Thursday, June 25, 2015

Qualified! The Catskill 600K Ride Report

The Catskill 600K out of Westfield, MA is one of my all-time favorite brevets. As I've written before, this one has a little bit of everything: epic hills, rolling farmland, quaint Hudson Valley towns, abundant roadkill and more! The most noteworthy characteristic of this year's Catskill 600K, though, from my point of view, is that it marks the final qualifying brevet in my run-up to PBP.

There was a small field on this late season event with only 13 riders clipping in at the 4:00 am start. Fortunately, several were friends of mine so the early leg of the ride was filled with anticipation and small talk as we caught up and discussed plans for both the current weekend as well as PBP down the road. One of my friends, Patrick C. did not even need this brevet for PBP qualification having recently completed the NJ 600K, but he was up for adventure and hung in there like the true pro that he is throughout the weekend. By the time we reached the first control, the field had spread out a bit so that it was just Patrick and me riding together. We held onto this partnership for the rest of the event with Chris T., Jim R., and David D. riding at roughly the same pace just a short distance behind us. This would be confirmed each time we pulled out of a control to see this group rolling in throughout the second half of the ride. 

Most of us hit the sleep stop at about the same time, due to a nasty flat I developed as we pulled into Saratoga Springs in the gentle night rain. When I couldn't find the sharp culprit, I was pleased that Patrick recommended simply using the spare tire I packed for emergencies.  The sleep stop was moved about 12 miles closer to the start this year, which was excellent as I far prefer crossing the rollers into Cambridge, NY in the morning rather than late, late, late at night. After a delicious dinner of lasagna, salad, pickles and salty chips, we took turns showering and falling into bed in one of three rooms devoted to the purpose.

Patrick and I optimistically gave Mary a 3:30 am wake-up request, which allowed us 90 minutes of solid sleep. Rolling out at 4:00 am was not as painful as it might have been, but it was not so wonderful either. The skies were brightening, but the rain fell as a mixture of thick fog and drizzle and we feared it was only a matter of time before it worsened. After the morning rollers, we hit Cambridge and confessed that we both really needed some additional rest. We found a Stewart's Shop with hot coffee and warm benches and set our alarms for 30 minutes to allow for a solid caffeine nap to regain our focus. I'm pleased to report that we both knocked off immediately and found the nap remarkably restorative.

The break in Cambridge allowed Bob O., who had slept a little longer at the overnight control, to leap frog us so when we arrived in Bennington, VT, we met up at the McDonald's for coffee and eggs. We knew that the next 15 miles were destined to be all about climbing, so we lingered as long as possible to ensure that we were fully caffeinated and caloried for the ride ahead. The climbing starts almost immediately upon leaving Bennington and represents the final epic climb of the route. Once at the top of the pass, riders must continue through a series of rollers, but soon the route involves quite a bit of descending into and through Western Massachusetts.

Patrick, Bob and I would ride together for the balance of the day with a nice stop in Shelburne Falls at the legendary McCuskers Market for lunch. The skies cleared in the afternoon and, as luck would have it, we even ran into ride organizer Don P. about 30 miles from the finish and so had a lovely conversation (complete with a motivating pace) on the final approach. Ultimately, we finished in 37:20, which was far slower than I had originally hoped, but well within the required time for PBP qualification. Thanks to the attentive approach taken by the Don, Lois S. at RUSA HQ and the ACP liaison in France, results were processed in record time and I found myself officially registered for PBP within 48 hours of completing the 600K. This meant that I successfully made it within the pre-qualification window and would not lose my spot at the 5:00 am start with the rest of the 84-hour group.

While I might like to feel a bit stronger at this point in the season, I could not be happier with my qualification for PBP, which represents an accomplishment years in the making. There are still many details to line up yet so far, everything has fallen into place. With only 52 days left until the start, though, I need to redouble my training efforts without crossing the line into overtraining and compromising my ultimate performance.

Up next: Plenty of riding both near and far. The Catskills Climbfest 200K permanent on July 12 should provide a good tune-up as well as a way to measure my overall fitness as I work to dial in my exact PBP strategy.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Central / Western New York 400K: Just One More To Go!

As a result of a very hectic spring calendar with work and family obligations around every corner, I found myself riding through the Finger Lakes on a 400K last weekend in one of the very last brevets of this distance on the RUSA calendar. While not completing the ride was not really a possibility, the added pressure did cross my mind from time to time. Living in the Hudson Valley, I'm blessed with four brevet series within two hours of my house, so it's rare that I pack up the car and drive 4-1/2 hours to a ride start. This means that I rarely get up to the Finger Lakes region, which is too bad since the vistas are gorgeous and the roads ideal for long distance cycling.

The ride began on Saturday morning at 6:00 AM at RBA Pete D.'s house side-by-side with a 600K. Due to the lateness of the season, the field was extremely thin with only three starters on the 400 and seven on the 600. With a field this small, I knew that it was quite likely that this would be a solo attempt at the distance for me and so I settled into a pace that felt good from the start. The first and last 30 miles of the route hug the beautiful southern shore of Lake Ontario and conjured fond memories of my experience on the Lap of the Lake 1000K last summer among a much larger field of riders.

After about 30 miles, the route turns south and heads towards the Syracuse area and into the heart of the Finger Lakes. Not long after the start, I was approached by Boston rider Keith C. who had gotten off to a late start riding a sweet Seven Mudhoney with an abundance of youthful energy. When we were chatting and he asked if I was retired or still working I realized that it may be time to step up the training a wee bit or to at least grab a bottle of Grecian Formula at the pharmacy. After our initial conversation, Keith and I leap-frogged a bit until finally settling into a more or less common pace. While he took a bit longer in controls than I had planned, I'm sure that I was riding a bit slower than he would have preferred, especially on the hills when my legs seemingly turned to stone.

Luckily, the weather could not have been more favorable. There was a slight wind out of the north, which aided our progress during the first half of the day and dropped off completely after dark as we made our way home to the finish. There was only one long stretch of open field were we caught a headwind and this reminded us just how lucky we were and how bad it could have been. As the sun began to fade, we approached Lake Skaneateles, one of the loveliest of the Finger Lakes, and arrived in the charming village of the same name on the lake's north shore just as the sun set in time for a welcome meal.

The last time I rode this course, I recall not liking the last 100K all that much, but this time around it was quite pleasant despite the very cold temperatures that set in after midnight. The sky was filled with stars and the moon rose over expansive fields that would soon be filled with corn and other treats of summer. The roads were largely free of traffic and, despite some concern over the quantity of alcohol purchased by drivers at the penultimate control, we did not run into any trouble with cars on the last stretch. Shivering at 43F along the final 50K, I have to thank Keith for his graciousness in not dropping me like a bad habit. We both finished in 21:13, long after we had planned, safe and sound and 3/4 of the way qualified for PBP.

Up Next: One of my favorite brevets of all time, The Catskill 600K on June 20-21.