Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Saratoga 300K: Just under the wire.

This past Sunday I rode in the Saratoga 300K, my second formal brevet of the year. With gentle rollers, this event looked like a good 300K to finish in under 12 hours to satisfy one of the requirements of the Cyclos Montagnard R60 Challenge. The nine (yes nine!) controls would make it tricky, though. At five minutes per control this would add 45 minutes to the ride. My goal: 1-2 minutes per control, except when I needed water and I would take the full 5. I rode with all of the calories I would need on the bike in the form of Perpetuem, Hammer Gel and a few solid bars. As Sunday approached, the forecast grew more ominous with predictions of rain growing from 20 to 30 to 80%. I came prepared with the full complement of fenders and raingear, so naturally we didn’t get a drop all day. 

On Saturday night, I pulled into Schyulerville and checked into the Old Saratoga Motor Inn. I’ve grown quite fond of this quaint town near the headwaters of the Hudson River over the years through John Ceceri’s brevets and ultra races. This was my first time in this particular motel and, let me tell you, it is a randonneur’s dream. The proprietors not only welcome bikes into the rooms, but check-out time is “whenever you’re done” at which point riders are invited to come back and “take a shower, take a nap, whatever you need.” And if that weren’t enough, at check-in the owner made sure we took his cell number just in case we broke down or needed any help along the way. “Just call me,” he said, “and I’ll just come up and get you in my truck.”

There was a small field of eight riders this time around that included several local Hudson Valley cyclists. Don and I shared a room and Andrey and Gene were there with their velorfred.com mobile. Have you visited Velofred lately? They sell great rando equipment of all shapes and sizes. Our pal Stuart from Woodstock also showed up as did a rider from Boston and one from Syracuse in addition to our organizer John.

The ride started at 4:00 am and in my great haste to get under way, I actually missed the first two cues on the sheet. The first elicited a few groans and the second caused me to add two bonus miles and one bonus hill into the route. Angry with my own carelessness, I hammered through the next ten miles to meet up with the field by the first control. After muttering something like “we shall not speak of this again” and getting my card stamped, Don and I rode off together for the next 60 miles or so trading pulls and catching up on life. At about mile 70, he pulled over and urged me on and so for the next 120 miles I rode solo.

The day was beautiful with spring in its full glory all around us. Flowering trees and light green buds adorned the trees. I saw a variety of signs and portents along the way: a small red fox (alive) and a pileated woodpecker (alive) and a porcupine (dead). I also came across the most dramatic chicken tree-house I’ve ever seen, with a three story spiral staircase encased in chicken wire. I also saw an eerie white “ghost bike” monument to indicate the location on a quiet back road where a cyclist lost his life to a car.

The wind was calm all day except for the 21 miles around the Great Sacandaga Lake (where it seemed to blow off the lake in all directions from the epicenter) and the final 10 miles along the Hudson. This last stretch is also the final 10 miles on the Saratoga 12/24 race course, so I was very familiar with those headwinds as well as the final climb up into town.

Fighting the clock, I dug deep into my reserves in the second half of the ride and finished at 3:53 (11h 53m), a mere 7 minutes before hitting my self-imposed 12 hour limit. I knew that every second counted throughout the entire 190 miles. It’s critical to spend time wisely and luckily I didn’t run into any mechanical trouble along the way. John’s wife Kathy was there at the finish with sandwiches and salad. We caught up as I enjoyed one of several dinners I ate that day.

With two events down, I have two more to go in my quest for the R60 honor. The Boston 400K (in under 16:12 hours) and the Cranbury 600K (in under 24 hours) both loom large on the horizon. Next up: a father-son ride this weekend in NYC on the Five Boro Bike Ride. I hope it’s a bit drier than last year, but we’re prepared either way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting ready: what I need to do OFF the bike this week.

This week marks my second brevet of the season and the first in which night riding is a factor. We all know that success on the bike is based on a combination of physical training, mechanical consistency, mental readiness, proper nutrition and external factors beyond our control such as weather and terrain. It’s easy to focus on the need to be physically ready for a big event, but with only several days to go, I’ve found that my time is much better spent ensuring that the other aspects of my preparation are in order.

