Two guys are hiking when the look up and see a bear charging towards them. One starts running away while the other immediately starts pulling off his hiking boots and putting on running shoes. His friend yells, "You can't outrun a bear!", to which he replies, "I don't have to outrun the bear . . . I just have to outrun YOU!"I'll wait a moment while you recompose yourself.
I went for a ride this Saturday that felt very similar to this joke. Let me explain in laborious detail. For many of the last weekends, I had a fairly broad period of time on each weekend day that I could ride, but the last couple I have had a narrow window in order to get in my miles and then get to a soccer game, meeting or family occasion. This weekend was one of those, so even though there were a few group rides already arranged, Rider 2 and I decided to head out at a different time. We invited anyone who wanted to go and only one other rider showed up. Last time, about 15 showed up, so either our time just didn't work or our ride was just less appealing. (I have suggested that Rider 2 be a bit more diligent about his personal bathing habits, so now maybe he will listen to me.)
Anyway, the three of us headed out towards Medical Lake and then along the Troika course back into town. Rider 2 estimated this total ride at about 65 miles, but neither of us have bike computers, so I can't verify the total distance, but the note-worthy point to this ride was that we managed to ride along with a tailwind for about 30-45 minutes and then with a head wind or strong cross-wind for the next 2 1/2 hours. I realize that you go faster with a tailwind (although I, like all cyclists, like to ignore the tailwind when it is occurring and instead focus on how fit and fast I am feeling that day), but the unfair ratio of time with the wind to time into the wind definitely took its toll.
The Troika course (a local triathlon for those unaware) travels from Medical Lake, where the swim takes place, to downtown Spokane, where the run takes place on the Centennial Trail (or at least it did 15 years ago when I did the bike leg for a team - since then I have tried to literally and metaphorically distance myself from triathletes, swimmers and runners). A significant portion of the road ride takes place functionally along one road that seems to cross the entire West Plains area and manages to be completely exposed for almost the entire length. Throw in a number of rollers and you have a recipe for a tough ride. On Saturday, we had sustained winds in the 20+ mph category, so there was no avoiding it. At one point I commented to my comrades that you know it is windy when you can't coast downhill into the wind; we had to pedal to keep up any momentum. Another time I was in the shelter of a 30 minute pull by Rider 2 when I commented that if it were only raining he would REALLY be enjoying the day.
So how, you are now asking, is this ride anything like the outrun-a-bear joke? Because I only had to be stronger than our third rider in order to be having a good day, right? The rider who came along, named for our purposes "R", had only ridden his bike 150 miles so far this season. He is obviously a strong rider and a fit guy, but it takes a certain amount of "insanity" or "cyclist" as it should sometimes be called, to answer the call of Rider 2, a known strong rider, to tag along for a ride that is 43.3% of your entire season's mileage (yes, I just did the math). This meant two things from the very start of the day; one - he was going to get tired and use up everything he had before the day was over; and two - we've all been there and there is no shame in it.
Personally having experienced the back of the pack, being dropped, being shattered, being the weakest guy, being the slowest guy, being the least fit guy, being the anchor (you get the idea), many times, I am deeply sympathetic when someone else is not having a good day or is having a good day, as R was, and then just getting to the bottom of the tank.
In a race, the goal is to keep up with the guy who is pushing the pace (or be the guy pushing the pace). As long as you are hanging with the group, you are still in the race. At some point the line is drawn not in the sand, but across the road, and you know who came in first and not first. In a group ride, there are more subtle indications of how you are doing, but the long and short of it is that if you are somewhere between the lead guy and the last guy, you are still "in" the group. The bigger the group, the easier it is to be "in" the group.
On Saturday's ride, I knew that I wasn't going to be in front of Rider 2, unless he had pneumonia and a fractured leg at least, and it didn't look hopeful as I saw R ride up, until I heard about the lack of mileage. At that point, I had a strong suspicion that as long as I didn't get too far behind on the hills, I would be okay the longer the day went on. In other words, I didn't have to outrun the bear, I just had to outrun R.