Friday, July 07, 2006

On cycling: new things

This has been a week for trying new things. First, I finally went on one of my club training rides. I've lived in this area for 1 1/2 years and it's taken me that long to get around to it. It's just difficult to join a new group when there's no way of knowing what kind of rides they do, how fast they are, whether they leave people behind to fend for themselves or whether they wait for people to catch up. So I've done almost all of my training by myself. But the group ride turned out to be a lot of fun, which shouldn't have surprised me. When I finally do get around to doing the things I've been putting off, I almost always have a good time and wonder what took me so long.

We rode about 22 miles. For the first half of the ride or so, we stayed together, or at least the faster people waited at the tops of hills for the slower ones. After that we split up into smaller groups -- not purposely or in a planned way, but letting people find other riders who were at a similar level. I had my usual dilemma, the only downside of group rides, which is that I'm slower than the faster riders and faster than the slower riders, so I end up either working my butt off trying to keep up with the faster ones and generally failing after a little while, or getting a little bit frustrated riding with the slower ones. I rode with the faster riders for a while, and then by myself for a bit when I could no longer keep up, and then three of us stuck in the middle between the two groups joined up and rode back together, more or less.

The other new thing I tried was a time trial. This is a race where you have a set distance and you ride it as fast as you can all by yourself, as opposed to other kinds of races where you are in a pack and can draft on others. Our club held an informal time trial yesterday evening; we were sort of competing against each other but the real purpose of it was training, not competition. Our distance was just under five miles, which is short enough that it meant we could ride it all out -- as fast as we possibly could, since it wasn't going to go on for long. No need to conserve energy. We lined up in a row at the start line, and then went off at 30 second intervals.

I was nervous about this partly because I'd never tried it before and partly because I still felt tired from the previous night's group ride. But I had a great time and thought I did pretty well; I was able to work hard the whole time -- with a heart rate in the 170s -- and keep a decent pace of 21 mph. I was easily the slowest rider out there, but I'm used to that -- at this stage in my riding, I'm faster than your average recreational cyclist and slower than your average racer. But people know I'm new to racing, and so I get praise and encouragement just for trying and working hard. I can't complain about that. One of my goals was to get passed by as few people as possible: since we left at 30 second intervals, if you're fast, it's not that hard to catch the rider in front of you. I got passed by one rider right away, and by another one at the very end; considering that there were 9 or so riders behind me and that I was the least experienced racer, I thought that wasn't too bad.

Since it's just you out there, this kind of race involves a lot of mental work -- you have to keep yourself going, there's no one else out there to pace you or push you. That's one of the hardest things about cycling, I think -- the mental work. It's easier to train your body than it is your mind.