Sunday, August 21, 2011

PBP 2015: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

It's not like it's been an actual obsession, but ever since I began randonneuring in 2007, I've set my sights on riding in the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K Randonneur. That event, which is held only once every four years, begins tomorrow and I will not be among the starters. PBP has served as a beacon for me as I've become a more seasoned randonneur. Long-term goals are like that, they provide a lift and inspiration during hard, wet training rides and on cold mornings when you just don't want to get out the door to ride. I don't know if it would be as physically demanding as London-Edinburgh-London, but I can't imagine that there's anything quite like riding through the French countryside with 5000 other cyclists from all over the world tracing the course of an event that's over 100 years old and started long before the invention of bicycle gears.

When my family and I were in France last summer, I ate a few extremely tasty Paris Brest pastries (first made in 1891 to commemorate to the inaugural PBP race) and even went so far as to scope out a suitable hotel room in Versailles near the start of PBP in preparation for this summer. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men . . .

My 2010 season was built around the twin goals of completing a full SR series as quickly as possible and finishing a 1000K brevet to qualify for early preregistration for PBP. Needles to say, I was unsuccessful at both. I crashed on the 600K in the last 75 miles and (while I completed the event) my hopes of finishing the whole series in 60% of the allotted time were dashed. But it was the accident on the 1000K, though, that really set me back.

Shorty after the accident, I was under the impression that PBP 2011 was still possible, but as weeks of rehab and physical therapy turned into months, I realized that my goals needed to change accordingly. Most of the time, of course, I'm simply ecstatic about the following facts: a) I'm still alive, b) I was not damaged more severely, c) my wife and kids provide such incredible support, love and joy to me, and d) I can still ride pretty well over long distances. Sadly, PBP was not meant to happen for me in 2011 and I now sit stateside ready to follow my friends as they ride their hearts out on the journey between Paris and Brest and back. I am eager to chart the frame numbers of riders who have been my companions on events near and far over the past four years. I'll also be scanning my Twitter feed for updates from riders along the way. Simply search for #pbp2011 for the latest tweets.

The next edition of PBP will begin exactly 4 years from tomorrow. I will be 50 years old and I will be on that starting line just outside of Paris looking west towards Brest with joy in my heart. 

PBP 2015: Tom Petty was right, the waiting is the hardest part.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Block Island Training Camp 2011

Out on Block Island in August, the roads are pretty congested with all sorts of vehicles and pedestrians for much of the day, but if you get out early enough, the roads are simply magical. They are smooth and winding with modulating rollers and sea views from various vantage points along the way. For the past week, I've enjoyed riding these roads each day as I do my best to get back into form before D2R2 later this month.

Even though it's a tiny island, you never know exactly what might appear along the way. Yesterday, I felt a swift breeze as what first seemed like a locomotive but then turned out to be a young guy on a Cervelo tri bike dropped me like a cold fish. He must have been turning his cranks around at about 25 mph on the flats and I just let him go knowing I would not be able to hold his wheel. After returning home a bit demoralized, I looked out the window and saw . . . wait for it . . . a white and blue Cervelo with shoes still clipped into the pedals leaning against the hedgerow. "It couldn't be," I thought. A peek out another window revealed a small party assembling for cocktails on the porch next door, so I mustered some confidence and walked over to introduce myself to our new neighbors.

It turns out that the Cervelo in question was owned by a nice guy named Joe wearing an Ironman Kona t-shirt. "Kona?!?" I thought, "No wonder that breeze felt so pronounced." After chatting a bit about Kona, PBP and my accident, we arranged to ride the following morning at 6:00 am. At this point, I realized that not only had Joe raced in Kona last year, but he was also in training to race it again THIS October. "What was I thinking?" I asked my wife and sister-in-law as we prepared dinner. "This guy is going to eat me for breakfast."

I set an alarm for the first time this vacation (at 5:30 am) and predictably went to sleep a bit later than I might have hoped. The next thing I knew, I was tossing around in a difficult dream about oversleeping and alarm when I sat bolt-upright and realized that the sun had not even risen. I still had about 30 minutes of sleep in the bank. After a few more minutes of sleep, I rose alert and ready to ride, tossed on a clean jersey, fought with a pair of contact lenses and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee before heading out to face my sentence of suffering. Joe was bright and eager as I thought he would be as we exchanged greetings and carefully pulled out of the stone driveway together in search of the paved road about 400 yards away. Luckily neither of us took a humiliating spill and we hit the road with fresh legs.

It was not as hard or uncomfortable as I thought it might be to ride at 20-24 miles an hour while carrying on a conversation, but I found myself huffing and puffing a bit more than I would like on the hills. Despite that, it actually felt VERY GOOD to be riding in such a manner for the first time in quite a while. Joe was a gracious riding partner from the start who knew I was not eager to threaten his preeminence on the island. I made sure he knew that my feelings would not be hurt if he took off ahead at some point if I was holding him back, but he declined. It turned out that we both bought our bikes through Signature Cycles and had a few other things in common, so despite our different fitness levels, frame types and race goals, maybe we weren't that different after all.

We decided to stop riding after enjoying a vigorous single lap of the island at which point I pulled in for a family breakfast and Joe dismounted to run 18 more miles. While I'm not yet up to quite that level of hardcore exercise, it did feel really great to ride 16 miles full out, even if the guy I was riding with was holding back just a bit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Hudson Valley Randonneur visits The Daily Randonneur.

I was honored to have been asked by MG to participate in her Q & A series on "The Daily Randoneur," which coincided with my "coming out party" on the NYC 200K. Here's the post. MG and her husband Felkerino were riding on the PA 1000K last year as well and have been super supportive during my recovery. I'm itching to ride with them on one of their DC Rando events, but that will have to wait until next year. If you do not already follow it, The Daily Randonneur is a fantastic rando blog as is MG's Chasing Mailboxes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm on a Roll, Baby! The Flatlander's Delight 200K Permanent.

