Monday, June 16, 2014

No, I don't think I am a racer

If you read anything that I ever wrote about bicycling, you would be pretty convinced that I have no hope of ever racing a bike and you would be right.  I have never been fast.  Once I rode 20 miles inside an hour but that was over rolling terrain and in a group.  I did catch the group a couple of times after I fell behind and I'm proud of that but that was 6 years ago.  And before then I would routinely do short rides, between 20 and 40 miles, that I would ride somewhere between 18 and 19 MPH.  And I would ride 60-70 miles as fast as 17.5 MPH.  Riding solo at a 20 MPH pace was the Holy Grail for me and I never made it, try as I did.

I knew I wasn't riding at racing speed but the point was reinforced by a neighbor who I saw after one of my 70 mile rides, feeling good about the 17.5 MPH average speed I maintained.  My neighbor was a road racer and he just came back from a hard, hilly ride in western Massachusetts and, when pressed, admitted to a 26 MPH average.  Case closed - these people are in a different league, assuming I was in any league, which I wasn't.

One of my cycling goals last year was the Highpoint Ride, put on by Ride Studio Cafe.  The ride was expected to be hard and long (although there were various lengths you could choose) and the shop needed some kind of confirmation that you could do the hills and the distance.  The two major constraints were that you needed to ride a century and that you could main a 12 MPH pace, stops included, and this includes the 9 mile 2,700 foot climb up Mount Greylock and an even harder climb, 2.5 miles and 1300 feet from the Deerfield River to Whitcombs Summit, the highest point of Route 2 in the Berkshires.

I started out the year slowly, riding a 60 mile loop to Harvard, MA at 13 MPH in April.  But that was fast for me and for how many miles I had under my belt at that time of the year.  I mentioned this to a fellow parent at the preschool our boys attended and he cautioned me that this wasn't really fast - he regularly rides out to Harvard at a 20 MPH pace and faster.  I let him know that I knew I wasn't fast but I was in a race, and the race was against me and I was winning.  He's a cool guy and was very nice about it and wasn't trying to impress me with his speed, although it is pretty impressive how fast he can ride.

Over the month and a half that I trained, I finally got my speed up to 17 MPH over similar routes so I did make progress.  But all my progress didn't get me to a 12 MPH average on the Greylock climb.  On the first day of the Highpoint ride, I averaged 11 MPH, even slower if you include time the I spent off the bike en route to the summit.  But I did the shortest route (50 miles) and I was the fourth person at the summit so it didn't matter that day.  The next day, with the big drop off of Greylock, was far easier and I averaged close to 16 MPH, despite having ridden across the Berkshires.

Fast forward to last weekend.  I have had a very slow start to the year.  Most of my riding has been commuting and I'm not a fast commuter.  I have had a couple of fast rides, including a 17 MPH 40 mile ride and 15 MPH 80 mile ride (but that was in a group, which makes for a faster ride) so I felt confident in taking a longer ride with a firm time limit.  The ride was on Sunday, which was Father's Day, and my wife gave me the option of taking a longer ride or, if I was up to it, a morning ride followed by her family's traditional Father's Day picnic.  I could also have chosen to ride to the picnic but finding a route to the south shore with little traffic was daunting.  So I picked the early ride option, set my alarm for 5 AM and promised to be back by 10 AM.  I also decided to ride out to Harvard, which is at least a 60 mile ride from my house.  Five hours might seem like a lot of time for a 60 mile ride (63 miles as it turned out) but there is always a time sink, like when your alarm rings at 5 AM after you got to bed at midnight.  After getting dressed and applying sunscreen, I headed out at 5:35.  By then I had only 4 hours and 25 minutes for 63 miles.  And I didn't have breakfast.

I had the option of shortening the ride by going through Concord and then Acton and taking Nagog Hill Road to Newtown Road but being overly energetic, I instead went through Great Brook Farm Park to South Chelmsford on my way to Newtown Road.  This avoided some hills but added a few miles.  It was also a pretty quiet route and I didn't seem many cars.  I chose the Oak Hill Road route to Harvard from Littleton, which is prettier and harder than the Harvard/Littleton Road route.  Once I got to Harvard, I realized my mistake.  I was 30 miles from home at it was 8 AM, which meant I had just two hours to get home.  I was pretty sure I could ride 15 miles per hour but I was counting on stopping for breakfast either at the Harvard General Store or the Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord and now this wasn't an option. I ate a bar 10 miles earlier and had a couple more with me so I just rode on.

As it turned out, the ride back was fast, for me, and lovely.  By 8 AM the world was largely awake but it was still early so anyone actually was inside so there was still very little traffic.  I started to see a lot of cyclists west of South Acton and many groups of cyclists heading west by the time I reached Concord at 9.  I was home before 10.  It was one of those rides that even a flat would make you late but I was lucky and everything went as planned.  I would have liked to have stopped for a meal.  I made it home hungry but with enough energy to help us get ready to get out of the house.  I wasn't racer fast but I was fast enough to have a great time on my bike and get home in time for the rest of the day.

Here is the route I took.  And I finished the ride averaging 15.5 MPH, which was good enough for me.

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