Monday, May 6, 2013

200K, Party of Two

This past Saturday was the New England Randonneurs 200K brevet out of Boston - the longest ride I have done so far. A brevet is an organised, self-supported ride, which participants complete within a time limit. The typically hilly routes must be carefully navigated, with control checkpoints along the way. 200K is an interpretive figure, which in this case translated to almost 130 miles with about 8,500 ft of elevation gain. The time limit was 13.5 hours. The week before I had done the 100K Populaire, the prelude to this brevet. This ride would be twice the distance. Having registered, I intended to finish, but beyond that I had no expectations. No matter what randonneurs would have you believe in their attempts to lure you into their fold, brevets - even the shorter ones - are difficult. There was only one way to find out just how difficult this one would be. 

Up before sunrise, I felt calm - too calm. Neither excited nor nervous, I was also not especially enthusiastic. I felt prepared. I had my bike ready and all my things organised. But at 4:45am I no longer knew why I wanted to do an organised, timed 130 mile ride, from a location I had to cycle 15 miles to at an ungodly hour. This was not how I hoped to feel setting off. The previous night I had published a quick blog post, where I mentioned I'd be doing the 200K the next day. This is something I normally try not to do, as I believe it is bad luck to make such announcements in advance. Now I removed the post, lest it was the cause of my ambivalent mood and could later jinx the ride. 

To make it to the 7am start with time to spare for a coffee along the way, I set off at 5:10am. When I left home, the temperature was 45°, and I knew that it would reach a high of 65° in the course of the day. I wore long tights, a thin long sleeve baselayer with a short sleeve jersey over it, a neckwarmer, fingerless gloves, and a windbreaker. Later I would remove the windbreaker, stashing it in my jersey pocket. While I like leg and arm warmers, I sometimes have chafing issues with the extra elastics. So on rides with milage in the uncharted territory, I go with long sleeves and full length tights to be safe. 

Riding to the Hanscom Air Force Base on empty roads in the morning mist was quite beautiful, and I tried not to think about the extra miles I was tacking onto the ride. 

Once there, I signed in, got my brevet card and looked for familiar faces. I was glad to see NER board members Bruce and Melinda there. They have witnessed me transition from outside observer to ride participant, and there was a comforting sort of intimacy in that. And Steve - with whom I'd staffed a brevet the previous summer - was now the ride organiser. Seeing him again and remembering that event made everything fall into place. This was a game I'd played before, only this time I'd be one of the riders. I am not sure how to express this, but at no point did I worry about finishing the brevet, despite being uncertain of my ability to handle it. It was as if I'd purchased a ticket to a rollercoaster ride and was already on it. No way out, but to finish it.

Walking around the parking lot in search of sun, I spotted Pamela Blalock. Earlier, Pamela'd mentioned that she would keep me company on the brevet, but I did not really expect to ride with her beyond the first few miles of this challenging route - a route that was, in fact, based on one of her own, designed around some scenic New Hampshire climbs. 

At 7am, we took off in one long, drawn-out cluster. The faster riders were asked to go first, but only some of them obliged. As a result, the first few miles were defined by an ongoing jostle for position. I expected to lose Pamela in the chaos, but we emerged out of the shuffle unseparated, picking up a couple of other riders along the way. For some time, we rode 2x2 at a brisk pace, with me behind a very strong rider from our cycling club, whose pedal strokes were so even, so predictable and so quick, they were like a work of art. Of course, it was not to last, and eventually he took off, along with our other companion. I told Pamela to go on ahead with them and leave me to ride at my own pace. In response she informed me that I was "stuck" with her, as she intended to ride with me the entire time. I hadn't realised until then that she was serious about that. At that moment I would have preferred to ride alone, as my mood was not very sociable. Almost 20 miles into the ride now, I still wasn't "feeling" it; I was just going through the motions. "110 more miles of this," I thought. This was a factual thought, not charged with any particular emotion. 

We rode straight North. The route would take us across the MA/NH state line, then up some more to the first control at mile 53. We chatted idly, until the topic of laundering bike shorts came up, at which point I remembered something and slapped myself on the forehead. "I need to stop after this hill to make a phone call," I said, "I left my shorts in the oven." With Pamela laughing, I explained that I will sometimes warm up my bike shorts in the oven (with the heat turned off) before a ride, and that this time I ended up not wearing those shorts, forgetting to remove them. They'd be fine in there all day, I'd placed them far from the pilot light. But just in case,  I would call my husband and ask him to take them out. That I did, with Pamela giggling at our conversation. 

