dropped from the paceline: a biking wake-up call

Ponquogue Bridge
photo: via http://hamptonsagent.blogspot.com/
A cyclist is dropped from the paceline during a club ride for the first time. In response, she evaluates her conditioning and plots a come-back.

Dropped. Left behind. So long. Ta-ta.

For the first time ever, I was dropped from the line during my regular Saturday morning group ride.

Sure, my ego was bruised;  I’m proud to pull my own weight. Worse though, was that riding didn’t offer its usual pop; it felt labored and slow. I found in this embarrassing experience a wake-up call and a reminder that, where conditioning is concerned, nothing should be taken for granted.

Here’s what happened: I’d been away from the group for two weekends, busy with summer entertaining. A familiar 55-mile route for Saturday sounded fine. However, about three-quarters of the way through the ride, I lagged on a ascent and that opened a gap. Facing a headwind and minus the benefit of a slipstream, I fell farther behind and ultimately finished by myself.

I tried again on Sunday. 35 minutes into the ride, shortly after a rotation, I knew I was in trouble again. I signaled a break, telling the guys that “I wasn’t feeling it” and would turn back.

“Happens to everyone,” said one.

“We all have days like that,” offered another.

And then, they were gone. Fair enough.

Was it just a couple of “off” days, or was it something more? Only one way to find out: My customary fitness barometer is a nearby bridge connecting the mainland to a barrier island. As goes the Ponquogue Bridge, so goes my conditioning. When I’m in shape, I barrel up the incline.

Sunday’s Ponquogue climb told me everything I needed to know. I had lost conditioning.

Even though I’d squeezed in a few rides during the intervening weekends, the mileage had been short and the pace relaxed. In Manhattan during the week, I’d been commuting locally. It wasn’t exactly the stuff to make a heart rate monitor go pitter-patter, but it could fool a person into thinking they were doing the work.  Also, along with summer entertaining came all kinds of indulgences. Forget blood doping; my best performance-enhancer last weekend probably would have been a degreaser to counter the effects of grilled steaks and slices of farm-stand pie with ice cream.

In short, the guys had been improving their conditioning by riding long and pushing themselves within the competitive hive of the group, while I had slid back. True in cycling — same in life.

So it’s time to return to the more disciplined spring training and nutrition programs that propelled me up some serious hills out West in early June and established the foundation for a promising summer cycling season.

‘Scuse me now, I’ve got to jog over to the gym for some climbing intervals on the trainer followed by a bunch of crunches to restore my core strength, and maybe an egg-white omelet stuffed with spinach for good measure. I’ll be back.

Reader: Have you been dropped? Please share your experiences and come-back tips.

Top: The Ponquogue Bridge in Westhampton Beach.

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