Thursday, June 23, 2011

Group Rides

Wow, what a ride!  Every week, a group of bicyclists gathers at Ellacoya State Park to do a ‘group ride’ all together.  This week’s ride was about 75 riders, which splits up into three groups; first-timers, beginners and intermediate (funny, I noted, no “experts”).  This was my second week on the ride and the weather was great again; sunny, mid-70s and we start and finish at the lake (how amazing is that).  A group ride is great because the other riders often know the ride route, offer support and advice and just general encouragement, which cannot be underestimated.  My Felt Z100 bike is incredible, it rides comfortably, smoothly and it’s very light-weight.  The only problem I have at this point is operator error… I’m still getting used to the gears!  We start out riding by the lake, pretty even ride, so I shift through to get a feel for things, which I feel like I understand fairly well.  CJ and then Myles from MC Cycle and Sport, organizers and mentors for the ride, ride up beside me giving me pointers on how to use them (I used to ride a mountain bike, and that was 12 years ago).  Having them nearby – and their encouragement – is so reassuring.  For my first ride, we took a route through Gilford, up Watson Road.  I try to shift to an easier gear going up a hill and – drop – low gear.  Mash, mash, mash on the pedals as I try to correct it.  Ugh.  Standstill.  Myles comes up beside me, stops and helps me get the gear right to finish up the hill.  I have to run back down a bit, turn around and start again to get the momentum going again.  Wow, this gear this works well when it’s dialed in right!  Up, up, to the crest of the hill… Myles told me to meet him at the theater, which is at the bottom of the hill.  The ride down – especially after that struggle and feeling stupid going up the other side – was amazing.  I just let it ride, wide open, like wind in my sails.  At one point, I look down… 40 mph.  Wow, and I thought I’d be anxious about that.  It was fantastic, made me feel more alive.

Here's an early spring photo, which is now all luscious green leaves. 
I'll try to get over there to take a picture of what it looks like now.
For this week’s ride, I was really looking forward to two things.  Firstly, we were going to do the Timberman bike route.  See, having the home field advantage, I can actually train ON the course, so that will help to really prepare me for the race.  Secondly, this week Lori Oakley from the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club and the Lakes Region Triathlon Club would be joining us!  Lori is so encouraging, and a great support person to have in your corner, and while others in the Tri-Newbie Training Program had already had the opportunity to ride with her, this was my first.  We started off the ride easily enough, along the waterfront, which I can only show you how breathtaking it is.

I feel strong, pretty confident.  I’ve been spinning classes since about April, so my legs are stronger; I just have to learn make the best of these gears.  I call it “More turn for your burn”.  I’m really focused on learning that.  I did pretty well until I got to a big long hill.  Even with easier gears, it’s still work.  Another rider pulls off, and I stop to help (I could use the break too, to tell you the truth).  I keep up momentum until I crest the hill and ride the slope down to the meeting point where the rest of the riders are waiting for everyone to catch up to turn and ride the route back.  I managed to reach down and get my water bottle, take a drink and set it back too – without crashing, which is important.  A few minutes at the meeting point, and we’re off again, except that I’m still winded, and that hill I just glided down is now the one that I have to climb back up.  Mash, mash, mash the pedals, here we go again, I know I’m in the wrong gear.  But now I’m afraid to get stuck like I did the week before on Watson Road, so I’m cautious and struggling.  I stop at one point, catch my breath, and start up again, still struggling.

Then, a familiar voice comes up behind me… Lori Oakley!   She had gotten a flat, but caught up to me, and now she’s looking at my gears while riding behind me.
“Shift down! [I click the gears]  Again. [I click.]  A few more, still have some room [click, click, click]”
Ahhh!  Now we’re in business!  My feet aren’t mashing the pedals anymore, and I can actually make some progress.
“Is that better?”, she asks, pulling along side me. 
“Yeah, thank you so much!”
Lori comments how I was killing that hill, even in the wrong gear, and tells Myles the same thing when we catch up with him.  Good, I think to myself, when I get these gears under control, I should be doing really well!

I love having great coaches.  Not only was she able to help me out of a bind (I’ll get used to the gears, it’ll just take practicing and getting the ‘feel’ for it), she was so encouraging.  She helped me focus, breath calmly, exhale completely (to avoid CO2 buildup which is what seizes up muscles).  THIS is what group rides are about.  I had stopped to help a fellow rider earlier, and it came full circle when I needed help myself.

The rides are fantastic, 15 miles in a group that suits your abilities.  It’s open to the public, all are welcome.  We meet Mondays at 5:30pm at Ellacoya, and it usually finishes up about 7:00pm.  The rule for weather is that if the road is dry, we ride.  I really hope you would consider coming.  While parts can be challenging, it can be really exhilarating.  Hope to see you on the road!

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