Post-Season Ruminations © Joe Sales

Here, in installment #10 of Lee Waldman’s quest for glory in Masters cyclocross races, Lee reflects on some of life’s bigger questions and the role that cyclocross plays in that narrative. Missed Lee’s account of his race at Nationals? Check it out here. Also, read our race coverage of the Nationals Masters 60-64 event.

It’s now almost two months since Nationals in Bend. I’ve gotten past my disappointment in not having achieved my goal of a podium in the 60+ race. I was close, for a while, but it just wasn’t to be. My calculated risk, cutting the corner after the pit to try to catch third place, left me splayed on the ground, ending my opportunity to make contact with the front group. That’s cyclocross. So now it’s winter time in Colorado. It’s cold. It’s dark. I’m spending too much time on my trainer.

I’m back at work. I’m also thinking a lot and, of course, planning for next season. The news about Worlds coming to the US adds that little extra to the motivation, something I seem to never lack. I’m into my winter lifting program. I contracted with a coaching service so that I can be more focused and specific in my training. Our local racing calendar has been published; I’ve already planned out my summer training, my cyclocross season and my road to Worlds in 2012. I’m rested and motivated.

Now that the training load is down, this is the the time of the year that I ruminate on all of the reasons why I continue to race ‘cross. Why do I run through mud, snow and ice carrying, as my friend Patrick O’Grady used to say, a “perfectly rideable bicycle”? Well, the most obvious answer is that, in its own sick way, it’s fun. I get to be a kid. Where else can a 60 year-old man play in the mud and not feel self-conscious or alone? Everybody around me is doing exactly the same thing and loving it.

Next on my list of reasons is that it improves my lifestyle. When I look around at the men my age, and even those younger, I’m shocked and worried about the state of health that I see. It’s scary, to say the least. Those of us who race bikes have an incredibly skewed sense of reality. We’re surrounded by people who look fit, just like us. The rest of the world isn’t like that; they’re overweight and out of shape. And it’s not only the adults – we’ve all heard the reports and read the stories about the increased incidence of childhood obesity. Believe me, it’s real. As a teacher, I see it in my school every day.

Maybe it’s my fear of death, or just my inherent stubbornness, but I refuse to buy into the culture of sloth and sloppiness. If cycling makes it easier for me to keep my long time promise to myself to always stay “in shape,” then all I can do is be thankful.

There are also the mental and, in some cases, intangible reasons I keep going. Every time I show up for a cyclocross race, I’m faced with the challenge of figuring out the course. There are so many options – different lines through corners and the multiple choices of tires, to name just a couple. There’s also the dynamic nature of a cyclocross course, changing as the day progresses so that what I see and experience in warm up can be completely different at the start of my race and drastically changed yet again by the end. I love puzzles. I’m a constant questioner. Racing cyclocross provides me with the intellectual challenge in the midst of a physical activity that I truly love.

Finally, at least for now, there’s the uniqueness factor. Yes, I know that cyclocross is growing by leaps and bounds. I love that. The fields continue to grow. The number of races has exploded. We’re actually fighting over dates here in Colorado. But ‘cross is still a niche sport in many ways. It’s blue collar in the best sense of the word: down-and-dirty bike racing where your strengths and weaknesses are evident. There is no place to hide in a cyclocross race. I can congratulate myself for my accomplishments and look inside for my failures. It fits with who I am. I’m pretty sure that any of you who are still reading by now would agree with me – we race because it meets our personalities and our needs in so many ways. It just…fits.