Imagine you are out on your bike. It’s a beautiful day, clear skies and warm temperatures. Your chain is humming, your cadence is at 95 rpm. Your heart rate is climbing, and you look down at your power meter readings and see you are at VO2 Max, hammering away at 15 miles per hour in the little ring. Where is this, you ask? Mt. Ventoux? The Nove Colli? Mt. Weather or Skyline Drive? Nope, just another Tuesday morning on Willoughby Spit in Norfolk, Virginia, arguably the flattest place to ride a bike on the East Coast.
What Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake lack in hills, they more than make up for in wind. All kinds of wind. Headwinds, crosswinds, swirling winds. Never a tailwind, though, at least that is how it seems. After moving to Norfolk last year, I ditched the deep carbon rims because I got tired of being blown sideways into traffic and bought a set of custom built Hed Belgian C2 rims laced to Chris King hubs. Smooth and fast, those crosswinds don’t push me around too much anymore.
I moved to Norfolk to be closer to my daughter in Virginia Beach. I had no idea what to expect for riding and racing, and luckily I’m close enough to DC that I can still compete in the races that I know and love. But training in a new area proved to be a little bit of a challenge. I didn’t know the roads, or group rides, or what it really meant to ride where there are no hills. My skillset on the bike is more geared toward shorter, punchy climbs over and over again, not sustained efforts at a high tempo. I’ll never be a time trial champion and I’m ok with that. Riding pancake flat roads was going to be interesting.
Fortunately, where I live is a 2 mile peninsula with no stop signs or lights. 4 miles out and back, uninterrupted. I quickly figured out an 8 mile loop that includes the peninsula and only has a few turns. I can largely avoid traffic, except at the ugliest of rush hours, which are early. The Spit gives me the space to do all sorts of intervals; an out and back effort is about 10 minutes give or take at threshold.
The group rides have taken some getting used to. Most of the group rides venture into the rural areas of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Despite developers building cookie-cutter homes farther and farther south, there are still rural roads with very little traffic. One of the rides I tried starts at 7:30 on Saturdays at a shop near my daughter’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach, about 30-40 minutes from where I live. It’s a 32 mile ride, starting from the shop and rolling through a residential neighborhood before hitting the country roads. To be brutally honest, this ride was terrible. We blew through the neighborhood at 20+ mph, too fast in my opinion. We got to the country roads and pace-lined at 25 mph. It felt like a great speed, you could recover in the draft and I was at a tempo pace or near my threshold at the front. Nice riding. Then we stopped at a gas station, 16 miles into the ride. After 5 minutes, we started back up again and then apparently it was hammer time. Instantly guys were at the front charging away at 30 mph. I lasted maybe 2 miles. I stopped my Garmin when I got back to the shop and it told me I set a PR for 40k TT effort! With a 5 minute stop!! What the hell…
Another local shop chain, Bike Beat, has a few stores in the area and supports a couple local racing teams. If I’m feeling particularly fast, their Sunday ride from the Virginia Beach store has an “A+” pace 45 mile ride, while their Chesapeake store has a 60 mile “B” pace ride. The Chesapeake “B” ride is great for those long Zone 2 efforts when you need to build base miles, and the Virginia Beach “A+” ride is great training for races. And it has one climb, a bridge that goes over Rudee Inlet and onto Pacific Avenue at the oceanfront providing whopping 30 feet of climbing, maybe.
It has been quite different riding here compared to the metro DC area. One 16 mile loop around Arlington on the bike paths has more climbing than I do in a month. I think the biggest takeaway riding the flats is you have to be diligent with your training. Mix up the roads a little bit, but you really have to just keep at it, hit your numbers consistently, and be prepared for the wind. Because there will be wind. Lots of it. Thanks for reading!