cycling · Uncategorized

Epic Ride and Some Reflections on Learning to Like the Bike

Regular readers of the blog will know that I LOVE triathlon. I find challenge in the variety offered by swim, bike, run events.  But I don’t like all parts equally. I’m strongest in the swim and I always feel good in the water.  My running has shown steady improvement and I like the feeling of exertion I get from running.

The bike. Not so much. I’m over the whole fear of clipless pedals thing.  That was last year. This year, it’s different. First, I’m much slower than average on the bike. Despite my riding friends telling me I’ll one day be fast (because I’m so small, apparently), I’m not getting any faster.

To be fair, this is because I’m not getting out a lot on the road bike.  And I’m not getting out a lot on the road bike because…well…I really don’t enjoy it all that much. Take this past Sunday as an example.

Sam rides with a group of close friends a lot and often invites me to join the on rides. For this or that reason, I haven’t been able to go very often this summer.  But when she said they were riding to Port Stanley on Sunday, I reluctantly accepted.

I felt reluctant because (1) I had just raced on Saturday, (2) Port Stanley is a long way from London and (3) all of the people going are very experienced cyclists.  I decided to go because (1) the race on Saturday was short — I finished in just over an hour, (2) Samantha estimated 45 km in each direction and her friend, David, said that he’d worried the same on his first trip to PS and after they stopped there for lunch he felt fresh as a daisy, ready for the ride back, and (3) who better to learn from than experienced cyclists.

But the fourth reason I accepted is that I felt I should.  What that means is that in fact I didn’t really want to.  The morning of the ride I hoped for rain.  At breakfast, I told Renald that I wished I hadn’t agreed to go.  The furthest I’d ever ridden in one day before was 55 km and it just about did me in. See my post about suffering for an account of that November ride. 90 km seemed awfully ambitious.

But I jumped on the bike and rode down to Sam’s place for our 11 a.m. meeting time (pushed from 10 to 11 because of the weather forecast). We were riding with her partner Jeff (fresh off of their cycling vacation around Manitoulin), randonneur extraordanaire Dave (who just recently completed Devil’s Week), and her touring friend David (who is doing the Friends for Life rally from Toronto to Montreal with Sam later this month).  And me–furthest ride ever: 55 km and hated 30 km of it.

So off we went. The weather stayed warm and dry all day, so at least we didn’t have rain to contend with. It’s windy around here as a rule, so there were some headwinds, cross breezes, and tailwinds, but nothing too dramatic.

Jeff was most committed to getting me to ride close to them and learn to take advantage of drafting.  I managed to find the zone a few times that day, especially on the way home when we did the ‘chariot’ thing, where two of them rode in front with me just behind them, Jeff just to my one side, and Sam just behind. For about half an hour, or maybe an hour, on the way home, with that arrangement, I got a sense of what might be attractive about road biking in groups as we talked and rode and the time passed effortlessly.

The way to Port Stanley takes us through lots of rural areas with good roads and almost no traffic.  At one point, we rounded a corner into a tail wind and they all encouraged me to go into the big gear on the front and back and try to hit 40 km per hour. My first attempt I made it to 36 and then pulled back, saying “I can’t!” Then (and I guess this is what it means to ride with the boys) they sort of shamed me into trying again.  I did, and I did it! Yes, it felt good.

At one point, about 45 km into the trip, Sam said we were just about 3 km from Port Stanley. This was good because I felt tired, ready to rest, tired of holding everyone up, unable to keep up with the group. I had been told to holler “ease up” when I felt myself falling  behind. But since that feeling was more or less constant, I didn’t do it every single time.

Shortly after everyone said we were “almost there,” I saw a sign saying “Port Stanley 9 km.”  At that point my heart kind of sank and I felt totally demoralized.  But what are you going to do when you’re out on the road and not there yet? I kept pedaling. Never had I been so happy to see the town of Port Stanley, a lovely little place on the shore of Lake Erie. In the end, the way there was 55 km.

We stopped at Roxy’s for lunch, taking about an hour to eat and regroup.  I truly wished I had a car waiting for me to take me back home.  The thought of riding 55 km back to London was sort of emotionally crushing already at that point, but I didn’t see the merits of sharing that attitude with anyone at the time.

The more immediate thing to deal with was a steep winding hill that we needed to climb to get out of town. They all shot up it and disappeared over the crest while I bottomed out to my lowest gear and then recited “you can do it, you can do it” over and over again, grinding my way to the top at 5 km per hour.  Made it.

The way home was hard. The chariot, when it held, was excellent. But for the most part I had difficulty keeping up with the group. By the halfway point I could hardly keep pedaling. I just wanted to stop at the side of the road and crawl into a field of corn and rest. Later, Sam said that everyone has felt like that at some point — like they wished for a support van to swoop them up and take them home.

Dave told me the next day of a story (legend?) where a guy stopped in a used car lot, bought a vehicle, and threw his bike in the back and drove off.

