For years I have enjoyed riding with a bunch of guys on Saturday mornings. In June 2004 - my last ride before spending the summer in England - I wasn't sure I'd ever really be able to really keep up. They were kind to include me, and Jim in particular made sure that I was not dropped; and at the same time he "coached" me along with some riding tips. I didn't see the group again until spring 2005.
At the end of that season, I was starting to feel that maybe it was the machine that was holding me back. Everyone else was on a true road bike, while I was pushing my sweet steel Trek 520 touring bike. A great bike, perfect for what it is, but hardly competitive with the carbon wonders the other guys ride. That fall my Karen signed me up for the first ever offering of ABD's Boot Camp - it was my 50th birthday present.
So in the spring of 2006 I was in much better condition, and really enjoying riding. Friend Tom loaned me a set of racing wheels with narrow tires (700x23 compared to the 28's I run on the Trek); that helped quite a bit. I did my first Randonneuring 200k ride. I did the distance on Saturdays and even started to take my turn at the head of the line. But the matter of the machine still plagued me. When that fall's Prairie Path sale came around, my Karen bought me the road bike I now currently ride most, the Lemond Alpe d'Huez. Sweet.
I never thought I'd own two good bikes. What an extravagance!
Spring 2007 - after another Boot Camp winter, I hit the road and find ... asthma! Weird. Adult-onset asthma, which took a few weeks to diagnose, and about a month to get in control. That took me out of the 2007 randonneuring event. But by May I was back at Saturday rides and recovering from a slow start to the road season.
By the end of the 2008 season, I was beginning to lag. My last Saturday rides were poor showings, and I realized (a) I wasn't paying enough attention to nutrition, and (b) some weeks I only rode on Saturdays, so my base miles weren't sufficient. In other words, I couldn't keep up on Saturdays because I wasn't riding enough the rest of the week.
I've come off another Boot Camp season, and even did an indoor time trial at the end of the season. The training tire came off, spring refused to come truly and conclusively, Easter loomed (church music, and the church year, is my job), and by the time we started riding Saturday mornings, I had lost whatever stamina the Boot Camp had built up. In short, I felt like I was riding in 2004 again. Bummer.
I've already whined about being dropped a month ago. Two weeks ago I went out again, and this time the guys really did try to keep me going. But it was pretty pathetic. I would lag behind on the smallest hills, fail to keep up when the pace got going (even there were no real sprints), and my legs felt like sandbags. This wasn't good, and wasn't going to get better. So I finally just told the guys to go ahead and I "limped" home. Disappointing.
And on the way it occurred to me ... These guys are out of my league. That is a bummer conclusion, because I have enjoyed the riding, the camaraderie, and the challenge. Saturday mornings are when I've learned to ride in a group, and this group began to build some of my general road skills. I've got to the point where I hardly enjoy cycling alone ... and until 2005, practially all of my annual miles were solo.
So now my strategy is to ride alone and re-build my base miles. I have to get in at least 100 miles a week to just stay viable anyway, and probably need that many miles not counting Saturday in order to qualify for this group. I don't know if I'll get out this week, but I do know that if I can't keep up on my next Saturday morning group ride, I am going to have to reconsider how to keep up this sport.