Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I am... the Super Randonneur

That's right folks, I was successful in completing the 600K Boston Brevet Series ride this past weekend.  This means that I completed all the rides in the series, enabling me to be a "Super Randonneur".

The governing body of randonneuring in the United States, RUSA, defines the super randonneur award as "a special medal awarded to those randonneurs who successfully complete a challenging series of brevets (200, 300, 400, and 600-kilometers) in a year. A hard-earned honor unto itself and worthy of being any randonneur's goal for the cycling season, the Super Randonneur series of brevets is usually needed to enter a 1200-kilometer event."

It was important to me to complete the series this year so I could gain valuable experience before attempting Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) next year.  I don't have a lot of time to get ready for this challenging 1200K, so I've had to ramp up quickly.  Completing the 600K this year will also allow me to register for PBP sooner.  Since there are a limited number of available spots, randonneurs who complete longer brevets this year will be able to register before those who do not.  However, I will still have to complete the entire series next year as well. 

Needless to say, the 600K was the hardest ride I have ever done.  Here is the map of the route:

Yes, that's New York State on the left.

And the all important elevation profile:

I finished the 377 mile course in 38 hours and 45 minutes, an hour and 15 minutes under the cutoff time of 40 hours.  A total of 10 people started the ride, and one person DNF'd.  True to my title of the Slow Randonneur, I was the ninth finisher.

I don't have any pictures, because it was supposed to thunderstorm for most of Saturday and I didn't want to ruin the camera.  It did rain, but it wasn't so bad.  We had no thunder and lightning or torrential downpours.  The only thing that was a drag about the rain was that I had a wet ass all day.  But, what are you gonna do.

The first 100 or so miles of the ride was nice, but wet.  Not particularly hard, but challenging nonetheless.  After the second control in Brattleboro, VT though, things started to get interesting.

I refer you back to the elevation profile.  Notice that big peak?  We hit that after Brattleboro.  It was 66 miles to the next control, and I think this may have been the most difficult 66 miles I have ever ridden.  The thing that really differentiated this brevet from the others I have ridden were the hills - steep, long, and relentless.  Though, I would be willing to bet that this brevet is no more hilly or tough than your average 600K.  They are supposed to be challenging, right?

The third control was in Sandgate, VT at the vacation home of one of the New England Randonneurs, the group that puts these rides on.  Our host was INCREDIBLY gracious.  I cannot thank him and the other members enough who helped the riders out by making sandwiches, drinks, dinner, breakfast, providing beds, wakeup services, showers, etc, etc.  Sandgate was the third and fifth (overnight) control.  One super nice thing about Sandgate is that the 3/4 mile or so driveway that leads UP to the home is made up of loose gravel and rocks at something like an 8% grade.  Some of this driveway stretch provided my first walking of the ride.

After leaving Sandgate for the first time, I was treated to a beautiful ride through eastern NY state and VT.  The sun was setting, fog was settling into fields and valleys, and I was riding by myself.  These were some of those moments from a ride that are truly memorable when many of the miles go by in a blur.

By the time I made it to the next control, and then back to Sandgate, it was around midnight.  Sandgate closed at 3:45, so I took a shower, ate some dinner, and then laid on a cot for 2 hours.  If I slept at all, it was just some brief dozing.  However, it was definitely better than nothing.  Just laying down flat and being motionless for a couple of hours did wonders.  Or maybe it was just the shower.

I left Sandgate around 3:30, and was a little worried about making it to the next control before it closed.  Once again, look at the elevation profile.  I had to go back over those 66 tough miles (and the second huge peak).  Though I didn't really come close to missing the closing of any of the remaining controls, it was always in the back of my mind.  I was running about an hour to an hour and a half ahead of closing.  In the other brevets I had ridden, I had not thought about running out of time.  But, it was worth losing the time I had banked by resting at the overnight control for a few hours.

So, I got back to Brattleboro OK, and figured the worst was behind me.  Well, say hello to Route 119 in New Hampshire.  Brutal.  Absolutely brutal.  It was around noon/1:00 and the sun was pretty intense when I hit this road.  Long, steep hills, one after another.  It just seemed like they would not end.  This was the toughest mental thing I have had to deal with yet.  I never thought about giving up, but was getting increasingly discouraged by seeing hill after hill.  Route 119 saw a few more instances of walking, as apparently these hills were running from 8-12%.  If I am doing these after 300 or so miles, Lance can kiss my sore butt.

The rest of the ride was still hilly, but generally uneventful.  There was some more walking, more heat, but I generally felt good.  Coming up the last hill (a small one) about a half mile before the finish, my chain fell off when I dropped down to my granny ring.  I put it back on and finished the ride to the cheers of the organizers, one of the other riders, and best of all, my lovely wife Jane.  It was truly an amazing experience.

