Most Olympic distance triathlon training plans peak with a 2 1/2 hour or 40-50 mile bike ride. Although we haven’t been following any type of training plan in preparation for the upcoming TriRock Olympic distance, we decided we should at least do a 40 mile ride before the race. Someone from the San Diego Tri Club just happened to organize a 40 mile group ride plus 3 mile run, starting and finishing at Pizza Port (my favorite San Diego pizza place) on the very day that we planned to conquer 40 miles and we decided to join them.
After taking a look at the route, I must say that I was a bit intimidated. Not only had I never ridden more than 24 miles in one session and never ridden in an organized group, I also didn’t have a lot of experience with hills and this course looked HILLY. Take a look at it here. Not only would we getting up to an elevation of 800 feet (nearly twice the height of Torrey Pines, the hill I consider a monster), there were miles and miles of rolling hills. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that the course is really never flat. The entire route has 1,500 feet of climbing and 1,500 feet of descending.
After having Mike ride the route in advance and emailing the ride organizer to make sure that us newbies would survive, I was confident enough to attempt the ride. We met the group of about 15 riders at 8 a.m. and set out on our adventure. The first few miles were rough for me. We were making our way through high traffic streets and had already hit one of the steepest hills of the entire ride. Already our group was at the back of the pack after having missed a few stop lights that others made. Once we got out of the main traffic we started winding our way through some hilly, windy roads and immediately I realized I was not going to be able to keep pace with most of the group. Not only was I painfully slow going up hills, the gap between myself and the group got even bigger on the downhills because I was too afraid to let go of my brakes and just let go. I started getting really discouraged at one point, but just kept reminding myself that I’d been on a bike for only 2 months now and these people obviously had more practice.
We ended up stopping for over five minutes just a few miles into the route to wait for someone who got a flat and I was able to give myself a little pep talk and regroup. Once we started back up again I made a conscious effort to ride harder down the downhills and also I got used to shifting. Prior to this ride, I’ve never had to shift into a higher or lower front gear. However, this ride required nearly constant gear shifting and lots of shifting into the lowest gear in front during very steep and long hills. I had to learn to “spin” up hills instead of powering up them like I was used to in the past.
I started getting the swing of things and before I knew it, we were stopping at a gas station to refuel and use the restroom. I was really enjoying the group ride so far and although now that we were inland and the temperature was in the high 80s, I was feeling good and not very fatigued. I was ready to keep going! The second half of the ride went much more smoothly than the first. There were less large hills and more downhills. At one point I let myself ride down a hill at over 30 mph which was exhilarating. I also had more practice on turning on the second half as the roads were a bit more windy and narrow. Toward the end of the ride, just as the coast was coming into view and a cool ocean breeze hit us, I was nearly hit by a truck that was making a left turn from the street and didn’t see me. Although there wasn’t anything I really did wrong or could have done, it scared me and I learned the lesson to never assume that just because you are in the right of way that a car will see you or stop for you.
Although I was relieved when the ride was over, I definitely think that I could have stayed on the bike even longer. I was also very pleased to find that despite the ride taking over 4 hours (with stops, etc), I wasn’t bored! When we first started riding I got a little worried that these long weekend rides were going to be dreadfully boring, but in actuality, there is so much to think about and look at that there isn’t much time to be bored. I’m sure this is aided by the fact that there were so many new things experiences occurring at once (group ride, winding roads, hills, shifting more, etc), but I was encouraged by the fact that the four hours was actually fun.
Once we racked our bikes on the back of Mike’s car and changed into running shorts, we set off for a quick 3 mile run down the coast. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a 9 min/mile pace wasn’t hard. The worst part was the heat – it was now past noon and VERY hot. After the run we changed out of our sweaty clothes and met up with the rest of the group at Pizza Port for a delicious pizza and beer lunch. A woman on the ride had just completed Ironman Couer D’Alene and some of the other riders were Ironmen and they were all more than happy to give us training and race day advice. I must say that I was pretty happy sitting on my bar stool eating my favorite pizza, drinking cold beer and knowing that I had just accomplished my first Ironman training ride with my favorite training buddies.