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:
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:
- 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.