in your sports bag or your cycling saddle bag?

Wait, how much do you put in your backup kit? Is one bag enough? Why not bring three, or five?! And then you'll need baby wipes, a washcloth, maybe a full tube of paste, some adhesive, scissors and so on.

Soon you're packing a camelback/backpack/waistpack just to go on a simple training ride for an hour or two (or four?), or you look like you're growing a tumor out of your flanks because you've got so much stuff jammed into your back pockets! And, then you realize you don't have space for your keys, cleat covers, and energy gels!

You could spend your whole life worrying about the "what if...", and preparing for it to the point where it holds you back from doing what you love. Can you keep up with your friends when you're wearing a camelbak on a road ride and they aren't? No. Can you focus on your interval training when you don't have enough energy gels to sustain you because you ran out of pocket space? No. Can you ride efficiently when you're wearing a big flappy club cut jersey that you bought just for the bigger pockets? NO!!!!

Furthermore, with all of this perseverating on being prepared for every possible situation, you are programming your brain to worry worry worry... and sadly, there are a lot of well meaning but misguided community members and professionals who will reinforce this unhealthy behaviour and encourage you to do so.


Stop thinking about the possibility that something could possibly go wrong and ride your damned bike!

Did you even notice that falcon up there in the tree? Or that little waterfall we just rode by? Or were you too busy planning out exactly when you needed to stop to check that everything was still sticking on fine for the second time in as many hours?

Are you giving your workout a 100% effort? Or are you too concerned that sprinting out of the saddle and tensing your abs could possibly, maybe, even just once, cause a problem? Or, maybe you are worried that if you sweat too much your appliance edges will start to curl?


Do your workout and forget you don't have all of your guts just for one minute, if you aren't in the habit. In fact, put everything else you've got going on in your life out of your mind and focus on your training. Training time is time to let your mind go blank and enjoy the feeling of velocity and exertion. Soon, you can work up to three and then five minutes of forgetting about the bag and enjoying the ride.

Before you know it, you'll be going for full hours at a time without a single thought about your appliance.  You can retrain your brain to stop worrying. I know you can do it.

All of this anxiety about ultimate preparedness has been holding you back. Just let it go.

Next, unpack the emergency kits from your cycling jerseys. Take the supplies out of your saddle bag and get a smaller one to hold only the normal essentials; tube, levers, CO2, patch kit, spare 20$. And, for God's sake, leave the camelbak at home unless you are going on a long mountain bike ride in the woods.

Now what? Go on with your life. In all likelyhood, nothing terrible will happen. You'll have fun and get a great workout in.

The unexpected does happen. Occasionally. That's why it's unexpected. Life happens. And, you have to let it happen sometimes. You cannot prepare for everything, and trying to do so will only keep you from enjoying the spectacular, spontaneous and incredible adventures you could be having.

Do spend the time to come up with a routine that makes your appliance adhere securely for the needed amount of time between changes, and know how long that time is for you. Maybe you can go only one day, in which case I'd advise you to try a new routine or trouble shoot your issues. Maybe you can go a whole week between bag changes. Whatever it is, stick to your winning routine and trust that you've done all of the preparation you need to do.

You're all set. Go ride a bike, and take only the normal bicycle things that a person without an ostomy would bring. Have a great ride!

Nobody said you can't wear unnecessary things... just skip all of the anxiety and excessive supplies, and have fun!

Note: In the past 5 years, I have trained and raced consistency in road, track, cyclocross and mountain disciplines. I've crashed numerous times, including a couple of very serious wrecks that have broken bones. Only once in all of that training, racing and crashing have I had an issue with an appliance coming off during training or racing. I've certainly chosen to change my bag sooner than I would normally after a few days of high intensity and long training in high heat conditions, but other than that I've had no issues. What is an acceptable number of incidents per year? Only you can decide that. For myself, when I head out on a ride or go to a race without supplies, I accept that at the very worst, I will have to ride back from the absolute furthest point on my ride a bit icky and then have to shower. And, that's ok. It wouldn't be fun, but it's not earth shattering. Life goes on. And only once has it happened, and that was under extremely unusual circumstances (missing a downhill remount in cyclocross practice and landing on the rear wheel of the still moving bike).

What else have I been up to?

It's been a long long time since my last update. So, I'll fill in some of the blanks.

I'm still racing and training, and I've been racing in the elite field for a few years now. I won a USA Cycling development foundation award in 2014. I've attended two rounds of national competition and am preparing for my third this summer at elite track nationals. I'm now a member of the USA Cycling Sport Committees, as I was elected this fall. And, I've caused a bit of policy stir a few years ago as well.

While I've been quiet on ostomy issues, I've been doing quite a lot of writing about gender and sports. You can read about all of that here:

I'm still me, but I've come out of my single-issue closet and am a more complete person now. It's an adjustment for everyone around me, and I'm thankful for having amazing friends.

Happy racing and riding!