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?