It was the
perfect Saturday morning for biking: in the upper sixties with
plenty of sun from a blue scattered cumulus sky. Nearing the end of
the New Hump, I had just jumped ahead of the group on the downhill
curve coming into Pine Island. I knew I needed to be spinning hard to avoid being reeled in and
dropped on the long gradual up grade approaching the left turn onto
the flats of the final leg home. I was about a quarter of the way up
the grade and twenty yards ahead of the pack when I glanced down at
my trip computer. I was pacing at well over 28 mph. Not much chance
I would be overtaken at that speed, not on that grade. It gave me a
moment to reflect. The sun felt good on my shoulder.
How had I
come to this point, a pinnacle: finally ahead of the pack near the
end of a ride and feeling strong?
remembered the horrors of political intrigue, environmental
catastrophe and broken faith that propelled me to an attempt to
avoid all further human contact, then into a biking mania. But that
is another story very much not about cycling.
So I thought
about the fifty-plus pounds taken off during the last three years
with the help of a computer program I wrote using the guidance of
several nutrition books. There was also the memory of 1200 miles
completed during this year’s early training, where I worked through
technical skills from a list of biking books and magazine articles.
I remembered one day in February when I got hit with windy sleet,
then hail, then snow, then all three at the same time. I kept myself
going by looking forward to this day: when my bootie bound,
chronically cold feet would be free and relieved under a blazing sun
on a brutal hill, and I would be in front of the group saying, “The
winter rides were worth it.” Even in all that, there was something
missing as to how I now found myself out in front, fast and strong.
there was today’s ride where I finally felt strong enough to lay
back in the pack and draft. In earlier A rides I always had to get
out front early, just to keep from being dropped on the first hill.
While everybody else spun easy and warmed up, I always pushed to get
half way up the hill at Cross Road before the group hit the bottom.
If I could do that I would not be dropped until the hill’s
three-quarter mark. That put me in a position to catch up again on
the downhill, recover and survive a few more hills the same way. It
was a desperate act but only required my standard training pace.
In any case I
always demanded my right to be dropped and counted on the A’s to not
wait for me. Each week I got a couple hills farther before being
dropped. Today I had gone far past my immediate goal of merely
surviving to the top of the long Ridgebury climb. I couldn’t believe
it. Not only had I made the climb, I was near the end of the ride
and maintaining a personal best average of 20.7 mph, an incredible
jump in performance that could not be explained away merely by the
effects of drafting.
again I saw my speed was starting to edge down toward 28 mph. Not
much chance I would be caught on this hill, but what was it that put
me way beyond myself and at the front?
All I could
remember of today’s ride was a blur of hill after hill where I kept
saying, “I’ll hold on till the top of this one and then it’s over.”
Each time I got to the top, it was a shock and I’d think, “Just to
the halfway point of the next hill.” Then, “Just to the top of this
one, and I’m done” and “Just hold on to that wheel five more
strides…spin quick, quick, catch up, catch up!” over and over again
for thirty miles.
So there it
was! That was the answer.
something about riding in a group that increases one’s personal
performance well beyond the benefits of the “draft advantage.” Being
surrounded by excellent riders keeps you in the moment. It’s that
gut reaction that screams, “don’t be dropped…not just yet.” It
shouts louder than the pain and blanks out thoughts of, “I can’t
because…” My monitor always shows I’ve brought my heart rate higher
for a much longer time during group rides than when alone. Plus the
pain is delayed until a much higher rate. I’m often not even aware
of the extra effort.
the front trying not to slow the paceline…or at the back
trying not to fall off someone’s tire…or else being in the middle
with the added responsibility of making sure the riders behind don’t
get dropped because of you…it all combines to shunt the pain to a
place well removed from the here and now. There’s also the
adrenaline of reflex action that takes you with it when a wheel goes
by. Not to mention this is dangerous work, your slightest mistake
could bring injury to the entire group. All this combines to focus
your attention and mute the pain, bringing your performance beyond
what seems possible. Then over time your body adjusts to a new level
that becomes your norm…like magic.
that was what put me at the front today: it was the magic of group
I was off the
front with the finish not far away. At the up grade’s three
quarter’s mark I looked down and saw I’d only slowed to just over 28
mph. I felt a final flood of relief and immediately…
whoosh. Twins Lynn and George, Jimi, Mary Ellen, Paul, Louie (Prince
of Pain), Doug, Don, and Dangerous Dan all passed me like I was
standing aside. I wish I could say it was just the nine of them (and
most of the paceline), but it was absolutely every last one of them.
Once again I lay hammered in the sun, dropped like a tenderized
steak, six miles to go.
Well ok…so I
didn’t beat the A’s (yet), but I’ve still got them fooled. They
think they’re beating me, but they’re really just making me better.