I decided to do an organized ride to get an idea of where I am in my training. It’s also a good chance to practice group riding and dealing with rest stops. The Katy Flatland ride seemed like a good event because it’s well organized, has a reasonably large number of participants (about 2,500). Also, the course really is flat. Total elevation gain over the 62 mile course is less than 300 feet. Contrast that to my last 50-mile ride, where I climbed 1,700 feet. I wanted a flat course for this test.
The Katy ride has an open start. That is, riders can start any time after 6:30 AM. There’s no grand start as there is in most other events. I rode up from the hotel (about a mile away), and arrived about 15 minutes early. A large group of riders was already there, and we started off right at 6:30 AM.
It was cool for the Houston area, about 75 degrees, cloudy, and almost no wind. The first mile of the ride is down a narrow two-lane road. With so many riders packed into a narrow space, it’s best to just stay with the pack, patiently passing slower riders until the road widens. After about two miles, the pack had thinned out and we were moving right along. It was still crowded, but not dangerously so.
I was prepared to do the entire ride “by myself.” That is, I wasn’t planning on joining a paceline or teaming up with any other riders to share drafting. I don’t have anything against drafting. It’s just that I’ve had some bad experiences with following other riders who do stupid things. Still, the benefits of riding in a group are difficult to ignore. In particular, you can save a lot of energy by drafting.
I was cranking along at about 78% of my max heart rate and caught up with a large group. I sat at the back to rest a bit and open a package of food. After scarfing some quick energy and washing it down with a couple large swallows of water, I looked down at my heart rate monitor. It read 72%. I was going perhaps .2 MPH slower than what I had been doing at 78%, but was using far less energy in doing so. I decided to stay with the pack a while.
These groups are constantly changing during the rides. Others like me will catch up, or people we pass will latch on. And riders are always dropping off the back, realizing that even with the benefits of drafting they’re burning too much energy. I’ve done it plenty of times in the past. When I saw this group splitting–the faster riders pulling away–I accelerated to keep with them. After a while there was a group of five or six of us (including one tandem), each taking about a 3-minute turn at the front before dropping to the back and working our way up. We stayed together for perhaps 10 miles until the 27 mile rest stop.
I left that rest stop with one other rider who had been with me in the larger group. Unfortunately, he was doing the 44 mile route, and headed the other way at about mile 30. From then until the rest stop at mile 49, I was on my own.
I actually like riding by myself but after an hour and a half of group riding, being alone is something of a shock. And it’s a lot more work, too. This stretch also had some of the worst roads on the whole course. But the routine is the same: pedal, watch the heart rate, drink and eat on schedule, watch the scenery, do a little on-the-bike stretching when things get stiff. Oh, and keep an eye out for direction signs. It’s very easy to miss a turn on one of these rides and end up out in the weeds somewhere.
This was the worst part of the ride for me. The only other people I saw were two girls at about mile 32, directing me to make a right turn, a few Boy Scouts at the 37-mile rest stop (I didn’t stop), and a single other rider on a recumbant bicycle. He was far ahead of me when I first spotted him, but I was steadily gaining on him. When we turned into the wind at mile 41, he wasn’t more than a hundred yards in front of me. I don’t know if he started feeling better or I started feeling worse, but as soon as we turned into the wind he started pulling away. Perhaps the reduced wind resistance of the recumbant made the difference.
That eight miles was the worst part of the ride for me. The road was almost perfectly flat there, and I was cranking along at 17 or 18 MPH, but at a really high heart rate. My legs were sore and my left foot kept going numb. And the wind, light as it was (less than 10 MPH), was dispiriting. The rider I had been following was out of sight and I was truly alone for the first time in the ride. I started to get concerned after a while, thinking that I had missed a turn sign. I knew that there was a right turn before the 49 mile rest stop, but didn’t know just how far before. It would have been nice to see a few “keep going” signs posted on that road. That half hour of the ride was lonely.
I stopped at 49 miles to fill my water bottles and stretch a moment, and I was back on the road. Only 13 miles to go. A couple miles out, I joined up with another rider and we started trading off pulls again. Once more, we were sharing the road with riders doing the shorter distances. Those riders are slower, which doesn’t really present a problem, but they’re also less familiar with the rules. They tend to ride in the middle of the road, weave a lot, and not pay attention to the possibility of others coming up behind them. So lots of calls of “on your left” preceded our zipping by as we made our way to the finish.
Unlike many rides I’ve done, I finished this one strong. I had plenty of energy left when I crossed the line. It was, I thought, one of my better rides.
I’m happy with my performance. I covered 61.2 miles in 3:18:56, giving me an average speed of 18.5 MPH. I spent a total of 10 minutes at the two rest stops. My moving average speed was 19.5 MPH. Average heart rate for the entire ride was 155 beats per minute, or 75% of my max.
More interesting to me is the difference between the first and second halves of the ride. I did the first half of the ride (mostly with a group) at an average speed of 19.4 MPH (moving average 20.4 MPH), and an average heart rate of 73%. The second half of the ride, most of which was by myself, I covered at 17.6 MPH (18.6 MPH moving average), and an average heart rate of 77%. It definitely pays to stay with a group!
Overall, I think it was a great ride. I have a few things I need to work on, and I know that the Waco course isn’t anywhere near this flat. But then, I have two more months of training before that ride.