Contrary to what most noobs believe when they first start looking at those expensive carbon road bikes, when asked how they got so fast, to my knowledge in the history of pro cycling, the following answer has never been given:
“I bought a really fast bike”.
I had an eye-opening experience during last evening’s club ride that was negative on the surface but I broke it down for what it was, it’s not all bad…
The forecast was for a chance of rain but with relatively mild temps (low to mid 60’s F or 16 C) so I brought the rain bike just in case. I was expecting a slog but nothing like what transpired. The winds were out of the south and this is never good considering our route – this means, literally, only six miles of the thirty with a helping wind. Contrast that with prevailing winds (WSW): 15 miles with a helping wind or crosswind. Where the ride got rough was with the velocity at which the wind was blowing and the fact that we only had a group of ten or so. Starting out was fairly easy for the first mile and a half, then the next three we were riding with the wind at between 25 & 26 mph (we had two slower guys pulling for more than a mile of that).
I ran into trouble though, when we turned into the wind immediately after that three… By that time we’d been whittled down to a whole six riders pulling (we had three at the back just trying to hold on). With a gnarly crosswind we only had a mile to recover after a tough half-mile pull up front at 22 to 23 mph – for me, after three more hard pulls, it was just too much. At 9-1/2 miles the big dogs of the group decided to get into a single-file pace line to allow for better recovery but then ramped the pace up to more than 28 mph into the crosswind. I had just come off a pull and tried to fade to the back and hung on for a second but Matt and I missed a beat and off the back we were, just enough that we missed the draft. I was cooked so I was dead weight and Matt tried valiantly to get us back to the group but without me available to take the lead for the last couple hundred feet it was just too much.
We faded back and slowed it down to between 18 & 20 mph. Matt and I traded turns up front and I did my best to help out but my legs were, surprisingly, smoked. We caught up to three more riders who’d fallen off the back and were soft pedaling, allowing us the opportunity. I took up at the back and we started a fairly regular rotation, though I had a hard time keeping up my fair share of the work – especially on hills. On more than one pull I found myself grunting just to get to the top – on hills that I normally find quite easy and can pull away from the group if I’m not paying attention. Not only that, I had an amazingly tough time recovering at the back and had to, at times, dig deep just to keep from quitting. By the time we’d hit 18 miles (12 to go) I was battling the committee in my head that was telling me, in chorus, “Good job smart ass, you’re over-trained and now you’re paying for it”… I had a fantastic August and a great September and so far in October, I’m almost on pace to match August… After being “on” for the last six and a half months, I almost had to agree with the committee on its point.
I don’t know how but I managed to stick with it. My legs just wouldn’t loosen up, and it was starting to piss me off.. I battled like hell for about five more miles before I finally got to a point where I was starting to feel like me again. I was recovering within a half-mile after fading to the back and my breathing, which had been all over the place for the last 13 miles, finally started to normalize.
We pulled up to the final stretch with daylight fading fast. Matt even turned on his light for the last five miles or so (I’ll have to dig mine out – looks like I’ll need it). Every Tuesday for the last three months I’ve managed a sprint with the other guys I was riding with for the last 1/4 mile until last night. Carla, the fastest woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding with on a regular basis, came flying by me for the sprint finish but I just let her go – I didn’t have anything left.
In the end, we had managed a 20.6 mph average pace which is only slightly below normal but considering the wind and weather we were all quite pleased with it. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic! One way or another I found a way to fight through a really tough ride and my melon committee’s incessant nagging to throw in the towel – I haven’t had to battle that hard in a long time, maybe as much as a year. When we rolled up on the cool-down zone and soft-pedaled to the parking lot I was struck with a feeling of having snatched a sweet small victory from the nagging committee, clamoring for defeat.
So in retrospect, the ride was hard, but I sure did get a lot out of it.
UPDATE: I should have mentioned in this post that though I may very well be experiencing a little bit of overtraining (finally), I’m only 280 miles from my yearly goal of 5,000 miles… I should be able to square that away some time in November. I have been trying to horse in a few extra miles so I can coast a little bit into the New Year before I ramp things up for spring.