Cyclocross Magazine columnist and Masters racer Lee Waldman discusses crossing borders, pushing boundaries and loving cyclocross – and life. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column as he talks about using a coach and enjoying the ride.
by Lee Waldman
Borders. They surround us, penning us in. They limit us, narrow our perspective. As athletes, though, we are regular violators. Training realigns those borders that limit what our bodies and minds can achieve. Every time we toe that start line we cross one more. Some borders, the physical ones, unfortunately are real. Each of us has genetic limits that we must accept. Some borders we construct, convincing ourselves that time, family circumstances and money limit us. What happens when we begin to look at those borders as opportunities for problem solving? They become the 40cm barriers in our lives that we need to negotiate.
Early in my racing career, while passionate about racing, I was also the owner of a breakfast restaurant and new father – not a great combination for success as a bike racer. I was up EARLY every day. When I say early, I’m talking 3:30am! A border? Yes. Insurmountable? No, simply an opportunity to manage time creatively. Choosing to turn a problem into an opportunity, I trained in the dark. A lot.
Deciding to focus on cyclocross takes us across another border. A lot of us came to ’cross after racing in multiple disciplines: road, track, MTB. Some of you might still be doing that. I admire you. I began as a road racer who developed a passing interest in cyclocross because the few pictures I saw of cyclocross looked so cool. That was it, pure and simple. I saw a picture. I thought to myself, “I want to do that.” And just like that, my journey began.
It took a few years after that initial introduction for me to actually throw my leg over a cyclocross bike. I didn’t even know whether there was ’cross in Colorado. It wasn’t until I joined the Hammer Racing Team and met my first ’cross mentor, Bill Harr, that I learned that, yes Virginia, there is cyclocross here. Billy was, and still is, my friend, my mentor and one of the most technically-sound ’cross racers that I know. My goal at some point before I retire is to beat him, just once. All the technique I know I learned from him.
He also taught me what it means to truly suffer on a bike because after meeting him and training with him I entered my first cyclocross race. I left behind that squeaky clean world of road racing for the nitty gritty, dirt in your teeth, mud in your cleats, sweaty, snot dripping, simply disgusting world of cyclocross. I really never went back. For a number of years I wasn’t ready to admit it. I simply told everyone that I used the road season as a way to get ready to do some ’cross racing. You know how it is when you find a new place that you want to live. You aren’t really ready to move there yet, so you visit on a regular basis just to “try it on.” After a while you realize that, yes, this is the place for you. You return home, pack up everything that’s of value to you, close up the house, put the for sale sign out and leave, never even looking back because you know in your heart that you’ve made the right decision.
I crossed that border permanently two years ago, right before I began writing this column. I realized that my old cycling life of juggling the road, some MTB racing and cyclocross just didn’t fit me anymore. I was older, approaching 60. My body couldn’t handle the stresses of a full road and ’cross season. It exhausted me physically and mentally. Racing on the road had stopped motivating me. It was decision time. The choice was simple, a no brainer. I gave up most of the road season. And when I did I found that there was another border that I had inadvertently crossed. That was the one that had kept me from reaching my potential. I was a better ’crosser than road racer! Instead of expecting to be pack fill, I showed up knowing that I could race to win. And even though at my age victories are personal, a win is a win, and it always feels better to raise your arms in victory that to be sprinting for 16th.
This may not be your journey, but for me the simple act of waving goodbye to most of the road season (not all of it, at least not yet) and living in the world of cyclocross allowed me to give my full concentration to a part of the sport that fits my persona and my lifestyle. If you’re reading this column and if you read our print magazine, it’s likely you’ve made that same decision for yourself, at least in part. That doesn’t mean we can’t cross the border and visit the other side, it simply means that this side is our home. I like it here. It feels like home.
You’ve read enough. Go ride your bike.