Today Fat Cyclist posted about how he's become the slow guy in his group. I commented on his blog about my first group ride, and I think it's a story worth telling in full.
This happened about two years ago. Beth and I were training for the Three Creek Century and it was late in the summer and I was considering taking up racing the next spring. While at World Cup getting something done on my bike I talked to the guy who worked there about my aspirations and he encouraged me to join the shop's club and ride with them on Saturday.
I said it looked from the website that those guys might be a little fast for me. "Oh, don't worry about that, we usually split up into two groups once the ride gets going."
So that Saturday I showed up at the shop at 7:00 AM for the group ride. There was one other guy there when I arrived. I said "hi", he said "hi" then somebody else showed up wearing a World Cup kit and then they just talked with each other. Then some other people showed up. And nobody really said anything to me. Finally, I saw some people on the other side of the parking lot not wearing World Cup kits and looking a little less intent on doing hill repeats while wolfing down Power Bars.
So I went over and introduced myself to them, told them I was new to the club and was thinking about racing, blah, blah, blah.
"If you're looking for some really fast people to ride with, you should come out to the high school on Thursday night, we've got a group that really hammers."
"I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet..."
Around 7:15 the ride leader finally got things going and we were off. To my dismay we were heading across route 15. To where the hills are.
I did my best to hang out in the middle-back of the group and just suck wheel (that's bike-speak for allowing others to block the wind). I knew the fastest guys in the group were way faster than me, and I thought the slowest guys in the group were probably at least as fast as me.
I hung on for a while. It helped when we all stopped so one guy could fix a flat and I drank some fluids and ate a Clif Bar while the guys in World Cup kits did hill repeats. We headed through the back roads and came out in Lewisberry about ten miles away.
"Be sure to get some of that Gatorade in you now," one of the other guys at the back advised, "we're heading towards the hills now."
I thought we were in the hills. I of course, didn't say that, I just said "thanks for the tip," and fought the panic of knowing I almost certainly was going to come out of this looking like a fred.
I didn't even make it to the real hills before I lost contact with the back wheel of the last rider. The pack moved on about a quarter mile ahead of me, but eventually somebody was sent back to drag me back to the group.
Once that happened, people started watching out for me and making sure I always had a wheel to ride behind. They offered tips like "keep pedalling, even on the down hills" and "stay as close to that wheel as possible - you might have to move a little left or right, but when you find the sweet spot you'll know it."
Then came the hill. A really big hill that I'm not even sure I could even find if I tried. Had I been riding at my own pace all this time I certainly would have ascended it - probably not with ease, but I would have made it. But I was already burnt out from trying to hang with this group that was obviously much fitter than myself.
I blew up part way up and ended up walking my bike up the hill. Embarrassment. At the top I re-mounted my Schwinn (this was before I bought my Scott Speedster S20) and coasted down the other side. Most of the group was waiting for me at a stop sign at the bottom of the hill.
We rode through some more back roads and finally came out in New Cumberland. The owner's brother, Dave, told me we had one more big hill to go. We were in New Cumberland, so I knew what it was. There is only one big hill between New Cumberland and Mechanicsburg. Slate Hill. The hill that I ascended every time I rode my bike home from work this summer. It's a nasty hill when you're burnt out from trying to ride with a really fit group of people.
I wasn't feeling great, so on the way to the hill I ran through a fallen branch that was pointed out by a rider ahead, but I failed to grasp the meaning of his gesture until it was too late. I really didn't want to go up this hill.
"Okay," Dave said, "I'm not letting you walk up this hill."
I crossed the creek and approached the base of the hill slowly, I downshifted quickly to get myself in granny gear to keep my legs feeling as fresh as possible on the way up. I had climbed this hill before, but it was tough even when I felt fresh.
I stood up in my pedals and my quads cramped up.
"Don't surge," Dave advised. Just slow and steady. 90% of climbing is mental.
Yes, but that other 10% is pretty important, too.
I got about three-quarters way up the hill and I felt myself starting to stall and I tried to give myself a quick surge to boost myself a few feet and at least delay tipping over at a dead stop, but my quads cramped again. Dave saw that I might not make it and came up behind me, but his hand on my back and pushed me. I spun my pedals to gain some momentum, but couldn't keep it up. Dave pushed again.
Finally after four or five pushes I made it up the hill. And lucky me, the light was green at Lisburn Road, so I keep pedalling (per my earlier instructions) and headed down the hill, across 15 and back at the bike shop.
Oh man, I thought, I still have to ride home.
That was my first and last World Cup shop ride. They still hold the weekly ride, but the club and race team is now defunct. When I got home, I said to Beth, "I don't think I'm going to race next spring." And I didn't.