Today was another experiment with group riding. If you've been reading my cycling blogs, you might recall that a couple of weeks ago I went on a 30-mile group ride which was organized by the nice folks at Sabino Cycles. That had been my first experience riding with a large group, and I enjoyed it enough that I was willing to ride with them again. Thankfully the sun is rising later each day, so the scheduled start time for this ride was 7am, which works much better for my usual "Night Owl" schedule. (I can never manage to turn off my brain at an early hour, so 2:00am was the best time that I was able to force myself to go to sleep. But the sound of my 5:45am alarm was still a shock to the system.)
Hoping to never repeat the debacle of forgetfulness from my last group ride, I changed a few things for this outing. First of all, I prepped most of my gear the night before, so most of my things were ready-to-go near the door when I got up. Second, I made myself a list of everything that I needed to bring for the ride, and I went over the list a couple of times before heading out. As I had done for the previous group ride, I stopped by a McDonald's on my way to the start point and picked up an egg-white McMuffin for a little carb-loading, although I'm starting to learn that its measly 250 calories are insufficient fuel when I'm burning 1,700 calories on a ride. (More about that later.)
The starting point for today's ride was the Sabino Cycles store near the intersection of Sabino Canyon and Tanque Verde. I arrived at there a little early, and since it was quite chilly outside, (~40 degrees!), I decided to go for a nine-minute / 2.4-mile warm-up ride from the store to the intersection of Sabino Canyon and Cloud. By the time I arrived back, the group was ready to go, and the ride's organizer (Steve Wetmore) started the pre-ride briefing. After telling everyone the basic route that we would be riding, he promised everyone that it would get warmer once the sun came up. (And he followed that comment with an admission that he always makes promises, even though keeping them is a different story.)
The group got on the road a few minutes after 7:00am, and as we were headed down Tanque Verde I got behind some other cyclists, so I didn't see some low-lying, plastic road barriers as we approached the bridge where Tanque Verde splits with Wrightstown. I swerved to miss those, which would have resulted in a nasty accident had I hit them, but that put me on the wrong road. Fortunately there was a way to rejoin the group in a hundred feet or so, but still… that could have been very, very bad for me. (I commented to another rider that my brief experience had definitely woken me up.)
We sailed down Tanque Verde, then down Bear Canyon, then turned east onto Snyder past my old High School to Melpomene Way. We rode through some residential neighborhoods, and we stopped at one point to allow everyone to regroup. I quickly downed a packet of Gu, and I stored the empty package on my bike frame as I normally do. Unfortunately, I apparently did something wrong, so the package fell from my bike frame after the group started riding again, and I apologized to the cyclists around me for littering. Truthfully-speaking, no one probably noticed except for me, but I still felt badly about it. (But there was no way to stop or turn around inside the gaggle of cyclists without causing a major accident.)
We eventually turned onto Broadway, which we rode to Freeman Road, which was the main destination for this ride. By way of explanation, Freeman Road consists of a long, uphill climb which goes on for several miles. When I was first starting out with distance riding several months ago, I rode up the hill on Freeman Road a few times, and I thoroughly hated the experience. So much so that I only rode that way perhaps three times at the most. With that in mind, I was dreading this part of the course. But it was also one of the reasons why I went on today's ride – I always need to challenge myself to do more. That being said, I hadn't ridden Freeman in the past several months, during which time I have been riding the hills in Saguaro National Park and Pistol Hill Road a few times every week, so I was amazed to discover that the hill on Freeman Road wasn't as bad as I had remembered. (I may have to start working Freeman Road back into my routes in the future.)
Once we crested the top of the hill on Freeman Road, the group stopped at the water station near the entrance to Saguaro National Park to regroup for a few minutes, then we headed down Escalante to Houghton, and then turned onto Old Spanish Trail past my neighborhood to Harrison. We turned north onto Harrison to Speedway, then we cut through the neighborhoods near St Pius X church back to Tanque Verde.
As we neared the Sabino Cycles store, riders began to head off in separate directions for post-ride relaxation at Starbucks, Eclectic Café, Tucson Tamales, etc. Whereas I, on the other hand, turned north onto Sabino Canyon Road.
