Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hills of the West Coast Catch-22

Miles: 68.4 Climbing: 2579’ Route: Tibbets park—Avondale—Bear Creek—Maltby—Broadway—High Bridge—Snoqualmie Valley—Fall City—Tibbets Participants: 7
Attrition Rate: 1

Today’s ride was very mellow, perhaps too mellow. Perhaps…boring. We had a small and safe group and we rode another great route with minimal traffic. The terrain was rolling and so we spent a lot of time in pacelines. So what is my issue? For some reason, I’m just not as excited about leading the Hills of the West Coast this year.

Certainly, it’s been a big change starting the ride from Issaquah this year after rolling from Downtown Seattle for the previous seven years. Some of the downtown regulars still make the ride, and many of the new people have been extremely strong riders. It’s not that the different people have changed the ride, and the route possibilities starting from Issaquah are much more diverse and interesting than the old downtown routes. We’ve even had pretty decent luck with the weather. Come to think of it, it has absolutely nothing to do with moving the ride. I was starting to enjoy the ride less when we started from downtown.

Perhaps it’s not the HOWC at all, but just the nature of modern day group rides. Check out this article from the Carolina Cycling News titled “Lost art of the group ride”:

The author does an excellent job of describing the drawbacks to many group rides. While I strive to be different and do things more the “way things used to be,” I’m starting to think that this striving is burning me out. The great thing about a hard group ride with fit riders is that you have no choice but to become a stronger rider as a result. On the flip side, while riding solo or in a small group doesn’t replicate the competitive intensity of a hard group ride, you also don’t have to deal with the downside of the dynamics of a group. I wish that this article could somehow be required reading for any new rider wishing to join group ride.

Regarding my feelings about leading the HOWC, there are the intangibles. Perhaps I’m just not into the HOWC the way I normally am. I’m really enjoying riding my new mountain bike and am working on getting better. Honestly, (and I would never have believed this) many days I grab the mountain bike because I am so much more excited to ride it than ride on the road. While I still really enjoy riding on the road, jumping on the MTB inevitably brings new adventure to every ride. Not all the adventure is great, as I took my first not one, but two endo’s on a ride the other day. Nevertheless, riding MTB is a blast; it reminds me of riding to elementary school through the woods on my single speed coaster brake bike. Looking back, that must have really been an adventure!

And then there are the priorities, priorities, priorities. My eye has been off the cycling “ball” a bit anyway lately. Tracy recently resigned from her job and we are spending lots of great time together. Tracy is quite a bit younger than me, and for years we have discussed the idea of her not working and “retiring” before I am truly an old man. We’re fortunate to be able to do this, and we are giving it a test run that may wind up being permanent. In any case, we decided it’s time for action, not just talk.

If I’m simply bored with leading the HOWC, there are potential solutions, but the obvious ones are kind of a Catch-22:

I could stick to rolling routes with a lot of pacelines and take the ride back to the “Super Strenuous” pace of summers past. From a safety standpoint I don’t think there is much you can do on a bicycle with more potential for a big crash than 25+mph pacelines, especially with a different group of people every week. I know I’m not the only one who gets the heebie-jeebies at times regarding fast pacelines. While we have never had a multi-bike paceline accident (or really any kind of paceline crash, for that matter), the karma doesn’t feel right for testing that luck. Besides, while hard pacelines do a ton for building fitness, you have to really be fit to “enjoy” them. (Is enjoy even the right word?) Not having done the supersonic pacelines since the summer of 2010, I doubt I have the fitness to do them. So doing them builds fitness…if you are fit enough to do them. Catch-22!

We could do the type of rides we typically do in the spring where we do a six-pack of climbs on Cougar, Squak, and Tiger Mountains. Doing hard climbing focused rides would rapidly build fitness…but I don’t feel fit enough (and it feels like the wrong time of the year) to get excited about doing the arduous climbs required to increase fitness. Catch-22!

