As a triathlete, most of the time I train with other triathletes, especially when it comes to riding. Pack riding was something that didn't really appeal to me, mainly because in a race, you can't draft so why on earth would you train like that? It should be just you and the open road. Right?
I have since learned the error of my ways. Thanks to the suggestion of my wonderful husband (who is right more often than I give him credit for), I have finally seen the light. I wanted to improve my riding skills all around and that just wasn't happening on the trainer or on my weekend rides. I had to get outside and ride with other people, specifically with other CYCLISTS. 4 years ago, in an effort to improve my running, I joined a run group do to speed work, and it paid off in spades. Running with a group wasn't a big leap for me. It's just me and my feet on the road, chasing other people. It was "safe". Adding a bike to the mix meant adding a significant amount of speed, which I generally love, but preferably when I'm on my own and I don't have anyone around me. I've watched the Grand Tours for years, I've seen what happens when people crash. It's scary shit. There is an element of trust that is necessary when riding in a pack. It's a bit challenging when you don't know the people you're riding with. All you can do is hope that they call out any obstacles or potholes and they know how to ride their bikes. Communication is key. This is something I've started to learn the more I've ridden. Especially now that's it's pitch dark on our morning rides. Call out everything. Assume nothing. I learned this on my first ride out with Morning Glory. Roadies sometimes have the reputation of being somewhat elitist so I was a bit nervous that first ride but it was such a great experience that I joined the club the very next day. The club is very inclusive and everyone has been very encouraging.
I used to be skittish around other riders and would sit at the back of the pack. On my first few rides it was more because I couldn't keep up but the more I rode, the more I gained in speed and confidence. While I'm nowhere near to being one of the stronger female riders in the group, I have improved in leaps and bounds and I am gradually climbing my way up the Strava standings. I no longer hang out at the back of the pack. I'm happy to get up in the middle of the pack and work to stay on someones wheel. I'm actually able to hang on to several of the guys wheels now. On the rare occasion, there have been a few guys that I have dragged around.
I still have a ways to go in terms of my descending and cornering skills but those are improving exponentially. I've learned to stop overthinking things and trust my bike and my gut. I no longer ride the brakes around the more open turns. I let the bike do it's thing. I do have to remind myself to pedal so I'm not caught out when everyone else accelerates on their way out of the turn. That's what I did today and I actually hung on to group 3 for 3 laps before I fell off the back on the last climb. Hills are still my trouble spot but thanks to advice from my colleague and top notch rider, Tom Nesbitt, I am getting better at getting up them. I am watching and learning and asking questions so I can put things into practice on my next ride. I am in full on sponge mode, soaking up every ounce of knowledge I can. Today's ride was proof that I am starting to see that next level that I was looking for. It gives me huge amounts of hope and confidence that next year is going to be AWESOME. Especially when I see things like this happen for the second time in the span of a week.
I am still a relative newbie to all of this so I know I have a long way to go, but I'm really enjoying the journey. There is something really special about these early morning gut busting sessions and I know I'll miss them come the winter months. I'm going to have to up my Pain Cave game over the winter so when I emerge in the Spring, I'm that much stronger.
While running still owns the top spot in my heart, cycling is now a very close second. I think the fact that I'm wearing long funky socks and obsessing over bib shorts and matching jerseys is proof enough that I've drank the Kool Aid.
Look out, 2016 is going to be the Year of the Bike.