My GPS listed the ride at 28.9 miles, but I wanted more. I decided that I would ride to Cloud Road, then turn East and ride to the end of the road, then turn north onto Larrea Lane and ride to the end of the road in the Canyon Ranch Estates, (where several of my friends from high school lived 30 years ago). After that, I thought about riding back to Sabino Canyon Road, then turning north and riding to Sunrise Drive, then to Kolb Road, and then back up Sabino Canyon Road to the Sabino Cycles store.
I had ridden around 36 miles by the time I arrived at the intersection of Cloud Road and Sabino Canyon Road, and I noticed a small group of four cyclists who were headed the same direction as me. They caught up with me at a stop light, when a woman from that group and I recognized each other from the larger group ride earlier that morning. She explained that they wanted to add more miles to their ride, and I replied that I was doing the same thing, so they invited me along. Their plan, however, was to ride along Sunrise Drive all the way to Swan Road, then turn south to River Road, then turn east to Sabino Canyon Road, and then back to the shop. This added considerably more miles than I had intended, but I decided to push myself and ride with their group.
The ride along Sabino Canyon Road to Sunrise Drive was fairly normal, but the ride along Sunrise Drive to Craycroft Road had some difficult hills that were no fun. The group was comprised of riders who were slightly above my riding level, but I managed to stay close to their pace. Sometimes I caught up to them at a stop light, and once or twice they pulled over to let me catch up. (Which was very nice of them, really, since I was just tagging along.) Oddly enough, my problem with keeping up with their group was not hill climbing; I seemed to do fine on that. Where they lost me was on the flats, where they were averaging 2 or 3 mph faster (which makes a big difference on a bicycle), and coasting downhill. My Fear of Mortality (as I like to call it) kicks in around 30 mph – I don't like to ride much faster than that. I will occasionally hit 31 or 32 mph, but I start to apply the brakes and slow myself down. That being said, the rest of the group seemed comfortable riding downhill at 34 to 35 mph, which made me very nervous.
As we pulled onto River Road, I had forgotten how much I hated riding a bicycle on that road because it's so worn and bumpy and has no bike lane. I had ridden the same route along River Road a few weeks earlier, and at the time I was riding my hybrid bike which has front shocks and wider tires to absorb jarring from the road. But I have no such luxuries on my road bike, so I felt every nook and cranny as we made our way eastward to Sabino Canyon Road.
Once we turned north onto Sabino Canyon Road, it was a short 1.5 miles or so back to the shop, where my GPS listed my distance at just over 50 miles.
All in all, it was a pretty good ride for the day.
Cycling Life Lessons:
I learned a new cycling term this weekend: "bonking." I had never heard of that in reference to cycling before, so I had to look it up. Bonking is a shorthand reference to Hitting a Wall; or more appropriately, completely running out of energy. In my specific case, I am taking on a few hundred calories before my rides, but I am not taking on enough calories during my rides to fuel my muscles adequately. As a result, I have arrived at a dangerous point during a few rides where I can feel that my physical systems do not have enough of what they need to keep performing in the way that I am pushing myself, which feels considerably different than normal muscle failure.
With muscle failure, your muscles physically cannot do what you are asking them to do. With bonking, it's like someone has pulled the plug on your body, and even though your mind and muscles are telling you that they can keep going, everything else is telling you that it can't. It's hard to explain, but I have felt that on a few different rides, and it's rather alarming when it hits you. Usually a pack of Gu is sufficient to turn that feeling around within 10 minutes or so, but I can do the math for the calories that I am consuming and expending during my rides, and it is becoming readily apparent that I need to be taking on more calories during my longer rides than I have in the past.
To paraphrase someone from a cycling shop a few months ago, I don't want to be the guy they find lying by the road one day because I didn't have sufficient sense to bring enough calories or water to ride safely.
- Primary Statistics: (note: I also include the statistics from my warm-up ride)
- Start Time: 7:05pm
- Distance: 50.5 miles (plus 2.4 miles)
- Duration: 3:08:18 (plus 9:07 minutes)
- Calories Burned: 1,733 kcal (plus 37 kcal)
- Altitude Gain: 1988 feet (plus 56 feet)
- Average Speed: 15.9 mph
- Peak Speed: 31.2 mph
- Average Cadence: 70.0 rpm
- Average: 55.6 F
- Minimum: 39.2 F
- Maximum: 73.4 F
- Heart Rate:
- Average: 153 bpm
- Maximum: 175 bpm