The first time out was just Al and me, and it was ugly and slow. But I finished 35 miles. (Thankfully no one I knew saw me.) The second ride was much better. I went with a group of friends who pulled me the whole 35 miles. The third ride was 41 miles, with a group, and a little faster. The fourth ride was with a small group of friends, another 35 mile ride. Each ride was a little better than the one before.
Then yesterday I headed out with just Al. We did 50 miles, keeping 3-5 bike lengths apart so I wasn't drafting him. I was working hard, but I wasn't focused on speed. I was using my power meter to determine my new baselines. You can't see improvement if you don't know where you started from.
About halfway through the 50 miles I had a funny thought. I'd been doing the wah-wah-wah-this-is-sooooo-hard thing. Then suddenly a light bulb switched on: this was no harder than any other day Al and I were by ourselves doing a training ride. The numbers on my little bike computer were just a bit smaller than 3 months ago, but (duh) I was expecting that. It was a typical training ride. I was working my butt off. It was a training ride, not a touring ride or a ramble. First you train, then you get to have long satisfying, pleasant, enjoyable rides.
So I smoothed my shoulders and chased Al down the road. From there to here, and here to there. Just like that I decided to stop bitching and start looking for the funny things.