2016 - The Year of Being Uncomfortable

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You might need to take you smart phone to the toilet or read this on your tea break over 2 coffees, much to divulge. Apologies in advance.
In 2006 I started my journey proper on the bike, pushing boundaries to improve my skills and fitness, intrinsically motivated. Yet somehow people were looking on and taking an interest. I have always wondered why and I have come to the conclusion it’s because I tell the truth, I am just an ordinary person that has sucked up my hard times and made them good times. I have succeeded despite my genetics, despite my age or circumstances. I represent the people, not the elite.

Since October this year I have been ‘trying’ to find time to write a blog piece on a few races and life experiences.  That time evaded me for a number of reasons, until now.
But of course this is my blog, and it’s never just about race results!
I guess being in the public spotlight through running my events, having won a few races and being highly visible on social media and at events I attend, I owe it to those who want to know, just what have I been up to?  

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Around 20 months ago, Norm and I moved from Forrest to Geelong after I spent a big solo stint working at our shop at Mt Buller.
As I reflect today and everyday, I cannot believe the flurry of opportunities and hard work that has been a part of my life for the past 6 years specifically.
Norm and I have owned and ran our Corner Stores in Forrest, Derby Tasmania and Mt Buller. Our staff have become our friends and 2 have even purchased the shops from us and continue to be our friends. I have smashed my teeth in on a mountain bike accident and had them fixed.
We have owned and ran a very successful MTBSkills.com.au with contractors helping us teach and share the love of mountain biking across Australia and even Singapore.  I have raced and won 3 x Aussie solo 24hr championships and 3 x World solo 24hr Championships amongst sooooo many other events each and every year.

As a female mountain biker, cycling coach and skills coach I have had the opportunity to travel to places far and wide in Australia to teach and inspire and mentor.

Through my cycle coaching with my group of athletes I have bolstered strong ties with people and whilst I have assisted in them reaching goals on the bike, it’s been even more rewarding to see them grow as valued people - I love this part of coaching.
New trails and locations around Australia have asked me to come ride, enjoy the local tourism and spend a week with media to help promote mountain biking.

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I have worked for a Aussie cycle touring company over in Corsica, Italy and France for the last 2 European summers.
I have formed friendships with amazing people who are legends in their own rights, trail builders, world champion cyclists from all disciplines but more importantly I have had the opportunity to meet everyday people who have become my friends and people I can call on for a ride, a hand or a listening ear.
Through our mountain biking events I have allowed myself to slowly open up to amazing people who are on my level, good people, that have also become my good friends.  The energy that comes from delivering fun events fuels me for another year.
And somehow through this flurry of experiences and craziness that was and is my life, the support I have received from my sponsors with bikes and bike stuff has continued and grown.

I have not needed a holiday, I have not needed to ‘escape’ from my day to day craziness of life, despite also experiencing massive bouts of depression throughout this time.

As I reflect and write this piece I am astounded of all that I have done and survived.
In fact I have flourished.
Times have been tough, money has been tough, relationships have been tested, vulnerability to failure has been at the forefront and relentless day after day workload has worn me down.
But still the sun did rise, 24hrs of the days did pass and here I am now in December 2016 finding the time to share with you this past year.

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2016, January was a tough time of year for us, being told we would need to vacate our rental in Geelong after settling in nicely.  Financially we were tight and personally I was feeling really unsettled. We found another place to live in, we paid our bills and paid our staff.
In February, I even managed to do my personal best time ever at the Otway Odyssey in Forrest on my 10th time, at age 43, despite all the stress I had been experiencing.

We ran our inaugural Otway 300 event, despite the bushfires raging through parts of the Otways we were planning to use, we worked with authorities to change the course and we took the risk and smashed it! The vulnerability of putting on such an event, financial & emotional investment is huge.  But riders came on board as did our army of super special volunteers.  I am sure looking from the outside in Norm and I look like fearless trailblazers!

The event was a success.  My goodness, we took a risk, ran the event, had fun, in fact not racing was awesome for me, I had the BEST time ever being an event director.

By April this year I knew I was feeling really uncomfortable, unsure of my future direction, almost sad that I felt my need to race slowly leaving me.  
I was no longer feeling energised or excited about winning or training or travelling to race, but fought to ignore these feelings hoping I would find the passion again.

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So instead I did a few crazy things like the Oppy 24hr Audax ride with 3 awesome chicks, a 400km Gold Diggings Trail Bike packing 29hr non stop self supported ‘race’ in super crazy storms.  This kind of riding really resonated with me.
The people around me were asking, “What race do you have coming up next?” and for the life of me I had no idea!