A few times on the way home we stopped under the shade of trees at the side of the road to rest and drink water and eat some food.  But they all seemed so refreshed after that! And I could hardly face the bike.

Anyway, as both Davids reminded me throughout the day: after this you’ll be able to say “I did it!”

Though it’s true there is no one better to learn from than experienced cyclists, it’s also true that there is no way to feel more inadequate than to be the one everyone is waiting for for the entire day.  I was last up every hill (though I did make it up all of them). I didn’t want to reach for water because it would slow me down. While everyone else seemed to be a on a leisurely ride, biking alongside each other and chatting away about all sorts of things, I had to keep all my energy on the riding itself. On the way home, there were those times when I absolutely had to stop and they could have kept going, no problem.

As Sam said, there are no perfect groups. Jeff wanted us to ride closer together. Dave of Devil’s Week would have liked to go further. David would have liked to ride faster. Sam is the most flexible, and also the one who cares the most (no offence against the guys) that I start to enjoy riding.

I’m going to train with the triathlon group for the rest of the summer and see how that goes. Triathletes don’t ride as close together (because you’re not allowed to draft) and the strategy might be different (I’m not sure–haven’t trained with them yet).  So the contrast will be interesting.

Meanwhile, I think I can safely say that I’m not in love with road biking.  It stresses me out and makes me feel as if I’d rather be doing something else.  I agree that I need to log the kilometres to gain comfort and speed.  And at the same time, I feel as if perhaps increasing my mileage too dramatically at once (by double) might not be the best approach.  I would rather enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it than enjoy “having done” it.

But, Port Stanley and back (110 km):  I did it!  I have surpassed the “metric century” milestone.


27 thoughts on “Epic Ride and Some Reflections on Learning to Like the Bike

  1. This makes me sad! I hope you learn to love cycling and that it’s not always a drag. Partly because I want to ride with you and partly because you have to spend lots of time on the bike to train for triathlon. It’s why the road cycling clubs in town have lots of triathletes. Long rides alone are unsafe and lonely, I think (though others disagree). Finding people to ride with is a real challenge. Let me know how riding with triathletes goes. I didn’t like it but then I like to wait for people and ride together. I’m curious to see how it goes.

    1. “…long rides alone…”
      This phrase pretty much sums up randonneuring…:)

    2. I’m sorry to post something that makes you sad. It’s how I feel now but it might change. I appreciate your attempts! I’m not going to ride alone–that’s not my thing either. I need to find the balance. And I’m sure I’ll continue to ride with you at least sometimes. I just don’t quite share your same level of enthusiasm and am not likely ever to love it the way you do. But I don’t want to dread it either.

  2. Thanks, Tracy, for such an insightful and revealing post.

    I’m curious how you’d feel about riding alone. There may be different issues with that approach, some of them strongly gendered. But it’s at least a good way of racking up kilometres without being stressed about holding up the group, or being unwilling to drink in case you fall further behind.

    It can be an article of faith among cyclists that to get better on the bike you have to ride with people better than you. But I’d counter that to get better on the bike, you have at least to ride — and disliking the experience isn’t a sustainable way of doing that. For me, being alone with my thoughts while riding is pleasant; and I can push myself hard enough to make it good training. As good as chasing a fast group until I blow up and they drop me? No, probably not. But — and here’s the thing — I don’t want to do that.

      1. Sorry, Sam — that bit wasn’t meant to describe your Port Stanley ride. I had in mind the training approach that says: ride with the club group that’s a bit faster than your fastest sustainable pace, and get dropped a bit later every time, until you can ride with them with no problem.

      2. Yeah, I love riding with faster people and drafting. But getting dropped? Not so much.

    1. Thanks Tim. I’m not keen on riding alone because safety (road safety) is a thing that kept me off the bike for many years. So I’m trying to find the right kind of riding to suit my training needs and help me to enjoy it more.

  3. I’d like to add that you did, in fact, ride 110km.
    This is a metric century (+10%!) and has earned you bragging rights.
    Its a genuine cycling milestone. Feel the love and bask in its warmth.

  4. I was rushing at the end of my post and didn’t give enough credit to the group. They were wonderful and never tried to make me feel bad! They waited, encouraged, gave tips, slowed down for me, and never once tried to make me feel as if they wished I didn’t come.

    And a metric century is, as David said, a milestone in itself!

    1. For me no matter how hard it is it’s better than riding alone and better than not riding!

  5. Brag away Tracy! Also, how about I ride with you that way you can be the faster and I can be the slow one? David P is cajoling me into a little 16-20km path ride some Sunday morning.

    I promise to pant, sweat also be wobbly and slow 🙂

  6. HI Tracy– thanks for the honest and insightful post. Even though I am an experienced cyclist, I relate completely with the feelings of frustration, dread, embarrassment, etc. that people can have on group rides with the faster and more experienced. I have this myself often. And hearing that a 90km ride (your longest proposed to date) has now turned into a 110km ride is certainly enough to send people over the edge. This happens to me virtually every time I ride with one fast friend (in both senses– yes, you Rachel B!). Permit me one observation and one piece of advice?