At the end:

Lesson learned
  1. Mental fitness is at least as important as physical fitness:  I think the biggest element on this ride wasn't so much anything physical or technical, but mental.  I had to think about time, manage rest breaks, and not freak out when another wall of a hill appeared in front of me.  I have read that mental aspects of long distance riding can be more signifcant than the physical.  This ride definitely brought me more experience from the mental side of things.  And of course, 11,000 feet of climbing doesn't hurt the physical either.
Next stop, hopefully the Santa Cruz 600K on September 25.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I own you, knee!

This past Saturday/Sunday, Chuck and I completed the Boston Brevet series 400K brevet.  It was the farthest each of has ever ridden in one sitting, and we completed the course in 22 hours and 40 minutes.  We were hoping to finish in 24 hours, so we were pretty psyched!

Here is the route:

And here is the elevation profile:

Chuck came by my place at 3:00AM, we loaded my bike on the back of his car, and it immediately started to rain.  And then it started to rain harder, thunder, and lightening.  I have not seen a storm like that in Boston in quite some time.  The ride starts at 4AM, rain or shine, so we figured we might be starting ourselves just a tad later.  Yeah, we might be nuts for trying to ride our bikes 250 miles, but we aren't so stupid as to want to start in a lightning storm.

In any case, it didn't matter as the rain stopped by the time we got to Bedford.  About 25-30 riders were there for the start.

I do love the early morning starts.  Everything is calm and cool, and it looks really neat to be following the string of red lights of the riders ahead.  However, we were dropped by the fastest riders after a few miles.  No worries - I am the Slow Randonneur, after all.

The forecast was for rain and occasional thunderstorms all day, but we only got rained on a bit in the morning.  Then the sun came out and it got quite hot and steamy.  There were points in the day where I wished the rain would come back.  I think I ended up with a bit of dehydration and overexposure to the sun, so next time I will have to remember to better deal with the changing conditions.

As my faithful readers know, I have been battling a bit of knee pain over the past few weeks.  Of course, the ol' knee was talking to me from the beginning, but then a strange thing happened.  Somewhere around the 50 mile mark after some long ascents, I realized my knee was no longer hurting.  It felt as if there was nothing ever wrong.  I am not sure what happened, but I can only think that I was successful in beating my knee into submission.

Another interesting moment came when we were going through Meredith, NH, the halfway point of the ride, I realized that this was the exact same way we drive to go to Lake Winnipesaukee.  I also realized that I was very, very far from home.

Overall, this was an excellent ride.  I got a little nauseous after the halfway point that never completely left me for the rest of the day/night/morning, but once again I am realizing that these long rides are like a lot of littler rides spliced together.   You have ups and downs.

Before completing the 400K, I was thinking that I wouldn't be able to ride the 600K in five weeks due to my knee.  Well, I'm throwin' that thought out the window!  Super Randonneur, here I come!

From the Randonneurs USA website:
Super Randonneur   (rahn doe ner) - A special medal awarded to those randonneurs who successfully complete a challenging series of brevets (200, 300, 400, and 600-kilometers) in a year. A hard-earned honor unto itself and worthy of being any randonneur's goal for the cycling season, the Super Randonneur series of brevets is usually needed to enter a 1200-kilometer event.

Lessons learned
  1. Pay even more attention to water and food intake:  I think the nausea would have been avoidable if I had just eaten and drank a little more.
  2. Half hour rests at controls are great:  Chuck is a great riding partner because he is very concious of how much time off the bike his body needs.  I just tend to go and go and then end up paying for it later.  Some of the time that you lose at a long control stop can be made up by better and happier riding
  3. It's better to stick out a problem and see what happens:  I was considering not doing this ride because of my knee, at one point.  Man, am I glad I didn't do that.
Next stop, 600K on July 7.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Night Rider!!!!

I am the Nightrider! I am the chosen one. The mighty hand of vengeance, sent down to strike the unroadworthy! I'm hotter than a rollin' dice. Step right up, germ, and watch the kid lay down the rubber road, ride to freedom!

Well, maybe not quite.

This past Friday, Chuck and I did a century ride down to the Cape.  What made it special was that we started at 9PM and finished at 5:30 AM the next morning.  I used my new IQ Cyo and Schmidt hub to light the way.  It was an absolutely gorgeous ride, as the weather was nice and the full moon was out.

One of the reasons for the night ride is that we are doing the Boston Brevet series 400K this Saturday, and wanted to get a good chunk of night riding in before the event.  I must say that night riding might be my new thing.  It is a completely different feeling to ride when there is no traffic, and the night just seems to bring a certain calm to the ride.  Here's some pix:

Knee Update:
The knee continues to hurt, but was manageable over the 100 mile trip to the Cape.  The real test begins on Saturday at 4 AM.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I choose to go to the moon

Here in Boston last week, the Boston Pops orchestra performed “The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers”.  It featured Robert Deniro, Morgan Freeman, and Ed Harris reading speeches by Jack, Bobby, and Ted Kennedy, set to music performed by the Boston Pops. 