In April we ran our inaugural Otway300 - 2 day, 300km mountain biking event in the Otways.
It was the first time I was properly 100% involved in helping Norm run an event as normally I have raced in all of them.  It proved far more fun to totally immerse myself in assisting other people have fun and getting totally involved in our volunteers and their jobs too.  2 days of this and I was on a bigger high than racing it.  

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By May this year, it was time to run our annual Forrest 6hr event, and this time Kylie was just about to give birth to Toby so it was just Norm and I getting the show on the road.  I was his co-event director and I felt that same high I had experienced at the O300.  
This experience certainly had me thinking, “Did I even need to race any more to do my job as being an ambassador for women’s cycling?” and the answer was starting to reveal itself.

Over June and July, Norm and I were in Europe assisting Top Bike Tours with delivering their product.  Finished off with a week in Paris, I got a chance to get some base training in and quality time with Norm at the end. Ready to come home the cold miserable winter hit me hard.
Before we headed off to Europe we had been working on restructuring MTBSkills so that we personally we no longer managing instructors and allowing each of them to continue separately or not at all, it was up to them.  We had sold our Corner Stores in Forrest and Derby Tasmania. Kylie was now on maternity leave for 16 weeks or so and this left me wondering, what’s next for me?

It wasn’t until the downtime in Paris that I considered the concept of me returning to full time work.  

So I pursued it and within a few weeks of returning home in August I was working 9-5pm, 5 days a week and coaching and fulfilling my MTBSkills coaching engagements in Darwin which included 3 weekend trips over 3 months. Plus we had Chase the Dog and Forrest Festival to deliver.  With Kylie returning from maternity leave shortly after our return back home.

Returning to the ‘workforce’ felt weird, and it never quite sat right with me, however I thought it might be a thing I had to get used to in good time.  But no matter what I tried to convince myself of, my mind kept reminding me that this was 9am - 5pm, 5 days a week, with 4 weeks annual leave a year! It felt like a life sentence and it slowly sent me into a spiral of depression, where I realised that I had an option and that was to give it 3 months and reassess.  It was tough, but I pulled the pin and quit, then somehow the sun shone brighter than ever and opportunities just landed at my feet again.

All the while, from August on our return, I trained, and rode and started relying on indoor training at Crank & Grind studio in Geelong to get my sessions done.

Barely put a pedal turned outside on the bike.  I was feeling really fit and strong, yet there was a part of me that had zero passion for transferring this in a race result.

Each day consisted of 5am wake up. 30mins of emails. 6am indoor cycling session. 7:30am shower and breakfast. 8am breakfast and quick house tidy up, put the washing on etc...8:30am get to work. 9am - 5pm work. 5:30pm indoor cycling session. 6:30pm dinner and house work. 7:30-9:30pm work on coaching and events and emails. 10pm Bed. Repeat.

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By the time the Scott 24hr which was the Australian 24hr solo mtb champs I had no idea if I was ready but just relied on my knowledge of following the process to see what would happen.  These investments are never easy, food, accommodation, travel, bikes, mental prep, physical prep, support person etc...It’s an expensive exercise, emotionally and financially.  Upon reflection I was not at all excited about being in Canberra and I was busy using my time off work to get other stuff done even on the morning of the race, there were jobs I had to get done so that Sunday after the race I could know I was up to date and could rest instead.

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The race started on Saturday, I went out hard as I would normally, and I was in front, and I was having fun for a bit.  I knew I would slow down and that Liz would reel me in after a few laps and she did at about the 4hr mark.  At this point I told myself that this was to be expected, just hang on and go with it, it was early days.  I let her ride ahead and saw her race off still in sight but moving fast.  I was in no mood to play, it instantly disappeared.

Descending back to transition Norm made me swap bikes and said lights on next lap. That’s when I realised I did not want to continue.  Yes Liz was in fine form and wanted to win, and whilst I desperately wanted to convince myself to race for 2nd or 3rd place I was mentally exhausted. There was no way I wanted to ride around for 18 more hours regardless of podium or not, I was done. The very moment I thought that I pulled off the course, did a lap around the roads of Stromlo, ripped my number plate off and felt the weight of expectation leave me.  It was the best feeling I had experienced all year long.  I was done, not pretend done, not just today, but really well and truly done with 24hr racing.  I was tired, and I knew too much of the pain and suffering that would follow and I wanted no part of that anymore.  The hardest part was convincing Norm of my decision. Oh that was horrible telling him but eventually he came around.  It wasn’t a nice situation to be in but as I was finding in 2016 each decision I was making to improve my happiness was proving to be awfully uncomfortable.

