Training: How to do something nice and improve your workout at the same time

By Chris Carmichael

Sometimes a great ride is all it takes to make you feel like you’re on top of the world.

A few weeks ago I headed out for a long Saturday ride by myself, north through the Air Force Academy, on to Monument, then maybe to Palmer Lake, Colorado. The round trip was going to be about 60 miles, with the first half being predominantly uphill and the second half obviously downhill. I chose the route based on the impending wind; there was a cold front due to come in from the north later in the afternoon, so I started off into the headwind so at least I could enjoy a tailwind on the way home.

A few miles north of the Air Force Academy, I spotted a cyclist in the distance ahead of me. I didn’t increase my effort, but slowly gained on him anyway, and within a few miles we pulled up to a traffic light together. I made some benign comment about the weather, and he said he was going to Monument if I wanted to join him. Sure, why not. Going there myself.

We traded pulls a few times, and then I happened to be on the front when we hit a particularly narrow and busy section of road. Figuring it was easier to just keep pulling than deal with the duellies and horse trailers, I just kept the pace steady. When the traffic thinned, my new riding partner pulled up alongside me and said, “You go on ahead, I can’t take any more pulls.”

“No problem,” I told him, “can you stay in the draft at this pace?”

“Yeah.” he replied, “It’s harder than I normally go, but I can stay on your wheel. I just can’t pull through.”

“That’s OK, I’m going to go this pace whether you’re on my wheel or not, so if it’s going to be a good workout for you, then we both win. Just speak up if the pace gets too high, and I’ll back off for a bit.”

And so we rode, until I pulled into a parking lot in Palmer Lake that normally serves as my turnaround point.

“My goal is to ride the 70 miles up to my parents’ place later this spring, so I’m shooting for 60 miles today,” my drafter commented. “I’m at 21 now.”

Now here’s where I surprised myself. I was at my planned turnaround point, I’d ridden well to get there, and my wife was expecting me home in about 90 minutes. It was time to wish him well and turn around. “Well,” I told him, “Larkspur is about seven miles up the road. I guess we could ride out to the store up there and back. That would give you the miles you’re looking for.”

WE? What was I talking about? There’s no we, there was me on my way home and him grinding his way through a headwind all the way to Larkspur! The next thing I knew I was plowing across the windswept plain north of Palmer Lake with a very appreciative guy named Dan glued to my rear wheel. And it felt strangely good.

All told, I rode with Dan on my wheel for about 40 miles, and it was one of the best training days I’ve had in years. Far from being an anchor, Dan’s presence actually improved my average power output compared to recent rides over the same roads. I maintained a steadier effort level and pace, and I focused more on the ride instead of letting my mind wander. Plus, I wouldn’t have pushed on to Larkspur by myself, but because I towed him out I ended up riding a bit more than 75 miles in a little under 4 hours. Overall, I left the house feeling pretty blah, and returned feeling confident and inspired for the next few weeks of training. 

So, why should any of this matter to you? Well, throughout the country, cyclists have a bad habit of chasing, catching, and dropping riders they see ahead of them on the road. You do it because it feels good to be faster than someone else and secretly you hope they say “Wow, he’s really fast” as you ride away. But if you want to do something positive for your fitness and help a slower rider get faster at the same time, give him a chance to sit on your wheel for a while… a long while. The effort will be good for your training (and your ego), your drafter will get a great workout, and you’ll both walk away feeling like you had a better ride than if you’d been alone. Everybody wins. 


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