Riding Alone, Riding Slow

I enjoy my Sunday morning club rides. It’s good to be with a group, good to see riding acquaintances, good to chit chat while riding.

I also enjoy riding alone, and do most of my riding that way.

But that creates a problem — when I ride alone, I loaf.

Take last week’s club ride as an example. By 10 miles into the ride, I was off the back of the group and riding solo. I didn’t think about my pace, but just enjoyed the route through Texas Hill Country. It wasn’t long, though, before I was caught by several clubbers who had stopped to refill water bottles at a convenience store. They breezed past me. Some of them were A riders, so no big deal there. But others were regulars in our B ride, and I knew I could keep up with them.

I picked up the pace a bit, and did just that over the next five miles or so. Coming back on the return leg, I found myself on my own again — my own fault for taking a little longer at the turnaround than the rest of the group. After pedaling alone for seven miles, I caught up to them at a convenience store, where we always take a rest stop.

“You’re doing great today, Ray!” said a couple of the riders.

“I can’t be. I’m not keeping up with you,” I replied.

“No, really — when Judy says you’re doing great, you’re doing great,” said her husband.

I went in to refill my bottles. When I came out, they were already waiting at the stoplight on the corner to ride the last 10 miles home. I sat on a curb and drank some water and ate a fig bar. That meant I’d be on my own again for the last leg of the ride. I took it easy.

Yesterday, on my regular Saturday morning route, I paid a little more attention to my progress. I climbed a favorite hill in the big ring, as I have been doing lately, and beat by previous best time by one second. Later, on a difficult stretch that looks flat but isn’t, I kept my speed at least one mph higher than I normally do. But when I finished the 28-mile route, my average speed was only 14.5 — no great shakes.

Today, the club wanted to do a hills ride. In this heat? No thanks. I went off by myself to the southeast, on a route that features some rollers, but nothing difficult. Sure enough, on the way out I did a mental assessment of how well I was doing. I was doing fine, really, in terms of riding steadily, but my average speed was on the low side again.

I  can ride well with B-level cyclists, but I have to have them nearby so I can feel challenged. It doesn’t matter if we as a group are trying to hit a certain speed, or if we’re just riding. As long as others are around, I’ll put out more effort. Once I’m by myself, my ride becomes a pootle in the park, so to speak.

The Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred is in two weeks, and I know I’ll do fine — because I’ll be in the middle of about 13,000 other riders. I won’t be lacking for inspiration to keep up the pace, and I’m looking forward to it. (Oh, by the way, I have decided that I’ll do the 100K ride instead of the 100 miles. It’ll take me about four and half hours to finish the metric century, and I think that’s plenty of time in the saddle.) But if I find myself out on a country road with no other cyclists nearby, I know my speed is going to fall off.

Do you need that feeling of being challenged by other riders, or are you capable of pushing yourself even when no one else is around?

Training With “Fartlek”

I was in the middle of my regular Tuesday ride at the Veloway today when it occurred to me that I had written about this ride early in the life of the Bike Noob blog. Tuesday is my “fartlek” ride. And since most current Bike Noob readers probably haven’t seen that three-year old post, I’m going to resurrect an edited version of it.

Back when I was a runner — okay, I was never anything more than a jogger — interval training was considered the way to go to train for a race. I entered my share of t-shirt runs, and sometimes I even got serious about training for them. But intervals put me off. They seemed too regimented — too serious.

Then I read about an alternative method of training. It’s called fartlek — from the Swedish for “speed play.” A fartlek trainer runs at a certain pace, or tempo, for awhile, and then turns on the gas and runs hard for awhile. The bursts of speed are not over set distances, and recovery times are always different. That’s the kind of training I enjoyed doing.

I thought about that on today’s ride. I had fully intended to do intervals. I even had the fast sections mapped out in my head. I knew approximately how long my recovery times would last. But when I started my first interval, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about it.

Then it occurred to me — do fartlek. I started pulling on the pedals through a twisty inclined stretch, a little less than a mile. At the high point, I backed off. I rode through a relatively flat area without pushing hard.  On another twisty incline I stomped on it again, and held the fast pace for almost another mile.  On an ess curve that features a right-angle left followed by an acute-angle right, I laid the bike as far over as it would go without falling (great fun).  Then I coasted back to the start.

I did five laps, and did fartlek for four of them.  Each time, my fast and slow sections were different.  I got the training benefit without the regimentation that takes the fun out of biking.  Tonight, I can feel it.  I fell asleep in front of the TV.  I’m going to bed earlier than usual.  This might partly be because I slept poorly last night, but it’s also because I had a tough workout.  I like the feeling.  I plan to do it some more.

Captain Slow

James May ("Captain Slow")

Last week, I rode with my friend David. It was a standard Saturday morning ride in our area, but with one difference: I’ve gotten faster than him over the last year or so.

“You really should ride with the A group,” he said, referring to our Sunday morning club rides. “Challenge yourself.”

I was sure I wasn’t ready for that yet. The A group consistently leaves me in the dust after several miles into the ride. But this weekend, there was no scheduled B ride. And although I wasn’t crazy about the proposed route, I knew I could break away from the group at a convenient intersection and go my own way. That’s what I told the ride leader I would do.

It’s always fun to start off with a big group. There’s a lot of chatter, and the pace is moderate as we get our legs warmed up. Today’s route took us up a longish hill, a turn onto a street of apartments and condos, then out to Southwest Parkway — a six-lane, divided highway with a wide shoulder.

Before we got to Southwest Parkway, I was off the back. Once I turned onto the highway, the group was out of sight around a bend. When I got up to that bend, they were out of sight for good.

The route turns onto Barton Creek Blvd., a favorite of mine. It’s a wide, smooth road through an upscale residential area. It rises and falls, with lots of curves. I’ve hit my highest speed ever here, and even today I easily cranked it up to 35 right off the bat. But a ferocious wind from the southeast — at my right rear quarter — made me keep my speed in check.

The monster we call Hail Mary Hill was just ahead. I finally got to the point last year where I could pedal all the way up it. It was slow going, in my 34 x 28 gear, but I always finished. Not today. I walked the bike up the hill. When I reached the church parking lot at the top for the usual rest and recover stop, the group was already gone.

I made my way home against a 20 mph headwind.

What’s changed? Last year, I built up mileage early, because I was training for the MS 150. I wasn’t in it this year, so I haven’t been piling on the miles. I do hill work, but my neighborhood hills — as much as they have helped — haven’t prepared me for the bigger grades. I’ve only recently started riding with the club again. Most of my riding up until about mid-May was on my own, or with maybe one other person.

Finally, I turned 60 this year. I know, that’s not an excuse. In fact, there were at least two guys over 60 on today’s ride. They had no trouble keeping up with the pack.

But for me to get back to where I was last year, I’m going to have to work a lot harder. And frankly, I don’t think I want to. The riding I do is keeping me reasonably fit. When I’m out of the club milieu, I can hold my own against most other riders I come across. If I decide to continue riding with the club, it will be on B rides, with slower riders. I’ve never been able to keep up with the A’s — even last year — and I’ve concluded it’s not worth it to me to put in the effort to do it.

The British TV show “Top Gear” has a co-host named James May, who is always getting ribbed by the other co-hosts for his slow driving. They call him “Captain Slow.” If that becomes my new nickname too, well — I’m OK with that.