Toughest Road Ride of my Life.
Seriously, I pushed to my absolute limit on this one. Distance wise it was not even that far, but intensity wise it brought me to my breaking point - but I managed to just barely persevere.
Lets go back to the beginning. I am not a road weenie. I am a mountain biker. So I have little to no group road riding experience. I went for a group TT ride a few weeks ago, it was a social gathering at best but I enjoyed the company. I knew that this group ride would be tough, what I didn't know was just how phuckin' insane it was going to get!
I bought my cyclocross bike so I could do group rides. I avoided the first few rides because I didn't have my pedals or big chainring mounted yet. Now with road tires mounted on some sweet road wheels and a proper gear ratio, my cross bike was ready for a group road ride! These guys have a reputation for fast and everyone talked about them. I love a challenge!
The weather was calling for some iffy conditions but later in the day it will jump to 20 celsius which would put it close to one of the warmest days of the year so far! I had high hopes for the weather so I didn't even look out the window when I got out of bed. I had all my gear laid out the night before so I threw everything on including helmet and shoes and hit the garage door opener to an unwelcoming pouring waterfall. Damn. Thats a heavy rain.....
I ran back inside to check the weather again, it didn't say anything about a downpour like this. No updates from the other riders so I wasn't sure if the ride was still a go. Oh, did I mention the ride started at 6am? Which means I was up at 4:30am to make this happen. Screw it, after getting up this early I am riding no matter what. I was certain nobody would show, I mean it was pouring!
I drove to the bike shop and sure enough Rich was there. The rain slowed to a drizzle for the most part and the road soaked but that should be the last of it we thought. The only other person to show was Jeff, nobody else. With just the three of us I was a bit worried. I mean, Ironman Rich is built like a frickin' tank. The guy is lean, cut and has a reputation for one of the best cyclists in the area, he runs the bike shop. Jeff is his training partner which means he can hold his own, so now I'm worried about where I am gonna stand in all this. I know these guys like to hammer.
Once out on the road we settled into a respectable pace riding 3 across. It kicked off as a social ride but before I knew it we were picking up speed and the conversation disappeared and settled into a paceline. The speed just picked up faster and faster. Rich pulled us for quite awhile at a pace that had me running at a heartrate a bit out of my norm. Jeff's first turn to pull and luckily the speed didn't keep increasing. He pulled for quite some time and now I was trying to conserve energy for my first big pull on my first serious group road ride this year. Bring it!! As soon as I got out front I felt like I hit a brick wall. Oh my gawd it was hard! Like, with no draft I had to put everything I had into maintaining the pace. Gees, my legs started to burn even! Wait, this is crazy! Not even 20km into a 145km ride and I'm beyond my Lactate threshold just trying to not let everyone else down by dropping the pace. Sure enough I hit a few hills and being a climber I was able to do my part but luckily Rich loves to pull so on the flat he overtook me instead of waiting for me to fall back. No problem, I wasn't complaining. I felt like I did my part but this is only one pull out of how many??? Now I am worried. I don't think I have enough lactic tolerance to keep doing these.
I figured this was a Penis ride. You know - those rides where you hook up with a new riding partner, and the two of you slowly up the pace on one another to try to break the other guy. Instead of a fun ride it turns into a competition to see who's Penis is bigger. We've all been on one of THOSE rides.
So I figured the pace wouldn't last long and once we got finished showing each other up on the pulls, we would settle into something more reasonable. I am not afraid to accept that I was the weaker rider but my weakness wasn't showing yet. The game was to not let them catch a glimpse of me stressin' for I'm afraid someone would go for the kill and try to bury the other guy.
The paceline was messed up, I was in a bad spot and now we were consistently holding over 40km/h on the flats. When Rich pulled, I just tried to hang on. Being at the back of the line I had enough draft to allow me to hang on with a moderate output. I felt 'ok'. Then when Rich fell to the back, I got comfortable as Jeff backed the pace off a couple kilometers an hour. I just tried to conserve as much energy as I could and dreaded my next pull. On the hills it was clear Jeff was a climber. He would sprint up the hills and I had to give it a a very large amount of effort to maintain his wheel.
So when I got out front I maintained the pace with a signficant effort on my part. I would put it at 90% effort and very little in reserve. My legs burned on the flats. The burn just increased more and more as the pull progressed. When the hills hit, I left nothing in reserve - everything I had when in to pulling us over the top at the highest speed possible. The burn turned into a raging inferno on the hills. Once up top it didn't get much better. My pulls basically were an ever increasing burning in the legs until I couldn't take it no more and then I would duck out the side and let Rich take lead.
Which is where it sucked for the first half of the ride. Instead of maintaining the pace and I fall to the back of the paceline, Rich who was now fresh and competitive would surge forward and jump the pace up a couple km/h which practically spits me out the back. My legs were already at their limits, thats why I ducked out and now I have to surge ahead to hold the back of the line. Some rotations caused me to barely hang on. I would recover quick, but it was the surge that was killing me. I just took the pain one kilometer at a time, I didn't think about the rest of the ride. I knew in the back of my mind that this pace is unsustainable. OK, it wasn't in the back of my mind - it was right up front screaming and waving its arms in the air trying to tell me that I am going to die if we keep this up! Whatever, I just did my part and did what was necessary to not slow this freight train down. If I bonk, I bonk. I'll deal with it then. In the meantime I will do whatever it takes. This will not end well.
The ride was silent. It took everything to just keep going at breakneck speeds, no breathe left for talking. A few comments were tossed around like 'nice pace' and 'we are flying'. I think I interpereted that as 'holy crap will someone please slow this down cuz I dont want to be the first to say it!?'.
