It has arrived: the time of year that I run less and less, because I’m pedaling more and more. It’s bike time! This year, “bike time” was kicked off with New Bike Day, and then got delayed by travel, weather and other obligations. Since completing my first century last fall, my goal was to ride three centuries this season — so as fun as some of the delays were, I’ve been eager to get back on the bike regularly and start putting some miles under my shiny new tires.
My cycling club holds organized group rides every night of the week. We try to drum up enough ride leaders that each site can launch rides at multiple paces, and a few of our weeknight rides have enough riders and ride leaders that they can break down one pace into multiple groups. For me, riding with the group is an essential part of my training plan — I enjoy the social aspect of group rides and I feel like I push myself harder when I’m challenged by other, faster riders. When I ride on my own, I tend to be a little more conservative with my pacing.
Paces are assigned letters, based on average speed for the ride. “A” is our fastest pace group, averaging somewhere around 18-20 miles over longer distances and more challenging terrain; our Monday night club ride hosts paces from “A” to “D”, which is a group that rides at an average of 8-10 mph– geared toward new riders and those riding heavier bikes, like hybrids. To make it a little more complex, we get enough riders at the Monday night ride that some of our regular pace groups are broken down further — for example, we don’t just have one “C” pace group; we have “C+”, “C” and “C-“. The purpose here is just to break the groups up a little — rather than having a large “C” group with 30 or more riders strung out on the roads, we can have three smaller groups, with riders able to more consistently stay together, heading out on different routes. It helps manage group size so that we aren’t contributing to congestion on local roads, at the same time as making sure it’s easier for the groups to stay together at a steady pace.
Last summer, I rode consistently with the C pace group, and had a great time. The ride leader, Denise, and sweep rider, Mike, are both great at leading and supporting riders, and the group that turned out weekly was a nice mix of people — so not only was the ride good, but the people were nice to ride with, and that’s about as good as it gets if you’re a social rider like me.
However, by the end of last season, I was starting to feel like I needed to bump myself up to the “C+” group. The rides were starting to feel easier — and, while there’s nothing wrong with just enjoying a ride, I tend to feel that urge to push myself a little harder when things start getting easier.
This year, both the weather and my own scheduling conflicts have conspired to delay my Monday night rides, and last night was the first time I got out to my favorite group ride. I signed myself up on the C+ sign-in sheet, introduced myself to the other riders gathered there, and convinced myself not to bail on the whole idea when the ride leader rolled up and said, “Hope everyone’s ready for a hilly ride tonight. We’re hitting some big ones!” I started having my doubts about bumping up to a faster-paced group, but there were a couple other people second-guessing their pace choice after that announcement, so I figured it was more likely that there would be a few of us trailing behind the group instead of just me, off the back, all by my lonesome.
It turned out to be another good group of riders and a great night on the bike! We did hit some challenging hills, and I did better than expected. I felt like I was close to getting dropped on some of the early hills, but I also had no problem reeling the group back in after we crested — and, as the ride went on and the miles racked up, the group wasn’t attacking the hills as hard as they did at the beginning — but I was, and I started passing people on climbs. (They almost immediately passed me on the next downhill, but perhaps my timid descending is a topic for another post!)
Before the ride started, I set myself a goal: don’t be the last straggler coming back into the parking lot. At the end, I was right on the ride leader’s wheel; we got passed by a couple people who were giving it all they had on the final, flat stretch of road, but I came into the parking lot with the bulk of the group, rather than behind. Since I rode pretty steadily, stayed with the group and felt good at the end, I give myself a “B” grade (not a “B” pace!) on the C+ ride.
Below is a screencap of my pace and the elevation, as provided by my Garmin.