It’s Friday night and you have your plans all set for your ride tomorrow. Your coach has put in a specific workout for you, or you have created your own workout that you know works well for you.
Then you get a text or call from a friend trying to convince you to change your plans and go on a group ride. Now you have a decision to make. Do you go out solo, drawing all motivation from within, make yourself suffer, and doing what is right for you? Or, do you go out with your buddies on a big group ride, do what the group does and try to fit in parts of your planned workout? We have all been there and it is a hard decision.
The Benefits of Training Alone
Solo training allows you to focus on yourself and builds your mental toughness. You have your objective and it is solely up to you to complete. It comes down to you, your bike and the ride. With no other cyclist to use for motivation and chase down or ride away from, you find your own personal motivations. Done successfully, you will not only make yourself physically stronger, but now you are mentally stronger.
Your plan is unique to you. Whether you are working directly with a coach, using a training plan, or have set out your own plan, that plan is designed to get you where you need to be. It is based on your time constraints, strengths, weaknesses and racing goals.
Focusing on your individual plan provides several key benefits. First, even if your teammate or riding partner is on the same schedule for the day, most likely your target numbers for efforts, or even your recovery between them, are different. You do what you are supposed to do and they do what they are supposed to do, it’s that simple. Next, we all have a competitive side. Training with others can tempt you to compete against each other, forcing you to go above and beyond what you are supposed to be doing. It can also have the opposite effect if you have to tone down your workout for your partner. Riding solo keeps you in check and allows you to focus on your form too. You are able to pay more attention to your position on the bike, pedaling technique, etc.
Riding on the road has enough natural distractions. Your buddy riding next to you chattering away can take your mind out of the game. The less you have pulling you away from your objective, the more you can concentrate at the job at hand.
From a purely selfish standpoint, a big benefit to riding solo is that you only have to answer to yourself. There is no meeting time, other schedules to accommodate or having to wait for those that are late. You are not dependent on those around you to dictate the pace or effort. You get to choose the route. If you feel good you can extend it, or if the legs are shutting down you can simply soft pedal back home.
Benefits of Joining the Group
Riding safely in the group is a skill that needs to be practiced. Riding with others quickly teaches you how to corner safely, handle your bike predictably and be safe when others are mere inches from you. Multiple skill sets such as working in a pace line, descending, and sprinting with others are all enhanced through the group ride. You can also work on skills like positioning yourself correctly, learning to move up with minimal effort, and working as little as possible to stay in the group. Remember, race day is as much about the work you don’t do as the work you do.
So when do you answer the call to join your buddies in a group ride? More than just the social aspect, organized group rides have a place in your program. Group rides can provide a sort of race simulation. Having an official finish line that will let you pick a “winner” for the day is a chance to work on bike handling under pressure. Another benefit of the group ride is the chance for you to work on specific tactics. Try the long shot attack from 1k out, or sit in and wait until the last second to unleash your sprint. Try sprinting in a bigger or smaller gear than normal. Practice different ways of winning so you can choose and execute different tactics.
You can also work on team tactics against others. Getting a solid lead out requires three to four riders to be in perfect rhythm and to know their role. Executing this in group rides makes it easier to perform when the pressure is on. Time dedicated to these skills is valuable and should be balanced with solo training in order to reap maximum performance.
Whether you have structured your own plan or you are working with a coach, your schedule was written with specific goals or targets in mind. Each day is a separate puzzle piece that when put together will hopefully help you achieve your target. Training by yourself allows you to follow your prescribed workout by concentrating on your plan without distractions. Training with others allows you to work on specific skills and tactics that are crucial to successful racing.