Some races are tougher (and more dangerous!) than others. Don't let it discourage you, though!

Some races are tougher (and more dangerous!) than others. Don't let it discourage you, though!

A couple of weeks back, Lee Waldman talked about his off-season motivation issues. Today, he’s coming back to the topic of motivation, which is hard to come by in the off-season, and even harder when things don’t seem to be going right.

by Lee Waldman

What do you do when you have that really bad race? It’s that day when you just can’t get out of your own way. Absolutely nothing works. Everything just feels off kilter. Like the Universe has shifted slightly overnight.

Sometimes you can see those days coming well in advance. Your legs have been heavy all week and you know deep in your heart of hearts that there’s no way you should be racing. But you’re a competitor, so you do it anyway, hoping that maybe the legs will come around once the racing heats up. They don’t. Sometimes you even start off well, but then the inevitable happens and you begin to go backwards … fast!

We all believe that results are the logical result of training hard. Sometimes all the motivation in the world won’t keep you going, especially through a bad patch. That’s what’s facing me right now.

So far this season I’ve trained well. Granted, I’ve had some tired days where my legs ached from the first pedal stroke. But I always knew there was a method to my training madness and I was certain that by the time the first race rolled around, I’d come around as well.

April 21 was my first long mountain bike race of the season. The bike was ready: cleaned, oiled, checked from top to bottom. My body was ready, I thought. It was 66 miles and I was hoping for a win to start the season off on the right foot. To coin an overused phrase, my day was a perfect storm of everything that potentially could ruin my effort.

The accumulation of negative factors began the previous Saturday when we’d had to put one of our dogs down. If you’ve never had to put an animal to sleep, consider yourself lucky.

Added to that, it was a simply devastating week at work where I dealt with a disgusting incident of Anti-Semitism involving some of my former students. Emotionally, I was drained: sad, upset and empty. I wish I could be the type of person who can leave work at work and move on with the rest of my life at 4 o’clock but … I’m not. So, as I rolled out of bed at 0’Dark:Thirty on Saturday morning, my heart was not in the game.

My sadly departed friend Karen Hornbostel used to tell me about her “bad attitude” days. The days when her head just wasn’t there. She either dropped out of races or just decided not to race.

Adding to the emotional exhaustion was the simple fact that I hadn’t been sleeping well, averaging about five hours a night last week. I can function on five hours. I can work and I can even train for a while on little sleep, but it’s not a great way to prepare for a long, hot, hard race.

And then there was the course. Narrow single track with loose shards of shale on most of the corners is not my favorite. I have double vision, have had for my entire life, so narrow courses are obviously a challenge. And although my bike handling has improved through lots of hard work, I’m still not comfortable where it feels like the ground will slide out from under me at any moment.

Half the course ran along the side of a cliff with steep and dangerous drops. Imagine having double vision, little to no depth perception and trying to negotiate that? Doesn’t work.

So, after a dynamite start where I rode the first four miles in the top six in my category, I thought I was having an “on” day. Never mind that my heart rate was through the roof at that point. I was in front. We jumped onto the single track and although it was not much wider than my tires, I was railing the corners. The dirt was relatively firm. We hadn’t yet reached the shale and the cliffs. So, I rolled into each corner, working the bike and working on my technique. Every time I looked behind, all I saw was blank space.

The course conditions changed drastically and after that first section I spent the next 15 or so miles turning left on dirt, turning right on loose shale, always looking down 100 plus feet, straight down. My speed which, up until then had been high, dropped to turtle pace. All I could see was the drop-off and even though I know in my head that I need to look where I want to go, I just couldn’t help myself. And then all the riders I’d dropped earlier came back. The more ground I lost, the more exhausted I felt, and the less motivated I had to continue. And you know what? Based on the week that I’d had, I didn’t care.

So, as embarrassed as I am to say this, after I rolled through the finish line for the first time, I headed home. 22 miles instead of 66.

I’m looking at a long season. Worlds in Louisville don’t take place till the end of January. Everything that happens now will be a distant memory by then, filed away in the round file of my memory, I hope. I hope that this race wasn’t a harbinger of bad things to come. I’m superstitious that way.

So my goal now is to put it behind me and to use this bad result as that factor that motivates me to refocus and re-energize myself. I’ll remember how disappointing it felt to throw my bike in the back of the car and drive off, trying not to look over at the course and the rest of the riders plugging on as I quit. I’ll try to ignore the frustration and feelings of inadequacy and instead attend to that part of me that’s anxious to prove that I’m better than that.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the weather and the time on the bike every day knowing that there’s really nothing better than riding.

And you should too. Go riding … now.