I do a ton of riding by myself but yesterday I did a long ride with a small group of guys and it got me thinking about the benefits of riding alone vs riding with a small group. There are definitely pluses and minuses to both and maybe some of you have heard my thoughts on this, but I thought maybe I'd organize them here in a blog-like post. :)
Let's start with riding by yourself. I think riding alone is awesome for a lot of reasons- both physically and mentally!
~The ability to focus for a long time on your own is important if your plan is to race longcourse triathlon. Being able to entertain yourself by yourself for 5-6 hours is super.
~Chances are your pacing when you're by yourself is going to be more even/steady/appropriate than it would be when you're with a group. I have totally seen that this year since I am riding by power... I just hit 'lap' on my garmin and get in my aero bars and work at an effort that produces the numbers I want to see for extended periods. Doing a specific workout is no problem when it's just you and your power meter!
~I think that learning to ride into a headwind or crosswind without having someone block it for you is critical. Too many times I see women sitting on the wheel of stronger men who do all the work and they're just cruising along behind not working as hard as they should be and not learning how to accept the frustration of pedaling into a strong wind. Sometimes you just have to face it solo.
~You'll prob spend a lot less time stopped on the side of the road when you're alone. More riders almost always = more issues whether its mechanical or otherwise... When I ride alone I can get a 5 hour ride done in <5:15 total time start to finish b/c I don't spend any time talking to anyone at my water/bathroom stops. I'm all business and just go get it done! This has become more important since I have been married and had Moana... when I was single I could spend all day on a 5 hour ride. Now I don't really have that luxury of taking the entire day to do something that can be done in 1/2 day. Mama needs to be efficient! :)
So that said, sometimes it's awesome to ride with other people and we can really benefit... again both physically and mentally!
~Riding with others makes the time pass by so much faster. 110 miles is 110x easier (mentally anyway) when you've got other people around. So even though it might take longer b/c of additional stopping, it feels like it goes by quicker.
~You're probably safer with a group- especially if you're riding with people who know how to handle their bikes. Cars tend to see a group of three riders easier than they see one. Both times I've been hit by a car it's come from behind when I was alone.
~If you're riding with people who are stronger than you, you can still get an appropriate level of work in. In all likelihood (if you're drafting) it'll require more spikes and lulls in your effort (vs the steady state you can do on your own) and this is even if the person you're riding behind is riding really steady. While drafting your effort just naturally ebbs and flows more b/c of wind or hills or whatever. At times though- depending on your current fitness level- this can be a really good thing to work on (going above threshold for a short while then below it again, etc).
~If the people you're riding with are fairly significantly stronger than you- and you're fit enough to physically handle the load- then riding with others can be hugely beneficial especially on the mental side. It can require huge amounts of concentration and confidence to stay on someone's wheel when you're suffering... I do think this takes time and practice to master and you'll likely get dropped a lot before you really get it... but hanging on when you'd like nothing more than to just ease up and relax is a skill and will certainly make you a stronger rider if you force yourself to do it. Yesterday I was riding behind Armando and ninety miles into the ride he was just killing it and the headwind was so strong and I just wanted him to ease up a little but he would not and then I lost focus for like a second and immediately I was off his wheel. ARGH! I had 2 choices- ease up and ride alone into that headwind at my own pace or hurry up and drill it for 10" to get back on his wheel... I chose the latter and OUCH it hurt so bad to get back on but after that I did not lose focus again and just stayed there glued to his back wheel like a sticky booger. On those days you learn that even when you're hurting your body is capable of so much more if you can just make your brain shut up.
So there you go... good sides to both types of riding! I think the ability to do both is important to long course racing success... so if you always ride alone, find some people to ride with once in a while! It'll probably be fun and you're sure to learn a lot. And if you always ride with people, suck it up and go alone every once in a while. Your mental tenacity will be stronger for it and you might learn that you actually like your own company. :)