Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wham Bam Thank You Lamb!

So, did you know that Mary had a little lamb? No, seriously. That there once was an actual girl, named Mary, who kept a diminutive pet sheep? The girl in question (Mary Sawyer, to be precise) lived in Sterling Massachusetts in the 1800s. And according to historical scholars, some time in 1830 she brought her pet lamb to school - an act that caused such mirth among the other children, that a local poet was inspired to immortalise it in verse. On the Sterling Town Green, a statue now stands commemorating the event.

This statue also marks the halfway point and only control stop of the New England Randonneurs Populaire - a timed 107 km ride that heralds the official start of the local brevet season.

"But at least take a picture next to the Lamb!" someone exclaimed when I mentioned there would be no pictures on this ride. A kindly volunteer did the honors. My few lucid memories of the Populaire revolve around the stone rendering of the famous Victorian pet.

Having already done two "Permanents" earlier this month (this one and this one), I hoped the official Populaire would not be anti-climactic. I needn't have worried.

Some notes, while it's all still fresh and I am too tired to feel self-conscious:

I must remember that rides with similar overall elevation gain can be very different. The climbing on this one was intense and draining, even though the elevation gain (3813ft over 68 miles) was the same as in the previous (easier!) 100Ks I did this year.

But perhaps much of that had to do with how I did this ride. Straight through, minimal stopping, really pushing myself to get it done. Particularly on the return leg, I just basically raced through the course, inasmuch as I am capable of such a thing. I do not know what possessed me to do it this way; I certainly did not have to as there was plenty of time left before the cutoff. But it felt in the spirit of the event: Everyone seemed focused on making good time. I finished well (for me), certainly better than expected. But it was tough. At some point, everything was a blur, attempts at conversations became babbling nonsense.

For some of the time I rode in a group. This proved a novel experience compared to previous group riding. While the group's average speed was similar to my own, their rhythm did not match mine - a situation I found extremely difficult to deal with. I tried a few times to cycle ahead of the group, so as to go at my own pace. This did not work, as they'd always catch me. Falling behind did not work either, as I'd eventually catch up, yet again be unable to pass them. I seemed destined to ride in this group and adapt to its rhythm; it was as if a magnetic field held us together!

The start of the Boston brevets is in a middle-of-nowhere location - an airforce base some distance from my house. By the time I got home, I had ridden 105 miles, and felt every single one of them. A Century is not quite a casual distance for me, yet. This is disappointing.

Because of the Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath, the Populaire took place one week later than initially planned. The 200K brevet is next Saturday, not leaving much time for further training. Considering how I feel after this ride, I am not sure it is a good idea to embark on the 200K so soon. But I will see how I feel mid-week.

Finally... Despite this depriving me of photo opportunities, it felt good to put in an effort and try to make decent time. By mid day it was all over, and afterward I felt oddly over-emotional. I wasn't happy, or sad, or proud or frustrated exactly. Rather, it was as if so many miles and so much intensity packed in a fairly short time was too much for my system to cope with. But in a good way... I think.

My thanks to the New England Randonneurs for putting on this event, and to the wonderful volunteers who made it happen. I hope to see you again this summer.

52 comments:

  1. Don't over think it. Show up at the 200K. You'll be fine.

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    1. ^ that!

      and once you're done, might as well do the 300k ;)

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    2. Crazy talk!

      But okay, joking aside: What gives me pause is that the 200k goes straight up across the NH border and back (instead of, say, being the same milage but winding its way closer to Boston). This means I will have no bailout option. I do not want to put myself in a position where I have to get "rescued" if I can't go on. So that is the determining factor here.

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    3. Having a bailout plan is nice, but having no good way to get back sort of forces one to finish. Which is good! I did my first 200k in Feb, parts of it sucked, but I'm glad that I did it. If you bring lots of food, and follow Velocio's rules, you will finish. I have no doubt!

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    4. Only ride I ever DNFed (other than for mechanical problems) was the one where I could just hop on the train after 190km instead of riding another 110...

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    5. The "I won't bail if there's no opportunity to" logic is tempting. But the fact is, cyclists do need to be rescued during these rides, it happens almost every time. And they all no doubt used the same logic, which explains why they do not have a contingency plan in place. It is unacceptable for me to be in that position. It's one thing to feel like a ride will be a challenge. But if I have serious doubts about my ability to complete it, I won't do it.

