Lee Waldman temporarily trades in his cyclocross bike for a spin on his mountain bike. © Lee Waldman
This week, Masters racer and Cyclocross Magazine columnist Lee Waldman offers some wisdom on his motivation as the cyclocross season draws nearer and nearer. If you missed it, be sure to check out Lee’s previous column, Lessons Learned.
First week of June and what we laughingly call Spring here on the Colorado Front Range has instantly transformed into summer. A week ago we were thrilled to see temperatures in the high 60s, now we’re into the 90s. Two weeks ago I was planning my training rides so that they would fall in between the inevitable 2:30 rainstorm that showed itself just as I was ending my teaching day. That’s a distant memory already. Now I’m frantically searching for sleeveless jerseys and sunscreen. 14 days ago I had to dig deep to find the motivation to roll out the door, today I’m chomping at the bit. Yeah, I hate to admit it since it seems so inconsistent with cyclocross racing, but I’m not a foul weather trainer. Racing in the mud, snow, rain … no problem. Looking out my window on flooded streets and thinking about spending the next two hours in the elements … not my fave.
But, I digress. It is summer now in Colorado. The first ’cross race is 14 weeks away. I’ve made it through the forced rest and recovery that my coach strongly suggested after Nationals. The first block of rebuilding a base is done. Thank god for that. It isn’t that I mind it, I don’t. But because of the aforementioned weather I spent way, WAY too much time on the trainer this past winter. I got to the point where I knew all of my playlists by heart. I found myself starting to sing the next song on the list well before it came on. When that happens you know you’ve been inside too much.
The weird thing about that last statement is that I love training. I never lack the motivation to swing my leg over the bike and ride. Even now while I’m battling some real fatigue as a result of a personally stressful spring,, my body is tired a lot of the time, but my mind is always willing. Willing to the point where, if Ben wasn’t telling me to rest, I’d be riding myself into the ground just on pure internal motivation.
And that brings up an interesting question, one I want to write about a bit today. Actually, there are three related questions that keep me going as I move methodically through summer towards cross season. They are: Who am I as a cyclist? Why do I do what I do? Finally, why do I do it in the way that I do? What makes us who we are as cyclists? In more direct terms, what keeps me motivated to train and race? Why is my drive, my need to ride, internalized while for some of the other riders I know, that drive is external? I’ve always been happy riding just for the feeling while others need that gold ring to reach for, that pot of gold at the end of the racing rainbow? What is the difference?
There are two types of people. Those who are internally driven and those who need those externals to keep them going. I see it in my classroom every day and in bike racing on the weekends. Some of my students, and some racers are born, hard wired if you will, with that drive, that self-motivation that enables them to put in the time, the effort, the blood, sweat and tears simply because they can’t imagine doing less. They are also the people, in their real lives, who refuse to accept mediocrity in anything.
And then there are the others. In my classroom it’s those students who ask first what’s in it for me? Whether it be candy, a grade, a pizza party. It’s there in racing as well. It’s those riders who talk about how much they hate to train. They race for the accolades, the trophies, the swag, whatever. Many times they are the ones who tend to lose interest when things aren’t going well, when the wins aren’t coming and the prize lists dwindle. I feel kind of sad for them because I don’t think they derive the same joy from racing as I do.
I’ve been lucky in the last few years to have enjoyed a certain amount of success on the cross bike. I’ve been state champion, best all around rider and even finished in the top 10 at Nationals. Those accomplishments are cool. I love the jacket I won and I wear it proudly. I don’t know where the medals are. Hanging on a doorknob somewhere. What really makes me happy though is when I’m out on a long ride and I can feel the tires grip on a particularly tight turn where I’ve only lightly feathered the brakes. Or, when I clean a section on my mountain bike that I’ve struggled with in the past. Those are the victories that mean the most to me.
They stoke my internal fire. They make me smile. They help me define who I am. So, to go back to those questions. Who am I. I’m a cyclist, a bike racer, a cross racer, someone who truly loves the feeling I get every time I throw my leg over the top tube and push off onto the road or the single track. Why do I do what I do. Because I honestly can’t imagine not doing it. I ride for no other reason than the pure joy of riding. Why do I do it the way that I do? Because the challenge for me is that one that comes from my gut, from my heart, to continue to explore the boundaries of what I can ask of my mind and of my 61 year old body.
I dated a woman once, before I was married, who asked me early on in our relationship just how long I planned to continue to race. That was the last question she ever had a chance to ask me. It’s kind of like the adage, if you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it. Well, if you have to ask why I race, you clearly don’t understand me.
Enough philosophizing. Go ride!