Tag Archives: group ride

Return of the Group Ride

B group

Daylight Savings Time might as well be a national holiday for cyclists. With that extra hour of daylight, we can finally get back to our weekday road rides. With that daylight comes exercise, community, and good times.

The temperature for our inaugural weekday ride of the season was a pleasant 70 degrees. You couldn’t pick a better day to start back up. I wasn’t going to miss this one for the 

The thing is, this was only my third ride of the year, and would be my first ride with other people. The first two rides were encouraging, but I was still skeptical. The last thing I need is to get caught up in the typical competitive mentality of the group ride. I needed to ride my pace and hopefully that would mix well with others. Since this is not a familiar area for me, I was nervous of dropping and getting lost.

My Tuesday and Thursday ride of choice is the ‘Tri Cities’ group, appropriately named because it starts near the border of Columbia, West Columbia, and Cayce. I rode it maybe a dozen times last year, and found it to be a scrappy, relentless group. I rode with the A group as long as I could stay with them, which was most of the time, but my current fitness is not even close to the same level. This time I would be lucky to hang with the B group.

That's the A group ahead.

That’s the A group ahead.

As we started pedaling on the 12th Street Extension, the fast thoroughfare that takes us to the outskirts of Columbia, I was starting to get worried. It was an effort to keep up with the group, more than I felt comfortable with. That’s when I realized I had accidentally jumped in with the lead group. I backed off and settled in with the slower group. The pace was only slightly slower, from 20-21 mph to 18-19, yet that was enough to give me comfort.

By the time we got to the first climb, Glenn/Old Wire Rd, I expected everyone to blow by me. I hung back, pedaling easy, until I realized I was passing other people. The climbing legs were still there! That spurred me on and I kept on spinning, making sure not to favor the hip.

Once I warmed up, I felt stronger. The fitness was coming back. I was tempted to push it on a couple of occasions, but remained smart and cautious. There’s no need to test myself at this point.

We cut the ride short at 20 miles from the normal 27, mostly because of running out of daylight.

With this ride, I gained a lot of confidence. I am on my way back, and much stronger than I expected. There’s going to be some good riding ahead soon.

Strava Link

The First Leaf Tour

Saluda Grade


This weekend I’ll return to Tryon, NC for the Tour de Leaves ride. It’s hard to believe this was my first organized event, just a couple years ago. Rather than preview the region, which most readers are probably familiar with anyway, this is a good opportunity to reflect on my unflattering first experience.

I signed up after hearing about it from the cycling club at work. Before realizing what I was getting into, I signed up for the shortest route — the Tour de Leaves ‘Lite.’ This was 31 miles, and did not go over the toughest climbs.

Having never been to Tryon before, I left super early to make sure I found the place. I was the first car to park at Harmon Field. Car after car arrived. Athletic beasts emerged with their expensive bikes. Many riders were from out of town. I marveled that these weekend warriors probably went from town to town just to ride their bikes, like I was doing that morning.

If I only knew what the future held.

After fumbling around with my bike, an inexpensive yet robust Specialized Allez, I scooted to the starting line. I was wearing bike shorts, an Under Armor T-shirt, and a brand new pair of arm warmers. No jersey meant no pockets, so my car keys and cell phone went in a big, brown fanny pack. That pack stayed with me for months, even to the Marquis de Sade ride next season (you can barely see it in the picture here), until I had endured enough chiding to throw it away. On this day, I was caught off guard by all the bright colored polyester. It was like being surrounded by aliens. Who were these people anyway?

The ‘Lite’ riders left together, and this was an easy going group. I rode most of the early going with a trio. We spoke a little, not much. If they snickered at my outfit, I didn’t hear. The course was hilly, but I was able to keep up with these folks.

The organizers had said to follow the fishes to know the route. What in the world? I kept looking for signs in the area, seeing nothing. I thought they would be elevated signs, posted to a fence or something. No fishes, nowhere. If I ended up in front of my little group, I had to stop at intersections, bewildered as to where to go. When I was behind them, they turned without hesitation. How in the world did they know where to go?

Eventually, as I expected, I got tired. The hills added up, and I simply wasn’t used to this type of riding. The other two riders in the trio sped past me. At that point I was worried I would get lost in the North Carolina country. I remember stopping at an intersection, fumbling through the cue sheet to figure out where I was. An older gentleman, who I later learned was over 70, sped on past pointing in the correct direction. How did he know?