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    6. Sure. I understand that. No one else can decide what's right for you. I guess I just want to encourage you, because you've been a big influence on me. Which may sound weird coming from someone you don't know. :)

      My way of 'seeing what is possible' is participating in a supported ride in June (AIDS/LifeCycle). It's 545 miles from SF to LA, fully supported over 7 days. I figure after this, my brain will hopefully believe that anything is indeed possible. It takes as long as it takes to get there, right? We have to ride at our own pace.

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    7. "because you've been a big influence on me..."

      Hilarious. You are largely responsible for my doing timed RUSA events! It seemed more accessible once you did it, since I can relate to you more than to the crazy roadies I ride with.

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    8. Alice you can do it. 200k = you'll knock this one out.

      Mrs. GR has done 4 of them, once on an MTB but remember: you will_not sag like some of the wimps!

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    9. ME????? Wow, I'm stunned. Proud. Here we go influencing each other and we don't even know it! Thanks lady. That made my day.

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    10. Oh dang, Jim are you saying that Mrs. GR has completed AIDS/LifeCycle four times? That's fab.

      It is a life changer for sure. It's a great cause with a great community. Now I have a team of artist and oddballs to ride with (we are Team Unpopular), and we have the tendency to sing show tunes out in the middle of cow country.

      I do not intend to sag. I intend to ride every last mile!

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    11. I've been following Team Unpopular's pictures, but didn't realise what you were training for.

      Where do participants stay during the 7-day trip?

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    12. Alice, yeah. One was Alaska, which is a story unto itself. Singing show tunes has been the tradition since the beginning! Different demographic back in the old days, glass the tradition continues. Got a link?

      V, support feeds, meds, sags, tents, facilities the riders, leapfrogging them from morning to eve. It is intense; I saw the staging area on Treasure Island once - Penske trucks nearly as far as the eye could see.

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    13. Some days we ride on coast, some inland. Here's the route: http://tinyurl.com/cxvkrfm

      And then we camp every night. http://tinyurl.com/c6cmdka

      It will be quite an adventure. I think it will give me the experience of touring, which I would like to do, but without slogging all my own gear. Entry level touring maybe. :) I'm excited about seeing more of California by bicycle.

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    14. Ooooo Alaska. The SF Randonnuers talk about a 1200k in Alaska, the Big Wild Ride?

      AIDS/LifeCycle is a moving city for sure. Our showers are in those trucks!

      Here's my page Jim: http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/AliceStribling

      I'm $500 to my fundraising goal! It's a humbling experience to have all this support.

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    15. Oh la, the weather can be frightful in Alaska.

      So here's the scoop: there is a team called Team Popular that is super snooty, full of pretty b*ys, all in matching kits. Because one was a top fundraiser they felt like they could break all the ride rules.

      Consequently, highly annoying! Next year in SF a counter-vibe team formed called...Team Unpopular. It started out as a joke one night in a bar, a bunch of down to earth guys with a sense of humor. Team Popular got miffed, obvi, b/c of the potential damage to their rep.

      That's it, there's still a TP, though I'm sure only in their minds.


      --Scoop Central

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    16. Ha, you're good Jim. That's how it started I hear, with the team sort of mocking Team Popular. But the team is made up of the eccentrics, oddballs and whatnot that have always and will always make up the interesting fabric of San Francisco. Oh how I love this crazy place.

      Velouria, you will like this: my team kit will have 'Meow' on it. I'll be sure to get photos.

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  2. Last week you're all, "I'm so surprised I could finish a metric ok!"

    Now you're all, "I'm disappointed I can't do 100 miles without getting tired when I'm not used to pushing myself!"

    Uh...anyway you have a lot to learn wrt to using the pack to minimize your energy expenditure. S'like slow racing.

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  3. Hi there, it was great to see you yesterday!

    Now listen girl. The company you keep has set the bar way too high. Ride with them, when you can, but don't think you can ride LIKE them. You understand?

    To struggle on a brevet is part of the deal. The point is not to make it an easy ride, but to challenge yourself. It sounds like you have done that, and with a smile on your face the entire time. Onward!

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  4. So what was your time?

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    1. 5:41 (68.3 miles)

      The previous rides were
      6:30 (64.3 miles)
      6:25 (67 miles)

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    2. that's quite a difference. any idea of the fastest time?

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    3. Yup. Let me see. I got all this info after I'd published the post, and didn't have time to update it.

      Fastest time for the NER Populaire was 3:45(!)
      Last time was 6:55

      Time limit was 7:08

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  5. Congrats on your riding! Sounds like you are having a great spring.

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    1. Thanks MG! Your rides are an inspiration.

