Over the past few weeks, coach Johnny has been increasing my cycling power targets through interval sessions as well as increasing the duration of my Saturday rides. On Thursday I did 1hr zone-2 and 4 zone-4 (hard effort) intervals and felt very good throughout. With some confidence and a simmering desire to ride fast and long again, I decided to join the A-group’s Saturday ride.

Historically, when cycling in a group, I’ve joined the B-group. The A-group consists of the fastest and the strongest riders in the club. They ride fast the whole ride. I can keep up with them for a short period, but I’d end up “blowing up my engine” trying to stay with them from start to finish. Also, when I ride that hard, I am saying fuck you to my training plan. I almost never have a session that’s high intensity for 3-5 hrs. My long rides are designed to be at a moderate intensity. The speed is built during the interval sessions which I typically do indoors on a trainer. Those sessions are much shorter and more intense.

This weekend, I wanted to push my limits and see how I would feel…what could I really do? My training plan called for a 2 hr. zone-2 ride. I knew that keeping up with the group would require much more effort. Realistically, I’d likely have to sustain 200 watts for a large portion of the ride. I can push that much power fairly easily and sustain it in bursts, but I’ve not attempted it for 2+ hrs. Feeling intimidated and very anxious, I had to do this ride.

I will not allow fear to make my decisions.

I was ready to push myself hard.

We began riding at 7 am and the morning air crisp was cold (43 degrees F). Frankly, I was overdressed, overheating was inevitable. I have this same issue when I run, I don’t know how much to wear. Inevitably, I end up dripping with sweat and peeling off layers of clothes. On the bike, finding a way to carry things that you remove can be a challenge. We don’t wear backpacks or have gear bags on the bikes. The only place is the pockets on the back of our bike jerseys and those are typically full of food, hydration, keys, and a cell phone. So, I had to be prepared to carry all my extra clothes back – either in the pockets or continue to wear them.

The first 30 miles felt great. I kept up with the fastest riders for about 8 miles. Initially, I fell behind because I slowed to take the video of everyone as they rode by.  Unfortunately, I waited far too long to begin riding fast again. The lead cyclists were too far ahead and moving too quickly for me to catch up. So, I decided to work and catch the middle pack riders. Luckily, they were waiting at an intersection for the last rider who was behind me.

We all rode together, I and one of the other guys alternated pulling the group at 20-21 mph and I felt strong. I had that niggling fear voice in the back of my head the whole time. This is too hard too early, blah, blah, blah.  I acknowledged it and made the decision to continue pushing hard instead of easing off the gas. I decided that I’d have to suffer and figure out a way home instead of playing it safe. I was committed. Somewhere during the 1st 30 miles, Cruz, my regular training partner decided to drop back from the front group and join us. From about mile 20-30, she and I alternated pulling the group to the rest stop…Two Czech Chicks Kolache Shop where we rested, fueled up, and refilled our hydration bottles before setting off on the return trip.

Now that the whole group was together again, I had the opportunity to try and keep up with the fastest(strongest) riders again. Only this time, we were riding into a strong headwind.  I started with the group, but very, very quickly realized that I was redlining and still losing ground to the front of the pack. Feeling humbled, accepted my current capabilities, and rode hard so that I was getting a good workout, but not comparing my abilities to others.

I rode with Lea for about 8 miles, we alternated being in the front, so the other could get a reprieve from the fierce headwind. Eventually, she and I caught Cruz and James at a stop sign and we all rode together for a while. Lea opted to take a different route and James was simply stronger and left Cruz and me.

We were all suffering, but shared suffering is comforting. No one wants to quit, we draw inspiration and determination from the others in the pack who haven’t quit. I’ve found that it’s very strong a glue that binds us all.

Around mile 40 my legs were beginning to cramp. They felt like they’d done 80 miles, but I was only 40 miles into the ride. I began taking the BASE salts more regularly and hoping for the best, realizing that the road to improvement is the one I’m riding right now. Keep pushing brother!

Almost done, we had the option to turn and end at 50 miles but decided that we hurt so much we should just go the extra distance and ride 55 miles.

Go One More!

After the ride, we hung around and caught the others who arrived after we did and saw the faster riders in the neighborhood running a 10k. Eventually, we packed up and headed for some TexMex to relax and talk.

While watching the faster cyclists leave me in the dust, then run 10K, I became a bit frustrated. Although I’ve never even attempted to ride with the A-group, I expected to be able to keep up for more than 8 miles. I’m fully aware that I’m coming back from major surgery. I don’t know how to turn off the high expectations and demands of myself. I was happy to see that with the sustained hard effort, I was mostly in Zone 2 (aerobic, sustainable effort) which is where I should be. I felt like I was at capacity, but in reality, I was overheating and not used to the sustained effort.

Going forward, I’ll join the A group more frequently. I’m not intimidated anymore. I may not be able to keep up, but I can keep going. I’ll catch them eventually.