Tuesday night training race at Meridian

14 Sep

I look forward to this ride all day, right until about 10 minutes in.  I then start to wonder what business do I have riding here, and will the ride ever get any easier?

I may have mentioned Meridian before, which is a business park off of Lincoln Ave. at the far southern end of the Denver Tech Center (and what feels like halfway to Castle Rock).  Every Tuesday and Thursday evening during daylight savings time, a bunch of riders show up between 5:30 and 6 to ride for an hour after work.  The roadway circling Meridian has four lanes, allowing for riders to go around three to four wide in one lane while cars buzz by in the other lane, leaving the business park to head home.  The course profile gains about 40 feet in elevation over two gradual hills.  The hills don’t feel too strenuous on just a quick ride around the circuit.

At about 5:58 (I found this out the hard way), everyone rolls out for a warmup lap.  Riders converse, talking about their latest bike, their kids’ activities, and how the dwindling daylight is making it harder to get out and ride.  I enjoy listening in, and find it interesting how all these riders, who look like far more serious in their racing kits rolling along on really expensive wheels, lead such normal-sounding lives.  I would like to think I’m in the presence of greatness, riding along with Denver’s elite riders.  Just this afternoon I saw a guy riding near the front wearing a full Garmin-Cervelo kit, and could only wonder if he’s an actual pro, or just a big fan.

As the group completes the first lap, we descend down a long, gradual hill topping out, depending on wind, between 35-40 mph.  All the chatter ceases, and everyone gets down to business.  I enjoy the fast start, only to suddenly realize I’m huffing and puffing my way up a long gradual incline, which didn’t even seem like a hill during the warmup.  Strange how that happens.  I have enough in me to hang on to the back of the group, making it up the next hill too.  After we hit the base of the final hill, a wind that’s brining in a cold front suddenly blasts us head on.  To think the warmup was perfectly still only a few minutes before!  And with this, I get dumped off the back as the group forges ahead over the top and back into that 35-40 range down the hill.  While I can go that fast with the group, I can only muster around 30-32 on my own.  This is where I realize how much drafting matters as I watch the distance grow between the peloton (the group of riders) and I.

I have ridden at this informal race on and off since July, and my results have usually stayed the same:  work really hard to stay with the group for a lap or so, and then watch helplessly as the group rides away.  The really great part about this ride is that riders can ride to the top of the final hill and rejoin the group as they come around the next time.  Since the course is long enough, I don’t have to ride too hard to stay ahead of the group by a few minutes.  Usually I’ll catch my breath, ride back to the top, and sit patiently with anywhere from two to eight other riders for the leaders to come back around.  Then the process starts all over again, always with the same results.

So who wins the race?  I have no idea.  I have yet to see an official finish.  By 45-50 minutes in, I’m totally fried, and that’s just to hang on for half a lap every other lap for only 3/4 of the race.  I assume that the first person to finish after 7 PM wins, but not completely sure.  A number of riders will usually hop in for a few laps, then pack up and go, so I’m certainly not alone in cutting out early.  I go through my cool down lap on my own, then pack up, chug some sports drink, and change out of my cycling shoes.  From my spot in the parking lot by the top of the last hill, I’ll see the leaders charge up over the top, going even faster than they were before when I was with the group.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I always have second thoughts once I’m riding there.  However, by the time I finish, I feel so worn out, I must have done something significant, right?  I like to think that I’m riding with Denver’s best, so I don’t feel bad about getting smoked.  However I know from conversations and personal interactions that’s not the case.  While I cool off, I realize that I just had a lot of fun riding 17 or 18 miles in around 45 minutes, which is faster than I’ve ever rode, well, pretty much ever.

In a way, the Meridian race is kind of like the movie Fight Club, except it’s a group of riders that quietly get together and see what they’re made of.  While nobody else in the general population probably cares, I like to think by riding at Meridian, I’m part of a secret group with a special handshake.  We all go about our daily business, and then get together to suffer once or twice a week.  Suddenly, I don’t really care that I’m not riding with pros (though I actually don’t know that for sure…), because on each ride I’m finding out something about myself – I keep coming back for more punishment and schooling, and that I actually enjoy it.  My doubting self from 40 or so minutes ago has disappeared.  I may never win at Meridian, but as long as I feel this way after each ride, who cares?


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