I pulled out of the 24hr, Liz won and I whilst I felt a little pang of FOMO, I had zero regrets and moved on really really quickly.  

The life of Jess Douglas 24hr Solo racer had finished. Just like that. And I felt fantastic about this prospect.

With no time to think, we returned home on Sunday and back to work on Monday.
Work colleagues don’t care if you won or lost, they actually didn’t talk about beyond, “how did you go?”  
And so life went on, the sun rose and set each day. Unfortunately the very next week I was doing the Melbourne to Warrnambool road race.  Upon reflection there went the waste of another day, where I should have just stayed home...but these uncomfortable moments were coming thick and fast now and for good reason I later found out.

My start of the Melb to Warrny was horrible, slow and with sore tired legs but managed to stay with a group that was quickly behind the pace. This bunch had a nasty and self centred female in it that barked orders and most of us hated her from the get go but it took more energy to bitch back at her, most just pulled out, like I did at 110km. I wanted my bike riding to be fun and if I was going to be at the back working in a bunch for 277km it needed to be with people that I respected.  My head and my heart couldn’t deal with Carly and so when I pulled the pin, I felt a sense of wastefulness of my day but relief that I no longer had to listen to her and watch her butt and chew my stem or eat and drink sugary energy foods to finish what I started.

And just like that I had DNF’ed 2 races in 2 weekends. I stopped training and stopping caring for just a week, I needed to regroup. What did all this mean?  I didn’t spend much time searching, we had our event Chase the Dog on the very next weekend.

Again, the fun I had facilitating this was exhilarating. However when people pulled out due to the extreme cold and wet weather I understood and no longer tried to convince them otherwise, I understood in very recent terms what they were feeling.
It was after Chase the Dog and my return to normal work for a bit that I realised I need my bike again. So commuted most days to and from work. Invented ways to ride my bike before or after work whilst still juggling all my other responsibilities.
It felt good to ride and I had not a care in the world why or what I was achieving other than flushing my mind of negative thoughts and preparing myself for my 9-5 gig each day.

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However the very next weekend, I was off for my final weekend in Darwin teaching. It was to be very hot and very humid however the classes and the women I taught were fantastic and energizing.  On the Saturday I went for a midday ride in the hottest sun with not enough water and explored other trails topping off 50km.  I crawled back to my apartment for a tonne of water and a cold shower before doing my evening session.
I had done it, tipped the scales in the deficit and I knew it. Sundays lessons went fantastic but there were no extra km’s to be had today, there was a tickle in my throat that was getting bigger. On my return on Monday, I read a book in the 4hr flight from front to back all the while drinking so much water for my throat.  By a day or so back at work I was at the chemist getting whatever I could to keep this cold thing at bay.  By Saturday I had lost my voice and could not stop producing snot.  For the next 5-6 days I couldn’t speak.  I even had a day off work.

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I had an engagement party, a wedding, numerous skills courses, a Skills piece for Bike Exchange in the Otways for Rapid Ascent and some road racing - oh and not to mention preparing for the Forrest Festival on the 3rd & 4th of December!

At this point, I felt obligated to fulfill my promises but felt trapped by my biggest one of being 40hrs a week in my full time job.  And so I started to let that concept germinate inside me, “why am I not happy working full time?”

I took Max for walks, I imagined life in a years time should I continue down this path and all I wanted to do was to keep walking and not return home and I even started to Google easy ways to suicide. I knew that these thoughts were extreme but allowed them to enter, allowed them to process and then I knew that in time I would have an answer.

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It was simple. In this life I am gifted, there are many times I will struggle, many times I will not be happy, many more times where I must suffer and be uncomfortable. Life is never a series of happy snaps linked together on a constant upward trending slide. No, life is undulating, and the periods of uncomfortableness are there for reflection, for growth, for understanding what is really important to us and an opportunity for consolidating our purpose.

It all culminated in me quitting my job and delivering the Forrest festival all on the same week.  It was liberating, gave me energy and thanks for my tough times.

It allowed me to deliver the event with 100% passion and focus on our participants. I knew within an instant this is what I am meant to be doing.

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My job, my purpose is to ride my bike, to be a role model, a mentor and a friend to those that I meet through the platform of ‘bikes’. I have known this for a good 8 years but it took me a lot uncomfortable growth and reflection to understand this.

I am not defined by my race results, though they have helped me gain respect, but rather by my actions as Jess Douglas the person who just happens to love riding bikes.

As I move forward into 2017, it has never been more clear that I am on the right path and I am grateful for all the hardship and growth I have experienced over the past 5 years.

You can “live the life you have dreamed of.”