When I was a brand new cyclist, I didn’t dare show up to a ride if I thought there was a chance I’d get dropped. I thought that getting dropped meant I was failing, and since I have perfectionist tendencies that simply was not acceptable. Now, I embrace getting dropped. Here’s why.
Regardless of my current fitness level, I want to get better, faster, and more skilled as a cyclist. This summer brought major setbacks with spinal fusion surgery, but I’m trying to focus on regaining fitness and not wallowing in my slowness. I’ve started attending a weekly group ride again in the area. It is an aggressive gravel ride that goes well past sundown that often works in some singletrack, urban assault, riding through ditches, and general displays of testosterone. I call it “the man ride”, but I’m not sure the boys would appreciate the moniker. 😉
I went to “the man ride” for the first time a few weeks ago. My boyfriend and I rode from our house to the start of the ride, taking it easy on the way over. It was my first day riding the new Felt and I showed up on the bike without it even having bar tape! A few of the guys gave me odd looks when they realized the lack of bar tape, a few gawked at my “really fast tires” since I’m running 28 mm slicks right now, and also asked cute questions like “have you ever ridden gravel before?” I stopped myself from explaining my gravel pedigree and just assured them that I was not new to the scene. In my head I ran through a thousand sarcastic responses, wanting to ask them how far they’d ever ridden on gravel in a day, or if they’d ever embarked on gravel multi-day touring, or how many gravel bikes they owned right now, but I bit my tongue.
Before the ride started I announced that I “am here to get dropped”, and under no circumstances should anyone wait or worry about me when I disappeared. I feel like it’s common courtesy to tell other cyclists what your plans are when you know for sure you can’t hang with the pack. A few of the slower gentlemen assured me that they were going to get dropped too and we could ride together, and I said no, I NEED to get dropped. I explained that I was 3 months out from spinal fusion and I was only allowed to “ride hard” for so many minutes before I had to dial it down to a leisurely pace. They nodded and welcomed me to ride with them for as long as I was able.
The ride starts out with some urban assault (riding up steep grass hills near the local high school) and singletrack (there’s a random path through the woods that someone has created, rutted and bumpy). I walked sections of both but managed to get reattached. Shortly thereafter, the pack hit the gravel and ratcheted up the pace. I was permanently and irrevocably dropped and HAPPY about it. I had seen my highest heart rate on an outdoor ride since surgery. I had to work hard on my bike handling skills to ride as much of the off camber stuff as possible. I pushed past my comfort level drafting close to others at fast speeds on rutted gravel. (My proprioception is still messed up after surgery, but it’s coming back.)
I have gone back to this ride 2 more times as my schedule and body allows, and I love it. Each week I try to ride a little farther with the group and plan a point in advance where I’m going to peel off and head home. This keeps me within my mileage / minutes of riding limitations and gives me the best chance of keeping my spine and nerve issues happy. I hit high heart rates, higher than I can push on my indoor trainer, my core gets a workout keeping me upright, and I see beautiful sights as we ride past sunset. Last week my leg went very, very numb on the way home so I’m a little terrified to try again this week, but I want to. I think a last minute emergency work trip and plane travel is the main cause of the nerve issues, and I’m antsy to test out that hypothesis.
I encourage you to go to a ride where you’ll probably get dropped. You’ll push yourself and find new limits — whether they be mental, muscular, cardiovascular, or something else. I’ve surprised myself at what I’m actually capable of when I push to find my breaking point and I think you will too.