City of Tryon

I would finally wise up to the fish mystery at the very end of the ride, when I saw three fishes spray painted on the road pointing to the finish line. At first I wondered why someone would draw such a thing on the roads. I considered reporting the vandalism to the police, until finally making the connection. Doh!

At one point we reached a higher elevation. I have no idea how high it was, probably not more than a few hundred feet from the start, but it was enough to see a view of the colorful countryside. Despite being exhausted, at that very moment is when I became hooked. It was baffling that I had climbed to such heights under my own power, and was rewarded with a breathtaking view.

Towards the end of the ride, we went down a steep descent. Now that was awesome! After the road leveled out, there was amarking that said “Steep Grade, Use Lower Gear!”. This was New Market Road. It killed me! Not only did I not have the fitness, I didn’t have the gearing either. I would later learn (when I took my revenge) that this short hill is a 17-18% grade at its steepest. It was too much for my rookie legs. Maybe a quarter way up, I got off my Allez and slowly walked it to the top. That was humiliating, especially as I got passed by other riders who climbed without issue. I looked back and saw my senior citizen friend a few hundred feet back, also walking. At least I wasn’t completely alone.

New Market both disappointed and encouraged me. I couldn’t comprehend the tougher climbs on the ride, such as Green River Cove, which may have ended my cycling career right then had I tried it.

I didn’t forget Tour de Leaves. It was a great experience, however painful. I worked at improving my cycling fitness. A couple months later I would receive an email asking about training partners for the Assault on Mount Mitchell. Again, I agreed, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

The rest is history.

Red Nose Run and Slow Spinning

Red Nose Run

The last time I ran in a running race was at least 1.5 years ago, perhaps longer. That was when I was hurt and not enjoying it, which explains my time away. Lately I have been getting back in the swing of things, mostly on the treadmill, and wanted to see how I would do on the road.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous. I also had no idea what to wear. It was cold and sunny at the start, in the low 40s, so I figured I should layer and cover my arms and legs. That was a problem because somehow I have no cold weather running clothes. I tried out my cycling knee warmers. That wasn’t happening without bike shorts. Even the leg warmers wouldn’t hold. Instead I decided to brave the elements with basketball shorts, a long-sleeve base layer shirt and a regular t-shirt on top. It turned out not to matter. Once I hit the pavement, my body warmed itself and I never worried about the cold.

The event was the 6th Annual Red Nose Run, put on by Strictly Running. There were two race options, a 10k and a 5k. At first I considered trying the 10k, having just completed an 8k the week prior. I wisely decided to start small with the 5k.

I wasn’t thinking of speed, although in the back of my mind I hoped to break 30 minutes. My plan was just to get going, find a comfortable pace and stay there. That pace turned out to be 6 mph. I held it steady most of the way, keeping my breath controlled and trying to ignore my weak legs. The first mile had some hills, which I trotted through without incident. The second mile was mostly flat, and fortunately the third mile had some descents.

I grunted my way through without stopping. The finish line was at the Colonial Center, hard to miss. When I saw it in the distance, my legs got a little antsy. My GPS said I was at about 28 minutes and there was a slight downhill the rest of the way. I went a little harder for that last quarter of a mile and barely broke 30 minutes. According to my GPS, I was at 29:48. As a cyclist with weak calves, I’ll take it. The official results have me at 30 minutes and a few seconds, but I am going with own timer, thank you very much.

Speaking of calves, they were pretty sore. The pavement is a lot more punishing than a treadmill. I ate some protein and sucked it up because a couple hours later I would be gearing up for a group ride.

Fortunately our ride was slow. It was a 32-mile social ride with some good friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. I rode from the house to get a few extra miles, but not much faster. In total it turned out to be almost 55 miles at a 15mph average, slow for me. There were a couple highlights, such as sprinting on a fast stretch at a 35mph clip. Most importantly it was a fun, easy ride, just what I needed.

Oddly enough, this morning I woke up with a workout hangover. This is the most sore I have been for a long while, including the challenging mountain trips I made a couple weeks ago. That probably has more to do with the running, since it works different and underused muscle groups. It’s all good for me and I plan to continue the cross-training throughout the year.

Bike ride Strava link

Atlanta Group Ride

I found myself out of town again, in dire need of some cardio to carry me through the holidays. Fortunately this time I was traveling to Atlanta, a major metropolis with a vibrant cycling community. After doing some research, I found a bike shop (a very cool one, I might add) that puts on local bike rides. I joined for their ride on the morning of Christmas eve.

