Lee cleans up nicely for some time away from the cross course with his wife. Courtesy Lee Waldman

Lee cleans up nicely for some time away from the cross course with his wife. Courtesy Lee Waldman

Cyclocross Magazine columnist and Masters racer Lee Waldman takes a look behind the scenes of bike racing life by interviewing his wife about being married to an obsessed cyclocrosser and mountain biker. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column as he analyzes Making Excuses and Smiling Like George.

by Lee Waldman

I love reading about Mark Legg and Katie Compton. He still races at a high level himself, but he’s there completely for Katie. And she gives him what he needs at the same time. It got me thinking about my marriage and bike racing. Even though we ride and train by ourselves, it takes a tremendous amount of support for those of us with real jobs to compete. Not just the physical support that gets us to the races every weekend either – the moral support is equally as important. It’s listening to us talk, ad nauseum, about the race last weekend, the race next weekend, the equipment that we need, the training schedule that we’re on, the weight that we need to lose, and on and on. It takes a ton of patience and, yes, a lot of love and respect to live with a bike racer.

I’m on marriage number two. I’d have to say marriage number one didn’t benefit from my racing. Too much of my focus was taken by it. That might not have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, but it didn’t help. Looking back, I can see how detrimental my myopic, blinders-on, single-mindedness contributed to its demise.

I met my current wife online. Yes, online dating services occasionally do work. I made it clear that I was a bicycle racer, although I’m not sure that she understood the implications at that point. Occasionally in our first couple of years, she would come to a crit with me, sitting on the grass, reading as I rode by.

It wasn’t until her first cyclocross race that she fully grasped the level of depravity that sport can sink to. Explaining cyclocross to the general public is a challenge. It’s even more difficult to explain to anyone with a modicum of common sense why we do it. As I rolled over to her after finishing that race she looked and me and said simply, “That’s just sick and wrong.” I couldn’t argue with the sentiment, because it is. Isn’t that one of the reasons we do it, because it sets us apart from everyone else who swings a leg over a top tube?

Over the years since then, she’s begun to appreciate the finer points: the ballet-like technique, the skill involved, the level of suffering. She still thinks it’s a depraved sport and that I’m certifiable for doing it, but I think that there’s also a part of her that appreciates the savage beauty of cyclocross. She’s brutal as well. Last year in Bend as I was suffering through the last two laps, realizing that I wasn’t going to catch the leaders, she yelled in support, “You can rest tomorrow!” Yes, she’s learned to be a cyclocross wife. Who else would understand that, even though it looks as if we’re suffering all levels of agony on the bike, we thrive on it. And who else but a cyclocross partner would yell something as seemingly cruel as that to someone suffering like a dog?

I started wondering how she survives being married to a bike. So, I asked her:

What’s the greatest challenge of being married to a bike racer?
I thought about this for a long time and truly can say that there’s not anything hard about being married to a bike racer. One challenge for me is keeping myself fit and healthy, but realizing I am not a bike racer and do not have the same incredible fitness level of my husband.

What’s the easiest part?
Seeing his incredible passion and dedication to his sport. When someone truly loves something and values it as much as Lee values riding his bike, it makes it easy to support all the efforts and dreams.

What drives you crazy?
That every Saturday and Sunday morning before he goes out to train he insists on asking me if I am OK with his going. For seven years the answer has been “yes” and I have been sincere, so why does he still need to ask? If I say “no,” will he not go??

What are the challenges to being supportive of someone who is so focused on a goal?
There are more positives then challenges as I see it. I have become more focused on my health and fitness goals as a result of his modeling. The challenge is probably helping him keep a balance, especially about diet and actually eating enough to compensate for the level of training he does. Another is when he has an injury and I think he is ignoring it and he thinks he is OK.

The most incredible thing to me about Lee is his focus and commitment to his plan. I have never known anyone who truly never deviates from the training plan, EVER. Good day, bad day, easy day hard day–he is doing what he’s supposed to do according to the plan, and the plan is designed to meet the goal, and the goal is aligned with his desires and passion.

What has cycling done for your relationship?
It is such a meaningful part of Lee’s life that it is part of our relationship. I have learned about things I would never have known. I am pretty sure if not for Lee I would not know anything about cyclocross. It has introduced me to great people, and it makes my husband happy in a way that brings joy to me.

I also have a very cool bike and love to ride with Lee! It’s so much fun when we go out and “just ride our bikes.”

How do you deal with his constant stream of injuries that seem to go along with being a bike racer?
I do not do well with them. I see all of them as injuries that actually require attention, and he sees them as inconveniences that just keep him from being able to sleep with comfort. I worry that his pain threshold is too high and that if something were really wrong, he wouldn’t recognize it.

Any regrets about having gotten “involved” with a racing cyclist?
Not a one. Just that I did not meet him sooner.

Are there times when you wish he would quit?
NEVER! Then I would not get to go to Bend again and see my friends. I’m looking forward to cyclocross on the East Coast when we retire. The fall is beautiful there!

Can we race without that? Yes. But is it as rewarding doing it for ourselves as when we can share it with our families? Not even close. I look forward to the day when I hear a tiny voice ringing out, “Go Grandpa!” (don’t let my daughters know about this. I feel old enough with married children). I’m long past the day when “Go Daddy” is going to ring in my ears, but there is something about knowing that someone is going to love you whether you cross the line with your arms held aloft, or roll in exhausted and beaten. You’re their hero and it’s worth every mile we put in, every set of stairs we run, every session of intervals and every weight workout.

This morning I kissed Caren as she slept, whispered goodbye and headed out the door for a training ride. It’s still not an easy thing for me to do, leaving her even when she’s asleep. No matter that she’ll most likely just be waking up when I come home in a couple of hours. But there’s something in me that makes it hard to leave without apologizing.