Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why and When to Ride Alone

After a brutal Saturday ride of 96 miles with three strenuous climbs, all in the still-new heat and persistent wind, I did something this morning I rarely do--I rode alone, a casual 30+ miles at the pace I wanted.

Over the nearly three decades I have been cycling seriously, I have been run over twice and on a group ride that suffered a traumatic accident with a car that left a good friend badly injured. Although only once in these rare but unsettling events have I been riding alone, I still simply feel uncomfortable on the road alone--and I genuinely enjoy riding with groups.

I have blogged here often about the value in riding with groups and the need to develop group riding skills to be prepared for a successful Assault, but I have to admit that riding alone has some important benefits.

The greatest value to riding alone is to recover--what most people call active recovery that comes from riding at a reduced effort that allows the body to cleanse itself of the toxins that accumulate in the muscles and bloodstream from rigorous exercise.

Recovery rides are nearly impossible with other riders, even riding with only one friend. The key to recovery includes knowing your heart rate zones (or power zones) and having the necessary equipment to monitor your effort. Recovery rides are going to be very slow, especially on the rollers and hills. (HR zone calculator)

The best recovery routes are as flat as possible, and during windy seasons, consider routes with some tree coverage to block the wind.

Since everyone is different, I can't identify what heart rate, speed, or power output you should follow, but I can warn you that recovery rides take as much discipline as structured training workouts.

I was really tired and sore this morning when I decided to ride alone, but once on the road, the old "well, I don't feel that bad" crept into my mind. . .so I had to reign myself in. I decided to think about what to write in this blog and brainstormed an article on market forces and education reform. The ride was for recovery, and I needed as much rest for my cycling brain as I did my body (the Saturday ride was very psychologically taxing with the climbs and the focus I needed to maintain my attitude and effort while several of my friends rode away from me on all three climbs).

I also took my time before the ride to go through my stretching routine that I have been dedicated to nightly for almost a year and a half now. I was so tired last night, I skipped it, and told myself that I needed to add a stretching session this morning before the ride and then make sure I stretch carefully again tonight.

Other than recovery, another key reason to ride alone is for your structured training--your intense rides with detailed goals based on your ability and your goals.

It is truly just as hard to do a serious training ride with a group as it is to do true recovery with a group. Just as you need to designate and even occasionally add a recovery solo ride to your usual group rides, you need to target key solo training rides that allow you to focus on periods of intense effort or climb intervals (or even those fun hill jams our pal Verdell recommends).

One way to fit solo training sessions into your usual group rides is to arrange a few times to do your session just before a group ride (a top rider who rode in our area for a while used to do interval work before our hard attack-zone "Cancun" rides on Thursday; since he was an elite rider, putting his solo work ahead of an intense club-level ride allowed him to ride with weaker riders and still get a really hard night of training).

A final point about recovery and intense training: While you need to balance your solo and group rides, throughout you must monitor your eating and hydration. No matter how hard or well you train, ignoring proper nutrition and hydration will assure you do not reach the goals you want.


Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

twitter: @plthomasEdD

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