Then it happened. Around the 50km mark we hit the first significant uphill and jeff up front surged on the hill, clearly his specialty. Max heartrate, legs gone nuclear we rocketed up that hill and once up top I looked back and Rich was gone! OMG Rich got dropped?! Well not exactly, but finally a chance for us to slow down and coast for him to get back to the group. He was pretty far back, but thats because he had to stop to use his puffer. The moist air was bothering his asthma. Understandable of course, but this was exactly what I needed to recover my legs. I got my second wind and now I'm feeling damn good. I'm pumped that I wasn't the first to crack, even though technically Rich didn't crack, I didn't feel bad since I wasn't the first to slow us down. I seized the moment and returned the favour. Beatings all around.
I took my pull and went supersonic. I pulled for quite some time at breakneck speeds and the adrenaline just kept me going. After the numerous surges that almost dropped me, now was my chance to repay the favour. I hate to kick Rich while he is down but hey...... naw, I loved every minute of it hah! Only because he is clearly the stronger rider and this was my moment to hopefully take a bit out of his legs. After a really long, stupid fast pull I dropped to the back and Jeff gave me props for a 'nice pull' which I interpreted as 'holy shit, please dont kill me'. I felt great and for the next 20km I was able to hang on at 85% which was better than the 90% earlier. Warmin' up.
Just before the halfway point I got my last pull in and dropped both guys on a big uphill. We were almost at the turn around but nonetheless I think we all needed that break. We didn't spend more than 7 minutes at the junk store replenishing liquids. I wolfed down an OH Henry bar, power bar, powerade, gel and water. They joked about me eating an entire breakfast for a snack but I knew that every one of those calories will be needed to get me home. I mean so far, I only had one gel!! So did Rich though. At these speeds there was no chance to eat for anyone!
The return trip was brutal. Big headwind and the pulls were getting tougher but the pace still barely slowed down. I was feeling weaker and now after taking the lead the burning sensation in my legs never went away. It just kept piling on, first it was the center of my leg with a non-stop burn and eventually it grew and engulfed my whole quad. Thankfully the surging stopped but the pace never slowed.
Halfway back I had just took a hard headwind pull and on a corner and a car cut us off. My legs were spent and the other two took point and got up out of the saddle for an uphill which I wasn't ready for. They stomped on the pedals and I wavered. Right then and there, in that moment it was all or nothing. I reefed on my handlebars and mashed the cranks but they were still laying distance on me. I was losing the wheel and my legs screamed in agony cuz their was nothing left after the headwind. No matter what I did I was losing it. All I could think about was getting spit out the back and it was killing me. Everything I had and I'm still getting dropped. This is it. This is where it is going to happen. The ride home will be long and lonely and I have failed. I thought about TRI714 talking about his group rides, that even in the draft it takes everything you got. This is what its like, this is a serious road ride and I am about to get my ass handed to me on a silver platter. Damn that wheel is so close, yet so far away. I could see the 12 inches turn into two feet which turned into 6 feet which no matter how hard I dug I couldn't do it. At around the 8 foot mark I could feel I was falling out of the draft and the wind was about the rip me from my place.
One. Last. Phucking Gargantuous effort on my part. My quads no longer twitched, they were just rock solid masses of flesh, bone and lava. I couldn't 'push any harder' on the pedals, so instead I pulled down with all my might on the handlebars. I got deep into a tuck and crushed the whole bike up into my chest with every sway of my hips. I literally felt the bike come up off the ground as I put my whole leg, my whole hip, my whole damn core into the crank. With every turn of the pedal it got harder and harder to breathe to the point where I couldn't breathe no more. I came within one last revolution of the crank to blacking out, but I was there. I could see the wheel and feel the draft. I got back in line and now I just had to spin enough to recover. Luckily for me the other two took long pulls and I had enough time to recover. That was it, that was the deepest I have dug in this entire training program. Holy shit. Thats all I got to say about that.
At this point my pace dropped about 2km/h when I took lead. I don't think anyone minded at this point. We still maintained over 35km/h average and it 'felt' slow compared to everything we had done so far. Jeff blew a tire and I loved taking a break. With only 30km to go I figured I had this ride in the bag but I didn't factor in the effect stopping really had on my legs. I seized up. Ohhh that hurt to get going again after fixing the flat. Everything began to unravel at that point, we were all feeling it but nobody was letting up. Eventually Rich pulled a fast one on Jeff. While Jeff was pulling he waited for a flat and told me to 'hang on to his wheel'. Rich surged and took the lead from Jeff and rocketed past. I gave it my all to hold on and now finally someone broke. Jeff had nothing to respond with and got caught suprised by Rich's attack. We left Jeff far behind, I dont blame him as he could not have been prepared for the attack. It was fun though. When I took lead, I had nothing left. The final 10kms I could only barely hang onto Rich's wheel. He was at his limit too but there was no way I could pull anymore. Clearly he was the stronger rider and I was thankful he was there to tug my phat ass around the roads! lol! Jeff rolled across the finish line not too far behind us. I would be there with him if I didn't get lucky with barely hanging on.
But - I NEVER GOT DROPPED.
And that is all I needed to take from this experience. That, and these guys ride like animals. I love it! I am genuinely scared of doing another ride with them lol!
I can see that training for road racing is likely significantly different from training for an Ironman. Obviously I need a little more fast-twitch in there. I hope to work on that over the winter in time for next year! I look forward to trying my hand at entry level road racing - this could be fun! In a painful kind of way.
I will never forget this ride.