Cyclocross Magazine columnist and Masters racer Lee Waldman gets the chance to relearn basic lessons, courtesy of a 50-mile MTB race in Colorado. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column as he stays Motivated through Life’s Twists and Turns.
by Lee Waldman
You would think that after racing for as long as I have I wouldn’t make the same mistakes I made 30 years ago; that I know enough about the way my body works when stressed that I would go out of my way give it what it needs; that I wouldn’t start out a 50-mile mountain bike race without a full water bottle on my bike. You would think that … and you would be wrong.
I really did think that if I left my bottle with Corky, our shop sponsor who was wrenching for us, that I’d be able to keep myself hydrated. I really did think that I’d grab a bottle every lap. I guess I don’t know myself as well as I thought I did because, 20 miles into the race, I’d only taken one sip and that was as the beginning of the second lap.
I’m almost as bad about taking care of my nutritional needs as I am at paying attention to my training load. I’ve solved that latter problem with my coach. Maybe I need a nutritionist as well, because half-way through the fourth of five laps of the Front Range 50, my body decided it was done. I was completely aware of the exact moment it happened. Climbing the first of the three climbs we did on each lap, I went from dancing on the pedals to watching everyone ride away from me. The descent was worse. Tunnel vision, shaky arms, shoulders and back made it almost impossible for me to keep the bike on the trail. I’m not a good descender in the best of times. This was downright scary (more about that in a minute).
I’d gone way past being hungry and thirsty. I was in the clutches of the Bonk Monster and he was shaking me from side to side like a Raggedy Andy doll. For the first three laps I’d pushed hard on the climbs, as usual. I was also actually dropping other riders on the flat sections, something I’m rarely able to do. I found myself thinking, “This whole coaching thing is really working.” The only thing holding me back was my suspect cornering and descending. (Looking back maybe it was a bad idea to have almost 50psi in my tires and 100psi in my front fork! Note to self: Check air pressure in fork and tires before you race)
I knew I was in trouble when the riders I’d dropped a lap and a half before started coming back and rolling past me. It became painfully obvious that I was done for the day when my heart rate dropped into the 90s. For the first two laps, I’d been comfortably riding with it in the high-140s, breathing through my nose. The final nail in the coffin came when I had to dismount and walk the final two climbs of the course – climbs I’d been riding in the saddle less than an hour before. Not only did I have to walk, I had to stop half way up each climb to rest!
Looking back, I made a ton of mistakes in the race. First, I didn’t check the air pressure in my front fork. Every little bump on the course was transferred directly to my arms, hands, shoulders and back. Second, my tires were way, way too hard. The combination of these two resulted in me creeping down the descents. Third, I didn’t take care of my nutrition – didn’t eat, didn’t drink, ended up pedaling squares, suffering from tunnel vision and in general feeling awful. Last, I might have gone out way too hard on the first two laps. The jury is still out on that one.
The end result, great first two laps, shaky third lap, horrible fourth lap. It’s early in the season. That’s what I told myself. There’s never a time when I feel good about poor riding and racing and giving up feels even worse. But given the choice between climbing off the bike or possibly hurting myself, which is where I was headed with my shaky riding, getting off the bike was the better option.
You would think that I’ve learned all of my lessons over the last 30 years. I guess some lessons need to be retaught and relearned through experience. Thanks for reading. Go ride!