Soon after that, we crossed into New Hampshire. Keeping up a brisk tempo, we cycled through a village fair where farm vegetables were sold and baby goats were on display in a large pen. A chorus of "Meh! Beh!" echoed behind us as we continued. 

By the time we began the first respectable climb at mile 40, it was a different ride from the one we started. There were no other cyclists around, it was just us two in the middle of nowhere. Everything seemed funny. This 5 mile climb would be a warm-up for the more serious climbs that awaited, Pamela explained, as we pedaled at a much-reduced speed up an endlessly winding road. Sure, sure, I said. It seemed not to matter much.

We made it to the first control in good time; some riders from the faster groups were still hanging out. I refilled my water bottles, replenished my banana supply, and bought a couple of hot dogs in the country store across the street (I don't do well with PB&J sandwiches, cookies, and other typical control foods during strenuous rides). 

Everyone around was amused that I'd gotten "bunless" hot dogs - two of them, laid out on a little paper plate and covered in relish. This is perfectly normal outside of the US, so I don't see what the big deal is. But I accepted my freak-show status and dutifully posed for pictures with my bunless dogs. Meanwhile, Pamela ate a chocolate muffin, washing it down with one of those bottled frappuccino things. Others ate chips, cookies and nutella sandwiches. Tempting as some of these things were, I know enough by now to not touch junk food during bike rides; it does not work for me. Hot dogs and bananas: Yes. Cookies and chips: No. Milk: Yes. Soda: No. 

Pedaling away from the first control, I felt great. We had not stayed long, but the time off the bike allowed me to do some nice stretches to help with the uncomfortable, tight feeling I get above my tailbone after long climbs. The stretches involve a sequence of twists and backward bends, after which I am good as new and ready for more climbing. Timely, as the next leg of the route was a loop through the middle of New Hampshire, with one long climb after another. After another. 

I do not want to downplay the hills on this route, they were difficult and like nothing I'd done before. But this tough middle section was my favourite part of the brevet. The day was beautiful, sunny with dry heat, and we rode through pine forests strewn with wildflowers. The pines and flowers released scents that mingled with the heat in a way that, to me, was simply intoxicating. I felt my lungs open up wide to get the most out of this, and I felt my body wake up and orient itself toward the sunshine flickering through the tree branches. 

We started out with a gradual 7 mile climb, followed by a shockingly steep 2 mile climb, followed by a steady 10 mile climb with some steep stretches. These were punctuated by steep, winding descents - which I was better at handling this time than on previous rides, feeling more in control around bends and relaxed the whole way down. 

On the climbs, a couple of short stretches were so steep that I simply could not push my lowest gear (34x29) and walked. And there were other stretches where I stayed on the bike, but ground my way up at an excruciatingly slow pace. But the subjective experience of this was not bad; I feel like the worst of the hills happened at just the right place in the course, where I had the most energy. During one of the longer and steeper climbs, we somehow got into a conversation about Jan Heine's Bicycle Quarterly article comparing titanium race bikes vs steel fat tire rando bikes. So passionate were our feelings about this article, that before I knew it we had completed the long climb. Highly recommended. 

In the midst of this was a secret-question control at a farm, then an unmanned control at a country store. We stopped at the first to get the requisite information, then lingered at the second to refill our water bottles and eat more food. Me: a frozen BBQ patty heated up in the store's microwave and a bottle of strawberry milk. Pamela: ho-hos, cookies and another frappucino. I felt sick just looking at her food, and I'm sure she felt the same about mine! We moved on quickly after finishing our meals.

The next stretch of the ride was tougher for me than the previous. There were still some good climbs, and even though they were tamer than the ones we'd just completed, my legs and body were now feeling the cumulative effects of going uphill for so long. We pulled over a few times along this section, which was an effective way of maximising my energy. I also enjoyed the descents here, taking as much advantage of them as I could. 

Although this part of the ride was taxing, there were never any "dark moments" as some riders call them. We were making good time, we rode at a brisk pace, and I knew that as long as we pulled over every so often, my body could handle the rest of the ride without much drama. We even took a couple of short scenic detours, to incorporate parts of Pamela's original route that the official brevet omitted. 

We were now past mile 90 of the brevet, my cyclo-computer reading 105 starting from home. Seeing that number and knowing there were still 40 miles left to go, I could feel my mind making room for a new "I can do X distance" figure. There would be one more control coming up before we crossed back into Massachusetts, after which it would mostly be rollers till the finish.

At the final control we did not need much food or water, and moved on fairly quickly. After that, it was all a blur. I was proper tired by the final leg, but the terrain had flattened out and the finish felt in sight. 35 miles to go. 20 miles to go. It began to seem like nothing. We sprinted for town lines, reminisced about past rides, discussed future ones. 

