In years past, I’d keep pushing the training till the snow hit the ground or the weather turned ugly… then I’d ride inside on the trainer as if my speed depended on it – I was all go all the time. Then I matured. It occurred to me I’d become a bit of a bore – a little too rigid to be any fun. Some of my friends started slowing down due to health issues and, if I wanted to ride with them (and I most definitely did), I was going to have to learn how to relax a little bit.
I’ve been through that process in posts past, but if you weren’t around, it was a little on the messy side and I had to eat a lot of crow, but I did what was right in the end and grew in the process.
This year was a bit of a mess with the whole COVID lock down situation. While everyone else was riding solo, I was able to ride with my wife, but the pace was a lot slower than I was used to heading into the first club rides of the season. We were normally around 17-mph when I’m used to something a little more… energetic. I learned how to ride in service of my wife – to pick a decent pace in the headwind and pull for her till we hit tailwind. I figured it would be mid-summer before we were riding with other friends again, at best, so I figured I’d struggle to keep up for a few weeks, maybe deal with getting dropped a time or two before getting my legs back, then all would be okay.
That’s not how it worked. All of those long, slow miles in the headwind paid huge dividends. I did get dropped once on Tuesday night, but that was an overheating issue – we went from the low 60’s (15 C) to the low 90’s (32 C) seemingly overnight. I wasn’t acclimated. Once I got used to the heat, I was right on form again and pulling at the front, often. We hit records all summer for the 28-mile course, including a 24-mph average (28 miles in 1:10 and change). We hit records on Thursday night, too. That 28-mile route has three times the up and 20-mph used to be fast. We were cranking out 21’s and 22’s throughout the summer. My slowest spring ever and I was at my fastest over the summer. I found there’s something profoundly beneficial to “long slow distance” training.
So here we are, early autumn, and it’s unseasonably cold (15° below average yesterday, colder today) and I’ve changed. I can leave fast to Tuesday nights where I know I’ve got the legs. I’m not afraid of easy rides anymore, especially pre and post-season because I know I’ve got the watts.
Yesterday was a case-in-point. Completely out of character, I’d scheduled us to ride with the slower Gaines gang out of our normal Tuesday night spot. We had to hustle to get there, but pulled into the parking lot with two minutes to spare and 12.5 miles under our belt. Over the next 39 miles we dropped to a 17-mph average before my wife, Mike, Diane and I split off for home. Our average increased to 17-1/2 over the last 12 as we hammered it home north of 20-mph. It was one enjoyable 100k and I didn’t feel out-of-sorts once about the pace.
I used to think being fast on a road bike relied upon several hard efforts a week and serious training in the early spring. I’d do hill sprints, hard slogs in cold weather, hard trainer rides when the weather was too gnarly… I was strong, surely, but wrong, entirely. I’ve come to find relaxing a little bit hurts nothing – and it’s a lot more fun than being on the gas at every given moment.
One thing hasn’t changed, though. I love my bikes!