Saturday, April 16, 2016

On Group Rides

I rode with a couple of friends today, including one guy who I only sort of knew from seeing him around at races. It was a fun ride, about 45 miles, with a few stronger efforts and a really nice turn-around spot at Laie Point.

Essentially the way it went down was that Mike and Gary hadn't ridden together in a while so they played the game that most riders do on group rides which is to see who has a bigger dick is stronger that day. I sat back and watched but covered any moves if/when someone started a surge. Eventually- on both the way out and the way back- Mike dropped back to stay with his wife and I ended up riding on Gary's wheel, surging and coasting as one does when the rider you're trying to stay with does so. The experience of it all prompted me to write this blog post.

So here's the thing... Group rides are fun! There are a ton of positives to riding with other people... You increase your bike handling skills, you (typically) ride harder than you would if you were alone, time flies by because you're alert and paying attention if you're trying to draft, in a bigger group you're more likely to be seen by cars, etc. Plus, making new friends in the sport is a lot of the reason many of us do this sport. So for those reasons, go ride with other people!

BUT (there's always a but, huh?) there are some downsides to riding with others and it's good to be aware of these b/c it might help you have a better understanding of when it's most appropriate to ride with others vs riding by yourself. So here are my thoughts on the negatives, or maybe just some things to keep in mind before you go jump into that group ride...

~If you're not fit enough to handle riding hard (and benefit from it!) then you're not ready for fast group rides. It's WAY more fun to go ride with groups when you're fit and strong and can 'play'. If you're going to get dropped in the first 5 miles then you might save yourself some frustration and just plan to ride alone or with one person (who is not faster than you) and who will just do what you want/need to do (which is likely to build your aerobic system). Or if the group ride causes you to lay around for the rest of the day watching the ceiling spin and then miss your training the next day b/c you're too tired, then it wasn't a good idea. Given that, build yourself some fitness first with the goal of taking that fitness and using it to challenge yourself down the road with some other like-minded folks when the time is right.

~If your goal is to ride steady and be race-specific about your session, then group riding is not ideal. Inevitably on group rides the pace gets fast and then it slows and then gets fast and then it slows... and often you are not in control of this at all b/c someone else is making the moves and you're just following. Today, for example, I avg ~160w during the 'main' parts of the ride... which is not altogether different from what I would do if I was riding alone. That said, alone I would vary from 155 to 165w and it would be steady steady steady every pedal stroke exactly like the last. This is good in some ways b/c it's ideally how we race (at least on flat courses). Today though that 160w avg came with some surges up to 250w and then some soft pedaling at 110. I'm sure my VI today was way higher than what it would have been had I been alone. Honestly, at times I think this is perfectly fine- it's like a fartlek ride and there are some benefits to riding like that (both physiological as well as mental). But it's also a lot harder and takes more out of you... so back to point #1 if you're not fit enough to handle this style of riding then it's prob best to work up to it before you attempt it.

~Make sure you allocate some extra time when you're riding with a group because it often takes longer as a whole b/c you're constantly waiting around for someone to show up, put their sunscreen on, go to the bathroom, fill their bottles, fix their flat, etc. Even if none of that happens, it's likely that your water stops will be longer b/c if your ride partners are cool people you'll gravitate toward chit chatting and before you know it 20minutes passed and now you're late for whatever it was your spouse needed you to be home to do that afternoon.

~Careful on the timing of going hard on group rides. Depending on fitness level and when big races are coming, it might not be ideal to ride with groups too close to your big race (unless your training partners are doing the same big race and are able to control themselves and follow a plan). Just don't ever fall for the "Oh we're just going to go easy today" line because it's never true. It might be the intention but across the board every time someone ends up feeling better than they thought they would and pushes the pace a bit and then everyone else does too b/c nobody wants to get dropped and then before you know it your easy ride turned into a threshold ride. I guess the lesson there is that the best time to opt in on the group ride is when you're looking for a good solid threshold ride effort that will take you out of your comfort zone.  There are absolutely times when this is appropriate! The off-season and the week before your 'A race' are likely not those times.

Anyway, there you go. My thoughts on group rides. :) I have to say, as a coach it's quite fun for me to get workout notes from my athletes this time of year (this is when I am sending a lot of them out on group rides b/c they've built their fitness and they are ready!) and it's super fun to hear about the confidence building sessions they're having...

In other news, I spent some time this afternoon cleaning my bike and putting my race wheels on... getting all my triathlon gear ready. I think I am going to do that race tomorrow. I can think of some reasons to sleep in and bag it but I think if I do that I'll regret it so I'm going to go have some fun tomorrow morning. :)

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