On The Road with The Mothers of Rotation

This was first posted on my fundraising page on the Team in Training site; I’m training for a 100 mile bike ride to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  This is a progress update on our training program.
In a sense, we’re halfway there: we hit the “half century” mark in our training program this weekend, with a beautiful 50 mile ride along and around the Pacific coast. My ride group, which happens to be mostly women, has chosen the name “The Mothers of Rotation”. It’s a maybe-too-obscure reference to Frank Zappa’s old band, and sure, it’s about wheels going around and around, but it’s also about the rotation our group was practicing this weekend: rotating through the front position in our ride group. This rotation is the essence of pacelining, which is what makes this sort of cycling a team sport. By staying in a tight line, with each rider a wheel’s diameter or less from the rider ahead, we can get a significant boost in efficiency thanks to the slipstream created by the riders ahead. The person in front doesn’t have the benefit of this slipstream, of course, and has to work a lot harder – hence, the need to for riders to periodically rotate from the front to the back, so they can enjoy some of that slipstream, and maybe even take a drink.
Pacelining takes a lot of attention, careful communication, and also the sort of trust the can only build up from working together over time. It’s not easy, and at my level at least, I don’t think I’d call it “fun”; I have to spend a lot of time looking at the wheel in front of me rather than the majestic redwoods or dramatic seaside cliffs we’re riding past. The reward, however, can be significant: you can go much farther and faster in a group than riding alone. And while pacelining takes away from the pleasures of sightseeing, daydreaming, or casual chatter, there’s a certain satisfaction and even exhileration when the group really comes together and starts to function as a larger organic unit. There’s the sensation of everyone doing their part, of the little bits of necessary communication becoming more automatic and more subtle – it brings to mind the concept of flow. Of course, some of that exhileration is just speed, as you find yourself going faster than you think you have a right to be going, and with less effort (as when our group was fighting a stiff coastal headwind for the last few miles back up to Half Moon Bay along Highway 1, and still making pretty good time)
Pacelining, then, is a pretty good metaphor for any sort of team endeavor: it adds a certain overhead over going it alone, but it has advantages that outweigh this, and it extends the range of what’s possible.  The same can be said of a group of engineers working together on a product, or a group of people coming together to fight a class of diseases.  There’s a sense of flow when it comes together, and you feel like you’re part of something larger, and accomplishing more than you thought you could.
Thanks to all of your for your continued support, and for helping LLS!
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