Last night’s club ride was amazing, fun, brutally tough, ugly and awesome, all wrapped into 37 hot, windy miles… On pulling into the parking lot when it was all over, I was left wishing that I was still tracking rides with Endomondo – we flirted with 34 miles an hour a few times. With the wind out of the southeast and swirling a bit, we all knew four things: First, the initial mile and a half was going to suck. The next five would be blisteringly fast. The next ten were going to be miserable. The last 14 were going to be fun and fast. The seven mile warm up was, well we’ll call it relaxed as Mike and I showed up plenty early enough to take it easy warming up the legs.
The ride started at 6 pm on the nose, as usual and as with all high-wind days, riding was sketchy. After that first mile and a half, we turned north and the speed jumped from a reasonable 18 mph to almost 30 (48 km/h) where it stayed until we turned back into the cross headwind for a mile. Then it was north and back up to 28 when my buddy Mike and I decided to get out of the fray and pick up a few strays so we could form a group of our own, something smaller and more manageable. We ended up with a group of four plus a tandem and one helluva headwind – pulling up front for more than a half-mile was all but impossible.
We kept together easily into the wind until we came up on the first series of hills – the one place where I absolutely suck in a group of cyclists at or slightly above my ability… I have absolutely no business pulling up a hill because I am a climbing monster if I’m not already red-lined. Throw in the fact that we had a tandem with us and I should have been at the back, coasting behind everyone else – uphill. It took me all of 1/2 of the first hill to dump the rest of the group. By the time I hit the top of the fourth roller and signaled for the next guy to pull, nobody passed. I took a quick glance and I’d opened a quarter of a mile gap.
While that could seem kinda cool, when you’re actually trying to keep a group together so we can split the effort into a gnarly wind, opening up a gap like that is not cool. At that point, I was faced with a decision: Stay away or slow down and let everyone catch up… I decided that I’d let them catch me but without making it easy. I figured I was out there to work, so work I would. It took the four of them ten miles to reel me in and I can tell you, I was about blown up when they did. Still I managed to hold on for the big push west where we were maintaining about 26 mph with the cross-tailwind. With a mile to go, we were up to 28 mph and we finished with a sprint that had us topping out at about 33.
Going back to my hill problem, the way I train has a lot to do with my tendency to drop people when I pull up front. I have written about and recommended increasing speed up hills rather than slowing down as a way to introduce intervals into a regular training ride. Unfortunately, doing this has not only made me faster and stronger on the flats, it’s helped me to climb better than most – most normal people treat hills as a time to just grind out the distance. Also, when I’m riding those hills with the “A” guys, I’m usually at “red-line” which means my little advantage over guys of my caliber is just enough to hold on so I’m usually grinding just stay with them anyway. That said, I have a little “mental glitch” that I haven’t been able to fix yet – something that adds to my penchant for pulling too hard uphill… I am really hard on myself when I pull. For some reason I assume that the guys behind me are thinking that I’m a wuss for not pulling hard enough – that they’re not getting my fair share out of me. What ends up happening is that I pull too hard and drop everybody.
To look at this simply, I have a committee member in my melon that gets way too much pull when I’m up front – and this goes all the way back to what led me to drinking in the first place… In the circles of recovery where I run, we refer to this jokingly as being “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex”. While I do have a healthy ego nowadays (that is to say, at least it’s in check), cycling in a group has provided a new challenge with the inferiority complex – and working on that usually gets the back seat when I’m working on more pressing issues. That isn’t to say I haven’t ever worked on it before, many of my “recovery” posts go into great detail about the inferiority complex and how I’ve battled it in the past… This time represents something new – or more properly stated, a new twist to an old problem.
As is so often the case, as time goes on and I broaden my horizons, when I’m presented with a new challenge I often revert back to that old, pre-programmed way of dealing with things. The thing I find interesting is that you’d think after 20 years of recovery the newer, proper thinking process would have become the pre-programmed way of dealing with new stressors. Funny, that.