Thursday, July 1, 2010

Close but No Cigar (or how I almost rode 375 miles in 24 hours).

Having followed RAAM pretty closely this month, I’m humbled by what it means for some people to miss meeting an audacious cycling goal. My BHAG (or big hairy audacious goal) this season was to meet the Cyclos Montagnard R60 Challenge. Having completed three brevets (200, 300 and 400) within the time constraints, I was hoping to finish the NJ600 within 24 hours to achieve this honor. Signs looked good: the route was basically flat, the start was at 10 pm (bringing the sleepy second half of the ride into broad daylight), there were reasonably spaced controls (so not too much time would be lost there), the weather looked favorable (if a bit hot) and there were some speedy riders registered so I would likely have company. Despite all this, I was simply unable to do it. Sleep deprivation took its toll and as a result of a reduced pace and a crash in the last third of the ride, I rolled into the finish with a time of 25:50. This marks my fastest time yet on a 600K, but it was not quite fast enough for the R60. Looks like it’s R70 for me this year, but the first three R60 finish times remain on record and are transferable next year. All I have to do is slay the 24 hour 600 and I’m in. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

The NJ600 brought out 44 randonneurs this past weekend. It was my first nighttime start and I was eager to meet and reconnect with friends and acquaintances. The organizer let the fast riders out first to spread the bikes out along the road. Within the first 20 miles, I settled into a comfortable pace, a bit slower than the two lead riders and met up with Anthony with whom I would ride the whole event. We enjoyed each other’s company, rode at about the same pace, and were willing to manage our ride with our “eyes on the prize.”

The riding on Friday night was majestic. We were blessed with clear skies, mild temperatures and a full moon. The roads were quite smooth and direct and it was pleasant not to have to navigate twisty descents in the dark and we were subsequently able to maintain a healthy pace throughout the night. Anthony and I hit the Jersey Shore at dawn which was a highlight of the day. At this hour it's possible to pedal by marshes filled with elegant shore birds and shore towns free of summer traffic. As the sun rose, though, it became hotter and more humid than was optimal. With temps around 95 on fully exposed roads and a nutrition balance a bit out of kilter, I found myself nauseated for big stretches of the day.

The NJ Randonneurs did an outstanding job of organizing support for this event. We were met at each of the ubiquitous Wawa convenience store controls by volunteers and the highlight was a mid-afternoon cold shower and a few pickles in the organizer’s home. The break was rejuvenating and we set out with fresh legs and full bottles. Chris, one of the two lead riders, greeted Anthony and me as we arrived and took off alone leaving his fellow rider Doug behind for some rest. We would meet up a few more times and trade pulls with Chris along the way, yet despite a sore knee, he was just too strong for the two of us so we let him go in search of his own 24-hour brass ring.

It was hard to stay fast and focused on Saturday afternoon and eventually this was my undoing. At mile 309, in the bright mid-day heart of the desolate Pine Barrens, I lost focus and veered off the edge of the road and into a sandpit. Unable to keep the bike upright, I fell to the ground hard bracing myself with both hands on the asphalt road. Luckily there was no traffic at that time, the bike did not sustain any damage and I was not too injured to continue riding. At that moment, though, Anthony looked at me and said, “Maybe this is a sign that we should back off that 24-hour goal.”

I thought the 10 pm start would actually help, but I think it actually made a fast time more difficult. Since I was unable to sleep during the day on Friday, by time Saturday afternoon crawled along I was mighty tired indeed. An evening start is arguably good preparation for a longer brevet for riders who plan to sleep at some point during the 600 so they get the experience of riding over two nights, but for someone trying to finish within 24 hours, the distance between sleep on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon may be too great for a fast time.

The last fifty miles were pretty brutal. At times, I was literally looking on lawns for places to curl up for a few minutes as I saw objects on the roadside and had trouble keeping focused on the matter at hand. At 11:50 pm, Anthony and I rolled into the finish as riders 2 and 3. While I knew I could have done better, I was grateful that nothing more serious happened out on the roads of southern New Jersey. I’ll need to plan very carefully for sleep and rest the next time around.

The thing about audacious goals is that they push you beyond what you think it possible. As I looked towards this season from the comfort of my winter couch, the Cyclos Montagnards R70 Challenge looked more like my speed. A funny thing happened by setting a higher goal than I thought I could reach. I rode three event distances at "personal best" times and got 3/4 of the way to a level I was not sure was possible. So while technically missing my goal, I have much to feel pleased with and learned what I need to do to go even further next time.

(Photo by Owl's Flight - Flickr CC)


  1. I'm bummed you didn't make your BHAG. I have a pretty good idea how much thought, preparation and training went into the effort. Thanks for a great write-up!

    When you get it sorted in your mind and feel a little philosophical -- maybe as you put your feet up next December and start thinking about some new BHAG's -- you might think of Robert Browning's quote: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"

    For now all I can say is "way to go!"

  2. George,

    You had a great brevet series. Sorry you didn't quite make the 24-hour mark. If you had, you would have set the course record. Until this weekend, nobody had broken 28 hours in the previous three years that this course was offered. I'm sure the heat took its toll. I agree that the 10 p.m. start makes it tougher as well. Most people go to work on Friday and can't sleep that afternoon, which is the best approach

  3. George,

    Glad you weren't more seriously hurt. Congratulations on a fine series. See you soon on the road.

    Mike / Raleigh
    Research Trailer Park

  4. George,

    It was good to meet you, if only for a bit at the start and first control.

    Two things: the heat ate all of us right up, and the super-fast start was, in my opinion, too fast for the distance. I run a power meter and the watts we were all pulling were way out of whack with what was available later on.

    I'll see you at the LOL; heal up!

  5. There was something on the radio this afternoon about the value of banking sleep. Sleep 10 hours plus for a week and you can endure the sleep deprivation with less loss of focus and etc.

  6. George...amazing as usual. 25:50 is awesome and it sounds like an incredible ride. Hope you are not too sore. Good luck for next time.

  7. Thanks for your comments! The day reminded me of an expression I read on a forum once: "if you don't wish you were somewhere else at least once, it's not an adventure." Anyone know the original source?

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  9. Sorry you missed your goal, but it was still a great performance.

    I linked back to this entry from mine: (I was one of the guys at the back of the pack--38:37.)

    Really nice piece.