At some point Pamela got a message from her husband, who was taking part in the Rapha Gentlemen's Race at the same time as we were doing the NER brevet. The Ride Studio Cafe team had finished 3rd. In previous years, Pamela had done this race herself and I was reminded again of the discrepancy in our abilities, feeling guilty that she was riding with me - when she could have easily been in the lead group. But Pamela is not one to indulge that line of thought. Had she wanted to be in the lead group, she'd be in the lead group. But today she wanted to "enjoy a gals' day out in the country." Saying this, she winked slyly, making a fishing reel gesture with her hands. Of course it dawned on me where this was heading: The next time she'd invite me on a little ride, I'd be expected to handle 200K as a matter of course. I laughed at the realisation, imagining some surprise dirt roads and maybe an extra hill or two thrown in next time for good measure. My heart swelled with love for Pamela; the woman is adorable. 

At 10 miles to go, the adrenaline kicked in, masking the pains I was starting to feel. "Let's get this over with," I thought, and Pamela, as if reading my mind, said the same thing out loud. 

With the cool evening wind against our faces, we rolled up to the finish screaming at the top of our lungs, at 6:59pm - having ridden the brevet in 11:59 hours. Some other riders were there, lingering about, and more were still expected. We had some nice conversations at the finish, after which I was not too proud to accept a lift home from Pamela in her motorised vehicle (a rare and welcome occasion!). I had ridden over 145 miles that day.

For those interested in logistics: My overall average speed for the brevet (clock keeps going during all stops, etc.) was 10.83mph. Rolling average was 13.2mph. 

Consumed in the course of the ride: 2 bananas, 2 hot dogs with relish, 1 BBQ patty, 1 bottle strawberry milk, 1 cup chocolate milk, 2 slices watermelon, 2 packets Shot Blocks, 7 bottles of water containing Skratch Labs electrolyte powder. 

Difficulties during ride: strain above tailbone during prolonged climbing (relieved by occasional stretching), gearing not low enough for a couple of climbs, slow to warm up at start of the ride. 

Notably absent: headache, nausea, numbness, cramping, low energy, thirst, lightheadedness.

Damage post-ride: two small saddle sores (healed a day later), some swelling in wrists and fingers (gone several hours later, possibly water retention), mild sunburn, moderate thigh muscle soreness. 

I do not plan to do longer brevets. But I am glad I managed the 200K, and hope that over time this distance will become easier. 

As always, I thank everyone involved - directly and indirectly - for making this event happen, and for contributing to my ability to do it. As for 12 hours of riding with Pamela... That was an experience in comradery I will not forget. Though I could have managed this brevet on my own, it would have been a very different kind of ride, very different. As I was falling asleep that night, an endearing image of Pamela making the reeling-in gesture popped up in my mind's eye. Oh those charming randonneurs. Watch out for them. 

63 comments:

  1. Hey 145 miles well done.
    That's well in the way to a 300k.
    Go on .. you know you want to!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dang it, I NEED to come to East Coast to ride with you ladies. Job well done!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Congrats on your completion! Since I started following this blog a while back, it's been super inspiring to watch you 'develop'(?) as a cyclist and do these pretty hardcore rides without any apparent 'dark' moments that I know I've experienced on lesser distances. Very cool.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You rock! well done!

    I wish i could have been there for the ride. when i did my first 200K last year, it gave me the confidence to keep doing rides like that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Your post successfully shows the mind/body interplay that shapes our capacity and resolve in accomplishing a ride of this scope. You have clearly done the mental and physical homework that allowed you to be taken for a ride! Congratulations on the ride itself and on rendering its realistic portrait. Thank you. Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sounds SO great, thanks for the report.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks everyone! I am, frankly, amazed that you managed to read this report - once again, longer than the ride :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All I want to do this spring is ride my bike and to read something like this on a rainy afternoon at work is pretty cool. It would have to be a lot longer before it was too long.

      Yesterday was really lovely here and I did my longest solo road ride so far this season, when I climbed off the bike last evening and saw you hadn't posted anything for a couple of days I wondered if you were out on some adventure. That Pamela sounds like the kind of person we should all be...

      Spindizzy

      Delete
  8. I guess this is impressive, wouldn't know. Who on earth has this amount of hours in a day to train for and do these things? Congrats!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It depends. Those with 9-5 jobs train early mornings, after work and/or on weekends. Those who work freelance of course have more flexibility. Also, different riders require different amount of training. In the scheme of things, for many regular cyclists this is not all that great a distance to work up to, though I am probably feebler than most.