Without the super hard HOWC rides I know I will not achieve my normal fall high level of fitness. It’s this fitness that has allowed me to defy the odds and continue breaking my own PR’s on five local climbs I identify at the beginning of every year. Not having the fitness is OK, since I don’t think I will be able to pump myself up enough to even try for the PR’s. Oh well, there is always next year when I’ll be yet another year older, but that hasn’t stopped me so far. I can chide myself because the 2012 PR challenge will be even harder to achieve. I hope I can muster up the enthusiasm and effort for at least one climb this fall, because that’s really all it takes to compare this year’s version of me with last year’s. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again. Surely there is a Catch-22 in here somewhere?

I need to improve my mountain bike skills without getting hurt. You can't get better on a mountain bike without putting yourself at risk of crashing. If you fall off and hurt yourself trying to become more skilled, you might be too injured to ride and develop better skills. Catch-22!

As far as my apathy for group rides and maybe a yearning for the way things were in the past, the last paragraph of the Carolina Cycling News article sums things up well regarding new riders, “The ride leader and his lieutenants were serious about their roles, because the safety of the group depended on you, the weakest link. If you did not follow the rules, you were chastised. Harshly. If you did, you became a member of something spectacular. The Peloton.”

Since I have been starting the ride in Issaquah, I’ve been on my own leading the ride and I do miss the “lieutenants” who used to share the burden and give me a week (or even an hour during a ride) off.

I could ask any new rider to email me before joining the ride. I’d send him the link to the article. Perhaps that would help.

Maybe I just miss the good old days of group rides, even if I wasn’t around for many of them. You know, when it felt like a peloton working together.


Scott's (and family) journey to RAAM said...

Great article and great post.

I do miss your downtown starting point and have only managed to make one out in Issaquah this year, partly due to distance and mostly do to my lack of time on weekends.

I see myself as one of those riders that has the power to hang in, but I lack the grace to go with it. That is one of the reasons I like your group when I can get there. You are a great teacher for those willing to learn and you have had great lieutenants the times I've ridden - David L. and Ian off the top of my head.

I would have to find some of your previous posts, but paraphrasing (poorly I'm sure) - you have indicated in the past that it is good to get away from the same type of riding and explore other fitness interests, knowing that you will always be able to come back to your passion with new eyes. Maybe take this time to lend the reins of the ride to another ride leader every once in awhile and get some more time in on your mountain bike, single speed on a solo ride, hiking, time with Tracy. Then next spring you will come back with a lot of your fitness and new eyes, ideas and passion for the road again.

My thoughts whether you want them or not. I think you could require new people to read that article or just as good, ask them to read your blog. I think there is a lot to learn simply by reading about all of the expertise and experience you bring to this.

I hope to be able to get out and ride with you again as you are one of those I consider a great teacher.


Tom Meloy said...

Thanks for the kind words and good advice.

Mike said...

Rides like HOWC are destined to chronically run like an unauditioned choir. You're going to have a mix of performers ranging from those who thought they sounded good in the shower to those who have sung in front of an audience. There's going to be a perpetual tension in that setting between those at both ends of the spectrum.

If you want pelotons in HOWC, I suggest requiring pre-approval for anyone who wants to join. Criteria can be something like, "Has ridden in a couple of 'brisk' level group rides that ran at least 50 miles and has read/agreed to the 'Riding in a Group' guidelines." (This implies that the Cascade club needs a document of the sort.)

For a 75-mile ride at 20-21mph, letting people join who don't have prior paceline experience isn't really doing either the new rider or the (mostly experienced) group any favors.

Tom Meloy said...

Mike, those are good thoughts. We used to have open ended paceline speeds. If we had a lot of very strong riders we would go quite hard (25+mph). I agree with you that that is not optimal with different groups, but we used to have a lot of consistent regulars. New people would hang on for dear life at the back until we were comfortable with them. We also used to do routes with a ton of climbing where pacelines were not an issue, but there were other issues. I'll sort it out for next year.