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  6. I'm having the same hesitation regarding which events to ride. I so very much want to do a brevet (my 1st year as a RUSA member). I've been riding consistently since the New Year, increasing mileage responsibly, and have planned an event each month trying to prepare for a 105K Populaire the end of June. The elevation is what is intimidating me. Last week's long ride was 42 miles of about 2,000 feet of climbing. It was a killer. Did a 60k 2 weeks ago, same amount of climbing and it was a piece of cake!

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    1. In general, elevation shouldn't be that intimidating. I rode New Haven's Rock to Rock metric with a relatively new rider just over a week ago. The longest she had done previously was about 40 miles. R2R was 65 miles with about 3,500 of climbing. Remember that in most cases, that climbing comes in drips and drabs along the route, and remember also that in most cases, gravity will repay you later.

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    2. The issue is that overall elevation gain really doesn't tell the whole story. Over the course of 3 weeks, I did 3 100k rides with near-identical elevation gain figure. As far as climbing, the first felt okay, the second easy, the third difficult. If you are able to look at the route in a program like ridewithgps, it helps to look at the individual climbs.

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  7. It was fun riding with you on my first randoneurring experience. You were right: my rack was loose. I had completely forgotten to put in one of the bolts at the bottom of the rack. Remember that late night drinking I mentioned...
    I went over to Harris afterwards and bought a new Carradice bag to hang from my Brooks so I can ditch the rear rack altogether, and I bought a map holder so I can actually know where I'm going next week at the 200k. I hope to see you there. Let me know about the flèche if you are still thinking about doing it.

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    1. Good to meet you; you have an awesome bike! I'll be in touch over email.

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  8. I mean this in a nice way, but I'm actually glad you have no photos of this ride..Thousands of others went on rides yesterday, myself included, and it's sorta nice knowing that across the country many are out enjoying the country side, exploring new boundaries, creating new memories, or simply spinning happily....Bikes bring joy and sometimes the photos distract from that shared feeling....all the best. s

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    1. I know what you're saying. But I'm a photographer, so it's not exactly like that. Enjoying the countryside and photographing it are synonymous for me. And I don't mean bike pictures or photos documenting the ride; I mean photos you do not see on this blog.

      Besides, a ride like this, I don't know whether enjoying the countryside is on the menu for most participants. I don't see how you can ride at that pace and really take in the scenery. It registers, sure, but not really the same as exploring. Which is fine, there are different kinds of riding. I did most of this same route with a friend last Fall, and we went slower, stopping for lunch at an outdoor restaurant with a gorgeous view. It took all day, and it was a great day. The Populaire was more like a race.

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    2. 'Besides, a ride like this, I don't know whether enjoying the countryside is on the menu for most participants.'

      Exploring new boundaries means speed as well as scenic moments, which will always register if one has any sensibilities at all... Getting out of the normal is the point...Stretching. Some photograph, others don't. I'm just saying I'm glad you did this as simply a bike ride.

      Btw, I'm totally confused as to what you are, or how you define yourself.

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    3. You and me both. I've stopped trying to define myself.

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    4. Sorry, 'I'm a photographer' seemed definitive and the way in which you informed yourself....

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    5. Problem is, I don't do just one thing, and also that I recently (well not so recently - over a year ago now) switched from one dayjob to another; still getting used to it. For the dayjob, I used to be in academia. Now I work freelance, a mix of consulting, photography, and writing - a good part of it for the bike industry lately. For non-money I do more photography (different kind), more writing (also different kind), and painting. That part has stayed the same through the dayjob switch.

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    6. Ah, for those of us who do multiple things with our days I'm glad there's bicycling to share and bind :)

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  9. You rode 105 miles for the 107 km ride? I don't think that's the way metric-to-imperial conversions work. ;-)

    If you get a lift to the start of the 200 km, you will do just fine. You already rode 170 km (yesterday); what's another 30 km after that?

    I was just looking at a 50 to 60 mile ride, with 2500 feet of climbing (from Portland OR to the Columbia River Gorge and back), and thinking it sounded like a lot of climbing... but I was planning on bulling both kids in the trailer, in my defenese

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    1. If I can hitch a ride, it will not be a huge difference. Otherwise, 150 miles minimum, depending on which route I take there and back.

      Can't imagine a hilly ride with kids in the trailer. Did a "recovery ride" on a loaded Xtracycle this morning and that was enough!

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    2. I've pulled my kids up to the Oregon Zoo, and then over to Pittock Mansion, twice: 1300 feet of climbing in 18 miles. It took all day, since we stopped at the zoo for a couple of hours in the middle: Map: http://goo.gl/maps/NFv9j
      And MapMyRIde says this was 2000 feet in 36 miles, with both kids: http://goo.gl/maps/HGzzT
      The extra weight isn't that much harder, though it is much slower.