While driving back from picking up a Crateworks bike box that I purchased from someone on CraisgList (more to come on this recent development), I heard some media coverage of the event on NPR.  During the story, they played an excerpt of JFK's "We Choose to go to the Moon" speech.

Although I have heard it before, on this day I was particularly moved by the part where JFK says "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard...”  I couldn't help but think about my goal of riding in Paris-Brest-Paris, and the seemingly never answered question of why.

Sure, I like to ride my bike, but why ride when it hurts?  Why ride to the point of exhaustion?  Why ride in the rain and the cold?  I guess I choose to do these things because they are hard.

It's been interesting to think about what exactly my motivations are for this craziness.  I suppose I feel there is value in trying to accomplish something that is not easy.  Hard work is good, and it's important to strive for something, right?  We don't want to just waltz through live, do we?

Other than my lovely wife Jane, who is number one of course, there are two main focal points of my life right now – cycling and my ceramic art work.  Both provide excellent challenges.

Instead of riding all these miles on the bike, I suppose I could really apply myself and become a great artist, maybe.  However, this is harder than riding, and I am at heart a lazy person.  Riding is just brute force.   It requires no thought.  Making great art is infinitely harder.  Maybe that will be my next challenge.

Knee Update:
My knee feels fine most of the time.  I rode 20 miles over the weekend, and could feel it talking to me a little bit.  This weekend, Chuck and I are going to ride 100 miles to Cape Cod, leaving at 9PM.  I can't wait to try out my new light and generator hub setup!  Hopefully the knee won't get in the way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

300K, check. Bad knee, also check.

I completed the Boston Brevet series 300K ride on Saturday.  Total time, 15 hours 50 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than what I was hoping for.

At the start:

 The route:

The elevation:

Overall, this brevet didn't have as steep hills as the 200K, but for long stretches there were no flats.  It was up, down, up, down, etc.  Nice, but sometimes the downhills aren't so restful.  Descending at 30-35 MPH (with some braking - I am not a fast downhiller) keeps you on your toes, and not so much in the saddle.

Chuck couldn't make this ride, so I went out solo.  My wonderful wife Jane drove me to the start in Concord MA for 3:30 AM.  This means we had to leave our house at 3:00.  I wonder how many of those 3AM rides I can buy by doing various house projects.

The ride officially started at 4:00.  It was really cool to be riding through the deserted roads of Concord, Lincoln, and Sudbury in the pitch black.  I was one of the last riders (as I am the Slow Randonneur) in a group of about 30.  It was great to be rolling along silently, just watching all the red lights of the bikes ahead moving through the darkness.  One interesting point was when I all of a sudden I noticed the line of red dots start to break apart into individual little dots moving side to side.  It was soon apparent that the cause was a huge tree branch across the road.

I was dropped by the pack after 5 or so miles, by my best guess.  Riding in the dark really seemed to block out time and speed.  I couldn't see my speedometer/odometer, and was just navigating by the backlit screen of my GPS.  It was quite wonderful.  Everything was so calm, quiet, and peaceful.  No cars, no hassle, just gliding along through the cool night.  I think I am going to enjoy the night time riding aspect of the longer brevets. 

The 300K was certainly the most challenging ride I have done to date, brevet or otherwise.  It ended up being 189 miles (I put in a little bit of bonus distance), 39 miles longer than my longest ride.  However, as I have stated before, these brevets are a completely different ballgame from rides I have done previously due to the amount of climbing.  During this ride, my back hurt, my butt hurt, and most of all, my left knee really hurt. 

The term "pain management", which I believe I heard in a great documentary I just watched called "Bicycle Dreams", kept floating into my thoughts.  When something started hurting, I would concentrate on it, and then something else would take its place in the pain line.  This isn't too say that the whole ride was painful, but the end sure was.

I have had a sore back and butt before.  It's no big deal, it's part of the whole package, but the knee thing is new and very disconcerting.  I went to the doctor today and she said I most likely have patellar arthritis.  She prescribed 3 Advil 3 times a day and gave me a referral for physical therapy.  In week or two, if still hurts I go back for an MRI.  I think the pain will go away in that time frame, but am very worried it will rear it's ugly head if I get back on the bike.  When I asked the doc about the probabilty of being able to ride pain free in 3 weeks, she did not seem too confidant.  This could put the 400K on June 5 in jeopardy.  Major, major bummer.

