Miles: 50 Climbing 5200’ Route: Sam Smith Park—Mercer Island—Honda Hill—Newport Way to Issaquah—Wildwood Squak climb—Montreaux climb on Cougar—Horizon View/Summit climb—Cougar Mountain South climb—Montreaux descent—Northeast Somerset climb—Enatai—Mercer Island—Sam Smith Attrition rate: 11% Soldier of the Day: Steve Hullsman
In seven years of leading the HOWC, I'm not sure we have ever had two consecutive weeks where a woman rider showed up…until today (Rachel rode last week.) Carol did an admirable job handling a somewhat over the top hard ride, digging deep and finishing every climb she attempted, which was all of them except the last. Oddly enough, the last climb was the “easiest” on a day where I had the climbs perfectly in order of most to least difficult, at least the way I view them. I think Carol’s motor finally ran out of gas, but all of us were very impressed with her riding and her fortitude.
Fortitude is a term that the military likes to use, and why not, as it sounds pretty good: “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.” It’s also a term that partly defines what it takes to get honorable mention in my new header category of “Soldier of the Day.” More on that later.
Over these last seven years, I am somewhat proud of something I have managed to pull off. I normally finish the HOWC plenty tired, and with that great overall feeling that a really hard ride generates. But, I have never “cracked like an egg.” Call it fortitude, if you want. I call it good strategizing. There used to be a saying in the mountaineering world that “the leader must never fall.” Well, it’s my personal feeling that it is very bad form for the leader of a group ride to crack, and I ride with that in mind. Because of this, you will rarely see me at the front during the first half of the ride. The HOWC is a “group” ride, and part of a group ride is shouldering the responsibility of the hard work at the front. People share that responsibility in different ways.
Regardless of the difficulty of the route, I try to gauge my effort after I see what kind of energy I have for the day. I don’t have the option to go full 100% nuclear on a climb, knowing I have the luxury of bailing on the ride at any time if I hit the “Wall of Tired.” I also like to get a feel for how the group will work together, and whether I’ll have to spend much energy “managing” the ride. Most rides these days run so smoothly that all I have to do is call out the turns. Normally as we head back home, if I have metered out my energy properly, I try to do my share of the work on the front. I try to be strong at the end of the ride, as I would prefer to birdie #18 than #1. The big bets are won on #18, and no one remembers who wins the first hole anyway.
Ideally in a group ride of any size, the optimal situation is to have everybody of about equal strength, and all riders fairly sharing the work on the front if the pace is high. Things rarely come together this way; there is always disparity among the riders, not only in strength, but in terms of eagerness to put their nose into the wind. With a group of twelve, for example, there is usually a cadre of three of four people stronger than the rest, and these are the people that one would expect to spend a lot of time on the front. On a typical ride, there are also usually three or four people who may be in over their head, fitness-wise, and you would think that they would spend a lot of time in the bunch, just hanging on. That leaves the middle group of riders, who are fully capable of staying on the wheels of the stronger riders, and spending some time at the front as well.
For some reason, that’s not how it goes.
If indeed there are several riders barely hanging on, common sense dictates that they conserve their energy. I have found that the ride goes faster and much smoother overall if they do so. If barely hanging on progresses to full time plunging into the Hurt Locker, the group winds up spending a lot of time waiting around. Early in the ride, riders off the pace will usually leave the ride, but late in the ride, you hate to see somebody be forced to bail after putting out a dig deep effort all day. Quite often, future Hurt Locker candidates will go to the front early in the ride and take a hard pull, and expend too much precious energy. What am I to do? Ask someone not to help? That’s a little awkward to pull off tactfully.
Conversely, on some rides the strong riders are not to be found on the front of the ride. They may be saving their energy for late in the ride, to put in a strategic “attack,” or just may not feel comfortable going to the front for some reason. I’m sure I am not the only one to notice who spends a lot of time on the point, and who does not. I always try to personally thank the helpers at the end of the ride, because the contribution of the riders on the front is so important. Pulling sucks up a lot of your energy, and enables others to conserve their go power.
In a perfect world of group riding, riders would spend time on the front in direct proportion to their relative strength amongst the group. Not last week’s group, where a rider might have been one of the stronger riders, but relative to today’s bunch. After all, it’s really not that hard to tell who is who.
As I mentioned, I will be adding a new category to the header of this blog called “Soldier(s) of the Day.” Rather than publish the score of which riders climbed the fastest, I’ll be listing the riders who stood out by unselfishly helping on the ride. Today that was Steve Hullsman, just as it often is. Steve is always eager to jump on the front. So eager, as a matter of fact, that late in today’s ride, I would ride up around him to give him a break and inevitably, he would ride alongside of me instead of on my wheel. Maybe Steve subscribes to the triathlete in training mantra of, “You may share my wind, but you may not take my wind?” Seriously, Steve did spend time not on the front, but he was up there a lot. Given the amount of climbing we did today, there were not a lot of bona fide paceline opportunities, but for me that just made it even more obvious as to how much Steve was helping out.
The HOWC is not a race, it’s a group ride where we look out for each other, rather than simply try to tear each other’s legs off. The best rides for me are the ones where we work together, take turns helping on the front, and don’t focus on keeping score as to who is riding the hardest. For those reasons, I generally don’t mention the strength of individual riders in this blog, other than to compliment someone on their fitness.
What I do think is worth mentioning is when someone does more than his fair share of work, and unselfishly puts the group first. Now, that is a strong rider. Today that rider was Steve Hullsman, and Steve, my hat is off to you!
I hope to see you on the road.