"We don't care about no stinking construction: we're randonneurs."

Less than a week after my inaugural brevet of the year, I was back at it with Jon L. as we spent the day riding the pleasant Flatlander's Delight 200K permanent. I'm on a roll, baby! At the NYC 200K last Sunday, I mentioned to Jon that I thought I might ride a permanent this week, so I was glad to get an email from him a few days ago suggesting that we team up on Friday. Since my long overdue family vacation at the beach starts this weekend, I was more than happy to have a little added incentive to finish up my work and skip out for a day in the saddle.

We got off to an early start and enjoyed a few hours of riding in the cool morning air with mist rising off the fields and streams along the way north towards Catskill. After the first control, we crossed the Hudson River in the Hudson, NY as the sun came out and temperatures rose. Fortuitously, we ran into Bob O. out for a long training ride and for about the next 50 miles we enjoyed tales of brevets past and future. I was especially eager to her Jon and Bob talk about their plans for the upcoming edition of PBP.

Jon and I are nearly engulfed by a giant, refreshing Iced Latte at the first control.

I was eager to squeeze this ride in before heading out on vacation, because this just may be the year I succeed at netting the elusive R-12 award. In years past, it's just seemed like too much of a commitment to get out for a 200K religiously each month. At times it would have meant not achieving other cycling goals that seemed more important at the time. This year, however, as I'm pulling myself back into shape, a 200K each month might be just what I need. Stay tuned!

Next event on the horizon: D2R2 on August 27.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The NYC 200K: Back in the saddle again!

The view from my saddle atop Bear Mountain.

The NYC 200K will always be one of my favorite events. Not only is the route lovely, but it's also the site of the first brevet I ever rode in 2007. It's also meaningful because the route connects the two places I've lived as an adult: New York City and the Hudson Valley. From now on, there will be a third reason I love this ride: eleven months and five days after being being hit by a car on the PA 1000K, I am finally back to randonneuring after successfully completing this event one more time.

I live close enough to the start that it makes sense for me to drive down the day of an event rather than stay over at a friend's or family member's apartment. On Sunday morning, I felt the familiar fog of awakening at 4:30 am to make some coffee, shovel in a bowl of cereal and head out into the darkness with a car filled with my bike and a few bags of provisions. The drive down was pleasant as I listened to Death Cab for Cutie at high volumes and a podcast of "Wait,Wait Don't Tell Me" at not such high volumes. Just north of the George Washington Bridge, I stopped into the parking lot at filling station to change into my cycling kit and insert my contacts before making the final crossing into NYC. After scrambling around in search of a parking place within a few blocks of the George Washington Bridge for more time than I care to admit, I made it to the start just in time to hear organizer Jonathan L. deliver pre-ride instructions. After receiving a few hugs from friends eager to see me able to ride again, I grabbed my brevet card and cue sheet and was off!

The start was invigorating and I found instant power in my legs as I charged across the GWB with other members of our group. It was great to catch up with Bob and Chris in this early stage, as neither would ride at my pace in the miles to come. In this first section, I also met up with Shane, Steve, Yiping, Robin and Lenny with whom I would ride for much of the first 90 miles. Sadly, at about mile 15 I realized that I had left my Hammer Gel flask and Endurolyte canister sitting in a bag in the car so my refueling strategy was in need of revision. After a pleasant ride along the Hudson River through Piermont and Nyack, we rolled into the first controle where I refilled my bottles and bought a granola bar for later. Not long after the controle, we entered Bear Mountain State park and began the five mile climb to the top of Perkin's Drive. I won't say I flew up the climb, but I was very pleased that I was able to make it to the top without getting out of the saddle which is my preferred way to climb. I guess my quads aren't in such bad shape after all.

The trip following the climb through Harriman State Park is lovely, but after passing a sign that reads "Rough Road Ahead" I realize that the park authorities have just about given up on repairing what turned out to be a frighteningly rough patch of road. The vibrations and jerkiness of this section really left me ragged and dreaming of fat low pressure tires which would have buffered the blow somewhat. We rolled into the next controle around lunchtime, but I was not very hungry so opted for fresh water, a pack of Endurolytes from Leroy and a bit more sunscreen for the ride ahead.

I took off from the turnaround countrole after just a few minutes and soon found myself riding with Lenny who regaled me with stories of his recent PAC Tour along the Eastern section of Route 66. After a while, Lenny stopped for a bit to eat and I pedaled on feeling more like the tortoise than the hare. After leaving Lenny to eat his lunch, I settled into a comfortable pace and rode the remaining 40 miles alone. This proved to be an especially enjoyable way to ride the final section without concern that I was either holding someone back or egging someone on. In the final stage, I was very pleased to see that the route has benefited from a very desirable revision which made it even more enjoyable this time around. The final stretch from Harriman State Park to NYC has been reworked so that riders avoid 9W all together and take in some beautiful, low traffic roads that differ almost completely from the roads used in the first half of the day.

Looking back on the day, the ride felt a bit like an Oreo cookie to me - soft in the middle but strong at both ends. While my physical condition is nothing like it once was, I was pleased by my overall performance on my first day back to randonneuring. It was difficult to watch folks I typically ride with take off ahead of me, but I knew this would be a more casual ride than I'm used to. Despite my lower level of fitness and lack of time on the bike, I was still able to finish in 10:06 at a respectable 9th position out of 40 riders. While not feeling particularly competitive, this top 25% finish left me feeling even more confident about my return to randonneuring. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet a few new ones along the way. Hats off to the organizers and NJ Randonneurs generally for all they do to put on such fine events. I can't wait until September for another shot at one.