Lee Waldman, looking ahead to racing but remembering to look at the simple joys of riding a bike. © Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman, faced more hurdles at the Crusher in the Tushar. © Annette Hayden

After a season filled with injuries, Lee Waldman was preparing to tackle the 2015 Crusher in the Tushar, creating a full game plan around getting back into racing with one of the hardest gravel races in the United States. Today, Waldman takes a look at comebacks that don’t go as planned with a few valuable lessons learned.

by Lee Waldman

The 2015 Crusher in the Tushar is in the books. Thanks to Burke Swindlehurst for an incredible experience. First of all, if you’ve never ridden this event, definitely put it on your bucket list. The course is incredible with breathtaking views, killer climbs and equally killer descents. I was pushed to the max in 50 miles and I know that the remaining 20 would have been more of the same. Don’t take the race title lightly. It’s not called the Crusher without reason. It is a tough, TOUGH event which challenges everyone. The climbs are long and relentless with numerous pitches of 8 – 10% angling up to 12% more than once. Come prepared.

It was a bittersweet day in the saddle for me. Bad planning, completely my fault, resulted in a DNF. I’ve been racing bikes long enough to know better! Don’t EVER show up for a race, riding tubulars, without carrying at least one spare! 50 miles in, with 20 left to go, I was on track to meet and possibly beat, my goal time when a ripped side – nob had me trudging the last 100 meters to the aid station. At least I was close enough to walk. The bad news, obviously, was that I was unable to finish. There wasn’t enough Stan’s sealant in Southeast Utah to seal up the hole and get me to the end. So I was left with that sick-to-your-stomach deep ache that we’ve all experienced when we’ve been so close but just can’t grab the brass ring. There were some bright spots though so I was able to find some solace through the disappointment.

The nagging question now is “what do I do with disappointment?” How do I handle not meeting a goal that was such an important milestone in my continued recovery? After over 2 ½ years if injuries, death, and almost continual set-backs, what can I do to put a positive spin on this latest seeming failure? Because the bottom line is that for every really good day, for every “victory”, there are equally as many, if not more days where we just don’t quite “get there”. Sometimes it’s outside forces that take us down a notch. At other times it’s a decision that we made, or didn’t make, that leaves us hanging our heads in disappointment. Either way part of the challenge of bike racing, and life, is learning what to do next.

The drive home to Colorado was over 500 miles. Caren and I had lots of time to process. Originally, I’d planned on going myself, riding the race, and driving home. At the last minute Caren’s schedule was changed and she decided to come along. I’m so grateful that she did. Dealing with “failure” when there’s someone to commiserate with is markedly easier than spending a day alone with nothing to focus on but what might have been. We talked about the good, the bad and the ugly, sometimes more than once. To be honest, I needed it. It was a tough defeat to simply walk away from after so much blood, sweat, tears and self-doubt had gone into getting me to the start line.

I was more than a little bit nervous in the days and weeks leading up to the Crusher. After all the work that I’d done to simply get back on the bike and regaining fitness, I was still unsure as to what it would feel like to race again. Would I still be comfortable in a bunch? Could I keep the pace? In my training rides the last few months I’ve been passed by riders more often than I’ve passed. Was it because I was carefully monitoring my efforts to follow the training schedule that Ben set up for me or, was I just not able to keep up? We rolled off the line in the town of Beaver, Utah at 8:04 and the riders in the front drilled it, wanting to thin things out in the first 10 miles leading up to the first long climb. I found that I was still comfortable sitting in the wheels and matching the pace. First challenge met and one small deposit in the emotional bank account that I can draw on to feel positive about my experience.

For the next 40 miles we climbed “endlessly” (they are long climbs), descended some “interesting” washboard sections including on hellacious descent that left my hands numb from holding on for dear life. We went from the mountains to the high desert and back again to the mountains. I was passed by a lot of riders. Did some passing as well. Held my own! I’m proud of that and I count that as another deposit in the emotional bank account that I can draw on when I line up for cross in September.

Along the way, when I had time, there were some amazing views. Even in my oxygen depleted state I could still appreciate the beauty of this race. Going in to the Crusher I’d read about the difficulty. Most people will tell you that it’s possibly the hardest day they’ve spent on a bike. I wasn’t sure I’d be ready and able to handle it. The good news, I was!. Next challenge met, and overcome.

The results have been posted.. The times are wickedly fast not only for the pros but in every category including my own 50+ division. Only a few were over 60. Had I finished I would have been among the top of the leader board. Yet another small deposit. All the smaller drops in the bucket are beginning to fill it up for me.

Riding the Crusher has given me an entirely new perspective on climbing and on riding in challenging terrain. Just this morning I rode a loop near my house that I’ve struggled with all year. Today the climbs looked just a bit less steep, the rock sections that I was challenged by seemed tamer, the descents a bit flatter and I regularly looked down to find myself in much smaller cogs than I had been used to riding. I’ve become tougher from being crushed!

So, the Crusher crushed me – this time – but I have some unfinished business with this race and I’ll be back. I told Caren when she met me with tears in her eyes at the finish that I wouldn’t do it again. On the ride home we both agreed that I’d be back. I know more about the race now. The course isn’t an unknown. I have a year to dial in my equipment choices, and I know how to train for it.

That’s it. My assault on the Crusher starts now. I have 2 more mountain bike races this summer. The Breckenridge 32 miler and the Leadville 100. It’s feeling like I’ve moved from a roadie that dabbled in mountain bikes, to an off-roader who uses the road bike for specific training. Never thought it would happen, but it has. I’m already looking forward to more of these challenges for next season, after cross, of course.

Anyway, enough writing and reading. Go ride the bike.