An average runner’s guide to group rides

If you missed it, check out “An average cyclist’s guide to group runs.”

If you’re an average runner, used to chatty group runs with your most intimate friends, you’re in for a rude awakening should you decide to pull your 1987 Huffy out of the garage and try a group ride with the local cycling club.

When you show up at the school parking lot chosen as the ride’s starting point, a cyclist or two may smile pleasantly enough as you lug your shiny red 40-pounder out of the back of your minivan. They might even say a kind word, in a nostalgic sort of way, about your vintage two-wheeler. Do not mistake the softness in their voice as friendliness toward you. The men and women surrounding you are ruthless killers! Never forget this!

At the designated departure time, as you lift your sneaker-covered right foot to push off, you will hear what sounds like a thousand opening switchblades at a gangland meet up. Your companions are attaching their feet to their pedals, arming themselves for war.

As you roll onto the battlefield you mistakenly call a street, all niceties will cease. Your attempts to converse will be met with stony silence. The thick-thighed demigod beside you is focused on one thing: the wheel of the bike directly ahead of him. He fears dropping too far off of it, losing the draft, expending too much energy before the real fight begins. Still your tongue! You will need the calories your jaw is burning soon enough.
As you pass out of the city, the pace will ratchet up a notch. If your breathing becomes ragged at this point, if your heart is slightly distressed, make your peace with God. The grim reaper is sharpening his scythe, waiting for you around the next bend. The girl three rows up in the line to your left is going to bury you. It’s only a matter of time.

Assuming you’re still with the main pack when you reach the night’s turn around, prepare yourself for the most painful experience of your adult life. The real hostilities are about to begin. Pay attention! Do not fall more than a few inches off the wheel in front of you. If it violently accelerates out of a turn, return violence with violence. Do not look over your shoulder to see if the guy in the Liquigas replica jersey behind you is coming with you. This is not a running group! If you glance back and lose contact with the group, Mr. Liquigas will curse as he blows past you in an attempt to reach the rear wheel you just abandoned.

You are alone now. The wind is against you. Your water bottles are drained. Darkness is falling as you ride forward, completely gassed. The word for what just happened to you? Dropped. A lonely word, isn’t it? A word brimming with agony, laced with despair, overflowing with shame and reproach.

The parking lot will be barren when you reach it, the flickering security lights illuminating but one vehicle: yours. There will be no one there to encourage you, no one around to tell you how brave you were or how tough. No friend will help you heft your red monstrosity into its place for the drive home.
As you slide behind the wheel, wincing at the pain shooting up your left leg, be very cautious. Do not smile. Do not shake your head in a rueful way and chuckle. Do not say to yourself, That wasn’t so bad. If you’re not careful, if your guard isn’t up, you could make the biggest mistake of your life. You could come back the next week for more of the same. You could become a cyclist.

About Mike N

Mike Neifert is an avid runner and cyclist who lives on the plains of Kansas. He works out mostly in the early morning hours before the sun comes up. He drags his wife and kids along on runs and rides whenever he can. He's run a 50K, but not a marathon. He wants to ride 200 miles in a day sometime soon and plans to run 100 miles in less than 24 hours in November 2012.
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