by Lee Waldman
When I was just learning about cyclocross, there were fewer than half a dozen races in Colorado. Granted that was 3 decades ago and the sport was still growing here. But those of us “in the know.” could see its potential. The nitty gritty attributes of the sport dovetailed with our basic personalities.
The courses then were different than the ones we race on today. Not as wide, not as well marked and not as “polished” as they are today. Nevertheless, I fell in love with cyclocross and its intensity, the effort, the rewards and the feeling of community. It was amazing to feel so totally drained after a mere 45 minutes, to feel challenged simply by the course and the weather, and I felt special because of the small fraternity of riders that I’d become a part of.
And so I raced every race. All six of them. Cyclocross grew in popularity and with it, the number of promoters and races. The schedule in Colorado gradually grew from single digits into the teens, and then into the twenties. Now we have a full schedule that begins in early September and finishes the third week of December.
It’s becoming difficult, if not impossible for mere mortals like me to race every race every weekend for the entire cross calendar. Bodies and brains simply can’t maintain focus, let alone health, for that period of time without some sort of break down.
I’ve fought against that inevitability for the last few years stubbornly repeating the mantra, “real crossers suck it up and race the complete season.” And I’ve suffered for it as a result. I’ve been plagued with injuries, car accidents and mental lapses. Cross was beginning to be a job, an expectation and no longer a source of pleasure.
In my heart I knew that things needed to change, but I was afraid to. There is so much of my personal identity that’s been tied up with being a bike racer that I was afraid I’d be left without an identity if I listened to myself and invited change into what’s been a pretty well-established model of behavior. It didn’t matter that I was completely aware that this approach was no longer working for me. It was the way I’d always done it, and I was afraid to change.
But this season, by about mid-November, I began to notice that cyclocross was becoming drudgery. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to quit, or to walk away from the sport that has given me so much pleasure, I finally had to admit that change was inevitable. So, even though I struggled with the decision, I took a full 3 weeks off of racing in the heart of the season.
I’d be lying to you if I said it was easy. It wasn’t. The nagging doubts crept in almost constantly. Was I going to lose fitness? Would it be easy to simply quit? What would everyone else say? Was I showing a lack of commitment? Even writing these questions helps me see how truly silly they were. After almost 35 years of cyclocross racing, there wasn’t one of them that actually made any sense. So I took the time off.
And you know what, taking the rest off actually worked! I’ve raced for the final three weekends of our season and had fun again, trying a different approach. Instead of racing the same category that I’ve ridden all year, I chose to ride my single speed for two of the three, just for fun. And it was! I can’t say that my results have been stellar. Although you wouldn’t think so, single speed racing is different and in some ways harder on my body. It must be that constant need to apply pressure to the pedals or the bike stops moving forward. Regardless, it was fun, which was something I hadn’t experienced on a regular basis recently.
The last race on our calendar was our state championship. I wasn’t racing. Another irritating injury, this time an angry back, forced me to change my plans and end the season early, with a whimper rather than a bang. I had hoped to salvage the season with a good ride there and another one at Master’s Worlds but we all know the punch line there.
What’s the big learning here? If, like me, you find yourself in a slump half-way through the season, take a break. Ride your mountain bike. Do something different. Put away the training log for a while. Remind yourself how much fun it is just to ride your bike. You won’t lose anything, I promise. And then go back to racing, but remember to smile.
So, as I head into the off season, I’m switching the focus. My goals now, circled on my race calendar, are the Bailey Hundo 100 miler and the Crusher in the Tushar. If you’re there I’ll be the one smiling. In the meantime I’m going to ride my bike and enjoy the scenery.
You should do the same.