Lee tearing up the sandpit at Valmont.

Here, Lee is tearing up the sandpit at Valmont. Now, he's stress-free and enjoying the summer!

Lee Waldman has talked a lot lately about his off-season motivation issues. It’s been a tough year for him with work, and now he’s finally got a few weeks off to reflect on why he still manages to ride his bike.

by Lee Waldman

Looking back on my last few columns, I realize how much I’ve written about stress. My most humble apologies, and thank you for sticking with me. I’m not sure I would have. But, here’s some good news: I’ve discovered, or more precisely, rediscovered, a path to climb out of that hole. I might have written about this before. After all, when you’re my age, it’s much too easy to repeat yourself. Anyway … I’ve decided to let go of built-up stress by changing my focus to just having fun on the bike. Remember fun? It’s so easy for most of us to get carried away with training logs, heart rate, power, diet, and equipment choices that we tend to forget sometimes that we began riding bikes for fun.

When we were younger, two wheels gave us the freedom to go places without depending on adults. Suddenly, we could choose to go where we wanted and when we wanted. The world became limitless.

How many of you remember that sense of accomplishment the first time you could ride no-handed? I still feel it every time I successfully bunny-hop a curb or slide though a corner without laying the bike down. I have to admit that even at 62 there are times when I’ll ride down an empty street swinging the bike from one side of the street to the other for the pure joy of pushing the boundaries of balance. I love laying the bike on its side and then have it rebound underneath me. Admit it, you’ve done the same thing! And what’s the focus when we’re doing that? Fun, of course! It was, and still is, all about enjoying the journey without worrying about the destination. About living in the moment; something that’s easier at 12 than at 62.

So, my goal for the rest of this summer is to have fun on my bike. That doesn’t mean I’m throwing away my training calendar. No way! I still have a coach, Ben, and I’d never give that up. His advice has gotten me pretty far in the last couple of years, and I plan to stick with him and with it. But I’m also giving myself the room to remember the reasons why I started riding a bike.

For example, my “training ride” last Friday began near my house in Wheat Ridge, one of Denver’s western suburbs, and ended in the ski resort of Vail. My wife was attending a professional conference and I had the time. I decided to meet her. Having  never ridden that far at one time before, I looked forward, with some bit of trepidation,  to the challenge.

The ride took me eight hours and some change including three fairly long and challenging passes. The first climb, over Squaw Pass, was over 18 miles and took me an hour and a half.  The second one approached two hours. It started in Georgetown, Colorado, and ended at the summit of Loveland Pass. The finale, Vail Pass, was only about an hour’s worth of climbing, but the wicked headwind that I fought on the way up and then down into Vail more than made up for the brevity of the effort. All told, the ride rated a nine on the fun factor scale. The wind kept it from being a perfect 10.

I had the time. School was finally over and I had the motivation. This ride has been on my bucket list for the past five or six years. I learned that I had the patience and the perseverance as well, because that’s exactly what it took. Doing long endurance rides present challenges that are completely at odds with what we put ourselves through in a cyclocross race.  In ’cross, when the gun goes off, we know that we need to floor it and keep it floored for 45 minutes to an hour.  Then, thankfully, we can back off.

Facing eight hours of continual pedaling calls for a completely different mindset. Instead of focusing on max effort, I had to dial it back a bit. I’m not good about eating and drinking on the bike, so I had to  regularly check in with myself to make sure I’d have enough left in the tank to finish. I’ve been known to “forget” to eat and drink on long training rides before and I remember all too well what it feels like when the bonk monster climbs on my back. I wasn’t looking forward to experiencing it again.

I made two mistakes when I started out. First, I had arranged with my daughter to give me a ride to my starting point so that I didn’t have to ride through the city. In my rush to get out the door in the morning, I mistook my ’cross shoes for my road shoes.  So, after the half hour delay of driving back home profusely apologizing, I was ready to go. Second, I also left the ear buds for my iPod sitting on my desk! So, I faced an entire ride without music or N.P.R. As it turns out, the silence was the best part of the ride. I had absolutely nothing to focus on but a cloudless, bright blue, Colorado day, my breathing and my thoughts. They became my mantra for eight hours.

As with all mantras, the effect was to calm me and focus me. Everything that had bothered me in the weeks leading up to the end of school did indeed fade. The only thing I had to worry about was eating enough, drinking enough, and making it over the next rise. In that twisted sort of way that only another endurance athlete can understand, it was “fun.”  Not easy, mind you, but fun.  The problem I’m facing now – what to do next. Well, it’s Saturday morning and the sun is just coming up.  It’s going to be a beautiful day on the Colorado front range. I’m going for a ride. You should do the same.

Go ride!  Have fun!