Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's it mean to be a ride leader - part 2

Why part 2? Well, because last night I wrote part 1. Therefore, tonight it is part 2. What's so special about tonight? Obviously you didn't read last night's blog ;). Tonight was my first opportunity to lead a large road ride. Last week, I had such a great time (and wrote about my experience) that I was asked to come back this week as a leader for the Country II (18-19 mph average pace) ride organized by the Greenville Spinners from the Donaldson Industrial Center. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect as ride leader, so tonight was definitely a big learning experience.

As Lori called the Country II group to the front, I actually became a little intimidated with the number of people lining up. As we rode out of the parking lot and made that right turn onto Perimeter road, I took a look back to see the size of our group. We started with a HUGE group!

As the group started down Perimeter road, I was working side by side with Jackie - a recent transplant to the Upstate with her new husband (Congrats!). She's a racer, and her husband works for Hincapie sports. We did our best to match the early pace that Dan set for us last week. Big thanks to her for pulling along with me. Taking it a little easy on the early part of the ride really helps establish the group dynamic and I think we end up with a much stronger overall group. This lesson I learned from last week's ride.

What other lessons were out there for me to learn. One of them is, as group leader, people really showed a high level of respect. So much in fact, that for a short time, I was afraid that I would be out in the wind the whole ride. I really think this is an honest expression of respect from the other riders allowing the ride leader to set the pace. Pretty humbling. Here I was (and who am I? I'm just a regular guy), leading this huge pack of riders - I didn't count, but I think we started with upwards of 60 riders. Many of them could probably step out there and blow me away (many of them did!), but they gave me a little gift tonight, and it is well appreciated.

However, the gift that meant more to me at that time was when Richard pulled up to the front and gave me a break on the pull. THANK YOU! We had started into a head wind, and my legs were feeling it already - we were only 5-6 miles into the ride at this point! The last thing I wanted to happen was to get dropped from 'my own' ride!! We started into some rotations with different folks taking their turn at the front of our twin pace lines.

I stayed near the front, and again, another gift from my fellow riders. A few times, I felt the pace was picking up a little too much, so I simply asked the leader(s) for a little break on the pace. There was no question at all, just a subtle adjustment of cadence resulting in a slight relaxation of the pace. Very cool.

Dan and I had exchanged a couple of emails regarding sprint zones. Early in the ride, we chatted about where and when, we tried to communicate to the group that we would do this - I hope folks got the message. It is a work in progress, so bear with us.

Our first sprint zone (Dan's suggestion) started after we turned on to Old Hundred road. The exact start and end points are not clear at all - I have to admit, we were pretty much winging it. Everyone was a good sport about it and I think we all had a great time pushing the pace for that (approx) 1.5 miles. I didn't get the name of the number 1 sprint winner, but he had a big smile on his face anyway. Lesson learned (thanks to Jackie for the tip) - I will take my handy paint can out and mark a start and end point for future rides. Also, I'll purchase a whistle (or something suitably loud) to signal the start of the sprint zone.

Thanks again to the group - everyone was really great about staying together. I mean, what's the point of a group ride if the group gets so spread out? Tonight, our large group stayed large for the entire ride. We soft pedaled after big intersections to give the group a chance, and we stopped at the end of each sprint zone for the re-group.

The next sprint zone was my suggestion. After crossing Reedy Fork Road and a short ride on McKelvey you make a left turn onto Holly Drive. Holly Drive is about 1.5 miles from the left turn through the twisty, rolling section and back up to Reedy Fork Road - This is my favorite part of the ride. Learning as we go, I tried to pick a definite start point but the end point was still vague (the stop sign). I held back a little to communicate to the riders further back in the peleton what was going on. I didn't see how the sprint ended up, but the folks up front were flying!

We re-grouped at the stop sign and continued our ride. At this point, my computer was showing an average pace varying between 18.7 and 18.8 mph. We had some really strong riders out there tonight, and some of them had done some big pulls. Some of those same people were still out front pulling. It was great to see others getting up front for the pull. Even though you can't really see the group behind, being out front is an incredible experience.

As we crossed Garrison and W. Georgia roads, Jeff (the lab rat), an adventure racing friend of mine really wanted to push the pace. He gave us a great pull leading us through that great farm land between W. Georgia and Blakely Ave. We turned on to Michelin Road still pulling the pace in the 18.8mph range. As we stopped to make the left onto Antioch Church Road, I turned around to see our group. I was awed to see our group was still very large - again, no counting, but we were definitely 40+ (?50?) strong.

I announced that we would have one last sprint - this one from the railroad tracks (on perimeter road) to the parking area. I asked for a soft pedal up to the railroad tracks before we set off. Before we even crossed the railroad tracks, I could see Jackie setting up for the sprint.

Crossing the tracks, it was like she had a rocket attached to her back! One guy stayed on her wheel, while I and a number of others worked to reel them in. As we passed the BBQ place, she and he dropped the pace a little. This gave an opportunity for some others to pull the group. I was with the leader (his name I do not know) as we bottomed out at the end of the airstrip. It was about here that the group came barreling down on us. I dropped completely off the pace as I watched the rest of the group pull for a strong finish.

The question remains; what does it really mean to be a ride leader? I don't have all the answers for sure, but I can tell you this: While we were stopped at the intersection of Michelin and Antioch Church Road, I thanked everyone for a great ride. I got MANY thanks from my fellow riders and even some applause! What a really great feeling!

And what is that feeling? That warmth of a blush coming to my face, the slight feeling of light-headedness as I looked across those 50ish faces shining with sweat. I can only determine it to be a true emotional bond with my fellow riders - most of whom I don't even know. We had spent the last hour and a half working together for a common goal - to arrive back at Donaldson Center intact. That feeling is the glory of our accomplishment. Well done Country II riders!


  1. Hey John,
    I was one of those 60+ riders in your group tonight. It was my second Donaldson Center ride and my forth group ride ever. It was a blast! I quickly glanced at my speedometer on our final sprint and we were nearing 30 MPH in a very tight group...pretty cool stuff!

    Thanks for your group lead and thanks for sharing your thoughts and enthusiasm.

    Hopefully next week will be more of the same weather and enjoyment.

  2. SOLD!! I am in for the next one. After my husband and I finished the C3 group last night (16.7 avg for this week compared to 18.3 avg last week) we are convinced that next week we are moving up for sure. Love the idea of the sprint zones. Anyone who steps up to be a ride leader gets my THANKS!!

  3. I was one of the happily sweating faces that was along for this, and it was a blast. Great route, solid pace and awesome communication to the riders. I'll definitely be back and might even do my share of the pulling next time. Thx, and, again, well done!

  4. Hey, thanks for the comments. I'm bummed I won't be able to ride next week, but I will be out there for the following weeks. Looking forward to riding with everyone!

  5. I thought being the lead rider meant you get to run interference with dogs for Susan! :)

  6. Of course! I knew I forgot something!! Running dog interference for Susan!


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