The Group Ride (Buyer Beware)

8:59 AM

Joe Friel gives some basic and unambiguous advice about participating in a group ride: Train with Groups Infrequently.  Indeed, it is number 5 in his 10 Commandments of Training.  I understand this perspective, as I have found myself on more than one occasion scrambling up a long hill, with my tongue lolling out the side of my mouth, in a futile attempt to show the riders I was with that I was just as bad-ass as they were. There is nothing more stupid that killing yourself for non-existent glory on a Wednesday night team ride.

Yesterday, however, the spouse and I were tempted out to go with a group.  The weather was gorgeous (60s by the end), my bike was ready (only 4 minutes to change between trainer and road tire), and the workout billed itself as a timely (read: fitting comfortably in Base mode) effort to practice pace lines, bridging, and a bit of hill climbing.  Now, hill climbing I can do on my own, but I’ve always found it difficult to practice a one-rider pace line (though the spouse and I do an excellent, ballet-like, two-person pace line).  Plus, it was a bit windy, and some protection during the Saturday ride was worth the risk.

I say risk, because this ride was being led by a team member I’m not familiar with.  That is when group rides are most dangerous – when you don’t know the leader or some of the key riders it is pretty easy to find yourself in a pointless hammer-fest.  I’ve been on this team for about three years – long enough to know what rides to skip entirely, and which ones to enter guardedly.  This one we entered a bit on guard with heart rate monitors on and an exit plan (“We’re just going to peel off here…”) at the ready. 

Happily, the ride was a great example of why a group ride is a good thing to keep in the rotation.  The leader kept the pace controlled, wrangled us well to maintain the focus, and clearly demonstrated an understanding of the importance of rest intervals.  The ride brought out a collection of cool-headed riders with varying levels of racing experience who always enjoy a good effort.  It is definitely early days in the training schedule (you can tell who has spent ridiculous hours on the trainer over the winter and who was tough enough to never stop riding the roads).  I was grateful for a few well-placed stop lights that allowed me to bring my heart rate down after a round of mid-hill sprints, and I got some good practice in riding out of the seat while working on my bridging skills.  I ended the day with that perfect balance of tired muscles and energized mind.  While a good group ride may be hard to find, one found should always be kept.  

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