Apologies for the over-abundance of road themed posts lately, but I need to write this down before the details fade, or before I get too embarrassed. This morning, instead of sleeping in like normal people I woke up at 7am to get ready for the Sunday Morning Ride at the Ride Studio Cafe. I have done their Women's Rides, but never the mixed gender Sunday rides. While some have tried to lure me to join, others warned that these rides are faster and more difficult than described. Especially after reading this, I was inclined to believe the latter and sensibly steered clear. So why now? Well, I need to train for the Hell's Gate Hundred and time is running out. And also these people convinced me that I could do it. With a straight face they said: "Oh you can definitely do it." And I believed them - figuring that since they were designated to lead the ride this weekend, they ought to know.
So, could I do it? That really depends of your definition of that concept. I mean, I finished the ride. I didn't crash. I didn't walk uphill. I didn't throw up or cry (though I came close). So in that sense I guess I did it. But it was such a humiliating struggle, that I can hardly think of it as an accomplishment. It was worse even than my first paceline ride last May, when I showed up on a touring bike and everybody else rode racing bikes. Only this time I did not have the "slow bike" excuse - it was all me. At least now I know where I stand.
When I left the house this morning it was 25°F outside with a brutal headwind. Of all the mild Sundays we've had this winter, I just had to choose this one. As I pedaled the 10 miles to the ride's start my eyes were watering and my lungs were burning; doing this was beginning to seem like a terrible idea. But I'd already told people I was coming and didn't want to back out.
As cyclists arrived bundled up and in good spirits, I felt more relaxed. By the time we got ready to ride, it warmed up to 30°F and the sunny morning made me optimistic. "This will be just like the Women's Rides," I told myself, "only with men." There were only 4 of us in the slower group; this was going to be fun and social.
Trying to analyse it in retrospect, I am not sure what exactly made this ride so difficult for me. It was probably a little bit of everything. The speed in itself would have been fine, if it weren't for the headwinds we were continuously assaulted with. The hills would have been fine, if there weren't so many of them. It was also difficult to breathe the cold air while already struggling to breathe from exertion.
We rode 34 miles through the towns of Lexington, Weston, Wayland, Sudbury and Lincoln. We climbed two substantial hills, with lots of littler hills in between. I was without a doubt the weakest member of our group, and on hills this was especially apparent. I wheezed. I whimpered. I swore out loud. I almost fainted from pushing myself to try and keep up. And still I lagged behind. My legs felt like lead. Flats and downhills did not offer much respite, since I had to work harder than everyone else to keep up the pace. My face was bright red from shame and effort.
I employed various coping techniques to get through the ride. At one point, I mentally talked myself through it. "It's okay... Pedal, don't think... Look at the pretty trees... Focus on the wheel in front of you... What doesn't kill you makes you stronger..." After that stopped working, I began to play Bach in my head until the repetitive harpsichord pieces started to feel like a seizure. Then I tried to separate my mind from the physicality of what I was doing, as if it were happening to somebody else. Some time after that delirium set in and I don't remember anymore.
At some point - I think this must have been closer to the beginning - something really cool happened. The faster group caught up with us and "swallowed us" before speeding away. I have never experienced this before and it wasn't the same as merely riding in a group. Suddenly, the faster cyclists were ...everywhere. On my right, on my left, in front, behind - some seemingly no more than an inch away. I felt carried along, swept away - it was scary and exciting at the same time. "Like a school of fish" said a rider in our group later. Is this a taste of what racing is like?
When we finished the ride I could hardly walk. I vaguely recall being hugged and given high-fives as I rapidly chewed a croissant. I had done a Sunday Morning Ride. It was hard, and it was embarrassing, and I will do it again. I rode 55 miles total by the time I got home. Sunday mornings will never be the same.