As a coach I’ve spent many hours negotiating with clients to break away from the lonely roads of training by themselves and add a group ride in the mix. Yes, I know all the arguments of avoiding the group. They’re not my pace, it’s a sketchy ride and I heard they crash a lot, I have to work and train at odd hours, the ride’s too short, too long, it’s flat, it’s hilly, they stop too much. I don’t have anything to talk about and my favorite; I’m the only girl on the ride.
I’ve personally used all of the excuses above. Yesterday was my first group ride back with Swami’s since last October when I was in peak Ironman shape. This year I’ve been fighting injuries so my biggest excuse until yesterday was “I’m scared I’ll get dropped, I’m not fast enough yet, I’ve heard of some big crashes lately and my ego will personally get crushed if I can’t hold on.”
A group ride can add a lot to a well crafted training plan. When you are struggling to get out the door and train it serves as motivation. It can be social and make your long rides fly by. It can get you out of your own head space and bring new perspectives to training. They can push you far beyond what you could push yourself giving you a new level of fitness. At times the group can give you a race atmosphere that you can draw on in your triathlon. This really helps mentally when going into a tough race situation because you’ve already experienced it in training. And lastly, they serve as markers in your training to measure yourself and your progress. Yesterday’s group ride did all of that for me. See my TIMEX Global Trainer as proof! I hit 40.45mph and my Heart Rate was 171 (out of my running max HR of 180)! I was stoked beyond words. I got out of my head, reached a new level of fitness, met new friends and have more personal athletic confidence. I’m still smiling today as I write this article.
I recognize in Southern California we have it easier. There are many groups to choose from: the Ranchos, Celo Pacific, San Diego Bicycle Club, San Diego Triathlon Club and one of the most competitive Swamis. Swamis have “race like” group rides every Wednesday and Saturday and a shorter rides Tuesday and Thursday to name a few. Swami’s is known around the country among cyclist because it brings out Pro’s like Levi Leipheimer on Team Quick Step (Tour racer) and yesterday I sucked to the wheel of 1984 Olympic Silver Medalist Nelson Vail on Team Champion System who also won Gold in the National Sprint Track Championships! The choices are seemingly endless. There are rides every day of the week including Sundays. You can drill a 1 hour crit on Fiesta Island (the birthplace of triathlon in 1974) reaching speeds of 32+ mph on the flats or let Swamis put you in the hurt locker through a hilly ride through Elfin Forest. You can join SDBC which has a little of both.
I know finding the right group can be a daunting task. Here are some of my tips to help you find it to the right ride for you.
- 1. Give em a second chance. Your first experience may not be your best. The rides, just like your other workouts, will vary from week to week Some of the “attackers” might not be on the ride or a road under construction can change the tempo of the whole day. Following one persons wheel vs another can give you a whole different feeling from one week to the next.
- 2. Know what you’re looking for. You can’t get everything out of the ride. Looking for a social outlet, the perfect pace, comparable riding styles and stops for water exactly where you need it can a hard combination. Know exactly what you want out of each ride. Hammer sessions are usually not the time you are being social. Make sure the session fits into your plans the way it is supposed to.
- 3. Be social. The warm ups and water stops are perfect opportunities to get to know your fellow riders. Here are some great chat up lines…… “I haven’t done this ride before, can you tell me what to expect?” ”Wow, you’re strong; what do you do for a living that allows you to train so much?” ”What a great summer we’re having, have you travelled much or have an upcoming race?”
- 4. Bring a friend. The first time with a new group is tough and riding 2 by 2 is a forced conversation. Give yourself a bailout. It’s a lot easier if you have a friend to talk with from time to time. You can also compare notes of your experience leading to tactical changes for the next event.
- 5. Mix it up. Group rides need to fit into your training plan. Find the right ride for the right goal. If Saturday’s are your long days it doesn’t make sense to hammer 25 miles. Do the long ride you are supposed to. Sometimes I’ll ride 30 miles before catching the group and then add 35 with the group to negative split the ride (come back faster then going out). Other times I’ll hit the group hard and take pulls on the front to make it even harder then a race pace effort and work my anaerobic zone. Know what workout you are trying to do and find the ride that fits. Lastly, you don’t have to do the same rides every week. Do your favorite group ride every other week and on the odd weeks mix it up. Do a long mountain climb, shorter hill repeats, have a social ride, do a race and try a new route with friends. It keeps it fresh.
- 6. And the most important tip of all. Don’t ride in your aero position on your Trii bike if you want to ride with that group again. It’s unsafe in most circumstances and road cyclists really frown upon it.
Start riding, you’ll be glad you did!