Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A restful taper before the storm.

The school year is officially over with students on summer vacation, teachers finished with meetings and progress reports off in the mail to families. So what's a humble principal to do but hit the road to spend a few days at the beach with his family while catching up on paperwork, emails and all of the non-urgent work that typically gets put on hold as the thrill of the school year's in motion. It's been a great week: nights filled with restful sleep and days filled with family, productive work and a careful taper in anticipation of this weekend's 600K.

On Friday night at 10 pm, I'll roll out with 34 other randonneurs at the Cranbury (NJ) 600K. This event is the final step towards my audacious goal to successfully complete the Cyclos Montagnards R60 Challenge this season. My previous three brevets have been finished within the alloted time limits and only one obstacle remains. The most difficult component so far, the 24-hour 600K looms large before me. While I'm confident that I would comfortably complete the 375 miles in this time frame on a defined 24-hour racecourse like Saratoga, it's more daunting when I factor in the totally self-supported riding on open roads with navigation challenges. Riding solo also leaves some questions as to whom I might share the burdens of navigation and aerodynamics with along the way.

Tomorrow, we head back home where I'll work on preparing my Indy Fab rando bike for Friday's event. I'll attach the aerobars and swap out my 25mm Contis for the 30mm Grand Bois tires. I also owe the bike a bit of a cleaning. While the weather looks promising, I'll leave the fenders on, in part because my wired tail light is attached to the rear and just in case there is a change in the forecast. I also need to swap out my broken pedal with the new set of Times I picked up earlier this week. My disappointment with those carbon pedals is a story for another day, but I'm happy to have a reliable set up for Friday.

I'm as well trained as I'm going to be at this point. After a three-hour ride on Sunday, I've been working on sharpening my speed through short bursts of high aerobic intervals. My success on Friday will be based on several factors:  nutrition and fluid management, equipment, my need for rest and, of course, luck.

(Photo by Alex Krafcik - Flickr CC)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Endurance Race Couch Potato

This week, I've felt a bit like an endurance race couch potato. I got out last Sunday for a 92-mile training ride, but most of my miles this week have been of the commuting (35-40 miles per day) variety. I've been checking RAAM, RAW, and Tour Divide stats and blogs compulsively, though, and wonder if this counts towards my training in any concrete way. I guess I'm picking up some tips here and there such as "pack your food high in trees when riding through grizzly bear country," and "get off your bike for awhile when you're seeing double after 32 hours without sleep." This kind of thing can save a life!

I'm simply in awe of the amazing fortitude it reflects to train for and throw oneself into the maelstrom as these racers have. This year, there are even a few racers in RAAM that I've ridden with so, while I can't see myself filling their shoes any time soon, I can remember riding beside them not so long ago.They're still in another class altogether from me. I've gotten a great kick out of following Rob Morlock, Kevin Kaiser, and Rick Carpenter's blogs in particular.

My goals this season seem paltry in comparison to racing across the country in under 10 days, or riding down the nation's spine from Canada to Mexico without any support. On the other hand, you've got to start somewhere. Maybe when my kids are a bit older something like this will seem more attainable. Hell, I might even get them to crew for me if I play my cards right. I actually like the idea of creating a mash-up of RAAM and Tour Divide, say a totally self-supported road race from Maine to Florida. No crews, drop bags only. Maybe for that mythical 50th birthday milestone.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Beantown 400K: Three Down and One to Go!

This was my first time riding in one of the Boston Brevets and boy, let me tell you, it was fun worth repeating. This was my third brevet of the season and my goal for the day was to finish in under 16:12 towards qualification in the Cyclos Montagnards R60 Challenge. With these hills and this weather it might not be easy. On the other hand, unlike the Saratoga 300K, with its NINE controls, this event had only FOUR. While I would not lose as much time having to stop for control business, I knew I would have to forage a bit for water along the way. When I left the hotel at 3:20, the rains were steady and thunder and lightning filled the air. It did't look too promising for a full day in the saddle. In fact, it was downright biblical. Sensible people might find this plan a bit off.

As if on cue, though, the rains stopped and the clouds parted enough to allow a sliver of moon to poke through as I signed the waiver and grabbed a fresh cue sheet out of the organizer’s tailgate. I rolled out at 4:00 am at the front of the pack with Matt and Chris, two other riders with whom I would ride for roughly the the first 200K. While these two knew each other, the three of us soon found that we had ridden in many of the same events, if not always at the same time. Matt and I even discovered that we both competed in the Rapha Gentleman's Race last May. 

Living in New York’s Hudson Valley, I'm roughly 2 hours from events that originate in Westfield, Saratoga, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania so the Boston series lies just a bit out of my orbit. Too bad really, because it was well worth the drive and inconvenience getting there. The ride was well-routed and took in some simply beautiful sections of New Hampshire where we spent most of our day riding through one colonial village after another. We passed the birthplace of Franklin Pierce, the only US president born in New Hampshire as well as Daniel Webster. Not only that, we climbed right past the Canterbury Shaker Village which inspired awe in a tired old randonneur like me. It made me think that if the Shakers didn't kill themselves off with the whole abstinence thing, they might make some hearty randonneurs with their emphasis on austerity, design, efficiency and community. In contrast, we also rode by St. Paul’s School, one of the wealthiest prep schools in the nation where the headmaster reportedly makes over $500,000 per year in salary alone. Sadly I did not have a resume with me, so I’ll have to follow up with them another time.  

It was great riding with Matt and Chris but I knew that if I held their pace, I would blow up in the second half of the day. Sadly, I had to drop off the back of our little group to let them carry on with their more aggressive 15-hour goal and maintain my reserves. I needed to finish within 16:12 and anything (like riding too hard too early) that kept me off that goal needed to be avoided. On the solo "back nine," I was able to keep up a fairly steady pace, but the stretch between control 2 and 3 was pure evil. The weather was disagreeable with heat climbing into the 90s, the humidity hovering near 100% and plenty of exposed roads with TERRIBLE surfaces with which to contend. I had originally feared more roads like this, but was pleasantly surprised to find many of the surfaces superior to those I’m used to. At a few points, though, the roads were so filled with cracks and frost heaves that I realized why so few professional cycling teams are based in New Hampshire. It was also during this section that I noticed a crack in my left Time pedal. This was worrisome, but did not turn out to be catastrophic. So much for lightweight carbon!

The ride was quite hilly with around 15,000 in accumulated climbing. None of the individual climbs were all that significant, there were just a lot of them. For large stretches you were either going up or down. One of the highlights of the day was the pilgrimage to Peter White Cycles which housed Control 3. Peter and his wife Linda (both of whom I’ve spent time with on the phone over the years) could not have been more gracious. It was great to see where great rando gear is born.

Matt made a good point, as we looked up into the clear blue sky: never make plans to cancel a ride at 4:00 am. After what looked like a total washout, we enjoyed a mostly dry day with only about an hour or so of steady (even refreshing) rain. I was glad I stuck to the original plan and despite my uncertainly at a few points along the way, I rolled into the finish with 16:08 elapsed time, a full FOUR minutes inside my goal. It was a little too close for comfort, to say the least, but I was 3/4 of the way towards reaching my BHAG. Up next, the Cranbury 600K in under 24 hours.

(Photo Credit - top: Hyperboreal - CC)