      Delete
    2. Children make it close to insane to devote those hours...That's okay, really, though. Bicycling gives us pleasures in other ways :)

      Delete
    3. You could likely get prepared for one of these by spending less time on the bike than the amount of time I read that a lot of Americans spend watching TV or on the Net in their spare time.(dang that was a hell'uva sentence)

      Delete
    4. Anon 4:19 - Um... They sell child seats for the bike you know.

      (Kidding, kidding.)

      Delete
    5. No joke in regards to children and training. I'm training for my first century, and the only consistent blocks of time I have to ride hard are before 6:30 am and after 8:00 pm. If you want it, you'll find time, just don't sacrifice your family for it.

      Delete
    6. No, I appreciate kidding and I'll wait till you're in this position and then read your blog post :)-- Two kids, two bikes, two child seats, one trailer, no car and two jobs. Still, it keeps us fit and challenged and happy. We'll, instead, settle into reading about those who adventure for long hours at a time on their bikes. Maybe we, too, will eventually find the energy!

      anon 4:19

      Delete
  9. Very impressive! Do you use a chamois cream for long rides like that? I just did my longest ever ride -- not much my your standards, 30 miles of flat -- and am thinking chamois cream might be worth checking into.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here is a review of a bunch of different chamois creams that might be helpful. On long rides like this I use the Boudreaux "Butt Paste," because it is by far the most resilient (stays exactly in the spots where you put it, and requires minimal re-application).

      Also, you might be encouraged to know that over time I use less and less chamois cream. In the beginning, it was a lifesaver to me, even on 20 mile rides. Now, I only use a little and do not need to reapply unless the ride is over 100K.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the info! I'll give some a try.

      Delete
    3. More power to the pedals=less weight on the butt>less need for product>comfort.

      Delete
  10. Well done. And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only fan of hot dogs on long rides. Fat, sugar, salt, carbs (from the buns). Everything to keep one happy in the saddle!

    ReplyDelete
  11. "I do not plan to do longer brevets"
    When you were starting off, you probably did not know what a brevet was and you were certainly not "planning" a 200k!
    With your rampant europhilia and increasing ability to ride long rides, I can imagine you at Paris-Brest-Paris in a few years!
    Nice write up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah yeah yeah : )

      One correction: I do not suffer from europhilia. I am a native European, an immigrant to the US.

      Delete
  12. Congratulations! You're my new hero!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Congratulations, and well done. You have provided an excellent ride account, and certainly driven home how the nature of a ride can be changed by the company you keep. I've had several brevets greatly improved by the conversation and companionship of another rider. Keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
  14. How many riders were there in total? Love the idea of these rides, hate the crowds. Your description of the start makes me a little nervous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was actually not a huge crowd. The official numbers are not up yet, but I am guessing 60ish. It is a non-PBP year, plus the season started late making it hard to train, plus some regulars seemed to have scheduling conflicts this particular weekend.

      But anyhow, regarding the start... Yes, this could be an issue. One tactic might be to start toward the end!

      Delete
    2. Brevets don't usually have problems with crowds. Even if there are a lot of people at the start, they don't tend to bunch and cluster and try to beat each other to the next stop sign. And usually they'll split off into smaller groups early on. The only brevet I have ever done that I found to be more crowded than I'd like was Paris-Brest-Paris, but it had thousands of riders, not dozens.
      In general though, even in the beginning when people are still pretty much together, a brevet with 80 people is nothing like an average weekend club ride with 80 people. Much more civilized. :)

      Delete
    3. Oh and I got the figures. 59 riders started, and there were 2 DNFs.

      Delete
  15. More Moxie:

    http://www.plattyjo.com/blog/
    http://mmmmbike.wordpress.com/

    :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, plattyjo!

      Didn't know about mmmmbike, thanks. Double Pelikans!

      Delete
  16. Well I made a comment on the deleted post to the effect you'd crammed too many miles in recently to build ok. So you crammed a bunch of food in your face and that got you through.

    I don't know if your reason for deleting was jinx-related, but there was nothing wrong with it. If you had failed there was that time stamp of why. But anyway you were one day away from not finishing.

    I'd say congrats but it's just a number and I've said it a lot.

    Yeah the 7 is going to be stable if you trust it and ride it. Duh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will repost the overtraining stuff later.

      Delete
  17. huge congrats on the achievement!

    off topic: why was your previous post describing your fatigued legs deleted?

    ReplyDelete
  18. oops, never mind my question; looks like you addressed it.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hmm... roasted shorts with chef's own sweat sauce. Not sure I would ever want to try it.

    Just out of curiosity - was any part of this brevet routed on dirt roads or was all on pavement?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No dirt on this one, nor on the 100K. But I think there are some unpaved stretches on the 300K.