Lessons learned:
  1. Rides will have ups and downs - I felt good for long parts of this ride and felt bad for long parts of this ride.  Then good, then bad, etc.  Getting through the bad will get you to the good, and the good will be that much better for it.
  2. Getting to Paris just got a whole lot harder - 'Nuff said.
At the end:

Monday, May 3, 2010

They know me in France now

200K down and only 1300K to go.

Saturday, my friend Chuck and I participated in the Boston Brevet series 200K.  Leaving from Hanscom Air Field base in Conord MA, the ride went north to New Boston NH, around NH for a while, and then back down to Hanscom. 

Here's the elevation for those of you scoring at home.

Our first brevet, the 100K two weeks ago, seemed a bit more challenging.  The temperature was in the low 40s and it was raining.  It’s amazing what a better weather can do for you.  We finished the 200K in 10 hours and 15 minutes, over 3 hours better than the maximum time of 13:30.  It was a nice day and the ride went well for both of us.

This ride was particularly special because it is my first brevet in which the results are sent to Paris to be certified.  It is these rides that are sanctioned by Audax Club Parisien that I need to complete in order to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris next year.  It also counts as part of the brevet series I am trying to complete this year.  I can also get this awesome medal.

If I complete the series (200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K), I become a Super Randonneur and can get this even more awesome medal.

Earlier last week, I was starting to get a bit anxious about the ride.  Once again, it was the prospect of the hills that was making me nervous.  But, I am glad to report that the hills on the 200K were formidable but not insurmountable.

At the highest elevation point of the ride, Chuck and I stopped to take in the view (of course, I forgot my camera) and another randonneur rode up behind us and we started to chat.  It turns out that he rode Paris-Brest-Paris in 2007.  I told him of my tentative plans to ride PBP in 2011, but that I was unsure if I could do it, that I was unsure about riding all night, etc.  He said not to worry.  This was great to hear, and we even finished before him!  Granted, he was probably 15 years my senior.

Overall, the 200K was a great ride.  Nice day, beautiful scenery, smooth and uneventful ride.  The cue sheets warned to “watch out for dogs in New Hampshire”, but we encountered none.

Lessons learned:
  1. Respect the hills, but do not fear them – the 200K had twice as many vertical feet as the 100K and I felt better at the end of the 200
  2. Keep eating during the day – the turkey sandwich I ate at the halfway point really kept me going
  3. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste may be an essential element to completing longer rides – I won’t go into any more detail
    Next stop, 300K on May 15!

      Tuesday, April 20, 2010

      It is now official

      Although I am the Slow Randonneur, I actually was not an official randonneur until this past Saturday, when I rode in my first brevet.  My friend Chuck and I rode in a 107K brevet, part of the Boston Brevet series put on by the New England Randonneurs.  The weather was in the low 40s and rainy, but it was quite an enjoyable ride.  Sorry, no pictures, as it was too much of a PITA to get the camera out of the Ziploc baggy.

      The ride started at Hanscomb Air Force base in Concord, proceeded west to Sterling which was where the control was located, and then headed back east to Concord.

      It was quite hilly

      But, the scenery was beautiful.

      We met several nice people, including a couple on a tandem who were riding along at pretty much the same pace as us.  Tandems amaze me.  They insisted that it wasn’t hard to ride.  Standing while climbing wasn’t yet in their skill set yet, but they were working on it.  I have seen tandems climb hills where both the captain and stoker are out of the saddle, rocking the bike back and forth, totally in sync, charging up a hill.  It is really quite cool.  I don’t think my wife Jane and I will ever do the tandem thing – we can hardly pilot a canoe together without starting divorce proceedings.

      Overall, it was a great ride.  The rain was not such a big deal, and cold generally doesn’t bother me too much. We finished well within the 7 hour time limit.

      Lessons learned:
      1. Ride more hills.  107K is not that long of a ride.  However, add in those hills and it is a much different experience.  This is how brevets are going to be, though.  I need to ride more hills (and maybe learn to enjoy them?).
      2. Get a helmet with a visor to help keep raindrops off my glasses.  It wasn’t such a big deal on this ride – I could see fine, but nighttime in the rain might be a different story.
      3. Pay attention to what I am eating.  I tend to not eat as much as I should while riding.  This is just pure laziness.  I was fairly tired at the halfway point of the ride, but did much better toward the end because I was eating more.  On the Randon Google group, someone posted the following regarding nutrition in response to a question on preparing for a 1200K – “nutrition - eat, eat, eat!  not hungry? EAT!  feeling like garbage?  EAT!!  would rather curl up and sleep? EAT!!!  food doesn't taste good?  EAT!!!!!  got to dry out? EAT!!!!!!
      Next up, the 200K on May 1 -- 125 miles in 13.5 hours.
        Look out Paris, I’m on my way!