Lee Waldman at Ridgeline Rampage. Photo Courtesy of Lee Waldman

Lee Waldman at Ridgeline Rampage. Photo Courtesy of 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 about what motivates him, Tough Questions.

It’s sometimes hard for me to get my head around this fact but I’ve been racing cyclocross for over 30 years!  That statement has me sitting at my keyboard shaking my head and laughing at myself.  What in the world keeps me coming back?  My last column explored the question of motivation.  Here’s the next one:  After doing ’cross for so long, what have I learned about how to get ready for the season?  There are a few things that I’ve recently added to my list, and then there’s the processes that I’ve followed for years just to make sure I’m ready the first time I step off the bike and shoulder it over that first set of barriers.

I’m a visual learner.  When my wife and I dance, I need to watch our instructor as he teaches us new steps.  I stand next to him trying to mimic his moves.  Then, when the feeling is firmly ensconced in my head, that’s when I can try.  My next step is my first approximation.  I know it won’t be good, but it’s a place to start.  From there it’s moving on to fine tuning technique and eventually I “get it.”

’Cross is the same.  I spend a lot of time from late December through March (or April or even May in a really wet spring) watching videos.  Luckily the number of World Cup cross races that are televised had increased if you have the right cable channel choices.  So, between cable and my DVR I have lots of opportunity to immerse myself in stellar ’cross technique.  While I’m on the trainer, I’m visualizing at the same time.  Then, every time I have the opportunity to get out on the road, I’m putting that visualization into practice.

I also think a lot over the off-season.  Not aimless mind wandering, but clear, focused thinking about what needs to be different this year than in the past.  For now, my thoughts are focused on starts.  I have horrible starts.  Some of it is due to the fact that I’m fast-twitch challenged.  I don’t think I even own a fast twitch fiber.  The other part; the  bigger part, is self-confidence.  I lack it.  So, a lot of my work this past off season has been around changing that mind set.  I’ll put that work into practice in the coming short track season where starts are the key and see how it’s worked.

In teaching we talk about “Beginning with the end in mind.”  In simplest terms that means that we, as educators, take the time when planning for the year to process just what we want our students to know, understand and be able to do at the end of each lesson, unit and the end of the year.  It made sense in teaching and it makes just as much sense in racing.  It’s all about goal setting.  But it’s a bit more than that as well.  Not only do I set goals, but I have to determine how I’ll know if those goals have been met.  It’s not just about riding faster or finishing higher, it’s about focusing on specific skills and races that become goals for the season.

How to reach those goals?  Like any athlete in any sport, I begin preparation by relearning all of the basic skills that any good cyclocross rider needs. There’s an unused soccer field near my house and also a park with a nice, wide gravel running path.  Since transitions on and off the bike are critical, I begin in late-June riding slowly and simply stepping on and off the bike.  Ten pedal strokes then a dismount and remount.  Ten more strokes and I do it again.  Eventually I pick up the pace and add it lifting the bike.  Then onto shouldering it using a variety of techniques.  Finally I add in barriers on my practice ’cross course.  Have I mentioned that I’m lucky enough to have a course to train on most of the year?  Talk about having died and gone to Heaven!

Thanks to my wife and her connections, I’m able to maintain and train on the same course I promote races on.  All it takes is some time to battle the Russian Thistle and a lawn mower and I’m good to go.  Interestingly, the simple task of maintaining the course also keeps me motivated.  As I mow, I visualize, I plan, I sweat, I feel myself railing the corners, nailing the transitions, actually hammering my starts.  It’s just one more way of maintaining that momentum that’s critical at least for me at this time of the year.

Last, at least for this column is this:  If I’m going to focus on cross to the exclusion of racing on the road I’m going to make sure I have FUN during the summer.  September will be here soon enough and then each weekend will be a suffer fest.  This might sound a bit “off” to some but for those of you reading this column you’ll get it.  I love my mountain bike and even though I suffer like the proverbial dog each time I do an endurance race, I also find myself smiling through the pain.  My technique improves, my fitness grows by leaps and bounds.  Just think, I tell myself, how easy 45 minutes of cross will be after spending the summer doing 5 hour endurance races.  Yes it is an oxymoron that it’s fun, but … “different strokes” as they say.

Enough for now.  We’ll talk more in a week or so.  Go Ride!