Old dog, new tricks? Lee works on his cornering © Annette Hayden

Old dog, new tricks? Lee works on his cornering © Annette Hayden

Cyclocross Magazine columnist and Masters racer Lee Waldman is getting older, as we all are, but his looming 60th birthday has made him realize the mental aspects of age and youth. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column, The Things I Carry.

by Lee Waldman

Happy Birthday to Me! Age is only a state of mind. Well, that’s what I tell myself now that I’m only a week away from turning 60. Granted, I don’t heal as fast as I used to – those long endurance rides take more out of me. I’m incredibly stiff this morning after four-and-a-half hours on the bike yesterday. Luckily I have an incredibly high pain threshold, which is both a blessing and a curse. I tolerate the bumps, bruises and the catalog of scrapes that we all suffer as bike racers. But as I get older I need to tolerate them for longer periods of time. How annoying is that?

On the other hand, when I can be competitive with riders 15 – 20 years younger than I am, I’m doing something right. Some might say that I’m simply trying to avoid the inevitable, that no matter what, we’re all going to get old. And their point is? What do they want me to do, take up bowling? What’s inherently wrong with doing my best to keep Father Time at bay? My own father did it for years without the focus that I have. Until just recently, when he turned 85 and suffered some minor strokes, I would tend to forget how old he was. Before his arthritis got the best of him, he would delight in regularly beating players half his age at racquetball. So I have some positive models for what growing old can be.

I see no problem with using sport to stay as young as possible, for as long as possible. If it’s true that each person’s heart is allotted only so many beats, then I’m going to maximize mine. And that means training and racing in order to keep that muscle strong. I love it when I can sit in a meeting measuring my heart rate, finding that I only get to 35 before a minute is up. How many men half my age can say that?

I recently rode my first short track mountain bike race of the season. As we lined up, the rider next to me said jokingly, “I think everyone over 30 should get a call up.” I had to explain to him that I could barely remember 40, let alone 30! The best part – I passed him on the first climb. I was really surprised that I could so easily overtake other riders. Usually that happens only on the climbs, and then I need to recover for the rest of the lap. But I was not only bringing riders back on the uphill portions but also on the flats. Now, if only my technique in the corners would improve. I’m open to suggestions.

Maybe what they say is true, there are “courses for horses,” and soft, loose corners are not where I’m at my best. I also have an excuse, which is that I’m only 2 weeks out from cataract surgery. I might have pushed the envelope more if I hadn’t been so concerned with falling and damaging the implant.

I was pleased that I could elevate my heart rate as high as I could and still recover so easily. I guess that shows that my decision to hire a coach and actually follow his directions is working. Typically this time of the year I begin to feel a bit tired, primarily because I’ve pushed way too hard, ridden too many miles and allowed little time for rest and recovery. No matter how many books on training I read, and I’ve read my share, I’ve never done a good job of designing a training calendar for myself. I get overwhelmed by the options – the intricacies of trying to develop all of the various energy systems are way too complicated for me. I need simplicity. I need someone to tell me what to do! What’s nice about having someone else develop a plan is that: a) I don’t have to think or guess about what my training for the day should be; b) I can let go of the guilt factor that comes into play when I see others riding either longer or harder than I am. That just fuels my overtraining addiction. I just tell myself, “That’s what Ben says to do,” and I’m off the hook. And it’s working!