I very much want this to be my fastest 300K brevet ever. I’ve ridden this many miles within 12 hours, but not under brevet conditions that require control stops, card signing and total self-sufficiency. My success will come from a single-minded commitment to reaching my goal on the bike as well as a plan that reduces my time spent off the bike to next to nothing. I’ll have very little room for error so need to make sure that my equipment is in optimal shape. Here’s a list (so far) of the non-training work I need to take care of this week to prepare for the Saratoga 300K on Sunday.
  • Take my dynamo hub wheel out of the closet, install a fresh tube and tire and attach it all to the bike. [Ensure that the computer magnet is attached and calibrated correctly].
  • Carefully attach and wire headlight and taillight (the former was repaired under warrantee for water collection during LEL and not used since).
  • Change helmet lamp battery.
  • Spend several hours riding at night to test equipment and set-up.
  • Finally reset my watch and bike computer to Eastern Daylight Savings Time.
  • Clean the bike of all accumulated grime and road spray.
  • Oil pedal spindles so they hang properly for optimal click-in.
  • Tighten all loose parts like fenders and fender stays. Replace the front fender stay with a longer replacement part.
  • Check tires carefully and remove all glass shards and pebbles that may work their way into the tube. [This useful tidbit was shared by Levi Leipheimer in Bicycling magazine].
  • Follow the weather forecast and prepare all appropriate clothing and equipment.
  • Estimate the need for and measure and pack nutrition products.
  • Review cue sheet and meditate/visualize course and strategy.
  • Get 8 full hours of sleep every night.

While success will come largely from the work I do ON the bike, it could certainly be fouled up by any one of the things I forget to do OFF the bike.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Princeton 200K: One Step Closer to my BHAG!

As I mentioned several moths ago, my Big Hairy Audacious Goal or BHAG (see Jim Collins) is to complete the Cyclos Montagnard R60 Challenge. To achieve this distinction, randonneurs must complete a full brevet series in under 60% of the maximum time allowance established for each distance. Roughly the same percentage of time required for membership in the honorary Charly Miller Society. To date no one has succeeded. How audacious to think I may be the first! After Saturday's Princeton 200K, I was one step closer.

Early April is fickle in the Northeast and the Princeton 200K has been plagued by unpleasant weather for the past several years. This year, though, we were blessed. The weather was outstanding with temps in the 50s and 60s through much of the day. It never got hot enough to remove the arm warmers, yet the sun was plentiful and illuminated both flowering trees and annuals along the entire course. With over 65 starters, the organizer, Jud Hand, chose to send riders out in one of three groups. As luck would have it, "S" placed me in the first wave.

I saw a few familiar faces at the start, but spent much of the day with only fellow rider Lenny Zawodniak who will be riding the PAC Elite tour next month. It's always more enjoyable to share the burden of wind and navigation and Len proved to be a great companion. We stayed at each control only long enough to process cards, fill bottles and swallow a few calories.

The Princeton 200K route is outstanding and will challenge anyone's preconceived notions of New Jersey. Having grown up in the state, I am still blown away by the beauty one rides through on NJ Rando rides. The first 36 miles were quick as we rode through the village of Princeton and then through the surrounding towns as we worked our way west towards the Delaware River. A nasty little headwind was the only disappointment on the outbound journey. The staff at the Frenchtown control was hospitable and accommodating. The route is filled with rollers, smooth roads and gorgeous Colonial farms and villages. Sections were quite beautiful, especially the stretch along the Delaware that includes an odd little one lane (two way) road that felt more like a towpath than anything else.

Mechanically, my Indy Fab behaved pretty well, but the brand new drive train needs an adjustment or two.For one thing, I lost use of the small front ring between mile 105 and 115 right in the midst of a nice set of rollers. Eventually, the cable sorted itself out and I regained the full use of all gears. I also had to stop at one point to tighten my left front fender stay which had loosened and begun rubbing against the front tire. Note to self: no mechanical upgrades without a long test ride and always be sure to tighten all bolts, screws and levers before a big ride.

On the ride home we were blessed with an impressive tailwind. Lenny and I finished in 8:05, missing the sub-8 hour 200K I had envisioned, but making it under the 8:06 R60 time limit by ONE MINUTE! Crazy man, crazy. Hats off to Jud and the volunteers for an outstanding event all around.