    Observation: YOU DID IT! You pointed this out yourself, and it’s important to take this in. Your body is awesome– it took you 110 km: double the distance you had ever done! Yay Tracy! No, it wasn’t fun. Endurance events like this aren’t always that way. Maybe they are not your thing. Maybe you just need more experience. You will figure that out over time.

    Advice: What everyone above says about riding with faster people is true– it will make you faster. IF you don’t hate it so much that you stop riding. So, I suggest this: go on rides that are nothing but fun for you. Ride with friends on paths (sounds like Natalieh has one in mind), go on shorter rides, maybe join a group for part of the way out, and then ride back by yourself (if/when you are comfortable with riding alone, which can be very satisfying), and maybe try some definitely-not-fun-but-effective tempo or threshold or VO2 max training rides (Sam can fill you in, or email me), which WILL improve both stamina and speed. They are like the training you got in swimming, which paid off handsomely.

    But you are in charge, so see how it goes. Thanks again for sharing this with us.

    1. Maybe, also, learn to love the bike after Bracebridge? Fun rides after, hard rides now? Get fast first, have fun later?

      1. We will see what happens. I think the thing is to do what needs doing for my immediate goals and then take it from there. I will not take the winter off this year either. Spin classes at the Y and computrainer sessions with Gabbi.

      2. I’ve thought about computrainer sessions too. I’d need to buy spare wheels and I’m reluctant to use my good bike. Need a trainer bike!

      3. Hurts the wheels and chews up your tires. Just buy a cheap set to use on the trainer. It’s fine for the heart rate test but repeated use isn’t great. They kill the back tire.

      4. I didn’t know that. So the solution is the just switch to the trainer wheels for the winter. Good suggestion thanks.

      5. Yeah, you’re also taking a very expensive of road equipment, and basically using it as an exercise bike. I might look for a cheap bike for that purpose.

  7. I feel like we are really running on parallel tracks with this cycling thing. I actually have recently started to make a turn towards enjoying cycling, but it took a while. I had several months where I couldn’t ride my bike outside unless I was racing, because the anxiety I got from it was just too great.

    Brian and I have slowly been ramping up my mileage and taking things really sloooowly so as to increase my level of comfort on the bike, because when I’m not comfortable I can’t enjoy myself, and if I don’t enjoy myself, I’m not going to do it. I feel like I made a breakthrough a couple of weeks ago, when we were riding the last few miles of a 30 mile ride and I realized I was really enjoying myself. I’m optimistic that it will happen, that I will eventually learn to love cycling the way I learned to love running, but just as it took me a couple of years to enjoy running, I imagine it will take some time for me to love cycling.

    Anyways, I really understand what you are saying here. It definitely makes it challenging to be a triathlete if you are ‘meh’ on the bike.

    1. Thanks for this, Caitlin. It’s nice to hear from someone who can understand what’s going on with me. Congratulations that you enjoyed yourself on your 30 mile ride!

      And how sensible that you’re doing a gradual ramping up. I started off with ridiculously long distances in terrible weather conditions last fall, and then doubling my longest ever distance on the weekend just wasn’t smart of me. But live and learn. I’m not ready to give up. And neither are you, from the sounds of it!

  8. I had similar feelings about cycling when I was growing up. I did triathlons with my dad and younger brother. They always seemed more comfortable on the bike, but everyone told me that my build made me perfect for cycling. I was never invited to do the long rides and I didn’t get to do the MS series every year with my dad and brother.

    Then, when I was 28 I decided to borrow a bike for the summer and do some races. I would go out for 40-50 miles alone and really enjoyed the scenery. I did an MS 150 with a century loop the first day (making it 175 for the weekend). I rode with other people and enjoyed the ability to talk with others during the ride. It was very different from triathlon riding.

    I am currently without bike and miss it dearly. I might feel differently about it when I get back to it, but then it will be pulling two kids behind me and that will add its own set of challenges. I hope you can find the moment when you enjoy the ride. Congrats on your 110km!

    1. Thanks Amberlynn. I hope you get back on the bike soon. I like your story of finding that you enjoy a different kind of riding.

  9. I’ve felt similarly about hikes with my hiking group. So many of them are experienced hikers in good shape for powering up the hills. I went with a mixed group on Sunday to do a series of shorter hikes with a total length of 8 miles. While I was still in the back of the group for most of it, I kept the middle majority in sight most of the way, except for when I didn’t want to. It was great to see that my hard leg work was paying off. I couldn’t have done this a year ago.

    If you like biking at all, even just a leisurely ride, then don’t give up. Maybe this group isn’t the right one for you to ride with today, but I wouldn’t write off cycling until you’ve tried going at your own pace for a while.

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