Lessons Learned From Drafting

Yesterday was my birthday and to celebrate I entered by first bike race. It was a 90 mile race around Lake Winnebago, here in Wisconsin. Prior to this I had only ridden in a couple of 50 mile charity rides and so I had no idea what to expect given that this ride was much longer than anything I had done before, and because it was a timed race as well. I knew there would be hundreds of serious bikers there given the fact that a $20,000 prize was being offered to the winning rider if he/she set a new course record (which did in fact happen). I have never considered myself to be a serious biker, but that might change after my experience yesterday. I trained quite a bit for yesterday’s race, but most of my riding was done solo, or with one other person, usually my wife. Before this race, I had never ridden with a pack of riders. Soon after the 1,500 riders started the race yesterday, we formed ourselves in to packs depending on our pace, and I joined a pack of about 30 other riders who rode most of the 90 miles together. As I rode in the midst of this large pack of riders, I very quickly learned about the power of “drafting.” I was soon flying along at a speed that I would have previously thought impossible for me, and surprisingly wasn’t even getting tired. I kept thinking this was too good to be true and that sooner or later I was going to “hit the wall” and slow way down. My fears never materialized and I finished the race two hours earlier than I had expected.

Today I read an article that reports that riding in a “peloton,” the french word for “pack” requires 30%-40% less energy than riding by yourself. I now know how true this is! Members of our little peloton each took turns riding in the front for ten minutes at a time, but then were able to “rest” in the pack for the next 50 minutes. When I finished I was less tired than I have been after many of my solo 50 mile rides.

The message for our personal wholeness and wellness seems rather obvious here. Riding solo requires much more energy than riding with others, where all share a turn breaking the wind. This fact is always true in biking, but becomes absolutely essential when the headwinds are strong. The same is true in our personal lives. Any time we are going through a period of stress or transition, facing a strong headwind, we will find it even more necessary to face that stress or transition in a pack with others. If you are dealing with the stress of sending a child off to school (whether it’s kindergarten, middle school, high school or college), going through a job change/loss, going through a transition to retirement, dealing with a health issue, going through a divorce, or whatever the challenge may be, find a pack of fellow “riders” who are riding the same road as you are and ride together. Take turns “pulling” in front of the pack, and then take your time in the the pack letting them pull you along.

Family, friends, congregations, neighbors and colleagues are all natural “packs” to turn to when we need support for our ride. But as I learned yesterday, people who were previously strangers can also turn up at just the right time to lend support when we need it most. This explains the power of a 12-step group, a cancer support group, or a parents-to-be birthing class.

I’m still on a high from my experience yesterday, and know that it couldn’t have happened without the support of others. It has renewed my commitment to find similar packs of support for other aspects of my life. I hope it will inspire you to do the same. And if you want to get a pack together and go for a long bike ride, I’m ready any time.