A few weeks ago, I signed up to attend my first Meetup event that I did not organize (in a running group). It was definitely a strange experience for me, and I had many thoughts cross my mind that I’m sure more than a few of you have shared. “What is this going to be like? Will it be too fast? Will everyone know everyone else? Will they be nice? Will I like it? Will they like me?”
Or maybe the rest of you aren’t as anxious as me.
It turned out to be just fine. Actually, more than fine – it was very enjoyable, I made new friends, I got a good run in. I took a gamble on the group, and it paid off. I can tell you one thing that should’ve been obvious to me when I was feeling nervous about going – people don’t usually start free Meetup groups if they aren’t looking to be friendly and welcoming – that just wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine, “Here’s my exclusive group that’s free that you’re invited to, but I don’t really want you to come.” I mean, sure, sometimes things don’t make sense but that would be sort of bordering on crazy town.
So after a few poignant experiences on group rides over the weekend, I figured it might be a good time to give a little glimpse into our group, especially as it stands post-integration with the Swami’s club. We’ve grown, we’ve changed – but I’d venture to say it’s all been for the better.
So here’s a little rundown of what a Saturday Swami’s Team Fun Ride might be like circa December 2015.
(1) Arrival – beware the swagger
One of my concerns about joining the Swami’s club was that it would be a little intimidating for us all to have to gather at the start of the ride with everyone else – meaning the vast hoards of talented riders that show up on a Saturday morning for the “World Famous Swami’s Saturday Ride”. Most of the swagger is simply physical – how they stand in their kits that match their bikes that match their water bottles that presumably may even match color coded contacts popped in for the day. There’s also a cool “I’m better than the rest of you cycling stance” that I’m sure I’ll never foster. Sometimes you overhear really precious statements like I did last Saturday while in line for the bathroom. Well, I mean, they specifically intend for you to hear it, so I’m not sure it’s overhearing as much as hearing.
“Yeah, I got a great workout in this morning, and I’m just looking to cool down on the A ride.” – anonymous
So, the “A ride” is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, group ride around North County on a Saturday morning. There are sometimes active pro cyclists, former pro cyclists, wanna be pro cyclists, pro triathletes, former Olympians… you get the picture. So to say you are going to use the ride to “cool down” is probably the height of arrogance.
But don’t worry, like I said before, I pretty much am inherently incapable of exhibiting swagger, as are most of us, I would say (and if I ever do exhibit such hubris, someone should let me know). Look for those without the practiced stance – we generally congregate toward the south end of the group and do things like talk to each other.
On the other hand, many of those fast, tough looking cyclists can turn out to be pretty cool people. So … let’s not judge a book by its cover. And also, it can be pretty exciting to be in such illustrious company!
(2) Confessional – or, what people say when the ride’s about to start
This is classic, and really, it doesn’t matter what level you are at. You will 100% hear what sounds like people seeking forgiveness for their cycling sins, “It’s been two weeks since I’ve been on the bike,” or preparing for the worst in terms of performance, “My knee/hip/quad/hamstring/calf has been bothering me all week.” It’s insecurity, and we all have it. One thing you can feel good about in terms of joining one of the Team Fun rides is that no matter what kind of day you are having, we aren’t going to leave you behind. If you happen to overestimate your fitness or experience, it’s possible that someone may ask you in the nicest way possible to join the next group down – but still, you will not be left behind. And really, we only have your best interests in mind – we want everyone to be challenged at the right level for them.
Which leads to #3… probably the biggest fear of all:
(3) The Fear of Being Last
Let me start by saying this. We have, each and every one of us there, at some point, been the very last person that everyone else seems to have to wait for. No one likes that feeling, and it’s actually one of the biggest fears I find people have about joining a group ride – “I don’t want to make everyone wait for me”. Team Fun folk are pretty understanding, and generally ready to take a break on occasion and have a snack. It’s not really a big deal.
