All smiles on the run-up © Annette Hayden

Lee strives to live, and ride, to the fullest © Annette Hayden

Masters racer Lee Waldman is fumbling his way through technique tune-ups and working on keeping his chin up as the cyclocross season looms. Along the way, he’s found new inspiration. If you missed Lee’s previous column, where he compares middle school life to cross races and learns some lessons along the way, go back and check it out. Also, Lee touches on something we’ll explore in greater depth in Issue 10 (coming soon!) sports psychology and cyclocross.

by Lee Waldman

It’s less than four weeks until my first cyclocross of the new season. If you’re anything like I am, the summer’s been spent in an idyllic world of easy wins. Hey, we can dream, can’t we? Your legs never hurt – much – and you race using nothing but nose breathing. Each and every transition is smooth as butter, and it never takes more than three steps to remount. The pedals are exactly where you expect them to be each time, easily found without a second glance.

If it were only that easy. I’ve had some pretty ugly training sessions in the last few weeks, sessions where it seems I can’t get out of my own way: my remounts are rough enough to bottom out the tires, my feet slip off of the pedals when I dismount, shouldering the bike looks more like trying to lift a 50-pound sack of flour than a 16-pound carbon bike. In other words, there are days when I truly suck. Makes mental preparation a real challenge.

Here’s how I spend the weeks before the first race. First, I go through all sorts of gyrations attempting to convince myself that, “Yes, I did work hard enough this summer. No, I don’t need to lose any more weight. Yes, the training program will work and, no, I don’t need to add in another session of intervals each week.” That’s what I do first, because no matter how hard I work in the “off-season,” I will always struggle to believe in myself – to believe that I deserve what I’ve worked so hard for, that I’ve done it right. Even with a coach who has set me up perfectly for the season, the self-doubt still creeps in. Because of coach Ben Turner I’m better, but that monkey still lurks in the shadows, waiting to jump on my back every time I come back from a ride that I label as “not good.”

I was struggling with this very problem on my way home from a training session last week. It was one of those rides I was describing. Every dismount was an adventure, and I held my breath each time I vaulted back onto the bike. And they were vaults, not the smooth stepping-over-the-top-tube remounts we see the pros do so effortlessly.

As I usually do, I was listening to NPR on my iPod and trying to spin some of the lactic acid out of the legs. So, I’m about half-way home when a story comes on about memory – specifically memory loss in the elderly. It was interesting, but I was tired and only partially listening. The story was about a woman who was losing her memories (not her memory) as she grew into her 90s. She shared a comment that her mother had made. What life is really all about, her mother said, is how we choose to spend our time on earth. How we choose to spend our time on Earth. Wow! Now I was listening and thinking.

Hearing that dredged up a memory of my own, from a forgotten part of my life. In my younger days, I taught skiing. One particular morning, all of the instructors who weren’t teaching went out to clinic with our Norwegian supervisor, Agnar Fjordholm. Cool name, huh? Standing at the top of a pretty steep run, before he pushed off, he looked at all of us gathered in a circle to receive bits of advice, the kind that would immediately transform our skiing. He said, “Ski this run like it’s the last one you’ll ever ski,” and then took off. I’ll never forget that.

’Cross is coming. We’ve all trained hard over the summer, and we’ve put a lot of ourselves into preparing to do our best. We’ve done the physical work. The difference now between winning, whatever that means, and losing is attitude. My promise to myself this year is that I’ll race this season one race at a time. I’ll enjoy every one of them no matter the result. I’ll lay it all on the line every time, living in that one beautiful moment when my body, my bike and my mind are all in sync, working towards one goal. I’ll race as if it’s the last one that I’ll ever have the opportunity to race. And then I’ll get ready for the next one.

Enough. Go ride your bike!