After the rain kept me on the trainer for the last two days, I was looking forward to riding outside tonight. I decided to skip my normal Ceres Park mountain bike ride and meet some friends from Action Wheels to try a weekly group ride on the Monroe Bike Path. It’s a 6 mile paved trail that has only a few intersections where riders must cross the road. The path is in the woods, so the wind is kept to a minimum. The bike path is even plowed after snow, so this spot will be rideable for most of the winter.
My Thursday workout is supposed to be two hours of hard efforts with recoveries in between. When I ride the mountain bike at Ceres, the guys sprint pretty fast. It’s a little quicker than my pace, so I have to push to keep up. We frequently stop to make sure everyone is together. The problem for me is that after about 5-7 miles, most of the riders are ready to stop. I’m always amazed to see that we’ve been out in the woods for two hours, but have only accomplished 45 minutes of moving time.
I know that I am going to need a lot of road miles to get ready for next season, so I am going to alternate weeks between Ceres and the Bike Path. This way, I’ll still be able to ride the mountain bike (which is much more fun in my opinion) and also get the fitness benefits of the road bike.
The temperature was 46 degrees and there was a cold dampness in the air. So, I donned my warm weather gear and drove to the Williamstown Middle School to meet up with 9 Action Wheels riders. I knew TJ, Kevin, Sean, Sean, Bill, and Mike. I met Justin, Andrew, his son, and one other guy whose name I forgot (sorry). As the only girl, riding with a bunch of road racers, I knew I'd have to work pretty hard to keep up.
We started out onto the paved trail. We formed 2 lines of five and I made sure to be in the back. We got up to a cruising speed of 20 mph. There were lots of sections of wet leaves on the path. Sometimes it was hard to see where the edge of the pavement ended. I was ultra focused and very alert. Riding in a fast pace line, in the dark, with our bikes lights dancing and casting shadows made the ride pretty challenging. I made sure to stay loose on the bike and not to hunch my shoulders (my tendency when I get nervous).
I was aware that I was not closely following the wheel in front of me. I stayed about a bike length back so that I would have time to react if anything went wrong. After the first "out and back" loop, my brain adapted to my new "biking reality". This is the moment when you stop being uncomfortable with how fast you're going, how close you're following, and how bad the conditions are. You stop thinking, "Man I'm not used to riding in a pace line," and your mind adapts to your surroundings. It becomes normal to be flying down a dark, wet, leaf-covered bike path. It doesn't seem dangerously fast anymore. It's easier to get right on that wheel ahead of you and stay close to get that draft.
The pace was pretty even and I had no trouble hanging with the group. I did however get left behind at the turn-around. I took too long putting my gel flask back into my pocket and then had to sprint to catch the group. They got up to speed and I was in no man's land, riding behind them at 20 mph, and not catching up. TJ hung back and paced me back into the group. Thanks TJ!
On the second lap, I ended up farther up in the pace line. I had one person behind me. Suddenly, the draft became more effective and I found I could maintain the speed with less effort. I was protected on one side by the bodies of the others, blocking what little wind there was.
We turned into a housing development to do a "neighborhood crit." TJ warned that the guys would hammer pretty hard. He said he'd hang back with me so I wouldn't get lost at the turns. They shot up to 25 mph and I was able to hang for about 5 minutes. They jockeyed for position as if in a race. We turned corners and took the inside line because there were hardly any cars on the road. It was so exciting! In day time group rides, we always stay on the right side of the road and follow traffic laws. This was my one chance to take up the whole road! I had never cornered at such speeds! Wow!
I spent the next 15 minutes of the "crit" chasing the group. Sometimes I was pretty close, but just not on their wheels. Other times I was off the back, but still maintaining a 22 mph pace. TJ hung back with me and we took turns pulling. Kevin was with us for some of it as well. It was awesome!
We resumed our ride on the bike path, and it felt easy to cruise at 19 to 20 mph. We toned it down even more on the last lap, going only 18 mph. In the end, I'd gone 38.26 miles and averaged 18.6 mph for two hours. I am super psyched because I know that these road miles are going to help my endurance next year.
Mountain biking may be my favorite, but I do enjoy road riding. While a bike ride on a beautiful, sunny day is sublime, there is a certain "rewarding suffering" that comes with bike rides in subpar conditions. The cold, the wind, the puddles, the wet leaves, the darkness... It was tough to endure tonight's ride, but as the miles ticked away, I felt a rising surge of satisfaction. It's as if the greatest joy of tonight's ride is looking back at it, and realizing that I did it. I rode fast. I kept up with fast people. I feel welcome to come back. And best of all, I know this is going to make me fitter.