Lee tearing up the sandpit at Valmont.
Last time we heard from Lee, he was calling for better behavior from cyclists on the road. This time, he’s just trying to get out on the road, and learning about his off-season motivators.
by Lee Waldman
It’s a very long time from Nationals in January to the first ’cross race in the fall. A long time without that adrenaline rush we’re so desperately addicted to. To feed that addiction, I used to believe that racing on the road was necessary to keep myself ready for ’cross. But as I got older, and arguably a bit smarter, I came to the realization that I couldn’t maintain a full season on the road and then immediately switched over to ’cross. The last time I tried it, I stopped my road season in March after realizing that I was already going backwards.
The fly in the proverbial ointment was this: the problem of staying motivated between December and September. Worries would creep in, and they went like this: “Would I lose my edge over the summer by not racing?” ”What if my occasional good results from last ’cross season were flukes and the real me, the slow guy, shows up next September?” “What if the ‘bike racing gods’ (no joke, I think this way) became angry with me for not being a totally committed bike racer?” “What if” … “What if”…
And so, I had to find alternative paths to “off-season” motivation.
What are the things that keep you going during the off-season? Many of you keep motivated by racing track, road, or mountain bikes. But, if you’re anything like me, at some point you’ll come to that awful realization that there’s only so much physical and mental energy to go around. Either age, work, family, or other obligations will rear their ugly heads and you’ll find yourself without the time or incentive to compete year-round. You then have to make a choice: ’cross or some other type of racing. This might not be a problem for you younger riders, but for those of us at the opposite end of the calendar, I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who’s made this realization. Each year, more of us are making the choice to focus on ’cross. The simple fact that you’re reading this tells me that you might just be one of those people.
So, let me repeat. What exactly do you do to keep going during those long months of pleasant weather? Talk about an irony. We survive spring and summer waiting for the leaves to fall.
I began a couple of years ago, by finding a coach. Ben keeps me focused, which more often than not means slowing me down. I actually enjoy this time of the year when the bulk of my rides are base work. The efforts are hard enough to let me feel like I’m actually training, but also controlled enough to keep me enthusiastic, looking forward to the next ’cross season. It’s on those rides when I have the time to think back on the season that’ passed and forward to the one coming up. I can remember that I am, in fact, working towards something bigger than then next crit..
As a result, I really never put away my ’cross bike. It serves as a commuting bike, a training bike and an alternative mountain bike. There are tons of single track trails near my house that are just too rocky for a ’cross bike but there are also plenty that are a pleasure to ride on 33 mm. tires. I’m also lucky because we have a dedicated cyclocross venue less than 10 miles from my house. At least once a week and usually more often, I’m on the ’cross bike and off of the asphalt working on those skills that I so desperately need to perfect.
I’d be willing to guess that most of you have someplace near you where you either have trails to ride or a place where you can create a course for yourself. All you need is time and a lawn mower. Gather up your team mates and start riding. After a day or so, you’ll begin to see that you’ve created a ’cross course for yourself. At that point, you’re ready to go.
As you’re riding those courses and sweating through the summer heat, do some thinking and some visualizing. Think about those less than successful outings on the ’cross bike last season. Conjure up a picture of those races. Remember what happened when you got dropped, or were passed, or just didn’t have it to ride up to your expectations. If nothing else motivates you to keep training from March to August, I’m going to bet those images will.
We’re all competitors. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t buy a racing license and line up regularly to challenge ourselves. Redirect your competitiveness in the off-season. Did you like the way it felt when the race moved away from you and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it? What did (or didn’t) you do at that point? What can you be doing now to make sure that it doesn’t happen again?
Make a list if it helps. I can’t say that lists help me, but constant reminders do. So every time I get on the bike I remember that feeling of not quite being there. And now, even at 62, I squirm in discomfort thinking about it. I’m willing to accept that fact that there are riders out there more genetically gifted than I am. Let’s face it, there are some things in life we can’t control. We are victims of our DNA. But what I can’t accept is doing anything less than my best with what I have.
Probably the most effective thing I do during the summer is to ride my mountain bike as much as I can. Number one, the skills translate directly into ’cross. Number two, it’s just plain fun. Not easy, mind you, but fun. I don’t think I can remember a mountain bike ride where I wasn’t smiling. Something about it, I can’t ever place my finger on it, but something about being on those fat tires, riding over, rather than avoiding the obstacles, just makes me smile.
So, get on the mountain bike, remember your challenges from last season, find some dirt, cue up that movie in your head of what you want this season to look like, and go ride your bike.