This past Saturday saw another local bike shop sponsoring a group training ride for those riding the Jacksonville, FL Tour de Cure this year. They offered routes of 25 and 52 miles along with burgers and hotdogs after the ride. Little did I know that I would produce one of the best rides of my life on Saturday.

Earlier in the week I had decided to try the 52 mile route. The training plan called for a 35 mile ride and the 25 mile route option was just too short (and not fast enough). After discussing it with Darryl we agreed that attempting the longer route would be good so that’s what I committed to. The only thing I didn’t know was what pace it would be ridden at. In discussing my fueling plan with Kelli I calculated my time on the bike based on a 16 mph pace. Boy would I be in for a surprise.

I arrived at the bike shop at around 7 AM along with about 70 other riders. I did see two people from the shop ride the previous Saturday so it was nice to be able to talk to them. Eventually the announcements started and they identified the ride leaders depending on the route you would be riding. They also included the expected pace. The 52 mile route was to be ridden at a 19-20 mph pace. I was now officially worried. My best pace so far as 16.7 mph over 24 miles in the last TdC group training ride a few weeks earlier. Oh boy.

We started the ride at about 7:30 and the weather was a perfect with temps in the mid 50s, no clouds, and little to wind. You couldn’t ask for a better morning to ride. Things were a little dicey at the start as groups were sorted out, teams got together, and so on. I kept myself in the front half of the group so I didn’t miss the split between the two routes and so I didn’t get spit off the back. The pace up to the point where the routes split averaged anywhere from 16-19 just because of stop lights and everyone being bunched up together. After the split it was on.

I guess there were about 30-40 of us that rode the 52 mile route which made for a pretty big group. Again, I kept myself in the front half of the group as best I could. It was a little nerve racking being in a big group like that. I got used to it after a while and was able to relax some.

During the first 35 miles our speed varied anywhere from 18-23 mph depending on wind, road elevation changes (it’s mostly flat), and turns. I felt very comfortable maintaining that pace but was surprised we didn’t take our first rest stop until mile 35. I thought we might stop earlier than that but was prepared with my clif bars and gels so fueling wasn’t a problem.

I followed the same fueling plan, both pre and during the ride, as the previous Saturday and I felt it worked good again. I did make a mess of my first gel at the 1.5 hour point and had a nice sticky spot on my right shin. Hopefully nobody noticed how much of a total noob I was. Strangely, I only saw one other person taking fuel on the bike and she also shot a gel. In fact, when she tore the top off with her teeth and spit it out it hit me in the leg. She apologized but I told her it was no big deal. At least she hadn’t spit or blown her nose.

Like I said, we stopped at mile 35 for a quick rest. It felt good to stretch and I was able to refill my water bottles and drop another tablet of nuun in each. Little did I know the hardest part of the ride was yet to come.

We took off from the rest stop innocently enough. I was again near the front but after about five miles I noticed that we were going a little faster with the pace around 22 or 23 mph. Some splits started to develope and I was grouped with a couple of other riders about 200 yards behind the lead group. The next eight miles were awesome.

I pulled our small group the majority of those eight miles at speeds anywhere between 23 and 25 mph trying to catch the lead group. We came close a couple of times. After a while I couldn’t pull anymore and had to slow up some. It could have been the drool coming out of my mouth that told me to ease up. Another guy took over but he faded coming over a bridge and I was basically by myself for the last few miles trying to catch three riders up ahead of me. I never caught them but did ride the last mile with a guy from the shop (he was waiting on the side of the road to make sure everyone made the correct turn) and we were able to talk some on the way back. I don’t know if he was just being nice but he had good things to say about my riding and being able to maintain that pace for that distance. However he meant it, I took it as a compliment.

We returned to the shop and I checked my computer. I had just ridden 52.44 miles in 2h:46m at a 19.0 mph pace. Easily my best ride ever. I think it was even better than when I had ridden 20 years ago. I was shocked. I knew I had ridden hard but I had not expected to be able to ride the entire route at that pace. Don’t get me wrong, I know riding with the group helped but I basically soloed that last 8 miles. And the last 5 miles were brutal as I was spent.

After having had a day to think back on that ride, I still get kinda excited about it. I’ve got a long way to go in my weight loss but being able to turn out a ride like that has been a huge confidence boost. I remember back in January having a hard time trying to ride at a 14 mph pace for 10 miles. The last couple of months I’ve put in some good, dedicated training with Darryl and kelli’s help and it’s paying off.

Enough basking in the glory though. This morning was back to the training plan and a nice, easy 10 mile spin. I already know my plans for next Saturday. After the ride on Saturday, I spoke with a couple of the regular shop riders about their faster Saturday morning ride. They said it averages 23-25 mph and they do some sprints up to 30 mph. That has me worried, but like they said, I won’t get faster unless I’m out there doing it. I may get dropped but that’s OK. I’ll just hang with them as long as I can and see what happens.

PhotoC: gordonr