It still doesn’t make it feel good. Last year on one of my first long rides after my four months off due to injury, I became completely fatigued with about 5 miles left to the ride (it was about 50 miles and hilly, a huge challenge for me at the time). On the last hill leading to my house, I was holding a speed that barely seemed to register on my Garmin. I can run up that hill faster now. I think there may have been a woman pushing a stroller that was exceeding my speed. It was sad. I was sad. Everyone left me behind (or so I thought). It was very discouraging. Until you realize that you have to appreciate and accept where you are at fitness wise, commit to improvement, and if you feel like you are at in impasse in terms of training, start asking questions. Which leads to…
(4) Teach and be taught
One of the big benefits of riding with a group is that you can learn from others. Another benefit you will find eventually is that it feels pretty darn good to reach out and help others when you can – motivation, technique, tips. We aren’t preachy or looking to scold, but if people are open to help, you’ll find most riders (especially the leaders) are happy to give some advice if they can. We have members who have been riding for dozens of years, and members who may not know how to use their gears. Every now and then we have some what I like to call “guest riders” on especially our Team Fun A ride (or Swami’s C ride), and these guys are usually good for whatever kind of advice you are looking for (and generally very eager to give it).
(5) We are Known Liars, but you will thank us
Michell (one of the leaders) generally calls herself Pinocchio. I’m not sure what people call me when I’m leading one of my infamous “suffer fests”, but pretty much everyone knows not to believe any of us when we say, “Oh, just one more hill!” Team Fun rides can be very challenging, but I promise you that you will thank us for that. We love our hills. I even kind of turned this habit on myself one day unintentionally. When I was returning from my injury, I led the C (Beginner) group for awhile. We were supposed to take a fairly reasonable way out to Point Loma from Mission Bay, but I failed to follow my own directions. As I proceeded along a street in Sunset Cliffs parallel to where I knew I was supposed to be in Point Loma, I kept seeing steep hill after steep hill. After consulting my phone map, I looked at the group and sighed and said, “I think we’re just going to have to go up one of these.” I’m not sure that the others realized how much I was not looking forward to that, too, since steep hills were not supposed to be in my recovery picture quite yet. By hook or by crook, we made it to the top of that beast – pretty much everyone still smiling. Brielle, Miki, and Laura… that may have been your first or second ride with us, and you were stuck with me! And yet you stuck it out … I think most us love a challenge. I know when I reached the top of that hill that day I was glad I did it, and encouraged to know how far I’d come in recovery.
(6) Make sure you’re smiling – you never know when someone is taking a picture
We take a lot of pictures on our rides, well, some of us do (i.e. Jill and Michell and Kim). I can’t be trusted with a camera while riding, but note that many of our leaders can. We love to take pictures of the fun, and over time, I know I for one love looking back at all the good times we’ve had in our two and a half year existence.
If you’ve been on the fence about joining us, maybe I’ve managed to convince you to give it a try. If you have joined us and have feedback that can help us improve us as a group, I’m always happy to hear that, too – but don’t get much of it, really – we aren’t perfect and I’m a bit of a social clutz, so I’m sure there’s ways we can improve. If you’d like to add your own bit of insight into the group, feel free to comment here or on the Facebook group.
Hope to see you at our upcoming group rides:
Friday coffee ride: 9am at the Ralph’s shopping center off Avenida Encinas in Carlsbad. Coffee this week at Storybook Caffe in Carlsbad.
Saturday ride: Exploration ride! Which means we go off the beaten path and take you some place you may have never been. Meet at 8am at Nytro.
…One last thing you may wonder… how big are the groups and do you ride in tight pacelines?
The groups vary tremendously in size. I haven’t been able to predict how many people will show up. Even when we have a certain number signed up through Meetup, the number actually participating can be vastly different. For example, we had 11 signed up on Meetup for last Saturday’s ride, and about 30 people spread across our 3 groups! Sometimes A group has 3 riders, sometimes 14. Same for the other groups. The faster the group, the tighter the ride group but we don’t truly do official pacelines. The peloton you may have seen watching the Tour de France? Yeah, that isn’t us.