They had two rides planned. The long ride was ‘beyond Six Flags,’ which is a 50+ mile out-and-back ride to Campbellton that, as you would guess, skirts by the Six Flags amusement park. From what I understood from talking with other riders, this is usually a well-attended faster-paced ride. In good weather, they said the ride could have as many as 50 riders. That would not be the case on a frosty Christmas eve. The alternate ride is a 22-mile jaunt around the hilly neighborhoods of Atlanta. Both groups ride together for the early going and then they split after a few miles.

Needing a good workout, my preference was for the Six Flags ride. The turnout was the problem. I followed along and noticed that hardly anyone turned to Six Flags at the split. The shorter in-town ride it would be, but I found that what it lacked in miles, it made up for in challenge.

Atlanta has hills, lots of them. The entire ride was up and down, which was perfect for me. There were a few lengthy climbs and some short and steep rollers, the steepest of which was around 12%. On top of the that, the route took you through a lot of nice neighborhoods with million-dollar houses, around a number of friendly parks, and had some delightful declines along with the grueling climbs. Simply put, the ride was a blast.

I have to commend the community on the way they orchestrated the ride. There were two ride leaders and at crucial intersections, they would block traffic on both sides. This was unusual, but made me feel a lot more comfortable than I would otherwise be riding through foreign neighborhoods in another city. The group separated here and there, which is to be expected, but waited at major intersections and after big climbs. This allowed us to mostly ride as a group.

As I could tell from my Strava output that this route is usually the Wednesday night sprint route. Now that sounds like a blast.


Carrboro/Chapel Hill Group Ride

I found myself out of town, visiting family in Chapel Hill, NC. Usually I combine these family trips with recovery time, but this time I brought my bike and thought I would check out the local rides. I found the Chapel Hill Cycling website thanks to a Twitter friend, BicycleLab (who also has a cool website).

There were three ride choices. There was an easy 15-16 mph, a moderate 18-20 mph, and what they call the “P-Ride,” which is where the professionals come out to play. The middle ride seemed closest to my cup of tea and I liked that they emphasize pace-lines and group ride dynamics. I’m down with that. Plus the ride was ‘nodrop,’ so I felt confident I could head out to the country with them and not get completely lost.

We left from Carrboro, which is just a fantastic town for cycling. A good portion of the downtown area has bike lanes. In the short time that I rode there, I found that the drivers were very respectful and aware of riders. On a couple occasions they waved me by or let me into traffic, something that is almost nonexistent here. It was a pleasure riding there, with or without the group. Wilson Park was the starting point and from there we took the bike lanes out to the country, just a couple miles away.

One thing that surprised me was how many rolling hills there were. There really weren’t any climbs to speak of, and the highest grade was in the 6-7% range, but over time and at high speeds, they took a toll on me. For the first twenty miles or so, I was fine keeping up with the group. Some other riders had more trouble and small gaps would form. I felt comfortable knowing that I was able to usually maintain my place with the lead group.

Then the open sprint zone came. I was starting to get tired at that point and didn’t know it was coming until everyone bolted out ahead. It was too late to chase. They slowed a little, but not enough for me and another rider to catch up. We were dropped until the rest stop. From there some of the other riders splintered away. A flat tire drove a couple other riders away. That left the group at around half a dozen riders, all of whom seemed to be the strongest horses in attendance.

Flat tire gave me the rare pic opportunity

I hung for awhile, but my weakened legs were taking a toll. I think most of my performance was related to the big climb the day before. There was a mini-climb of just a few percent where I was second in the pack. I huffed and puffed up the hill, keeping pace with the ride leader, and it flat out chewed me up. I knew there was another sprint zone coming up and that would be the end of me. As the leader fell back, I grunted something about having ridden a mountain the day before and probably needing to drop. After taking a pull a little longer than I should have, I fell to the back almost completely broken. I let them go.

Oops. In hindsight, I probably should have pushed to hang on. Fortunately GPS saved me. After stopping for a few minutes to get my bearings, I was back on course and rode in at a casual pace. I took my time returning via Dairyland Road, finally taking some time to check out the local scenery that had been a blur to that point.

All in all, it was a great workout in a new environment. I’ll be back again someday to test my mettle.

Strava GPS Link