It turns out the cure for my burnout wasn’t to take a vacation or to challenge myself with another sport. I just needed to get my ass kicked. I’d been sitting around for two weeks resting a sore calf and hamstring and feeling dreadfully slow and sorry for myself. My season’s over, I reasoned, and I didn’t even want to imagine the pain Gran Fondo NJ would bring in two short weeks. It’s funny how you spend months on the trainer and the road plugging away day after day. Then a low period strikes and it’s hard to resist the urge to pull the plug on the entire season.
I hadn’t done a serious group ride in a while and group rides had been a staple of last season. It’s been tough to find rides since we moved here that are challenging and safe (but not blow-your-doors off testosterone fests) and to find other riders who are equally comfortable in a paceline. I had given up, resorting to riding in small groups or alone and still mourning the cycling club I’d left behind with the move.
I hadn’t planned on throwing myself in the mix with a bunch of racers this week, but somehow 10 minutes before the ride started, I ended up in the bike shop parking lot. Fortunately there was no time to stand around and let pre-ride jitters take over. No time for sizing the others up or forming expectations. As we rolled out I even gave myself a pass: “If I get dropped, I get dropped. I’m sure my form is way off.”
A good group ride leaves no time to ponder getting dropped. There is no space for the mind to wander amongst a tight, rotating double paceline. There’s no admiring the sunset or watching cows plod across the fields. Senses are sharp and vigilant. Everything is illuminated.
After a season of casual, easy social rides, countless junk miles and grinding through Strava’s Rapha Rising Challenge (where I climbed over 22,000 feet in one week), I was hungry for something new, yet familiar. I had to go back to the basics, replace the one thing that was missing all along. Through every acceleration, I clung to the wheel in front of me, refusing to get shot off the back. I hung on and wouldn’t let go.