      Delete
  20. That's one long day in the saddle. So no 300K or a fleche?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Amazing! The 15-mile ride to the starting point alone would've killed me.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Congrats. The Randos know all the great roads. That would be the attraction for me. If you stick with it, you'll know some great routes. Ride on.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Re chamois "creme" for long rides: I discovered "Okole Stuff" (google it) about a year and a half ago and it has changed my life ;-) I have not had one single saddle issue since, having suffered through some longer lasting saddle sores in the past after rides of this length. The difference is this is a paraffin based ointment so does not degrade over the length of a long ride and it requires very little to be applied. It does take a little getting used to in that it sort of never really washes out, your shorts get clean but the pad always has a slight waxy feel to it. But, this is good because you need to apply very little every time. Well worth a try for any distance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard good things about it, but wonder about the mineral oil content. You've never found it to clog pores?

      Delete
    2. Empirically quite the opposite. I used a variety of other products such as DZ Nuts, Assos and Butt'r, but did end up with what were essentially clogged pores that ended up getting worse, even requiring some time off the bike. With Okole Stuff, I've never had a clogged pore or any kind of chafe issue. FWIW, I have very Mediterranean skin type, arguably a "worse case" scenario for clogged pores. I really think the hardest thing to get past is the feeling that you get from something that is not fully water soluble.

      Delete
    3. Sounds interesting. I don't think I'd have a problem with anything non-water soluble after the Boudreaux stuff.

      Delete
  24. Outstanding!Definitely a proud accomplishment.

    ReplyDelete
  25. No trouble with the pollen? Even if you're not terribly allergic, it is fine dust, and there's a lot of it right now, and 145 miles means you processed a lot of air.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't typically have problems with this. But I know other riders use allergy meds pre-emptively.

      Delete
  26. I enjoyed reading your account of the 200km brevet. Reminded me of my first, the 2012 St.Patrick's Day Bellingham, WA 200k. It took me 14 hours (missing the cutoff) due to getting lost on the Lummi Indian Reservation as darkness fell.
    You at least had good weather; we got everything thrown at us that day: heavy rain which turned to heavy wet snow, then finally glorious sunshine until darkness and getting lost and off course.
    Like you, 200km is about my limit (at age nearly 67), but finishing one is certainly a good feeling and for some of us, plenty of challenge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doing a 200K that early in the season would have been more difficult; I don't think I'd be up for what you describe!

      Delete
  27. It looks like you had time for pictures, very nice! I see camera bike on the horizon.

    PS: I think you mean prelude, not prequel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I took advantage of our stops to snap quick pictures, but we didn't stop with pictures in mind. So none of the scenic or interesting spots are shown, only where we happened to pull over.

      Yes I meant prelude, thanks.

      Delete
  28. Remember this a wee bit over a year ago. What progress you have made in that time. It was a real pleasure to see your excitement and joy as the ride went on. You say you don't plan on longer brevets, but I don't believe you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd forgotten that I wrote a post about that ride - though I still remember the feeling of going up that hill out of Lincoln; it seemed endless! In all seriousness, I felt better after the 200K than I did after that club ride last year.

      Delete
  29. well done and nice report!!

    Kind regards
    Christian

    ReplyDelete
  30. Congratulations! Sounds like you had a beautiful day, a challenging course, as well as excellent riding company.

    ReplyDelete
  31. You've complemented a great ride with this post! Hope you change your mind about longer brevets. I'm on the fence about the 300k. Might you be planning an apperance at any upcoming brevets in the area? 100k D2R2?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. D2R2, Kearsarge, and the VT Fall Classic are pencilled in. Also might be taking an earlier road trip to VT with Ms. "antimony" below. Are you local? Drop me a line.

      Delete
  32. V/C -- This is how I met Pamela.

    I may tease Pamela, but I only tease those I like, respect, or otherwise appreciate. However, failure to tease does not necessarily mean that I don't like, etc. someone -- it may be that I've never figured out "an angle" for a decent banter / tease. If you check out that above link (and the story isn't half-bad, even if I do say that myself), you'll find an embedded link to Pamela's version of that ride -- hers is better written, of course.

    I'm going to put another comment on "the Blaleys," acknowledging / congratulating Pamela on doing a much better mentoring job this year than I did last year.

    ...Martin

    ReplyDelete
  33. This was the third year in a row I've done the 200k - after the first two I swore that was the longest I would ever try to go. Now after the third one I can't wait to see if I can do 300k. I am slow, but it is fun.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Not only well ridden, well written. Congratulations!

    ReplyDelete