After an informal study, I’ve come to the conclusion that group bike rides or runs are a bit like Montessori school…
To those unfamiliar with Montessori, it’s a teaching style that utilizes a multi-age classroom setting, allowing for the older or more knowledgeable students to facilitate the learning of the younger, less knowledgeable students. Everyone learns at their own pace, using the methods best suited to their learning style (tactile, auditory, visual, etc). The classroom does have a Directress, and while she is a teacher, she is there merely as a guide. The students help one another learn. And, contrary to popular belief that chaos reigns, there is structure in a Montessori classroom. It is not a hubbub of noise, but rather a quiet murmur of voices actively engaged in learning.
There is a range of ages and abilities in any group ride or run. Same thing in a Montessori classroom. Like Montessori School, the more experienced riders help to teach the newer or less knowledgeable riders during group rides. The guide on a group ride is similar to the Montessori Directress. He/she helps lead the way, but doesn’t set the pace; that’s what the other riders are for. Everyone is moving forward to the same ultimate goal – self-improvement, and for some, a cold beverage and pizza afterwards. Some are fast and some are slow. Some are good on hills and lose stamina on flats, or visa versa. Some people grind the gears (and their knees), while others are pros at knowing when to shift, making it look smooth and effortless. There is always a hotdog or show-off. Some riders ride by feel, others rely on the data their bike computers provide. There are riders that can hear when they need to shift, and others use the grade of the hill to determine when to shift or how hard they are working. Visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning – we never really outgrow how we learn best.
FROM SOLO TO SOCIAL
When I first started doing triathlons, I trained alone. I swam alone, I ran alone and I biked alone. It’s hard to “swim” with others; talking underwater is a bit challenging as most of us discovered as kids. When my kids were still in strollers, I was in a moms club that got together to walk, but not run. My runs were short and only in my neighborhood. Occasionally, my husband and I would go for a bike ride together, but mostly I rode solo.
I still love to run solo, but I have always been very cautious when riding by myself. I was hit by a car as a pedestrian when I was twenty-one, so I’ve been careful around cars since then whether I’m on a bike or running. I know that on my bike, I’m extremely vulnerable not just to cars, but to dogs as well and the occasional wildlife that I may encounter. Being clipped onto a lightweight piece of carbon and traversing the same pieces of roads, as all manner of motor vehicle can be a bit disconcerting. When I’m running, I feel like I have more control over my destiny. It’s easier to get to my pepper spray if I need it, and I can easily hop the curb into the grass or over a fence. Not so on a road bike – one tends to fall over and can easily pop a tire.
Two tri seasons in, and while I was living in Miami, I was cycling down a quiet, somewhat country road when I was almost hit head-on by a large construction vehicle that was trying to pass a car. Despite my bright red helmet, clothes and bike, the driver narrowly missed me. I was unharmed, but ended up in the ditch, shaking so badly that I couldn’t even dial the phone to call my husband. That was it. From that day forward, I refused to ride outside while we lived in south Florida; I did all my rides on a trainer. Soon afterwards, we moved to Georgia. Thankfully, the roads were quieter with less traffic.
If I wanted to improve my cycling skills and improve my times on the bike, I knew that I needed to get back out on the road. I knew that I was slow, but I also knew that I could be faster and fitter. Joe suggested joining a group ride with the local bike store. He’d been going and thought they’d be good for me. I was sure I’d be the slowest person out there, that everyone would be mad at me for holding them up. I had a multitude of excuses. Finally, I agreed to go.
As luck would have it, I was just recovering from a wicked sinus infection. Being a strong-willed individual (translation: stubborn), I refused to get treatment for several weeks. It was only when I couldn’t breathe while brushing my teeth or eating that I sought help. I was weak, congested and nervous as all get out.
Joe had enlisted the help of two of his work buddies who were also triathletes, one of whom was a former Cat II cyclist, the other, an Ironman. Greeeaaat. My humiliation would be complete. The group was very small that day – all the fast kids had shown up for the beginner ride to do their recovery ride. I was the only girl, which meant that I had no one to commiserate with. Ugh.
I plucked up my courage and off we went. The boys all charged ahead as I slowly, gasping for breath, legs burning and whining in protest, brought up the rear. Joe’s buddies quickly realized that I was far below their caliber, but they were nice enough to hang back to let me catch up. As we started heading up the second hill, I suddenly felt a hand on my back. WTH? No man other than my husband put his hands on the small of my back, ever. “WHAT are you doing?” I managed to gasp out. “Helping you up this hill,” came the reply. “Oh. Okay,” I said, relieved to have some respite from the burning, screaming of my legs as I slogged my way up the hill.
Joe’s buddies, true to their word, watched out for me on that first group ride. They didn’t mock me for my snail’s pace or for being the only girl out there. Instead, they guided me, encouraged me, and shared tips that they, as way more experienced riders, already knew.
Being a stubborn sort of gal, I went back the next week and the next. I met my good friend and training buddy Stefanie at the very next group ride. She, like me, was a budding triathlete and was bringing up the rear on the hills. Over time, our cycling skills have improved. We rode harder and longer. Occasionally, we are now the fast kids (when the real fast kids don’t show up). The beginner ride has become our recovery ride. We have graduated from being the newbies on the group ride to helping to guide the newbies, imparting the knowledge that we have gained through the years.
The same holds true for being part of a team. Everyone comes to the team with a different skill-set and everyone has a different role within the team. Those roles that we naturally fell into while in preschool carry through to adulthood. Some of us are born teachers; some are naturally cheerleaders or nurturers. We learn from and support one another.
Teams, like group rides/runs, take on all different forms. Some are structured and participation is compulsory. Some teams — like our tri-group, the Crazy Joes — are very informal and have more of a social component. And others are even online, giving people the ability to belong, to gain experience, to impart their own knowledge in a virtual forum if distance or a time difference makes it difficult to belong to a more traditional team.
Is being a part of a group or team for everyone? No. Is there some value in being even loosely associated with some kind of group or team? I think so. It gives us accountability, encouragement and knowledge that we might be missing otherwise in our training or fitness plans. Plus, I think it makes life more fun, varied and interesting. Group rides/runs and teams help to make us more well rounded athletes and people.
Many thanks to Team Athleta for selecting me as a 2012 Sponsored Athlete. I have enjoyed being part of such a varied and dynamic team that helps foster the athletic endeavors of not just world-class female athletes, but the “woman next door” athletes. I have been thrilled to be able to share my “knowledge” and to learn a thing or two. I have been able to provide encouragement to so many others and been encouraged in turn. Go, Team Athleta! Power to the She!!!
GEN MATCHETTE has always been active, participating in a multitude of sports from running to gymnastics and soccer as a child, to yoga, aerobics and kickboxing as an adult. At the urging of a friend, she competed in her first sprint triathlon shortly before her thirty-seventh birthday, at a time when her youngest child was not yet out of diapers... more »