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  10. Good for you! 105 miles is quite close to the 200K so you know its within your grasp, even if it means getting very tired.

    I opted for a solo ride yesterday, but saw some Populaire riders in Harvard around noon. It's nice out there.

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    1. What's annoying is that I wasn't at any point tired per se. What happens, is that after Mile X I get this "gotta get off the bike!" feeling, like my upper body can't hold itself up anymore or something. Pretty sure it's due to lack of core/back muscles and all that. But it's getting better, and "Mile X" keeps increasing.

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    2. All of these 80-100 mile rides has to be helping you. But work on your core as well. It's nice to have balanced muscles.

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  11. There was a lot more climbing on this one; I don't care what ridewithgps claims, I agree that this one was way tougher. When I said on the way back that the hills weren't that bad I meant I was pleasantly surprised at my own performance on them -- I'd expected to be really not happy on the last few ones, and instead I was just like "eh, more hills".

    I think it's maybe that this was a bunch of climbs and a lot of flat sections, whereas Blue Moon was pretty much all gentle rollers, so the climbing was spread out. Or something.

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    1. You know, people say that the hills at the end of a ride are the worst, but I tend to feel the opposite. It's like in the beginning I am not warmed up and the first little climbs are always a shock. Then as it goes on, I just sort of get used to it, resigned to my fate, until at the end it's as you say -"eh, more hills." Good times.

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    2. Hah...people say both! I've found over the years that some pace themselves (physically or mentally) to finish stronger than they start and some flame out early...and always do. Life!

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  12. I actually think hills are easiest halfway through a long ride-- after I'm thoroughly warmed up but before I've exhausted most of my energy. When I've used up my last 95%, hills really do feel the worst.

    The great thing about the Populaire route is that the last 15 miles is essentially all down hill, with the exception of a few short hills.

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    1. On a hard ride, I disintegrate toward the end, but my way of dealing with that is to go faster - even uphill. A weird phenomenon.

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  13. I *way* overdid it for the first 50 miles keeping up with some much stronger riders. Definitely the first time I've been so far over my head for such a long distance.

    I realize 200k will take too long at a pace I'll enjoy--just too much time away from the kids. Maybe another year. Good luck if you end up going!

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  14. Well if it helps you to overcome your doubts: I rode this year's first century last weekend and this season's first 200k brevet by the Ontario Randonneurs here in Toronto was scheduled for today, which I planned to ride. On last week's ride I was in pain and very much unhappy on the bike for at least the last 60km. During the ride I was really thinking to myself: "Why am I doing this to myself? Why did I get so stupidly obsessed with cycling? I don't want to ride a bike ever again! There's no way I'm going on a 200k next weekend"

    By Tuesday, all was forgotten and I was stoked to ride the 200k today, no matter what! During the week I made some important adjustments to my saddle, which ended up making a huge difference. And I got a trunk bag to carry extra clothes, because I had attempted the previous ride with pretty minimal gear and suffered a lot from windchill after the early spring sum stopped warming me in the late afternoon.

    So I did have some trepidations to go on such a long ride today, but I ended up being just fine, even though we ended up riding the last 40k in pretty serious rain and I even had to make it home in the rain after the ride. Of course it's still a pretty gruelling challenge and you suffer at times, but the more often you do it, the better you learn to deal with it. It is quite rare that riders get into situations where they have to be "rescued" or "bailed out". Some of the time, every fiber in your body says STOP, but you keep going, because it's your only choice and 10k down the road you might get a second wind and feel like your having the best time of your life. It's an extreme challenge for most people and so the feelings involved are also quite extreme. But the truth is that for most healthy people in relatively good shape, with an adequate bike (as you famously have) and the right gear, a 200k ride is almost always doable. It is aerobic excercise, so if you make sure you eat and drink enough, you can sustain a moderate effort almost indefinitely.

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  15. What would the phrase "their rhythm did not match mine" mean?

    If "they" have some sort of established rhythm(?) and they are numerous and you are rhythming solo the discipline of riding in a group might entail you matching your rhythm to theirs.

    A gaggle of riders going down the road in proximity but with each indulging quirks and idiosyncracies as much as they possibly can is something recent and very American.

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    1. I can ride in a paceline, and I feel very comfortable with the rules and synchronicity that involves. This was different - more casual, loose, with mixed rhythms - which might be why I found it hard to adapt.

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