Lee is starting the season strong in the Masters field. Photo courtesy of Lee Waldman

Lee is starting the season strong in the Masters field. Photo courtesy of Lee Waldman

Last week, Masters racer and Cyclocross Magazine columnist Lee Waldman talks about the importance of keeping relationships steady even during the cyclocross season. This week, he’s reflecting on the season’s first races, as many of you are surely doing.

I strolled through the main office in my middle school one day last week. Our financial secretary  smiled at me. I smiled back and asked her how she was doing. “If I was any happier,” she said, “I’d have to sell tickets.” Today, I felt the same way.

First race of the season is over and done! Do you know what that means? It means that cyclocross season is here and everything that I’ve trained for, written about, thought about during the summer is finally coming together. It means I’m one step closer to a trip to Louisville. It also means I’ll finally find answers to those many nagging questions that hang around like an unwanted party guest all summer long: Did I train well? I trust Ben Turner, my coach, implicitly, but I’ve never been the most confident person in the world, so there’s always that specter of doubt hanging on like an unwanted party guest. Have I rested enough?  Now that’s the proverbial monkey clinging to my back. I think there’s a connection there to my lack of confidence. Intervals:  Enough of them? Hard enough? Have I pushed myself to the edge often enough so that my body and my mind are ready for the shock that the first cyclocross race always provides? It’s also about my continual battle to feel as if my technique is as good as everyone elses’.

And, like everything in life, this first race for me was a bit of a good new/bad news affair.

Here’s the good news. I actually rode pretty well. Still choosing to race with the 45+ men leaves me toeing the start line with  guys who were just born when I started my sophomore year in high school, so I know full well  that making it to the podium would require that the ten or so guys in front of me to all have flats or get tangled up in the course tape. My top half result on Sunday left me feeling like I can be competitive. Can I ride in the front of the group? Hell no! Can I make the first group? Yup, when I’m on a good day, with a reasonable start: that I can do, and today was one of those days, almost.

We rolled away from the start and I was surprised at how easy I was able to move from my start position at the back of the grid into the top third. I was equally as surprised when I found myself moving up onto the shoulder of the riders in front of me at every corner. Like I said, I tend to downplay my technical skills even after working on them religiously all summer. My focus for the last few weeks has been staying off the brakes and looking as far ahead in the corners as possible. It actually all came together for me today in the sense that I felt completely balanced and solid on the bike.

Now the bad news, and it’s really not that bad. I hesitated a bit too long to pass the rider in front of me when the split did come on the first lap and I ultimately chased for the rest of the race. So, lesson re-learned. Don’t think, react! Don’t wait and hope that someone else will do the hard work for you. Take the initiative and GIT!

I promised Ben that I’d keep my effort under control. That I’d ride in the wheels and keep it to 75%. Do you know how hard it is to keep your heart rate down in a race? I was at 75% just warming up. So what did I do? (Ben, are you reading?) I followed the wheels, I did my best to keep it under control, except for the times I had a gap to close. And as soon as I knew my place in the results was firm, I shut it down. That was the hardest part.

We race because we all have that inherent need to push ourselves. It’s not natural to temper that need and so the only real bad news of the day today was that I had to cut back when I really didn’t want to. But, a promise is a promise. Hey, I was still 14th out of 29 starters and I was still the oldest out there by at least ten years. So, all in all not a bad start to what I hope turns out to be a successful season.

And the rest of the good news. This next week is a rest week. Have I mentioned how much I love my rest weeks? I now have permission to ease off for a week. Believe me, it’s not easy, or pretty. I’ll suffer guilt pangs all week. The great thing about a coach – I can blame it all on Ben. “Ben told me not to train today,” or, “Ben told me to skip the race on Wednesday.” (Never mind that it’s also 54 degrees and spitting rain, it’s all because of Ben.) I love that built in excuse. So, I’m home writing this column rather than slaving over a muddy bike.  What are you doing?

Go ride.